ATLANTA — A couple of very big new surprises await patrons at the Georgia Aquarium the next time they visit the popular Atlanta attraction.
The aquarium welcomed its newest - and biggest - additions on Feb. 9 with the introduction of Imac and Whisper - two beluga whales who will now call the "Cold Water Quest" gallery home.
The whales will join Qinu, Nunavik and Maple as aquarium experts gradually introduce them into the pod over the course of a week. The goal here is to establish the social structure among them.
Officials with Georgia Aquarium hope that Imac - the 31-year-old male - will serve as a big brother of sorts for 9-year-old Nunavik. Big being the operative term since, at 2,000 pounds, he's now the biggest whale in the aquarium.
Meanwhile, they hope that Whisper - who is apparently pretty vocal despite her name - will fit in with her new female pod-mates Maple and Qinu.
"Beluga whales are very gregarious and while their social groups may change over their lifetimes, it’s very important in their daily life," Georgia Aquarium said in a statement.
According to the Georgia Aquarium, less than 30 beluga whales remain in accredited facilities in North America - and roughly 150,000 worldwide.
The aquarium's addition of two new beluga's hasn't come without controversy, since there has been a push to keep Beluga whales out of captivity.
The aquarium also announced tragic news in 2017 when a baby whale died during birth. Qinu was the mother.
But officials at Georgia Aquarium have said that having whales in these facilities is the key to better understanding them - and their physiology. The goal with that information is to help protect the dwindling wild populations in the arctic circle.
"The goal of these institutions is to sustain the population and ignite an interest and connection for millions of people across the continent," the aquarium statement said.