In another sad loss for captive cetaceans, a young male beluga has become the latest to pass away in string of deaths at U.S. aquariums.
The young beluga, Miki, died at the Mystic Aquarium in Connecticut before even making it to his ninth birthday, which would have been on August 16.
He had been sent to Mystic from the Shedd Aquarium in Illinois as part of a “beluga whale breeding consortium,” intended to increase the number of captive belugas. According to Shedd, he died as the “result of complications from a prolonged illness,” but no further details were given.
Love This? Never Miss Another Story.
While Shedd expressed the heartbreak of losing him, it still insists that keeping belugas in captivity is a necessary evil, adding in a statement, “Because Miki’s species is listed as ‘near threatened’ due to its vulnerability to population decline in the wild, sustaining healthy, diverse beluga populations in aquariums that allow us to learn from them is critical.”
Unfortunately for aquariums, belugas do poorly and breed poorly in captivity and the death toll continues to grow. With a captive population that won’t sustain itself without new babies, aquariums are going to have to look to the wild to keep their exhibits open.
The Georgia Aquarium’s years-long attempt to import wild-caught belugas in an effort to “save” them perfectly demonstrated how desperate these facilities are to keep public display going. Had the Georgia Aquarium been successful, the belugas in question would have gone to to the Mystic Aquarium, the Shedd Aquarium, and SeaWorld parks, although SeaWorld later backed out following its pledge not to take wild-caught cetaceans.
Thankfully, the Georgia Aquarium later gave up, but none of those facilities have escaped scrutiny or criticism for their continued exploitation of cetaceans. Shedd was recently featured on In Defense of Animals’ (IDA) first annual list of the 10 Worst Tanks for Dolphins and Whales over concerns about the belugas in its care, and how detrimental both captivity and continual transportation is to their welfare.
As IDA put it:
Beluga whales at Shedd will never experience their own innate natural behaviors, like diving to depths of 1,000 feet or more, nor be free to choose their own social groups. They will never experience seasonal gatherings numbering in the hundreds to a thousand other belugas communicating with one another using over fifty vocalizations and echolocation sounds. Instead at Shedd, they are condemned to life obeying human commands and coerced to perform for customers in contrived “Beluga Encounters” while being prodded to produce babies who will be condemned to a lifetime of captivity.
You can help empty the tanks by urging facilities to end breeding programs and phase out their exhibits and by supporting organizations that are devoted to protecting whales and dolphins in the wild where they belong. True conservation efforts aren’t focused on sustaining captive populations, they’re devoted to habitat protection, and ensuring no more wild whales or dolphins suffer at either an individual or population level as a result of human activities, which include more wild captures.