News / Vancouver

False killer whale death at Vancouver Aquarium leaves one cetacean alive

Staff spending extra time with remaining dolphin, Helen

A false killer whale named Chester has died at the Vancouver Aquarium. The young whale is shown being rescued by members of the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Mammal Rescue Centre from a beach near Tofino, B.C., on July 10, 2014.

Handout / Vancouver Aquarium Marine Mammal Rescue Centre

A false killer whale named Chester has died at the Vancouver Aquarium. The young whale is shown being rescued by members of the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Mammal Rescue Centre from a beach near Tofino, B.C., on July 10, 2014.

There is only one cetacean left alive at the Vancouver Aquarium after Chester, a false killer whale, died Friday.

The death follows a series of five cetacean deaths in the past 16 months, including two belugas that mysteriously passed away nine days apart in November 2016, re-igniting a decade-long debate about whether cetaceans should be kept in captivity.

Chester, the three-and-a-half-year false killer whale, died Friday, leaving his tank mate, Helen, a pacific white-sided dolphin, as the sole cetacean at the Vancouver Aquarium.

Staff are spending extra time with Helen following Chester’s sudden death, an aquarium spokesperson confirmed Sunday.

The aquarium did not confirmed Chester’s cause of death by Metro’s print deadline but head vet Dr. Martin Haulena suggested Friday that stranded animals often have renal problems later in life.

A post-mortem exam on Chester was scheduled for Friday.

His death has animal rights organizations on alert.

"We don’t know what happened in the case of Chetser but what we do know is that whales and dolphins and other cetaceans, they suffer in captivity and especially in the type of captivity that the [Vancouver] aquarium has," said Arden Beddoes, the lawyer representing Animal Justice and Zoocheck.

He says the aquarium should consider building sea pens for its cetaceans, rather than keeping them in tanks at Stanley Park.

"We would hope that this latest incident, like many, many incidents in the past, would encourage the aquarium to take another look at the position it is taking and make a move toward a much more natural environement."

The aquarium has spent much of 2017 embroiled in controversy following the November 2016 deaths of belugas, Qila and Aurora. After months of investigation, the non-profit ruled their deaths were caused by “an unknown toxin” and announced a series of measures to announced a series of measures to keep its remaining cetaceans safe.

The Vancouver Park Board passed a bylaw in May that bans the aquarium from bringing any more cetaceans into its Stanley Park facility. The bylaw allows the aquarium to keep caring for the cetaceans it already has. At the time, three cetaceans lived at the aquarium.

The aquarium responded by saying the bylaw was “a death sentence” for cetaceans, because the facility would no longer be able to provide a home for unreleasable whales.

Then in June, Daisy, a nine-year old rescued harbour porpoise, died from pulmonary disease. The aquarium’s other harbour porpoise, Jack, had died in August 2016. That left Chester and Helen as the only cetaceans left at the facility.

That same day, the aquarium announced it had filed a legal challenge against the Vancouver Park Board’s cetacean ban. Two animal-rights groups – Animal Justice and Zoocheck – are intervening against the aquarium's bid to strike down the ban. The BC SPCA and Vancouver Humane Society also applied for intervenor status but were rejected. A judge has yet to rule on the case.

Then, Chester’s behaviour changed suddenly on Wednesday and aquarium vets immediately started providing around-the-clock care for him, according to a press release. He passed away Friday morning.

Chester was found extremely weak and emaciated on a Tofino beach when he was about a month old in 2014. He was given a 10 per cent chance of surviving. He lived the rest of his life at the Vancouver Aquarium after the Department of Fisheries and Oceans deemed him unreleasable because he did not have the skills to survive in the wild.

In a press release following his death Friday, aquarium staff described him as “affection, cheeky, and full of fun.” But Chester also remained health-challenged throughout his life, due to being stranded on the beach, according to the aquarium.

“Chester connected with more than four million people during his time with us, sharing his joy and curiosity with every person he encountered,” said Brian Sheehan, the aquarium’s marine mammal curator.

“We've been incredibly lucky to love him and to learn from him.”

More on