Five-year-old beluga whale Havok’s last eight hours before he died on Aug. 6, 2021, were full of extreme discomfort and distress. However, no one told an attending veterinarian until after he died.
This was just one of the violations of the Animal Welfare Act that Mystic Aquarium was flagged for during an inspection by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, according to the inspection report made public yesterday.
“The facility failed to provide adequate veterinary care by not using appropriate methods to prevent, control, diagnose and treat diseases during Havok’s last eight hours,” the report states.
“Mystic deceives the public by using research to justify importing belugas and its fundraising efforts. The public needs to wake up and see that the staff at Mystic doesn’t even know what to do when an animal is dying in front of them, let alone conduct research,” said Priscilla Feral, president of Friends of Animals. “Keeping whales in bathtubs for photo ops is not research or conservation unless you are researching how to make more money.”
Friends of Animals, an international animal advocacy group, contested the transfer of Havok and four other belugas in a court battle. They were transported in the dead of night in May of 2021 from Marineland in Canada despite countless warnings that the move would risk their lives. Since Havok’s death, a female beluga whale died in February and another whale is in intensive care.
“As we told Judge Alvin W. Thompson, who ruled in error and against Friends of Animals and allowed these belugas to be transferred, the move would tear them from deep social relationships formed at the only home they knew, and the physical and psychological stress they were exposed to would increase risk of disease and death,” said Feral, president of Friends of Animals. “Their fates were doomed, and the aquarium failed them because it ignored science.”
Mystic ignores the fact that game-changing research to help belugas in the wild—for instance the endangered Cook Inlet population—is being done by studying them in the wild because technology is making it easier, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The USDA report stated Havok was rolling frequently, gasping for air and was observed upside down at least 15 times. He was also bleeding from an open wound on his snout. Havok, who had poor eyesight, incurred the injury when he rammed into a gate to a holding pool after being startled by a net an employee was using to retrieve an object a visitor dropped into the beluga habitat.
The conditions of Havok’s pool were also of concern as he suffered multiple injuries on the surfaces of his enclosure. Other issues listed in the inspection report included poor water quality and a lack of adequate shelter to protect the beluga whales from direct sunlight.
Adding insult to injury, more than 200 online bidders and attendees of a live auction last summer raised $3.4 million for Mystic Aquarium. One of the hot-ticket items—naming rights for three of the belugas; the right to name the fourth came from a raffle.
“The legal system failed these belugas, but we still have the court of public opinion. It’s time to redefine family entertainment as something other than exploiting animals,” Feral said. “It’s long past time for Connecticut to ban importing whales and breeding in captivity. Such captivity strips wild animals of their dignity, and in the case of these belugas, it ended their lives.”