Death of Qila brings renewed scrutiny
By Mercedes Deutscher, News Editor
The death of a beluga whale at the Vancouver Aquarium has the organization under public scrutiny.
Qila, aged 21, died of unknown causes on November 16. A necropsy is expected to be completed on November 23.
Qila was the first beluga to be both conceived and born in a Canadian aquarium on July 23, 1995. She had lived her entire life in captivity, and had a calf named Tiqa in 2008, who died three years after her birth.
Aurora, Qila’s 29-year-old mother, still survives at the aquarium. She briefly fell ill around the same time as her daughter’s death, exhibiting symptoms of abdominal discomfort. These symptoms are similar to those exhibited by Qila shortly before her death. Aurora is now allegedly on the mend, yet it is questionable whether or not that will mean a full recovery. According to CBC, John Nightingale, president and CEO of the Vancouver Aquarium, explained that when Qila exhibited these symptoms, she too had shown signs of recovery, but then her condition worsened again and she died within minutes.
“She hasn’t been eating and since marine mammals get the water they need through their food, she’s been given fluids. She’s also been given some broad spectrum antibiotics and analgesics to ease whatever pain there might be,” said Nightingale on Aurora’s condition to CBC.
Qila’s death has created a window for anti-aquarium activists to bring up their concerns, including Sarah Kirby-Yung, chair of the Vancouver Parks Board. Kirby-Yung is pushing for a referendum question to be included on the ballots for the 2018 Vancouver municipal election.
“I think the responsible thing to do is to take the time to have real constructive public dialogue,” Kirby-Yung said to CBC.
The Vancouver Aquarium made a pledge 20 years ago to not capture whales for their exhibits. While that may be a relief for some, many are still concerned about the livability of the tanks at the aquarium. In the last 11 years, 3 of the belugas born in captivity have died before they reached 3 years old, such as Tiqa.
Kirby-Yung witnessed one of these births as the former vice-president of communications for the aquarium, and sees the values in keeping belugas.
“Having belugas at the aquarium, and cetaceans, has provided huge benefits in terms of engaging the public and their appreciation for marine life and marine conservation.”
Nightingale added, “They are fit and adapted to live the life they lead and different things matter to them than what matters to us.”