Mystic – A report by US Department of Agriculture inspectors criticized the way Mystic Aquarium cared for a 5-year-old male beluga whale in the final hours before he died last August.
The report states “that in the eight hours prior to his death, staff performing nighttime surveillance documented multiple observations of abnormal behavior and failed to alert the attending veterinarian. The frequency of these abnormal behaviors increased markedly during this period compared to what had been observed previously.”
Named Havok, he was one of five belugas that were transferred from Marineland Canada to the aquarium last year. He died in the early morning of Friday August 6. Another of the transferred whales, a female, died in February.
The transfer has faced opposition from several animal rights groups, who have argued that the transport would endanger the whales, separate them from their social groups and violate the intent of a Canadian law of 2019 aimed at phasing out the captivity of whales, dolphins and other cetaceans. The US National Marine Fisheries Service import permit prohibits the animals from being bred for at least five years or included in public shows. The aquarium, however, said the whales were living in poor and overcrowded conditions in Canada and the transfer would help ongoing research to protect wild beluga populations.
The report says there were numerous instances of Havok rolling and shaking his pectoral fins, as well as three instances of “gasping” breaths and seven instances of water being seen coming out of his blowhole in the eight hours before he died. There were also 10 cases of “active bleeding” from Havok’s rostrum or beak, recorded in the two hours before his death.
“This increased frequency of abnormal behaviors is a problem; may indicate a rapid deterioration in the animal’s health and may lead to prolonged distress. Although staff members were recording their observations of Havok’s behaviors, the veterinarian did not was contacted during that eight-hour period until Havok died at 5:50 a.m. (5:50 a.m.) The facility failed to provide adequate veterinary care by failing to use proper methods to prevent, control, diagnose, and treat illnesses in the last eight hours of Havok,” the report said.
On Thursday, the aquarium released a statement that said in part, “While we disagree with some of the findings, we respect the USDA’s comments and are always working to continually improve.” We are committed to providing world-class care for all animals. who call Mystic Aquarium home.”
He added that it is “addressing all issues raised by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and a new inspection report was released Wednesday with no findings or concerns from the USDA. Mystic Aquarium appreciates the vigilance of the USDA and aligns with the fact that the welfare of all animals is of the utmost importance.”
Wednesday’s report involved a USDA inspection on April 5-6 that found “no nonconforming items.”
Earlier this year, the aquarium said it implemented three animal care teams and new operating procedures for communication, handling animals with vision problems and upgrading facilities.
The aquarium also said another of Canada’s whales, a female who was critically ill last summer, “has been receiving 24/7 care for the past few months, significant progress and continues to be clinically well.”
“With healthy energy levels, increased weight and normalizing blood work, the veterinary team is optimistic about her recovery,” he said.
A review of aquarium records by the USDA funded numerous cases in which Havok injured himself in the pools where he and other whales in Canada were kept with the aquarium’s three resident whales.
In one case in June 2021, Havok, who had recently been treated for eye problems, was in a swimming pool when a visitor dropped an object into the water. Employees then closed the door to the holding pool while they attempted to retrieve the object with a net. Havok was surprised by the net and swam to an adjacent holding pool after the gate closed. Although there were dark trap marks on the clear acrylic door, Havok swam through the door and reopened wounds on the stand and sustained a fresh injury to his upper left mandible.
“The handling of the whales when responding to a foreign object falling into the pool was not done with as much care as possible to ensure the safety of all animals, including Havok who had a known visual impairment. , a history of swimming within the walls of the habitat, and a tendency to be “frightened”, according to his behavioral records and medical records from the previous institution,” the report states.
The report states that the aquarium’s records also contain several entries that document injuries Havok suffered on the surfaces of the enclosure.
On June 23, 2021, he injured himself in the medical pool where the poles of the device that lifts animals out of the water are located, resulting in a 4 by 4 inch injury to the part of his body that supported his tail. end, which required continuous processing. In July, according to the report, staff noted that the whale “appears to have reduced vision, often colliding with the wall of the habitat” and sustained abrasions.
The USDA also found that there were times of the day when the holding pond lacked sufficient shelter to protect the animals from direct sunlight. The records contained entries for the application of sunscreen to whales from June to the end of September 2021. Havok’s medical records included an entry for July 12, 2021, which described the presence of sun dermatitis with skin ulceration surrounding its blowhole and a solar skin disease on its head. Records also documented that all five whales have eye problems that can be exacerbated by direct sunlight.
The report states “that marine mammals that are kept outdoors should be protected from inclement weather or direct sunlight. Exposure to direct sunlight may be harmful to animal health and may result in eye or cutaneous”.
The report also revealed that on eight consecutive days last summer the level of ozone, a gas that can be harmful at high levels, in the water rose above what is considered acceptable and required immediate attention. He said high levels of oxidants in the water, such as ozone, are harmful to marine mammals and can cause eye, skin and respiratory system irritation.
He said the problem was fixed by the aquarium before the inspection for the report.
Darien-based Friends of Animals, one of the groups that opposed the transfer of the whales last year, criticized the aquarium’s handling of Havok on Thursday.
“Mystic misleads the public by using research to justify the importation of beluga whales and its fundraising efforts. The public needs to wake up and see that Mystic staff don’t even know what to do when an animal dies in front of them, much less conduct research,” said Priscilla Feral, president of Friends of Animals. “Keeping whales in tubs for photo ops isn’t research or conservation, unless you’re researching how to earn more money.”
She added “It’s high time Connecticut banned the import of whales and their breeding in captivity” and added “groundbreaking research to help beluga whales in the wild…is being done by studying them in the wild.” “.
“The justice system has let those belugas down, but we still have the court of public opinion. It’s time to redefine family entertainment as something other than animal exploitation,” Feral said. “Such captivity strips wild animals of their dignity, and in the case of these belugas, it ended their lives.”