Beluga settling in to new Texas digs

The pride of Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium for 11 years, Beethoven the beluga whale is now the "gentle giant" of his new Texas home.

He departed Tacoma in June for SeaWorld San Antonio to be part of a breeding program, leaving Point Defiance without any belugas.

He’s getting along with 12 other belugas at the San Antonio aquarium and is eating well.

“He’s doing great since he arrived back,” Chris Bellows, vice president for zoological operations at SeaWorld, said last week. “We have slowly acclimatized him with the rest of the pod and whales here.

“He eats 60 pounds of food each day and weighs about 1,600 pounds. He’s put on a little weight.”

Beethoven is the biggest beluga in the pod and by next spring – when the beluga mating season begins – he may just make a fine catch for one of the nine female belugas there. Female belugas pick their mates, Bellows said.

“He’s a gentle giant,” he added.

Becoming a daddy was the main reason he was moved from Tacoma to SeaWorld.

“Hopefully he will be here for a long time and hopefully sire a lot of calves,” Bellows said. “We wanted Beethoven, for breeding and for the future of the species” in captivity.

Beethoven left Tacoma following the March 28 death of the zoo’s other beluga, Qannik, who died of a bacterial blood infection. Beethoven was not affected but found himself swimming alone.

The move to San Antonio wasn’t directly related to Qannik’s death.

Three months earlier the committee that oversees the beluga aquarium program in North America talked about moving Beethoven into a breeding program.

SeaWorld San Antonio has a beluga/dolphin show, but Beethoven didn’t appear in it this year. Bellows said he may have a part in a new show now being put together for next year.

Beethoven has participated in the aquarium’s beluga-interaction program, where wet-suit clad visitors stand on a ledge in waist-deep water and get to touch the whale.