Staff at a Connecticut aquarium are “heartbroken” after a third beluga whale died at the facility.
The whale, named Karabali, was announced dead by the Mystic Aquarium on Tuesday this week, having first become unwell in November.
“This loss weighs heavily on us, especially our animal care staff. It is defeating and disheartening as the team works fiercely and with immense compassion to ensure these whales receive world-class care in sickness and health,” a statement from the Aquarium read.
Workers at the aquarium first noticed Kharabali swimming abnormally in November. Veterinarians undertook blood work on the whale, but results fluctuated.
As her abnormal behavior continued, keepers and veterinarians grew increasingly concerned. She was then taken to an intensive care facility for treatment.
“Our devoted veterinary and animal care teams spared no effort, dedicating the entirety of their expertise to Kharabali. They provided round-the-clock medical treatment, testing, 24-hour monitoring and consulted with experts worldwide,” the statement read. “Despite intensive care for multiple health issues and all life-saving efforts, she passed away in the company of the dedicated Mystic Aquarium team that had been by her side throughout.”
Allison Tuttle, the chief zoological officer of Mystic Aquarium, shared some thoughts in another statement. “Her spirit touched us all, and we are heartbroken by her passing,” she said.
This whale is the third to die at the Aquarium since 2021. Havok passed in August 2021, and Havana passed in February 2022.
“Both were found to have underlying incurable conditions which led to their deaths that were unable to be diagnosed while alive,” the statement from the aquarium read. “As many of you know, another Marineland juvenile beluga, Jetta, began receiving around-the-clock treatment in the fall of 2021, which continued for a year in critical care before returning to the main habitat. After a year of tireless efforts, she is now thriving. After two brutal losses, her success offered great hope to the team that the worst had passed.”
The keeping of whales and dolphins in captivity remains a controversial topic among animal rights groups. Many claim that whales of any species are not fit to be kept in captivity. One of those organizations is animal protection group Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC), which actively advocates against keeping whales in captivity.
“The sad news of Kharabali’s death is a tragic reminder that whales and dolphins are not suitable candidates for a life held captive in a small tank for human entertainment,” Danny Groves, head of communications at WDC, told Newsweek. “These highly intelligent individuals should not suffer for human ‘fun.’ For an individual who is used to swimming many miles every day, a tank is a featureless prison cell. Most whales and dolphins live in complex family groups—with generations often staying together their whole lives. In confinement they live shorter lives than they would in the wild and suffer stress and exhibit repetitive behaviors. It is time to change the model. We are continuing our work with partners to establish sanctuaries where individuals from dolphinariums can spend a life in a more natural environment or, in some cases, be prepared for a return to the ocean.”
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) previously underwent checks at Mystic Aquarium in 2021 after Havok died. The report found issues with the Beluga whale facility, but the aquarium subsequently made changes.
Kharabali came to Mystic Aquarium from Canada’s Marineland in May 2021. Both Havok and Havana also came to Mystic from the facility.
Marineland, which is in Ontario, has been subject to controversy itself in the past. Since 2019, 14 whales and one dolphin have died at the facility.
“We cannot thank Mystic Aquarium enough. They provide exceptional care for beluga whales, and despite being amid the challenges of COVID-19, in May 2021, Mystic Aquarium took these five whales on for us to provide the world-class care and expertise they needed,” Marineland said in a statement. “This collaboration underscores the global community’s shared responsibility for animal welfare. Marineland is deeply thankful for Mystic Aquarium’s professionalism and tireless efforts in safeguarding the health and happiness of these beloved marine creatures.”
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This article by Robyn White was first published by Newsweek on 14 December 2023. Lead Image: A stock photo shows a Beluga whale with its head out of the water. A Beluga at Mystic Aquarium has died. MUTARUSAN/GETTY.