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Reports: Mystic’s two beluga whale deaths caused by undiagnosed health conditions



Dr. Robert Gibbens
Director, Animal Welfare Operations, USDA-APHIS
[email protected] 
[email protected] 

Please levy the MAXIMUM FINE against the Mystic Aquarium/Sea Research Foundation, for their blatant disregard of the Animal Welfare Act when their negligence caused the death of a Beluga Whale. Their behavior should NOT be tolerated and MUST be punished to the fullest extent of the law.


Reports: Mystic’s two beluga whale deaths caused by undiagnosed health conditions

From Liz Hardaway, Lisa Backus, CT Insider, June 25, 2022

Mystic Aquarium said Friday that the deaths of two beluga whales were “unpreventable.”

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

The two beluga whales, Havok and Havana, died months after being transferred from a facility in Canada. The two had undiagnosed health conditions, according to necropsy reports conducted by the Fisheries branch of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

“Mystic Aquarium delivers consistent, world-class care to all animals that call Mystic Aquarium home,” said Meagan Seacor, the aquarium’s vice president of external relations. “The necropsy reports showed that their causes of death were unpredictable, unpreventable, incurable and undiagnosable until after death through necropsy.”

“The animal care and veterinary teams did everything they could for these animals,” Seacor continued. “While devastating losses, the necropsy reports validate that there was nothing more that could have been done to prevent their deaths.”

Stop Animal Exploitation Now, an animal advocacy group out of Ohio that focuses on eliminating animal experimentation, filed a complaint regarding the whale deaths with the U.S. Department of Agriculture on May 25. In the complaint, the organization stated “negligence at this facility” killed Havana.

Reports from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration stated Havana’s cause of death was storage disease in her brain and spinal cord, while Havok’s cause of death was determined to be gastrointestinal disease.

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

Since Havok’s death in August 2021, NOAA Fisheries has ordered Mystic Aquarium to suspend all research activities until they say otherwise.

The USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service is looking into SAEN’s complaint against the aquarium. A spokesperson with the USDA could not confirm nor deny that an investigation is taking place Friday.

Michael Budkie, the executive director of SAEN, said that though Mystic Aquarium claims to provide world-class care, reports from the USDA show otherwise.

In a Sept. 29 inspection, the USDA issued five violations. One violation noted water quality issues in which there were elevated oxidants in the water from July 31 to Aug. 27. These elevated levels could “cause irritation to eyes, skin, and the respiratory system,” the USDA said in the inspection.

Three of the five violations in the inspection were considered critical. These encompassed veterinary care, animal handling and the facilities.

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

The federal agency followed up again with another inspection in January that contained repeat water quality violations in Havana’s pool, as well as the pool of Jetta, another beluga whale. The inspection stated that, while both whales were under veterinary care, there were many days when the coliform bacteria count in the water far exceeded USDA standards.

At the time, Havana was experiencing medical issues, including keratitis, an inflammation of the cornea. One ophthalmologist said that coliform changes may have contributed to the eye issue as elevated levels of coliforms could also cause irritation to a whale’s eyes, skin and respiratory system, according to the inspection.

“Evidence documented by the federal regulatory agency charged with enforcing the Animal Welfare Act shows that Mystic Aquarium’s claims to provide world class care are quite simply false,” he added.

The USDA inspected the aquarium’s six remaining beluga whales, 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, “experienced an emergency” and died on Feb. 11, an official from the aquarium told the National Institutes of Health’s Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare in a letter.

A report from NOAA stated Havana’s cause of death was storage disease in her brain and spinal cord.

Despite pushback from animal rights groups and a lawsuit, the aquarium imported five beluga whales from a facility in Canada in May 2021. A few months later, in August 2021, 5-year-old Havok died while being treated for gastrointestinal issues. A federal oversight report revealed that staff recorded Havok’s “abnormal behavior” but failed to notify his veterinarian until hours after he died.

Havok’s cause of death was later determined to be gastrointestinal disease, according to a report from NOAA.

Incident reports said both whales’ deaths were the result of health issues and were unrelated to any research being performed.

Beluga whales typically live 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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