VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – Following a five-month investigation by the Vancouver Aquarium into the sudden deaths of two beluga whales has determined a toxin was the cause of death, and that it was introduced through either water, food, or human interference.
Researchers have been unable to pinpoint the exact substance and they’re unclear where exactly it came from. The mother and daughter whales, respectively named Aurora and Qila, died within just days of each other back in November 2016.
They say this kind of situation of not knowing where the toxin came from can be common “due to the very limited time a toxin is traceable in the bloodstream.” The investigation involved veterinary pathologists, toxicologists, genome specialists, medical doctors, and field research scientists.
“The loss of Qila and Aurora was devastating. They were beloved members of our family and the community for more than two decades. Their loss is felt profoundly by our staff, members, supporters, and the public,” says the facility’s Head Veterinarian Dr. Martin Haulena. “The investigation has helped us understand what happened and, importantly, how we can best ensure the safety and welfare of marine mammals in our care.”
Since the passing of both animals, the aquarium says it has taken several measures
1. To reduce the risk of a toxin being introduced by food/ingestion
- An enhanced food-screening process, which far exceeds best practice standards
- All vegetation adjacent to the habitat that could be considered problematic has been, or will be removed
2. To reduce the risk of a toxin being introduced by water
- Mechanical water treatments systems are being overhauled and replaced as a precaution in all habitats that house whales, dolphins, and porpoises
- New, real-time testing and monitoring of incoming and circulating water within the habitat and mechanical systems has been implemented.
3.To reduce the risk of a toxin being introduced through human interference
- Significant security updates have been deployed to monitor perimeter access and reduce potential threats of human interference
The debate over whether animals, like whales, should be kept in captivity continues with the Vancouver Park Board.
Meantime, the aquarium says it will phase out its beluga program by 2029.