Maya, 18-year-old dolphin at National Aquarium, euthanized after battling illness

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Maya, a recently departed Atlantic bottlenose dolphin who lived for 18 years in the Inner Harbor facility. Photo courtesy of National Aquarium.

One of Baltimore’s last remaining resident dolphins was euthanized after suffering from health issues the last several months, the National Aquarium announced today.

Maya, an Atlantic bottlenose dolphin born in May 2001 and raised in captivity at the aquatic attraction downtown, died after showing signs of illness starting in March, according to a release.

Staff began caring for her after she started losing her appetite, and gave her “fluids supplemented with vitamins, electrolytes and medications, including antibiotics.”

It at first seemed to be working, but in mid-April veterinarians found she had inflammation throughout her body and digestive issues stemming from her liver not functioning properly. They ran tests, got her a liver biopsy and consulted with marine mammal experts around the country. But her health declined further over the last several days, to the point on Saturday where she couldn’t keep food down and had elevated breathing.

“Despite their best efforts, Maya was unable to recover and in the interest of the highest level of animal welfare, the difficult decision was made to euthanize Maya yesterday so that she did not endure additional pain or suffering,” the release said.

The aquarium celebrated her legacy, including the fact that  she reached millions of members, children visiting with school groups and other guests as part of the facility’s small dolphin colony.

“Maya was a cherished member of our National Aquarium family, and we are heartbroken to lose her,” said aquarium CEO John Racanelli in a statement. “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.”

She was among the eldest of seven dolphins still housed at the popular aquarium downtown, junior to her half-sisters Chesapeake, 26, and Spirit, 18.  The others are Jade, 20; Beau, 14; Foster, 11; and Bayley, 10.

Chesapeake was also having some health issues earlier this year, the aquarium said in February.

Maya’s body is being sent Johns Hopkins for a full animal autopsy “to better understand the underlying causes of Maya’s illness,” today’s announcement said.

The aquarium has been planning to relocate its dolphins from Inner Harbor Pier 4 to a first-of-its-kind North American animal sanctuary for several years, but Raccanelli said several months ago that they’ve encountered issues finding a place that’s both economical for the institution and suitable for the dolphins.

They were exploring the Florida Keys, but have broadened the search to include Puerto Rico, he said earlier this year. The effort is estimated to cost some $15 million.

“It might be an extra year,” he said in April, referring to the originally set 2020 deadline. “We want to do it right.”

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Ethan McLeod

Senior Editor at Baltimore Fishbowl
Ethan has been editing and reporting for Baltimore Fishbowl since fall of 2016. His previous stops include Fox 45, CQ Researcher and Connection Newspapers in Virginia. His freelance writing has been featured in CityLab, Slate, Baltimore City Paper, DCist and elsewhere.
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