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Georgia Aquarium Mourns Loss of Beluga Whale Calf

Atlanta (May 23, 2012) – Georgia Aquarium is deeply saddened to announce the loss of its beluga whale calf born Friday evening to 17-year-old Maris, a first-time mother.

“This is an extremely sad day for the Georgia Aquarium family. Over the past few days, our veterinary and animal care teams have been giving around-the-clock care to Maris and her calf,” said Dr. Gregory Bossart, senior vice president and chief veterinary officer. “We initially became concerned when the calf was born and needed assistance from the divers to bring it to the surface to breathe. The calf was significantly underweight and appeared to have a significant number of medical issues. Based on our knowledge of healthy calves, we knew this calf would probably not survive, but our hearts gave us hope that she might be able to pull through. Our primary concern now is the well-being of Maris.”

“From her challenging birth to the difficulties she experienced the days following, it is clear that it is unlikely the calf would have survived as long as she did had it not been for the incredible care our dedicated team provided,” added Bossart.

“Our experienced staff of veterinary and animal care teams are some of the best in the world. They dedicate their lives to these extraordinary animals,” said David Kimmel, president & COO. “While we recognize that death is part of the natural cycle of life, this remains a difficult loss for the entire Aquarium team. I’m extremely proud of the passionate, dedicated and unrivaled care that our experts gave this calf.”

First-time pregnancies in marine mammals are often unsuccessful in both their natural habitat and in human care. Odds for calf survival increase with each of the mother’s consecutive pregnancies.

Maris was closely monitored by veterinary and animal care staff throughout her pregnancy. The calf was carried to full-term.

“A better understanding of belugas is critical to conserve and protect the species. When we can study and observe belugas in human care, we continue to gain a better understanding of their biology, physiology and the diseases that affect them, all with the goal of learning how to help these populations in their natural habitats,” said William Hurley, senior vice president and chief zoological officer. “Even through her short life, Georgia Aquarium was provided the rare opportunity to advance the zoological community’s knowledge about the reproductive health of beluga whales. What we have learned from the loss will ultimately benefit beluga whales in the marine mammal community and in the wild. Research and observation of this nature would be impossible to conduct in their natural habitat.”

Georgia Aquarium is one of only seven accredited North American aquariums and zoos committed to public display and breeding of beluga whales.

The necropsy (animal autopsy) is being conducted by Aquarium veterinarians and other outside animal health specialists from University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine. All tests and evaluations will be finalized within the next few weeks, however a cause of death may never be known.

The beluga whale exhibit is closed for public view. Maris will continue to remain under 24-hour observation by the animal care team. She is doing well and is swimming with the other three beluga whales: Beethoven, Grayson and Qinu.

For more information, contact Public Relations: Meghann Gibbons Director 404.581.4109 Jessica Fontana Specialist 404.581.4391

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