Mystic’s two beluga deaths caused by undiagnosed health issues

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

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

The two belugas, Havok and Havana, died months after being transferred from a facility in Canada. Both had undiagnosed health issues, according to autopsy reports conducted by the Fisheries Branch of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

“Mystic Aquarium provides consistent, world-class care for all animals that call Mystic Aquarium home,” said Meagan Seacor, Vice President of External Relations for the aquarium. “Autopsy reports showed their causes of death to be unpredictable, inevitable, incurable and undiagnosable until after death by autopsy.”

“Animal care and veterinary teams did everything they could for these animals,” Seacor continued. “Although devastating losses, autopsy reports confirm that there was nothing more that could have been done to prevent their deaths.”

Stop Animal Exploitation Now, an Ohio-based animal rights group that focuses on eliminating animal testing, filed a complaint about the whale deaths with the US Department of Agriculture on May 25. In the complaint, the organization said “negligence in this facility” killed Havana.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reports said Havana’s cause of death was storage disease in his brain and spinal cord, while Havok’s cause of death was determined to be gastrointestinal illness.

NOAA Fisheries continues 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 Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service is investigating SAEN’s complaint against the aquarium. A USDA spokesperson could not confirm or deny that an investigation is ongoing on Friday.

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

During a September 29 inspection, the USDA issued five violations. A violation noted water quality issues in which there were high oxidants in the water from July 31 through August 27. These high levels could “cause eye, skin and respiratory system irritation,” the USDA said during the inspection.

Three of the five violations noted during the inspection were deemed critical. These included veterinary care, animal handling and facilities.

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

The federal agency again carried out another inspection in January that contained repeated water quality violations in the pool in Havana, as well as the pool in Jetta, another beluga whale. The inspection revealed that while both whales were under veterinary care, there were numerous days when the coliform bacteria counts in the water far exceeded USDA standards.

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

“Evidence documented by the federal regulatory agency charged with enforcing animal welfare law shows that Mystic Aquarium’s claims of providing world-class care are simply untrue,” he added.

The USDA inspected the aquarium’s six remaining belugas, along with 24 other animals, in early April and declared the aquarium to be compliant at the time, according to a USDA inspection report.

Havana, a 6-year-old beluga, “experienced an emergency” and died Feb. 11, an aquarium official told the National Institutes of Health’s Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare in a letter. .

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

Despite rejection 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 he was being treated for gastrointestinal problems. A federal surveillance report said staff recorded Havok’s “abnormal behavior” but didn’t notify his vet until hours after he died.

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

Incident reports said the deaths of the two whales were the result of health issues and not related to any ongoing research.

Belugas 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.