An inspection by the U.S. Department of Agriculture after the death of a beluga whale at Mystic Aquarium last summer found problems with the care of that particular whale and others transferred from a facility in Canada.
The report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service stems from an inspection done in September, after the Aug. 6 death of a 5-year-old male whale named Havok.
He was among five whales transferred to aquarium last spring from a facility in Canada to Mystic, which specializes in beluga research.
The report on Havok’s death, which is dated Feb. 7 but released last week, found that Mystic failed to provide adequate veterinary care during the final eight hours of his life.
It noted that staff observed odd behavior in the whale, including frequent rolling in the water and other signs of distress.
“Although staff members were recording their observations of Havok’s behaviors, the veterinarian was not contacted during this eight-hour timeframe until Havok’s death at 0550 hours,” according to the report.
The report also found that Havok, who had vision problems, had been injured twice in June, once by ramming himself into a gate while a worker used a net to try and retrieve a foreign object that fell into his tank. He also was wounded by striking posts in the aquarium’s medical pool, it said.
“The handling of the whales during the response to the foreign object falling into the pool was not done as carefully as possible to ensure the safety of all the animals, including Havok who had known vision impairment, a history of swimming into habitat walls, and a disposition for being ‘spooked,’ per his behavioral records and previous facility’s medical records,” the report found.
Meagan Seacor, a spokeswoman for the aquarium, said the issues brought up in the inspection are being addressed.
“While we do not agree with some of the findings, we respect USDA’s feedback and are always working to continuously improve,” she said. “We are committed to providing world-class care to all the animals that call Mystic Aquarium home.”
Another USDA inspection, conducted this week, found no issues with the aquarium’s whales, she said.
Meanwhile a preliminary necropsy on Havana has found she had significant lesions in her thoracic cavity and lung congestion that could be the result of infections.
A third whale, Jetta, who became ill in the fall has “made significant improvements and continues to be clinically well,” Seacor said.
Naomi Rose, a marine mammal scientist with the Animal Welfare Institute, said she remains concerned for the welfare of all of Mystic’s transplanted belugas, which she says should not have been brought to the U.S. in the first place.
“There is clearly something going on at Mystic that is not great, that is not top drawer, not world-class care,” she said. “I don’t think removing them is the answer, but something has to be done with better supervision and understanding how these whales, who had preexisting conditions, were allowed into the United States in the first place.”
The whale deaths are also being investigated by the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service.