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Beluga whale at Georgia Aquarium suddenly dies

GEORGIA -- The Georgia Aquarium announced on Thursday that their beloved 21-year-old beluga whale named Maris suddenly died.

Maris was one of three belugas at the Aquarium.

"Maris was one of the first beluga whales at Georgia Aquarium and inspired millions of guests each year," Mike Leven, the Aquarium's chairman and chief executive officer, said in a statement. "The bonds that were created over the last ten years between Maris and her animal care and veterinary teams were truly special. This unexpected loss is difficult."

The Aquarium said in a statement that Maris showed all the signs of being a healthy whale. She had been eating normally and interacting with the other two beluga whales at the Aquarium as usual.

"This is a case of sudden, acute animal death," said Dr. Gregory Bossart, senior vice president and chief veterinary officer of Georgia Aquarium. "Our animals receive exceptional care, and our dedicated team of experts responded to her within minutes to render aid."

At this time an animal autopsy has begun, the Aquarium said. And veterinarians are working with pathologists from University of Georgia to determine the cause of death.

The beluga whale habitat remains open to the public with whales Qinu and Grayson.