US government investigating deaths of two beluga whales transferred to Connecticut from Marineland

The US government is investigating the deaths of two beluga whales that were moved from Marineland in Canada to a US aquarium last year.

Havana, a young female beluga, died last month at the Mystic Aquarium in Connecticut. Havok, a young male beluga, died at the aquarium last summer. Mystic, which announced the deaths after they occurred, said last month that a third Marineland whale was in intensive care.

The mammals were among five belugas sent to Mystic in May 2021 after Marineland, a tourist attraction in Niagara Falls, Ontario, sold them for an undisclosed price.

The US and Canadian governments approved the move, which was cleared for research purposes. The deaths of the transferred whales are now under scrutiny by the US National Marine Fisheries Service.

“The agency is reviewing the circumstances of the deaths of imported beluga whales and is coordinating closely with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service,” Katie Wagner, a spokeswoman for the service, told The Canadian Press. a written statement.

In Canada, the Department of Fisheries said it approved permits for the whales after receiving a “certificate of good health for each beluga” and was not considering the transfer.

Mystic and Marineland did not respond to multiple written requests for comment.

News of the US review comes after the Animal Welfare Institute, a US advocacy group, last week called on the US government to investigate the transfer and treatment of whales from Marineland.

The advocacy group noted that three whales from Marineland originally scheduled to be moved were replaced months before the move due to health concerns.

“While we advised against the issuance of this permit from the outset, our current concerns stem from Mystic’s need to replace three of the original whales proposed for import with substitutes that Mystic believes would be sound.” he writes in a letter to the government.

“We believe our concerns have been, unfortunately, validated by the August 6 death of Havok, a young male beluga whale who was a surrogate for the original whale Frankie; the severe illness of Jetta, reported August 26, a young female beluga which was a replacement for the original whale Qila; then the death, on February 11, of a second female beluga.”

The belugas had gastrointestinal problems

The week the whales were relocated, Ontario Animal Care Services found that all marine mammals at Marineland were in distress due to poor water quality. Marineland, in court documents last May, denied that its animals were in distress.

Marineland’s inspection, which now lasts a year, is continuing, an Ontario government spokesperson said Wednesday. Marineland has maintained that it treats its animals very well.

In the United States, the Animal Welfare Institute sought to learn more about the translocated whales and obtained US and Canadian government documents and Mystic reports through freedom of information laws. He shared them with The Canadian Press.

The documents shed light on the health of the two deceased whales, as well as the sick third whale.

The two whales that died suffered from gastrointestinal problems and the five mammals transferred had vision problems at Mystic, the United States Department of Agriculture said in an inspection report.

Havok, the whale that died last August, had a history of gastrointestinal issues, according to multiple documents.

“In the months following the move, the animal experienced reversion and worsening of the pre-existing gastric condition,” a Mystic report said. “Marineland’s medical history for this animal included a history of gastric ulcers and associated bleeding, anemia and inappetence.”

A beluga whale is wheeled to its new habitat in a transport cart after arriving at Mystic Aquarium, Friday, May 14, 2021 in Mystic, Connecticut. (Jason DeCrow/AP Images for Mystic Aquarium)

A USDA report examining Havok’s death found that Mystic committed three “critical” animal welfare law violations.

One concerned the last hours of the whale’s life, when it was under 24-hour surveillance.

“During the eight hours prior to his death, staff performing nighttime surveillance documented multiple observations of abnormal behavior and failed to alert the attending veterinarian,” the report said.

Havok had twitched his pectoral fins, rolled over more than 40 times, surfaced on his stomach, had labored breathing and 10 “cases of active bleeding”.

“The facility failed to provide adequate veterinary care by failing to use appropriate methods to prevent, control, diagnose, and treat disease during the past eight hours of Havok,” the USDA wrote.

“These whales are dying”

Trouble for Havana, which died in February, began soon after the move, according to a report filed by Mystic with the National Marine Fisheries Service last week.

The whale was in a ‘healthy and stable condition’ when she was transferred, but within two weeks her blood work ‘began to show signs of a systemic inflammatory process’, prompting treatment, the report said. .

In late July, Havana began squinting and received treatment for a corneal problem.

In September, she developed a gastrointestinal problem called hemorrhagic gastritis. She initially responded well to treatment, according to the Mystic report, but her condition worsened months later.

“On November 6, 2021, the whale stopped eating and it was noted that it periodically swam with its eyes closed and occasionally touched the wall while swimming,” the report said.

Two days later she had another episode of hemorrhagic gastritis, followed by another episode in mid-December and another in late January.

The aquarium said it found abnormalities in Havana’s lungs on Feb. 9.

“Despite round-the-clock care and intensive medical management, early in the morning of February 11, 2022, the whale exhibited an abrupt period of high-energy and disoriented swimming and died shortly thereafter,” the report states.

The third whale’s health issues began in August, Mystic said.

Jetta was “critically ill,” Mystic President Stephen Coan told US authorities in an email on Aug. 26, 2021. “The whale has a low white blood cell count and gastrointestinal issues that appear to be improving and don’t eat,” he said. wrote.

Mystic, which last month said its other five whales were healthy, has not released a recent public update on the sick whale.

Naomi Rose, a marine mammal specialist at the Animal Welfare Institute, said the transfer of whales needed to be monitored more closely.

“These whales are dying,” she said. “Clearly something went terribly wrong here.”