A beglua whale calf born Friday night at the Georgia Aquarium has died, despite receiving 24-hour nurturing from animal care experts at the Atlanta facility.
“This is an extremely sad day for the Georgia Aquarium family. Over the past few days, our veterinary and animal care teams have been giving around-the-clock care to Maris and her calf,” Gregory Bossart, chief veterinary officer, said in a news release issued Wednesday. “We initially became concerned when the calf was born and needed assistance from the divers to bring it to the surface to breathe.
“The calf was significantly underweight and appeared to have a significant number of medical issues. Based on our knowledge of healthy calves, we knew this calf would probably not survive, but our hearts gave us hope that she might be able to pull through. Our primary concern now is the well-being of Maris.”
Animal care experts at Georgia Aquarium tend to the female beluga whale calf over the weekend, with the mother watching on. Credit: Georgia Aquarium
Maris is the 17-year-old mother beluga whale. She and Beethoven, the 19-year-old father, are the only captive-born beluga whales to have naturally produced a calf.
The female calf emerged from her mother in a weakened state and weighing only 82 pounds. Her tail flukes were too soft for her to navigate through the water on her own.
Her death is not surprising considering that first-born beluga whales often do not survive, in the wild and in captivity.
Maris was closely monitored throughout her pregnancy. The calf was carried to full-term.
“A better understanding of belugas is critical to conserve and protect the species,” said William Hurley, chief zoology officer. “When we can study and observe belugas in human care, we continue to gain a better understanding of their biology, physiology and the diseases that affect them, all with the goal of learning how to help these populations in their natural habitats.”
Of the calf he added: “Even through her short life, Georgia Aquarium was provided the rare opportunity to advance the zoological community’s knowledge about the reproductive health of beluga whales.”
Georgia Aquarium is one of only seven accredited North American aquariums and zoos committed to public display and breeding of beluga whales.
A necropsy is being conducted by Aquarium veterinarians and specialists from University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine.
The beluga whale exhibit was closed Wednesday and Maris remained under close observation.