Death of Baby Beluga at the Georgia Aquarium Fuels Calls to End Captivity

On Mother’s Day the Georgia Aquarium celebrated the birth of a baby beluga, but after less than a month the newborn has already passed away.

Even though her birth was considered a success and she bonded with her mother Maris, her condition deteriorated and she failed to reach expected milestones despite intervention from caregivers.

The Aquarium said in a statement, “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.”

Officials added that they believe she had gastrointestinal issues that were preventing her from properly absorbing nutrients, but even with a necropsy they may never know the actual cause of death.

The tragic death isn’t the first at this aquarium and leaves Maris suffering the loss of a calf for the second time; her first died just days after being born in 2012.

Despite the growing controversy and opposition that surrounds keeping cetaceans in captivity, including protests held this weekend as part of the Empty the Tanks movement, the Georgia Aquarium is determined to keep its beluga exhibit going.

Unfortunately, with a low success rate for breeding and a captive population that won’t sustain itself without new babies, aquariums are going to have to look to the wild to keep their exhibits open and that’s just what the Georgia Aquarium is doing.

In 2012, it applied for a permit to bring 18 wild-caught belugas here from Russia. Had the permit been approved they would have been moved to the U.S. and split up between the Georgia Aquarium and its partner facilities under breeding loan agreements, including SeaWorld parks in Florida, Texas and California, along with the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago.

It would have also marked the first time wild-caught cetaceans were brought here for display in 20 years. Fortunately, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) denied the application for a number of reasons, one of those being the harm it would cause to the wild population in the Sea of Okhotsk.

While the Georgia Aquarium arrogantly claimed in a petition it started that “Maintaining belugas in human care is essential to the survival of belugas everywhere,” it’s causing the very problem it’s claiming to fix.

Whale and dolphin advocates worried that not only would the import undermine laws intended to protect marine mammals, but that it would add to the demand for wild-caught cetaceans and perpetuate international trade at a time when it needs to end and conservation efforts need to be focused on protecting them in the wild.

“We fully support NMFS’s decision and find Georgia Aquarium’s arguments to overturn it to be exploitative and completely counter to the Aquarium’s self-portrayal as a conservation organization,” said Dr. Naomi Rose, a marine mammal scientist with the Animal Welfare Institute. “It is shocking how Georgia Aquarium ignores good science and basic conservation principles in its quest to increase the number of belugas in its breeding program.”

Despite opposition from the public and scientists, of this March the Aquarium is still fighting the decision in court and trying to get a federal judge to order the agency to overturn the decision and order it to grant the permit.

The Georgia Aquarium only has three belugas, including Maris, Grayson and Quinu. Instead of perpetuating the harm that continues to be caused to wild populations and those who are taken from their families and confined to tanks, the Aquarium should stop pretending it’s going to somehow save belugas and close down its exhibit.


Please sign and share the petition asking the Georgia Aquarium to stop trying to take belugas from the wild and phase out its current exhibit.

Photo credit: Thinkstock


Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus3 years ago

Thank you for sharing!

Pamela A.
Pamela A3 years ago

Being born in captivity killed this poor baby
It's time to release all whales.

Amy Thompson
Amy T3 years ago

When will these zoos finally understand, that although mammals die in their natural habitats as well, a short life of freedom is more valuable than a long life in a cage?

Ronel v
Ronel v3 years ago

Petition signed. this is a very tragic story

Carole R.
Carole R3 years ago

What a tragic loss.
We can only hope some good comes from this.

Adrienne L.
Adrienne L3 years ago

Thanks for sharing.

Magdalena C.
Past Member 3 years ago

Thank you!

Melania Padilla
Melania P3 years ago

Horrible, petition already signed and shared.

lane Lehing
lane Lehing3 years ago

captivity kills :(

Mahmoud Khalil
Mahmoud Khalil3 years ago