Born to a 20-year-old beluga whale named Maris, the baby's birth was broadcast to audiences around the world via a webcam.
"The first breath of life, and the calf being able to achieve that by swimming to the surface on its own, is one of those first milestones," said Tonya Clauss, director of animal health at Georgia Aquarium, shortly after the birth. "We were just thrilled to see that take place. Bonding with Maris the way the calf has done is another big milestone and we are seeing very good evidence that that continues."
Five days after birth, the baby whale began nursing from her mother but her diet was supplemented with simulated beluga milk formula. According to the Atlanta Journal Constitution, the baby beluga “was not gaining sufficient weight,” weighing only a pound above her birth weight as of last week.
And after less than a month, the calf died.
"...in the early morning hours of June 5, the calf began showing signs of lethargy and needed assistance to swim," said Georgia Aquarium in a statement released on its official blog. "While next to her mother and in the arms of her dedicated caregivers, the calf took her last breath, and her heart stopped just after 7:00 a.m."
The statement goes on to suggest that from an initial postmortem, they think the calf may have suffered from gastrointestinal problems, which were “preventing her from properly absorbing and assimilating nutrients that she needed to grow.” An autopsy on the newborn whale to further investigate the exact cause of death will be conducted by the aquarium.
Beluga whale births are very rare in captivity. In 2012, Maris’s first calf died less than a week after birth. After this unfortunate complication, the aquarium made every effort to monitor Maris’s second pregnancy, consulting with veterinary experts around the country during pregnancy and after.
"Even though this calf had a short life, Georgia Aquarium had the rare opportunity to advance our knowledge about the reproductive health of beluga whales," said Eric Gaglione, the director of zoological operations, mammals and birds, to The Washington Post. "We can share this with other accredited aquariums that care for belugas."
The statement also said that the aquarium staff are continually monitoring the well-being of the bereaved mother, working with trainers to encourage Maris to socialize with other belugas.
Mother and baby beluga, swimming together shortly after birth.
[H/T Washington Post]