A beluga whale at the Georgia Aquarium unexpectedly passed away Thursday afternoon, October 22.
The 21-year-old female, named Maris, was born in 1994 and came to live at the Georgia Aquarium in 2005. As indicated in a statement released by the aquarium, her death was sudden and unforeseen. Dr. Gregory Bossart, senior vice president and chief veterinary officer of Georgia Aquarium, said that the whale’s death came suddenly, and the veterinary team did what they could to save her.
“This is a case of sudden, acute animal death. Our animals receive exceptional care, and our dedicated team of experts responded to her within minutes to render aid.”
Experts at the Georgia Aquarium and the University of Georgia are currently performing a necropsy, an animal autopsy, on the beluga whale, but results from those tests will not be finalized for weeks.
The aquarium is taking the loss very hard. Maris had been at the Georgia Aquarium for 10 years, and according to the statement it released, the staff who was in charge of her had grown very close to her. Mike Leven, the aquarium’s chairman and chief executive officer, spoke a little about the loss.
“Maris was one of the first beluga whales at Georgia Aquarium and inspired millions of guests each year. The bonds that were created over the last ten years between Maris and her animal care and veterinary teams were truly special. This unexpected loss is difficult.”
Beluga whales are expected to live anywhere from 35 to 50 years, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The fact that Maris died 14 years early only adds to recent issues that the aquarium has been having with this particular species of whale.
Just three weeks ago, the Georgia Aquarium was barred from importing more beluga whales, as reported by the Inquisitr.
In 2013, the aquarium had made a request to import a group of beluga whales that were being held in Russia. The aquarium aimed to increase the gene pool of whales in captivity with the imported whales, and it also wanted to further research on the species. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration denied the request, saying that the importation would negatively impact the stock of belugas where those particular whales had come from. The Georgia Aquarium sued the government agency, saying that the refusal of their request was wrongful and unjust.
Last month, the federal judge who has been in charge of evaluating this trial ruled in favor of the NOAA, and barred the Georgia Aquarium from importing those whales.
In addition to the aquarium’s failed attempt to bring more beluga whales into their stock at the Georgia Aquarium, the facility recently suffered the loss of two beluga calves. Both of the baby belugas were Maris’ own calves. The first died only a few days after the mother had given birth, but the second, who was born this past Mother’s Day, died a month after its birth. The second calf had been celebrated as “the first viable calf to be born from parents who were born in human care.”
With the saddening deaths of the beluga calves, on top of the aquarium’s denied request to import more belugas, it makes the unexpected death of Maris that much more of a tragedy.
The animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) said on Friday that captivity was the real cause of the whale’s death. CNN reports that Lisa Lange, the senior vice president of the organization, said in a statement that regardless of what the necropsy will show is the official cause of death, the real cause was the fact that Maris was born in captivity and lived like that her entire life.
“Maris was denied her freedom her entire life. She was transferred from one facility to another, and her babies died, one after the other. Whether or not she had a physical ailment that went unnoticed, she was killed by captivity, plain and simple.”
According to the aquarium, their “veterinary and animal care experts perform routine exams on all of our animals and at Maris’ most recent exam, she showed all signs of a healthy beluga whale.”
Regardless of the cause of death, the Georgia Aquarium is “deeply saddened by the sudden loss” of Maris, the beluga whale.
[Photo by Barry Williams/Getty Images]