SAN ANTONIO, Texas -- SeaWorld San Antonio has recorded its 13th beluga whale death since 1995. Five of the 13 were under 5-years-old. Other SeaWorld parks have not recorded as many deaths.
Marine Biologist, Andreas Fahlman Ph.D. with Texas A&M Corpus Christi said it's difficult to determine if the number of beluga whale deaths in San Antonio is unusual. He said more research is needed on survival rates in the wild.
"I know the trainers and the veterinary staff in San Antonio will do their utmost to help their animals to treat their animals and to make sure they have the best life they can," said Fahlman.
Fahlman said respiratory disease appears to be the leading cause of death among beluga whales. He's currently working with a capture facility in Hawaii and veterinarians to study lung function among belugas.
"These are cold water animals and it's quite warm down here, so that could have something to do with it. And if you have these conditions, warm and humid, that could definitely be a cause of death," Fahlman said.
A spokesperson for SeaWorld San Antonio released this statement:
"While we are saddened at the loss of Bella, we understand in working with animals that death is a part of nature's cycle. The level of care that SeaWorld provides its animals is second to none...SeaWorld San Antonio has a thriving whale pod that has given the zoological community 16 births, two of which occurred last month in our park. Natural breeding and successful births are the results of healthy environments, and our park has had more beluga births than any other facility that is accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. SeaWorld will closely examine the results of the animal's necropsy when they are returned in several weeks, and we will continue to provide our animals with the highest level of care possible."
Fahlman said some species of belugas are endangered, so breeding programs are crucial.
"They do maintain a viable stock, because they can breed these animals and if the animals in the wild go extinct, these may be the last survivors and then we can use them to help natural populations," said Fahlman.
Earlier this month an aquarium in Georgia was denied a permit to import 18 belugas from Russia. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration determined the whales were too young, possibly still nursing and not yet independent.