Published: Fri, April 21, 2017
World | By Paul Elliott

Investigation says toxin killed the Vancouver aquarium's beluga whales

Investigation says toxin killed the Vancouver aquarium's beluga whales

A five-month investigation into the cause of death of the last remaining beluga at the Vancouver Aquarium has concluded that the whales died from a toxin, but its source is still unknown.

An investigation involving dozens of veterinary pathologists, toxicologists, genome specialists, medical doctors, and field research scientists failed to find a specific toxin.

The toxin was likely introduced by food water or human interference, the investigation found.

The aquarium's head veterinarian, Dr. Martin Haulena, said in an interview that the death of the belugas was devastating for staff and the public. Toxins are hard to identify because they persist for a limited time in the blood stream.

The facility now houses three other cetaceans - a false killer whale, a Pacific white-sided dolphin and a harbour porpoise.

"They were beloved members of our family and the community for more than two decades".

Aquarium CEO John Nightingale announced in February that the facility was moving ahead with developing its Arctic exhibit that would house three to five non-breeding beluga whales in a larger habitat, with the intention of phasing out the program by 2029.

They also include a new food screening process and the removal of vegetation next to the habitat, as well as an overhaul of water treatment systems and new real-time water testing. Qila's three-year-old calf, Tiqa, died of pneumonia in 2011.

Significant security updates have been deployed to monitor perimeter access and reduce potential threats of human interference. Just two weeks later, her mother Aurora died after showing the same symptoms.

Once again, fierce debate has ignited over whether the aquarium should continue holding whales, dolphins and porpoises in its tanks.

However, the Aquarium has announced plans to upgrade the Arctic exhibit and return other belugas now housed at USA facilities back to Vancouver ahead of a 2029 phase-out of its cetacean program.

In March, the park board voted unanimously to amend bylaws that govern public parks and instructed staff to report back on prohibiting the importation and display of live cetaceans at the Vancouver aquarium.

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