Beluga deaths at Vancouver Aquarium a mystery

by | Nov 30, 2016 | News

By: Alana MacLeod

Never in its 60-year history has the Vancouver Aquarium seen the death of two beluga whales, any whales for that matter, in only two weeks.

Police are now involved in the investigation involving Aurora and her calf, Qila — and the mystery has sparked renewed discussion about keeping animals, specifically whales, in captivity.

Scientists are examining the food the whales were given, checking for infection and even investigating whether they were poisoned.

The mystery has sparked renewed discussion about keeping animals, specifically whales, in captivity.

“It’s all just speculation,” Andrew Trites, University of British Columbia mammal researcher told Humber News.

“My first thought is probably something viral, some sort of virus,” he said. “They both had the same symptoms. Seems like they passed it on to each other,” he said, adding “just a pure guess, nothing to substantiate it.”

Trites has done research at the Vancouver Aquarium and worked with male belugas there a few years ago.

“Belugas have the most personality,” he said. “They can turn their necks and look at you. They have a permanent smile on their faces. They just seem to be able to connect with people, which is why I think people are so shocked.”

On Monday, a scientific investigation was launched to try and find out what happened to Aurora and Qila.

Questions about Vancouver Aquarium’s care for their animals have surfaced.

When asked if inhabitants in the Vancouver Aquarium are well taken care of, Trites responded with “without question, yes.”

The Vancouver Aquarium website says it does not purchase its cetaceans.

“In 1996, Vancouver Aquarium became the first aquarium in the world to make a commitment to no longer capture cetaceans from the wild for display,” its website says.

The website also says the last whale or dolphin collected by the Aquarium happened in 1990 and actually was one of the belugas to just pass away, Aurora.

“That same whale, Aurora, contributes to our knowledge of wild belugas, including ground breaking research, which investigates the impact of boat noise on beluga vocalizations and how it affects the ability of beluga moms and calves to call each other. This is especially important in light of the shrinking ice cover and impending increase in shipping traffic in the Arctic.”

However, many online activists, such as No Whales in Captivity, say the Aquarium purchased three dolphins in 2005.

This isn’t the first time the Vancouver Aquarium has faced controversy.

In 2014, the captivity of cetaceans and the breeding practices within their facilities were questioned and resulted in an official review of the facility.

Animal Welfare groups have responded to the recent beluga deaths asking that the captivity of cetaceans in the Vancouver Aquarium come to an end.

At a Vancouver Park Board meeting Monday night, a motion about cetaceans in captivity was brought forward by Chair member Sarah Kirby-Yung. It will be discussed early next year.