British Columbia

Beluga dies at Vancouver Aquarium

The Vancouver Aquarium's youngest beluga whale, three-year-old Tuvaq, died suddenly on Sunday morning.

The Vancouver Aquarium's youngest beluga whale, three-year-old Tuvaq, died suddenly on Sunday morning.


Tuvaq moments after birth
Aquarium veterinarian David Huff says the young beluga ate some herring and was playing with other belugas just before he died. 

"And I was just doing some paperwork in the office and somebody ran in and said that virtually instantaneously he had stopped breathing, stopped moving, staff jumped into the water to support him and he was gone."

Tuvaq was a "typical bratty little brother" to Keela, the aquarium's nine-year-old female calf.


Tuvaq as a newborn calf
in July 2002
"He had not yet decided to become a well-trained whale and was constantly mischievous, constantly sticking his nose in where it shouldn't be," Huff said. 

The young whale was born in captivity at birth at the aquarium three years ago.

Tuvaq's body will be taken to the provincial animal health centre for examination in an effort to determine the cause of death.

But one critic says there's no doubt about what killed Tuvaq. Annelise Sorg, who founded the Coalition for No Whales in Captivity, says Tuvaq died because of his unnatural surroundings.


A young boy watches a beluga whale
at the Vancouver Aquarium. (CP Photo)
"Captivity kills. There's just no other way about it. You can't keep these highly intelligent, social animals in small bathtubs, concrete pools in Stanley Park and expect that they will be able to live and survive." 

Sorg says the Vancouver Park Board should call a referendum on ending whale captivity at the aquarium.

She notes the Aquarium phased out orcas after the deaths of three killer whales in the 1990s. And she says it's now time to follow suit with the belugas.

Belugas are a small Arctic whale that can grow to be more than four metres long, weigh up to 1,000 kilograms and live to be 50. Males reach sexual maturity at eight.

They are social, living in pods, and migrate up to 2,000 kilometres, often swimming up river estuaries in the summer.

They eat fish, squid and other small sea animals, and are themselves hunted by polar bears and killer whales.