Some sad news from the Georgia Aquarium, which announced that its newborn beluga calf died on Friday, less than a month after it was born on Mother's Day.
The cause of death is not yet known, but Gregory Bossart, Georgia Aquarium’s senior vice president and chief veterinary officer, said in a statement that a preliminary diagnosis indicated the calf had gastrointestinal issues and couldn’t absorb the nutrients she needed to grow.
Despite the staff’s efforts to supplement her nutritional requirements with formula that mimicked beluga milk, the calf -- who was still in the process of being named -- became lethargic and needed help swimming. Eventually, the aquarium reports, the calf died next to her mother “in the arms of caregivers."
“While we recognize death is part of the natural cycle of life, this remains a difficult loss for the entire Aquarium team,” Mike Leven, the aquarium’s CEO and chairman, said in the statement.
Aquarium staff members were ecstatic when the calf was born to 20-year old Maris on June 5. The birth was lauded as a milestone since the whale was born to parents in captivity: The aquarium said at the time that she was "the first viable calf to be born from parents who were born in human care."
Maris was born in the New York Aquarium, and Beethoven, the calf’s father, was born at SeaWorld San Antonio 19 years ago.
The calf was Maris’s second pregnancy and birth; her first died just days after being born. A beluga calf's odds of survival increase with each of the mother’s consecutive pregnancies, the aquarium's statement noted.
Aquarium veterinarians will conduct a necropsy on the calf, but acknowledged that they might never fully understand what caused her to die.
Eric Caglione, the director of zoological operations, mammals and birds, said the staff “had the rare opportunity to advance our knowledge about the reproductive health of beluga whales” during the calf’s short life, and added that “by continuing to share [this information] and collaborate, we can collectively continue to advance and improve the care we provide to belugas.”
The Huffington Post respected the aquarium’s request not to conduct interviews while the staff mourned.