ATLANTA (June 5, 2015) – Georgia Aquarium is deeply saddened to announce the loss of its female beluga whale calf born Sunday, May 10 to 20-year-old Maris.

“Over the past several weeks, our veterinary and animal care team, have provided around-the-clock care to Maris and her calf,” said Dr. Gregory Bossart V.M.D., Ph.D., senior vice president and chief veterinary officer. “Because of the statistical probability of survival of beluga whale calves, we’ve always been guardedly optimistic. Early on, we were pleased to see the calf complete several key milestones, including a successful birth and bonding with her mother. 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.”

The Aquarium’s veterinary and animal care experts continued monitoring the calf’s body condition, her behavior and activity. They also attempted to help the calf gain weight by supplementing her caloric needs with formula. 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.

“Our experienced veterinary and animal care team is among the best in the world. They dedicate their lives to these extraordinary animals,” said Mike Leven, CEO and chairman, Georgia Aquarium. “While we recognize death is part of the natural cycle of life, this remains a difficult loss for the entire Aquarium team. Our devoted team of staff and trained volunteers brought an extraordinary level of work and dedication to ensure a smooth pregnancy, labor, delivery and ongoing care for Maris and her calf through thousands of hours of service over 16 months. I’m extremely proud of the passionate, dedicated and loving care our experts gave this calf.”

Odds for calf survival increase with each of the mother’s consecutive pregnancies, both in human care and in the wild. Maris was closely monitored by veterinary and animal care staff throughout her pregnancy. The calf was carried to full-term.

“Our work studying and observing belugas in human care contributes to the scientific community’s body of knowledge, so accredited zoos and aquariums that care for belugas have the most updated science-based information,” said Eric Gaglione, director of zoological operations, mammals and birds. “Even though this calf had a short life, Georgia Aquarium had the rare opportunity to advance our knowledge about the reproductive health of beluga whales. We can share this with other accredited aquariums that care for belugas. By continuing to share and collaborate, we can collectively continue to advance and improve the care we provide to belugas.

“Our primary concern now is the well-being of Maris,” added Gaglione. “Our team will focus to meet all of her needs, which includes a regular schedule of sessions with her trainers and socializing with our other beluga whales, Qinu and Grayson. 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.”

The necropsy (animal autopsy) is being conducted by Aquarium veterinarians and other outside animal health specialists. All tests and evaluations will be finalized within the next few weeks, however an exact cause of death may never be known. 

Maris

20-year old Maris came to Georgia Aquarium in 2005 from the New York Aquarium, where she was born. This is Maris’ second pregnancy and birth.

Beethoven

The father of the calf, 19-year old Beethoven, came to Georgia Aquarium in February 2010 from the Point Defiance Zoo. Beethoven was the first successful beluga whale calf born at SeaWorld San Antonio. He now resides at John G. Shedd Aquarium in Chicago.

For more information on beluga whales, please click here.

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For more information, contact Public Relations:


Jessica Fontana

Senior Specialist

(404) 581-4391

jfontana@georgiaaquarium.org

ABOUT GEORGIA AQUARIUM

Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta, Ga., is one of the world’s most dynamic aquariums—containing more than 10 million gallons of water and the largest collection of aquatic animals. The mission of Georgia Aquarium is to be a premier scientific institution delivering an awe-inspiring entertainment experience which supports animal research and conservation; inspires learning; and instills a passion for the aquatic world.  Its exhibits and programs are of the highest standards, offering engaging guest encounters that promote the conservation of marine biodiversity throughout the world. Georgia Aquarium is an accredited member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and the Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums. For additional information, visit www.georgiaaquarium.org.