Whale of a ride

Who would be willing to pay $84,000 for an airplane trip from Chicago to Tacoma, Wash.? The folks at the Point Defiance Zoo in Tacoma would, when the passenger is a beluga whale calf.

The whale was flown aboard a chartered Air Force DC-8.

“The animal was in a cradle made of fiberglass and reinforced steel,” said Jennifer Huntley, a zoo spokesman. “There was foam padding and water in the tank.” Biologists accompanied the whale on the flight.

The calf, known as Qannik (right), was born at Chicago’s John G. Shedd Aquarium in July 2000. His mother, Mauyak, is owned by Point Defiance. She was sent to Chicago in 1997 as part of a beluga whale breeding program.

Qannik is about 11 feet long and weighs about 1,000 pounds. He is expected to reach 14 to 16 feet and possibly double his weight in the next few years.

Zoo officials predict that Qannik will be swimming in a tank with Beethoven, a 14-year-old male beluga, by the end of the summer.

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