Captivity Kills: Another Life Lost At SeaWorld

(SEAWORLD/CAPTIVE WHALES) SAN ANTONIO — A newborn beluga whale born in captivity at SeaWorld San Antonio died on Sunday, just three weeks after being born.

According to a SeaWorld press release, the female calf was born one month prematurely on June 20 and appeared smaller than normal at 120 pounds and four feet in length.

Despite being given marine mammal infant formula seven times a day in addition to nursing from her mother, the baby beluga did not gain weight as rapidly as park veterinarians expected.

The SeaWorld community is mourning the loss of a beloved beluga whale. "Bella" died Sunday after a brief illness, according to a statement issued by SeaWorld. Photo Credit: NewsTalk
The SeaWorld community is mourning the loss of a yet another baby beluga whale. Photo Credit: NewsTalk

SeaWorld made the following statement on its Facebook page Monday morning:

All of us at SeaWorld are saddened by the loss of our beluga calf, who died yesterday after weeks of intensive, round the clock care. The three-week old calf was born about a month premature.

The calf was not gaining weight at the rate our veterinarians expected, even though it did nurse from its mother. To supplement those feedings, the animal care team hand fed her specialized marine mammal infant formula seven times a day. A necropsy will be performed this morning, with results expected in six to eight weeks. Losing an animal in our care is never easy, and we thank everyone for their thoughts and support during this difficult time for our team.

The animal care team performed a necropsy on Monday to determine the cause of death, but results will not be available for another six to eight weeks.

This photo taken July 4, 2012, at the Alaska SeaLife Center in Seward, Alaska, shows Dennis Christen of the Georgia Aquarium feed a bottle to a baby beluga calf being rehabilitated at the center. The whale was approximately two days old when it was found in Bristol Bay, Alaska, and separated from its mother. Staff from the Alaska SeaLife Center is receiving help with the whale's care from the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta, Shedd Aquarium in ChiCago and SeaWord in San Diego.  (AP Photo/Mark Thiessen)
This 2012 photo shows Dennis Christen of the Georgia Aquarium bottle-feeding a baby beluga calf being rehabilitated at the Alaska SeaLife Center. Photo Credit: AP Photo/Mark Thiessen

Unfortunately the death of a beluga whale in captivity comes as no surprise. Just last month, a newborn beluga died at the Georgia Aquarium before turning one-month-old.

“Captive breeding of belugas has repeatedly failed, resulting in dead calves like this one,” PETA Foundation director of animal law Jared Goodman said.

In fact, the mortality rate among captive beluga calves is an estimated 65 percent. What’s more, adult belugas in captivity often die before reaching the age of 30–as opposed to living up to 60 years in the wild.

“Whenever a captive-born cetacean calf dies, I suspect the effects of captivity—especially maternal competence—are a factor,” Naomi Rose, Ph.D., a marine mammal scientist at the Animal Welfare Institute, said in a statement.

“Given that the facilities have corporate reasons for insisting captivity has nothing to do with these deaths and refuse to conduct the necessary, objective science to truly understand mortality risk for captive-born calves, I am left to speculate that yes, captivity had something to do with this calf’s death.”

In response to an overload of negative publicity, SeaWorld recently announced plans to nearly double the size of its orca enclosures in the upcoming years. However, activists say this is not enough, and are pushing for SeaWorld to release their marine mammals to ocean sanctuaries.

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— Alisa Manzelli, exclusive to Global Animal