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Dolphin dies at the National Aquarium after monthslong illness

Maya, the third-oldest Atlantic bottlenose dolphin in the National Aquarium's colony, was euthanized Sunday after her illness kept her from keeping food down.. She was born at the aquarium in 2001.
Maya, the third-oldest Atlantic bottlenose dolphin in the National Aquarium's colony, was euthanized Sunday after her illness kept her from keeping food down.. She was born at the aquarium in 2001. (Courtesy of The National Aquarium)

One of the National Aquarium’s seven dolphins, named Maya, died Sunday evening after prolonged illness, according to an aquarium news release.

“Maya was a cherished member of our National Aquarium family, and we are heartbroken to lose her,” said National Aquarium Chief Executive Officer John Racanelli in Monday’s release. “We have been deeply moved by the outpouring of support from the community and appreciate everyone’s compassion during this difficult time for our staff, our dolphins and our guests.”

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Veterinary staff determined in mid-April that the dolphin was experiencing liver problems and inflammation, which contributed to problems with her digestive system.

At that time, staff conducted a liver biopsy and consulted with marine mammal experts around the country to treat her.

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But as of Saturday, the Atlantic bottlenose dolphin, which was born at the aquarium in 2001, was unable to keep food down, and her breathing was elevated.

The National Aquarium in Baltimore is today announcing our decision to create the nation's first seaside dolphin sanctuary and to move our colony of dolphins there before the end of 2020. Here's why.

Maya was euthanized on Sunday. She was the third-oldest dolphin at the aquarium’s colony.

The death comes during an uncertain time for aquarium’s dolphin population. In the summer of 2016, the aquarium announced plans to construct a seaside sanctuary for the dolphins.

“Emerging science and consultation with experts have convinced us that dolphins do indeed thrive when they can form social groups, have opportunities to express natural behaviors and live in a habitat as similar as possible to that for which nature so superbly designed them,” Racanelli wrote in a Baltimore Sun editorial at the time.

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But in April officials said climate change had complicated their search for a suitable location for the refuge, delaying the move beyond its original 2020 target.

In the meantime, aquarium staff is focused on keeping their six remaining dolphins healthy for the move, now pegged for the end of 2021.

“As you can imagine, our team is still reeling from her passing and currently all hands are on deck to care for the other dolphins that remain in our care,” wrote an aquarium spokesman in an email.

Staff at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine will complete a necropsy to determine the underlying cause of her illness, the release stated.

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