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Aquarium to phase out beluga program by 2029

Last Updated Feb 21, 2017 at 7:18 am PDT

Qila with one of her trainers at the Vancouver Aquarium. (Courtesy Vancouver Aquarium)

Beluga program will end by 2029

No definitive cause in 2016 deaths of belugas Qila and Aurora

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – The Vancouver Aquarium says it will phase out belugas in captivity at its facility by 2029.

But until that date, the organization will continue with its expansion of the Canada Arctic exhibit with a couple changes.

“The exhibit will be operated with a research-first paradigm. The group of belugas that comes back will be a non-breeding group,” says aquarium president Dr. John Nightingale.

The organization says as many as five beluga whales will be brought in from other institutions to participate in an expanded Marine Mammal Research Program.

When this unique, proactive and important beluga conservation program comes to an end in December 2029, the Aquarium will instead focus its beluga conservation efforts further afield with the intention of applying its scientific knowledge to saving this iconic Canadian species,” says the aquarium, in a release.

Meantime, after extensive testing, there’s still no definitive cause of death after two belugas died last year.

Toxicology results show no infection, but suggest something might have been ingested. The aquarium says it hasn’t ruled out deliberate poisoning, but that theory still ‘needs more evidence.’ The aquarium says Vancouver Police will continue to work with the facility to determine whether there is any sinister cause in the deaths of Aurora and Qila.

The Vancouver Humane Society is taking issue with the aquarium’s new direction, preferring that the facility put its resources toward conservation efforts and field research instead of renovating space to keep whales captive.

“No matter how much they increase the size of the tanks, they’re not going to be anywhere near whales natural habitat, which is the open ocean. They’re not going to be able to guarantee that the whales will be in the natural social groupings that they would experience in the wild,” explains the group’s Peter Fricker.