Qila the beluga whale dies at Vancouver Aquarium
The Vancouver Aquarium is mourning the loss of Qila, a 21-year-old beluga whale who died Wednesday morning.
Few details have been released, but staff said more information could be shared later in the day after their veterinarian completes a necropsy.
The death, described as a "sudden loss," has left everyone at the aquarium heavy-hearted, a spokesperson said.
"She was a delight for our team of staff and volunteers every single day – always the first to give us a wink, a little tail flap or a head bob in the morning. It is difficult to put into words the love we all had for her. We will miss her immensely," the aquarium said on its blog.
Qila became the first beluga born in a Canadian aquarium at her birth in July 1995. Her mother, Aurora, is now the only beluga living at the Vancouver Aquarium, and staff said they would be turning their attention to her to help her adjust to the change in environment.
The aquarium said Qila inspired millions of people from across Canada and around the world, and, possibly more importantly, she and her mother contributed to groundbreaking research on beluga whale conservation.
"Scientists here have studied their physiology, learned about their hearing and acoustic abilities, collected baseline data for studies in the wild, and discovered unique vocalizations between beluga whale mothers and calves, called contact calls," the aquarium said.
Aurora, who is believed to be at least 29 years old, is from the Western Hudson Bay beluga population, which has an average lifespan of 15 years, according to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. Some can live as long as 40 or 50 years.
The beluga was the last one acquired by the Vancouver Aquarium before it instituted its policy of only accepting cetaceans that were born in captivity.
In 2008, Aurora became a grandmother when Qila also gave birth to a calf, named Tiqa. The moving birthing process was livestreamed on the aquarium's webcam.
Sadly, the young beluga died three years later as a result of heart failure, according to a necropsy that found a massive accumulation of fluid around Tiqa's heart and lungs.