Maris the Beluga Whale Dies Suddenly at Georgia Aquarium

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At 10:32 p.m. on Friday, May 18, 2012 Maris, one of Georgia Aquarium's resident beluga whales, successfully gave birth to her first calf. Shortly after birth, the calf took its first breath with the assistance of two divers, and then attempted to swim with its mother. The calf showed signs that it was not strong enough to navigate on its own, so Aquarium animal care and veterinary experts made the decision to intervene in order to provide the best care possible for the calf. The calf is under 24-hour care, and Aquarium experts currently list it in critical condition.

ATLANTA (CNN) — A beloved female beluga whale has died suddenly at the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta.

Maris, 21, showed no signs of illness before her death Thursday, the aquarium said in a statement.

She ate and interacted normally with Grayson and Qinu, the other two beluga whales at the aquarium.

“This is a case of sudden, acute animal death,” said Dr. Gregory Bossart, chief vet at the Georgia Aquarium.

An autopsy is underway.

Fisheries experts at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration estimate that beluga whales often live to be 35 to 50 years of age in the wild.

Maris lived at the aquarium for 10 years, and had a calf this year that died in June shortly after birth.

PETA: ‘Killed by captivity’

The rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) said Friday Maris died because she was a captive animal.

“Maris was denied her freedom her entire life. She was transferred from one facility to another, and her babies died, one after the other,” PETA Senior Vice President Lisa Lange said in a statement. “Whether or not she had a physical ailment that went unnoticed, she was killed by captivity, plain and simple.”

The Georgia Aquarium website says the study of belugas in human care helps researchers expand their knowledge of belugas in the wild, in areas such as rising ocean temperatures, diseases and how underwater sounds affect the animals.

“The data can be combined and applied to help conserve and protect wild belugas from threats in their natural habitats,” the website says.

Maris came to Atlanta from the New York Aquarium, where she was born.