A beluga whale that has been on loan from the Vancouver Aquarium for almost two decades has died at SeaWorld in Florida.
SeaWorld Orlando alerted the public to Nanuq’s death via its Facebook page on Friday. The male whale was around 31- or 32-years-old.
“A post-mortem examination has been scheduled, though results are not expected for six to eight weeks,” SeaWorld said in a statement “While the cause of death is not yet known, Nanuq was being treated by SeaWorld veterinarians for an infection associated with a fractured jaw; an injury that resulted from an interaction between two animals that were part of a compatible social group.”
Nanuq was transferred to Orlando in 1997 as part of a cooperative program to help expand genetic diversity of belugas being held in captivity. The death renews the debate about whether the animals should be bred in captivity.
“The conversation has obviously been brought back to the table,” Vancouver Park Board commissioner Michael Wiebe told the Associated Press.
“Nanuq was someone who I used to see as a kid, because I was a Vancouver Aquarium member. It’s important, and so we will look at how it was being treated and what the practices are and what we could do to make it better,” he added.
SeaWorld, which has been under fire in recent years for treatment of its animals, said recent research published in the Journal of Cetacean Research and Management shows that the average life span for belugas is between 30 and 35 years, suggesting Nanuq lived a long life. Still, news of the loss sparked some people to urge SeaWorld not to replace the beluga as an attraction at its facility.
Others were more generous in their sentiments.
“I’m sorry for your loss, SeaWorld,” Rebecca Schultz wrote on Facebook. “I did the Beluga interaction twice, and they are such gentle, loving and funny giants. I always loved doing that. Nanuq will be missed.”