Georgia Aquarium beluga death causes sadness, anger

The Georgia Aquarium has lost three beluga whales in the last three years.

Two were infants, the offspring of matriarch Maris. They failed to thrive. On Thursday Maris herself died. The aquarium still hasn't determined the cause. Aquarium officials said the 21-year-old beluga seemed healthy, had been through her weekly health exam and was eating normally, before she died Thursday afternoon.

The death hit aquarium animal care givers hard, especially those who had worked in vain to help Maris' young calves survive.

But visitors on Friday morning waited outside the ticket plaza as they do on any other sunny day, many of them unaware of the loss.

Teresa Huckaby of Cave Spring found out about the death of the beluga whale just before she was scheduled to bring about 300 seventh-grade students to visit the downtown facility.

“I just shook my head,” said the Polk County school teacher, who is not in favor of wild animals being kept in zoos or aquariums. “I thought she shouldn’t have been there anyway.”

Nonetheless, Huckaby was standing outside the aquarium Friday morning, as a chattering crowd of 12-year-olds climbed out of yellow school buses and lined up for tickets.

Huckaby shrugged. She might be opposed to aquariums but she wasn’t going to begrudge her students a chance to see penguins and whale sharks. “It’s an experience for them,” she said.