That poor baby beluga died

Experts say beluga deaths are unavoidable, but deaths in captivity are


The tiny, unnamed white whale who was born at Georgia Aquarium on Friday, passed away this morning after spending several days in critical condition. A necropsy, which may or may not reveal the cause of the infant whale's death, has already been performed, but the fact of the matter is baby beluga whales have a high mortality rate and first time pregnancies are often unsuccessful.

Basically, there was a good chance the whale would die and it did. Which doesn't make it less sad. Or less interesting to talk about.

On Monday, I put up a pretty benign/flippant post - filled with Raffi references, no less - that sparked a little conversation about the merit of keeping marine life in captivity. Or, rather, the absence of merit. Readers especially "disliked" a comment left by Lori Marino, an Emory lecturer and Ph.D. holder who's studied cetaceans for two decades. She wrote:
Although beluga infants do have a high mortality rate in the wild, to subject Maris to such a heartbreak is cruel and unjustifiable by any standard. The Georgia Aquarium knew the chances of this baby surviving were small and yet they continue their program of breeding so that they can sell more tickets. Shame on them!

Commenter RogerWaters was critical of this perspective (not to mention the overall content and tone of the post):
Answer me this, how many boat trips would it take, and how much of the environment would be compromised to take all of the people who go to Georgia Aquarium each year to see a whale shark or beluga whale in the wild?

So, let me say, I'm torn. I've never been to the Georgia Aquarium (mostly because it's expensive), but I think if I visited, I'd probably really like it. I love zoos. I love having the chance to be close to an animal I wouldn't otherwise get to be close to. That said, if the zoo didn't exist, would I "compromise the environment" by jetting to Africa, then travel in a gas-guzzling all-terrain vehicle to see one on the savannah? No. I wouldn't.

I called Marino to see if she had anything else to say about the little beluga's untimely death (like it or not, "dislikers," she's an expert). Besides agreeing that it was sad - and that there was a good chance the same thing would have happened in the wild - she reiterated the concern that the benefits education and entertainment don't outweigh the harm done to marine mammals kept in captivity. "Kids love dinosaurs. They're fascinated by them, yet they've never pet one or seen one. We don't need to see anything. And if the whales are not going back into the wild, they're not contributiong to conservation efforts."

The aquarium's beluga exhibit is currently closed, but should reopen in a few days.