One of the three beluga whales at the National Aquarium in Baltimore died suddenly yesterday from what appeared to be injuries after performing in a show and participating in a routine training session, aquarium officials said.
Anore, a 10-year-old female, was found dead in a pool in the Marine Mammal Pavilion about 1 p.m., said aquarium spokeswoman Vicki Aversa. The injuries were sustained during the training session rather than during the show, she said.
The whale's death is sure to reignite protests by animal rights activists who oppose keeping the whales and dolphins in captivity and showing them in performances.
Steven Simmons, a spokesman for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, said the stress caused by captivity can cause injury or death to marine mammals.
"I know dolphins and whales in the span of a single day may travel many miles, and then they're put into these small aquariums that completely frustrate that natural roaming instinct that they've got," he said.
Aquarium officials said that Anore's death came totally without warning.
"It was all very sudden. It was totally unexpected," Ms. Aversa said. She said Anore showed no sign of illness and that nothing in her behavior indicated anything was wrong.
"From all accounts, she appeared to be in really excellent physical health," Ms. Aversa said. Routine blood tests taken one week ago were normal.
The exact cause of death will not be known until a necropsy, or animal autopsy, is completed, Ms. Aversa said.
Anore performed in the first show at noon yesterday, along with the two other beluga whales, Kia and Sikku, and several bottlenose dolphins. The show lasts 25 minutes, and the beluga whales perform during the first 10 minutes, Ms. Aversa said.
After the show, a staff mammalogist conducted a training session with the three whales, which Ms. Aversa described as playtime and an opportunity for them to interact. Staff members also use such sessions to teach the whales new behaviors. It was shortly after the training session that the whale was discovered dead.
The aquarium's show schedule was not interrupted by the death. "We have fewer shows scheduled during this holiday season, and this actually took place between shows, so we went ahead with the performances as usual," Ms. Aversa said. "But that's not to say that we are not saddened by the death of Anore."
The two other beluga whales and the dolphins are in good health and are behaving normally, Ms. Aversa said. They will be closely monitored during the next few days.
Anore was the second beluga whale to die at the National Aquarium. In August 1989, a 7-year-old beluga whale named Illamar died of an inflammation of the stomach and pancreas that caused her circulatory system to fail.
Anore and Illamar arrived at aquarium together in 1985 and were sent to the New York Aquarium in 1987 while their habitat was renovated. They returned in 1988, along with Kia.
After Illamar died, Sikku was brought to Baltimore from the New York Aquarium. Sikku had been captured along with Kia but had been left behind in New York to participate in a breeding project.
There have been two other mammal deaths since the aquarium opened in August 1981. A dolphin died in 1981 from a gastric ulcer that was blamed on stress caused by being exposed to too many people too soon after its capture from the wild. The conditions also caused three other dolphins to become ill.
The death led to renovations of the aquarium tank and a decision to switch to beluga, which the mammalogists thought were better suited to conditions in the tank. A second dolphin, on loan to the aquarium from the Dolphin Research Center in Marathon, Fla., died in 1984 of heart and kidney problems developed before it came to Baltimore.
The deaths have led to repeated protests by animal rights activists who object to the capture and confinement of marine mammals for the entertainment of people.
A dolphin performance was disrupted in November by Ric O'Barry, who had trained the dolphin Flipper for a TV series but who has since become an outspoken opponent of keeping marine mammals in captivity.