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Ill beluga whale at Georgia Aquarium dies

ATLANTA - Marina, a female beluga whale that had fallen ill at the Georgia Aquarium, died early Saturday morning, aquarium officials said.

The female whale died about 2 a.m. Saturday, said Jeff Swanagan, the aquarium's president and executive director.

'She was showing increased disorientation in her swimming behavior. Then she stopped swimming and stopped breathing,' he said.

Officials do not know why the whale died. Swanagan said the aquarium would conduct a necropsy on Saturday to determine the cause of the whale's death, focusing on the whale's central nervous system.

The whale had stopped eating on Nov. 22 and had become disoriented, injuring her chin. She had been kept under 24-hour watch by aquarium staff and veterinarians. About 16 staff members and volunteers were in her pool when she died, he said.

Marina is the second-oldest of four beluga whales at the aquarium. Marina was part of three beluga whales that were transferred in November 2005 from Wildlife Conservation Society's New York Aquarium.

'We are saddened by the death of Marina,' officials from the New York Aquarium said in a statement. 'Georgia Aquarium's staff worked very hard to care for Marina during this critical time.'

The three other beluga whales at the Georgia Aquarium - Nico, Maris and Natasha - are eating normally, the aquarium said.

Another beluga whale, Gasper, was euthanized at the Atlanta aquarium on Jan. 2 after a long battle with bone disease and a weakened immune system.

Two whale sharks - among the aquarium's first stars when it opened in 2005 - died in June and in January. A chemical used to treat their exhibit is believed to have led the whale sharks - named Ralph and Norton - to lose their appetites and eventually die, said aquarium spokesman Dave Santucci.

'We have to accept the whole life cycle here as biologists and our public does, too - while you have all these births you also have deaths,' Swanagan said. 'It's part of the living collection. It's hard on us.'