In a statement issued Friday, June 5 by officials from the Georgia Aquarium, it was announced that the celebrated baby beluga born on Mother's Day had died.
The baby beluga, which had yet to be named, was heralded as "the first viable calf to be born from parents who were born in human care." The baby beluga's mother, 20-year-old Maris, was born in captivity at the New York Aquarium, and 19-year-old Beethoven, the calf's father, was born at SeaWorld San Antonio.
Though a necropsy (animal autopsy) has yet to be performed, the statement says that they believe possible gastrointestinal issues were what ultimately led to the baby whale's tragic death.
"There were still some critical milestones to overcome, however, and we became concerned when we were not seeing the desired weight gain in the calf. Preliminary diagnostics, including consultation from veterinary specialists, indicated that the calf had gastrointestinal issues that were preventing her from properly absorbing and assimilating nutrients that she needed to grow and thrive."
Before the baby beluga died, staff at the Georgia Aquarium -- including veterinarians and animal care experts -- did everything in their power to help the calf, even going so far as to supplement her milk intake and "caloric needs" with formula that closely resembles beluga milk in nutritional content, but sadly, it was to no avail.
"The veterinary and animal care teams consulted with experts in the field of veterinary medicine from across the country. However, in the early morning hours of June 5, the calf began showing signs of lethargy and needed assistance to swim. While next to her mother and in the arms of her dedicated caregivers, the calf took her last breath, and her heart stopped just after 7:00 a.m."
The unnamed baby beluga was the second pregnancy and birth for her mother, Maris. Her first tragically died a few days after it was born. The released statement points out that "odds for calf survival increase with each of the mother's consecutive pregnancies, both in human care and in the wild."
"Our primary concern now is the well-being of Maris," said Eric Gaglione, director of zoological operations, mammals and birds, "The beluga whale exhibit will be reopened when it is deemed in the best interest of the animals. Maris will continue to remain under close observation by the veterinary and animal care team."
That the baby beluga died is a tragedy and a sad fact of life. However, as Gaglione said in the statement, "[E]ven though this calf had a short life, Georgia Aquarium had the rare opportunity to advance our knowledge about the reproductive health of beluga whales."
Perhaps the next baby beluga born in captivity will have a better shot at life, thanks to the knowledge gained from Maris and her baby.
[Photo Credit: Georgia Aquarium]