Belugas at Marineland
You’d think that out of more than 50 beluga whales at Marineland of Canada, we’d have a bio of at least one of them.
But while belugas are endowed with personality, intelligence and emotion, and know each other by “name” (the vocalization by which they identify themselves), there’s no information from Marineland about any of them as individuals. Here’s what we do know:
At time of writing this, there are 51 belugas at Marineland. One was captured in the Barents Sea in Russia in 1979; 22 were captured in other Russian waters, mostly the Sea of Okhotsk, north of Japan; and 28 were born at Marineland and have never known the ocean.
Another 33 have died at the facility, many of them at a considerably younger age than would be typical in the wild. Four of these were stillbirths. (In their natural environment, baby belugas are born and raised as part of a large, extended family. Young mothers need the help and guidance of the older ones in caring for their calves – but this assistance is not usually available to them in captivity.)
Perhaps the most shocking of deaths was Skoot, who was born at Marineland in 2011 and died in 2012 after being attacked by two older males from whom he could not escape. Marineland guide Jamie Charron told the Toronto Star what happened that night:
Charron was the guide on duty that night when adult males Andre and Orion began to attack Skoot. He desperately tried to intervene, according to his report of the incident. But he’s not an animal trainer, he was alone and didn’t have the skills to do much more than slap the water.
Charron radioed for help when the attack began … During the long wait for help, Andre and Orion continually bit the calf’s rounded head and her body, pushed her violently around the pool, spun her 360 degrees around and slammed her hard into a rock wall where she literally stuck, the log says.
… Skoot’s mother in vain tried to save her calf, pushing her towards Charron and trying to keep her there, bashing Orion away and looking at the human as if, in his view, she was counting on him to help her.
… When trainer Hugo Santana arrived at the Arctic Cove pool at 8:15 p.m. with another trainer, Jackie Kennedy, both plunged in to help pull Skoot from the water.
Santana later wrote a Marineland colleague: “(We) held her through her convulsions and mini seizures until she finally died in our arms.”
The owner of Marineland, John Holer, told the Star that Skoot had meningitis. And in a letter to the newspaper, Marineland veterinarian Dr. June Mergl wrote that Skoot “passed away after a sudden onset of illness” caused by an “acute bacterial infection.”
Among the other belugas who have passed away prematurely at Marineland:
- Dee died after a petting session in 2000, about a year after she was captured;
- Sasha, born at Marineland in 2008, died in 2011.
- And most recently, in August 2017, five-year-old Gia died of what Marineland reported as a twisted small intestine. The company confirmed that shortly after Gia’s birth, her mother stopped nursing her and she was cared for by a marine mammal team until she developed proper eating habits.
Sadly, it seems we know more about the deaths of these belugas than we know about their lives.