Second whale death at aquarium

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Ralph, one of four rescued whale sharks at the Georgia Aquarium, died last Thursday after he apparently fell ill, the aquarium said. The whale shark is the second popular animal to die at the aquarium in a nine-day period.

“The entire staff is saddened by what has happened today,” said Jeff Swanagan, the aquarium’s executive director, in a written statement posted on the facility’s Web site.

Thursday afternoon, Ralph stopped swimming, the aquarium said, and the facility’s husbandry and veterinary team “administered immediate care” to him before he died at 9:30 p.m. No cause of death was announced.

The staff recently had been concerned about the 22-foot-long whale shark because of his swimming patterns and because he had lost his appetite, the statement said.

Ralph had been at the aquarium for nearly two years, since he was rescued from being harvested for food near Taiwan. He grew by six feet in length while at the aquarium. He and the other male shark, Norton, in June were joined by two females, Alice and Trixie.

Ralph underwent a physical exam in November, with a well-choreographed team of about 50 people taking part — including veterinarians, biologists, engineers, divers and photographers.

The aquarium, the world’s largest, is the only one outside of Asia to showcase whale sharks, the largest fish on Earth. It said it will continue to conduct worldwide research and conservation efforts on whale sharks, as well as other aquatic animals.

The World Conservation Union lists the whale shark as a vulnerable species. Heavy fishing of the whale shark in several areas of Asia is believed to be one reason for its population decline.

On January 2, the aquarium said it had euthanized Gasper, a beluga whale.

Gasper, who delighted visitors by blowing bubbles, was ill prior to his October 2005 arrival at the aquarium, and the facility said his condition had deteriorated in the weeks before his death.

His decline, the aquarium said, “was believed to be the result of his weakened immune system due to years of chronic illness.”

Gasper and another 12-foot-long Beluga whale, Nico, came to the aquarium from an in Mexico City, where they lived in an exhibit surrounded by a large wooden roller coaster.

Source: CNN