The two mystic beluga deaths caused by undiagnosed health conditions

MYSTIC – Mystic Aquarium said on Friday that the deaths of two beluga whales were “inevitable.”

However, an animal protection group that filed a complaint against the aquarium last month cited federal reports showing that a beluga whale’s pool had poor water quality two months before it died.

The two belugas, Havoc and Havana, died months after being moved from a facility in Canada. The two had undiagnosed health, according to autopsy reports from the fisheries branch of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

“Mystic Aquarium provides world-class consistent care for all animals that call Mystic Aquarium home,” said Megan Sicor, vice president of external relations for the aquarium. “Autopsy reports show that the causes of their death were unpredictable, unavoidable, incurable and undiagnosed until after death by autopsy.

“Animal care teams and veterinary teams have done everything possible for these animals,” Sikor continued. “While the devastating losses, autopsy reports confirm that nothing more could have been done to prevent their deaths.

Stop Animal Exploitation Now, an Ohio animal welfare group that focuses on eliminating animal experiments, filed a complaint about the death of whales with the U.S. Department of Agriculture on May 25. In the complaint, the organization alleges that “negligence in this facility” killed Havana.

Reports from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration state that the cause of Havana’s death was a disease of accumulation in her brain and spinal cord, while the cause of Havoc’s death was defined as a gastrointestinal disease.

NOAA Fisheries continues to review the circumstances surrounding the deaths and said it is coordinating closely with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

Following Havoc’s death in August 2021, NOAA Fisheries ordered the Mystic Aquarium to suspend all research activities unless otherwise stated.

The USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspectorate is reviewing SAEN’s complaint against the aquarium. A USDA spokesman could not confirm or deny that the investigation was taking place on Friday.

Michael Budki, CEO of SAEN, said that although Mystic Aquarium claims to provide world-class care, USDA reports show otherwise.

In a September 29 inspection, the U.S. Department of Agriculture issued five violations. One violation noted water quality problems with elevated water oxidants from July 31 to August 27. These elevated levels could “cause irritation to the eyes, skin and respiratory system,” the USDA said in an inspection.

Three of the five inspections were considered critical. These include veterinary care, handling of animals and facilities.

“Violations like this are not issued lightly by the USDA,” Budkie said in a statement.

The Federal Agency resumed another inspection in January, which contained repeated violations of water quality in the Havana Basin, as well as in the Jeta Basin, another beluga whale. The inspection said that while both whales were under veterinary care, there were many days when the number of coliform bacteria in the water far exceeded USDA standards.

At the time, Havana was experiencing medical problems, including keratitis, inflammation of the cornea. An ophthalmologist said coliform changes may have contributed to the eye problem, as elevated levels of coliforms can also cause irritation to the whale’s eyes, skin and respiratory system, according to the inspection.

“The evidence documented by the federal regulatory agency responsible for enforcing the Animal Welfare Act shows that Mystic Aquarium’s claims of providing world-class care are simply untrue,” he added.

The USDA inspected the six remaining belugas in the aquarium, along with 24 other animals, in early April and said the aquarium was in compliance at the time, according to a USDA inspection report.

Havana, a 6-year-old beluga whale, “suffered an emergency” and died on Feb. 11, an employee of the aquarium’s Laboratory Animal Welfare Service at the National Institutes of Health said in a letter.

A NOAA report states that the cause of Havana’s death was a disease of accumulation in her brain and spinal cord.

Despite the repulsion of animal protection groups and the lawsuit, the aquarium imported five belugas from a facility in Canada in May 2021. A few months later, in August 2021, 5-year-old Hawok died while being treated for gastrointestinal problems. A federal oversight report revealed that officers recorded Havoc’s “abnormal behavior” but did not notify his veterinarian until hours after his death.

Hawok’s death was later determined to be a gastrointestinal disease, according to a NOAA report.

Incident reports say the deaths of both whales were the result of health problems and were not related to research.

The beluga usually lives 30 to 35 years, according to the World Wide Fund for Nature. However, NOAA says these whales can live up to 90 years.

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