Hello everyone! I’m so excited to share this post today. I met my favorite animal, the beluga whale!
I don’t even know where to begin. First I should say how this came to be. Well my dear little sister knows how much I love belugas and her Christmas present to me was a beluga encounter at the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago. I was so blown away by the gift and was so excited for it!
The Shedd has eight belugas, with another on the way, so I was excited to get the chance to meet at least one. My sister said normally they pick one or two belugas, but they don’t know which ones until that day because it all depends on the belugas’ mood.
So we had our encounter at 3pm on a Sunday. I’m not quite sure how many days or times they offer the beluga encounter a week but they also had a penguin encounter before us and a behind the scenes tour before them so it seems to be pretty steady.
Now, I might get some of the details wrong because my sister was the one who signed us up and got all our information in but the booking process didn’t seem too difficult from what she told me. There was a lot of information on the site and emails that followed though. For example you needed to check in an hour before the encounter, ensure everyone with you is at least five feet tall, and then general waivers I believe. Oh! And you needed to provide shoe size beforehand as well.
All the emails also said no nail polish/nails, or jewelry were allowed. Plus it recommended to bring a towel and change of clothes. I would highly suggest you take a full change of clothes, not just a spare top but literally everything, because the water can get everywhere.
Once we checked in we got to listen to the start of the behind the scenes tour which started in the same room where we checked in. It was interesting to hear the changes Shedd went through. For one, the entire front area of the Shedd used to be parking! Now, the entire area is a park and you can’t park near the Shedd.
After the behind the scenes tour group left and the penguin encounter people followed (no fun chat for them), we walked around the Shedd for a bit. We went to see the belugas for a tiny bit (get to know them before the session of course!), walked through Wild Reef, a bit of Amazon Rising, sat through the Caribbean Reef diver/feeding presentation, and walked through Underwater Beauty. We then went back to wait for the encounter to begin.
We got to meet several Shedd employees during the encounter. We met the guide who got us to the beluga encounter room, photographer, a trainer who told us which belugas we were getting, one beluga area guide, and then the two beluga trainers assigned to the group. There was a group of four with us so they did need a couple of people!
First we walked to the back where there was a room dedicated completely to the beluga encounters. There, they already had our waders waiting for us, marked by name. We took off our shoes and stuffed ourselves in the waders. We had to make sure the straps were adjusted to make sure water wouldn’t get in at the top, as well as adjust and tighten a belt they gave us to make sure any water that did get in didn’t go all the way to the bottom and pool at our feet. Oh, at this point we also signed a waiver. We also got lockers to shove everything into, including phones! All the photos in this post were taken by the photographer at the encounter (who was amazing!) and edited by him as well.
Once we were all adjusted the first guide left and a trainer came in to tell us what belugas we would meet. We were told of three to four belugas but even then it’s always up to the beluga if they want to do it. We watched the videos for the belugas Beethoven, Bella, and Kimalu. We were told Aurek would join too but he is pretty new to the Shedd so he doesn’t have a video yet. Each have their own characteristics and personalities so it was nice to know more about them first.
We were also thanked for doing the encounter. Apparently we wear the same waders that vets or other people who occasionally work with the belugas would wear. The belugas get used to visitors so when it’s time for the vet to come, they’re not scared because they’re used to new people. It was so sweet that they thought to thank us!
Throughout the presentations we were able to ask questions. I didn’t have any because my sister and Google have already taught me a lot about them but the others didn’t know quite so much and would ask more. Soon we were up and on our way to the belugas!
We arrived at the Grainger Beluga Encounter Habitat, which is a pool off to the side where the encounters take place. We walked in, met the trainers who would be in the water with us, and then waited a bit for them to get ready. The belugas knew that meant it was almost time for fish, so they were excited! We saw Bella, Beethoven, and Kimalu in there waiting.
We then headed down a set of stairs into the pool. The guides had said the stairs might be slippery so to be careful, and that the suits would feel more pressed in due to the water pressure. They also said walking might be weird but I didn’t have a problem with any of that. Instead there seemed to be a current and I felt like that was pushing me a ton. I soon got used to it though. The group of four got Beethoven and we got Kimalu! Kimalu is the youngest so she was still pretty grey and didn’t always listen to her trainer, which was pretty funny.
During the encounter we got to not only touch and pet the belugas but also give them tongue tickles, fish, and learned some hand signals to use with them. As my sister loves to tell me, they’re called “the canaries of the sea” due to all the vocalizations they can do and how much they love to use them. Kimalu is still quite young so she doesn’t know so many but my sister and I each got to try one. Apparently once they learn a new sound they get fish so they keep doing it and eventually a hand signal can be attached to it.
Kimalu also gave us melon bumps, kisses, and even a high five! I accidentally got make up on her melon after the kiss, turns out we’re not quite the same shade.
We switched belugas with the other group to get Beethoven for a bit and we got to hear more vocalizations from him. We switched back and Kimalu splashed us! The other group got both Beethoven and Bella splash them and they got absolutely soaked! Kimalu was much more gentle and we were reminded they are salt water creatures for sure!
After the splashes we repeated a few things but Kimalu was kind of just looking for fish so she didn’t really listen to what was being asked. Then it was over and we had to go. We gave Kimalu a few final pets and went up the stairs.
We couldn’t pick a favorite part though, it was just amazing overall! We adored the belugas and meeting such sweet giants was amazing.
We went back to the encounter room and then got out of our waders. We then changed because we were now wet, and got our “I Met a Beluga” sticker! We were told if we returned next year we’d get a “I Met a Baby Beluga” sticker as one of the belugas is currently pregnant.
Once we gathered our items we headed out again. We exited near the belugas so we said a quick goodbye before we headed out. Overall it was about three hours at the Shedd since we had to get there early but the encounter as a whole was two hours. The actual beluga part was maybe 30-40 minutes. We didn’t end up needing the towel because we didn’t get soaked like the other group and plus the Shedd actually had a couple. I’m glad we didn’t get soaked though because we definitely really only had a change of top.
So was the beluga encounter worth it? Well, I would say yes! It is so much fun and it’s a great experience to meet a beluga or two. We really loved it and I would highly recommend it if you ever have the opportunity!
So, have you ever done a beluga encounter or something similar? Would you if you haven’t? Let me know!
Thanks for reading!
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