For more than two decades, Shedd Aquarium has had the privilege of caring for belugas – beautiful, white whales with a mouth shaped like a smile and a vocal range that earns the nickname “the canaries of the sea.” We’ve learned extraordinary information about them, have loved and cared for them, and have educated tens of millions of people about belugas by providing the unique opportunity to see and observe them in an up-close and real way.

It’s because of these reasons, and so many more, that when a beluga whale passes away the loss is devastating – not only to those of us who care for them every day, but for the thousands more who have made a personal connection with them.

Shedd Aquarium is grieving such a loss today.

We are deeply saddened to announce the loss of Miki (MEE-kee), one of our young adult male beluga whales who died last evening as a result of complications from a prolonged illness.

Miki, whose name meant “little” in Inupiaq, the language of one of Alaska’s Native peoples where belugas are found, passed away at Mystic Aquarium in Connecticut where he was currently residing as part of Shedd’s involvement in the North American beluga whale breeding consortium. Because Miki’s species is listed as ‘near threatened’ due to their vulnerability of population decline in the wild, sustaining healthy, diverse beluga populations in aquariums that allow us to learn from them is critical.

“For 20 years, accredited aquariums and marine parks have led or participated in an extensive number of published studies, which have provided important insight into how these whales learn and grow, from reproduction and neonatal care to bioacoustics, behavior and biology,” said Bill Van Bonn, DVM, vice president of animal health for Shedd who co-led the team working to provide comfort and care to Miki in his final days. “Much of this research would be difficult or impossible to do in the wild, and yet having them in our care has allowed us to share knowledge that has made significant impacts for wild populations and their management.”

Both Shedd and Mystic veterinary teams worked collaboratively on site and consulted with beluga experts from across the nation along with numerous veterinary and human health professionals to determine the best options to manage his care.

“Miki was beloved. We would do anything and everything we could for his welfare – and that of every animal at Shedd or in our colleague organizations,” added Van Bonn. “The loss of any life is heartbreaking. Miki will be especially missed.”

Miki was no stranger to the Connecticut home, as Shedd and Mystic have a long relationship in collaboratively caring for beluga whales. When Shedd’s Oceanarium underwent a re-imagination in 2008, Mystic served as the temporary home for all of our dolphins and whales for several months while their Chicago habitats received new enhancements.

Maris Muzzy, cetacean manager for Shedd who worked with Miki over the last eight years shared how she was often impressed with the young whale.

“Miki mimicked the behaviors of the dolphins and learned to porpoise himself out of the water almost as high and as gracefully as they do – quite the accomplishment for a beluga whale,” she said. “His passing is heartbreaking to our team who loved and cared for him since he was born right here in the Oceanarium, and equally to our colleagues who cared for him at Mystic as well. We are so grateful for what we learned by working with him and to be able to teach millions of people about him who would otherwise never be able to see these animals in the wild.”

Click here to learn more about how we care for animals like Miki, and the contributions we are making for dolphins and whales across the world.