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False killer whale 'Chester' won't be released from Vancouver Aquarium, says DFO

A young false killer whale found stranded in Tofino, B.C. last year won't be released from Vancouver Aquarium because he doesn't have the skills to survive, say officials.

Whale was too young when he was rescued to have the skills to survive, says fisheries official

Watch the rambunctious 'toddler' swim at the Vancouver Aquarium 0:47

A young false killer whale, nicknamed "Chester", rescued from a Tofino, B.C. beach last summer by the Vancouver Aquarium, won't be released to the wild because he doesn't have the skills to survive, said a fisheries official.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada convened a panel of marine mammal experts to make the decision independently of the aquarium, said Paul Cottrell, marine mammal coordinator for the department.

"Given that this animal was very young, didn't have any social interaction with his mom or pod for very long, so he didn't have the social skills [and] didn't have the foraging skills, the panel recommended that Chester is a non-release candidate," said Cottrell.

'Incredible accomplishment'

Chester, a false killer whale calf, a species of dolphin rarely seen off the coast of B.C., was rescued by scientists from the Vancouver Aquarium and DFO in July 2014. (Neil Fisher/Vancouver Aquarium)
Chester was named after North Chesterman Beach, in Tofino, B.C., where he was found by locals last July, stranded and unable to swim, with cuts on his body.

He was only weeks old, and still would have been relying on his mother's milk to survive in the wild.

He was rescued by the aquarium, and brought in critical condition to its Marine Mammal Rescue Centre in Vancouver to be fed by tube and then bottle, before graduating to whole fish.

By December, Chester was doing so well he was moved to a larger pool, and has now more than doubled in size to 174 kilograms.

The Vancouver Aquarium's head veterinarian Dr. Martin Haulena called it "an incredible challenge" to rehabilitate the young false killer whale — a species researchers don't know much about.

Only three or four false killer whale calves of Chester's age have been rescued after strandings worldwide, and those animals didn't survive, he said.

"To get him to where he is today is an incredible accomplishment. Chester looks amazing."

'A bit of a toddler'

The panel recommended Chester be placed with others of his kind because false killer whales are very social, but that wasn't an option, said Cottrell.

The next best thing was a home with other dolphins, which made the aquarium a "great fit," he said.

The Vancouver Aquarium has one pacific white-sided dolphin, named Helen, whose pool-mate Hana died Sunday.

General manager Clint Wright said it will consider placing Chester with her, in the display side of the facility, but the pool will have to be "childproofed" before that can happen.

"He's a bit of a toddler ... he is exploring things, he's highly energetic, he's rambunctious, we need to try to make the habitat as safe as we can for him."

With files from Farrah Merali

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