A dolphin that inspired and educated more than 10 million visitors, students and scientists at the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre passed away Sunday evening. Hana, an adult, female Pacific white-sided dolphin succumbed after a week-long fight with gastrointestinal distension and inflammation, despite first-of-its kind surgery performed Thursday night by a world-class team of veterinarians flown in from across the continent.

“Hana has been a huge part of our life at the Vancouver Aquarium and will be greatly missed by our team as well as visitors who came to love and learn from her,” said Dr. Martin Haulena, head veterinarian at the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre. “I can tell you that we did absolutely everything we could to save her, including bringing in the best radiologist, anesthetist and surgeon in the field to provide treatment, and we had an incredible team of animal husbandry staff with her in waist-deep water around-the-clock.”

Hana white sided dolphin, Vancouver Aquarium

After groundbreaking surgery, Hana continued to be monitored by veterinary staff around the clock.

Last Monday, May 18, the animal care team who work with Hana every day documented a change in her behaviour. With assistance from one of the world’s top dolphin radiologists, Dr. Haulena confirmed gastrointestinal distension and inflammation, a rapid and life-threatening condition that occurs in animals everywhere, both in professional care and in wild populations. With her condition worsening, he assembled an exemplary team of best-in-field veterinarians specializing in surgical care, anesthesia and radiology; together, the team decided to perform the first-ever enterotomy (bowel surgery) on a Pacific white-sided dolphin under general anesthesia. Because cetaceans live in water and are conscious breathers, surgical procedures are high-risk and extremely rare.

“The surgery had never been successfully completed before,” said Dr. Haulena. “When she survived it, we had a glimmer of hope that aggressive post-operative treatment and her own strength might just pull her through.” Since the late-night surgery took place Thursday, the marine mammal care team and other volunteers nursed her around the clock, walking with her in waist deep water, supporting her, providing familiar encouraging words and close gentle contact. Although there were signs of improvement on Saturday morning, on Sunday, some of her physiological parameters started to worsen. She passed away peacefully Sunday evening surrounded by a team that had been caring for her daily over the course of ten years.

Hana and Helen, rescued dolphins

Hana (foreground) and Helen pictured together, inspired millions of visitors on aquatic conservation.

“Although we knew it was a miracle that she made it through the surgery and that her recovery was a long shot, her loss still comes as a devastating blow,” said Clint Wright, senior vice president and general manager of Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre.

Hana was a dolphin already given a second chance. She arrived at the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre in 2005 from Enoshima Aquarium where she’d been in care for injuries sustained from entanglement in a fixed-location fishing net off the east coast of Japan in 2003. As the only marine mammal rescue centre in Canada, Vancouver Aquarium provides long-term care to several rescued marine mammals; it offered a home to her and to Helen, another rescued Pacific white-sided dolphin, after Japanese officials deemed them unreleasable due to the extent of their injuries, which would have put them at a disadvantage in the wild.

Since their rescue and rehabilitation more than 10 years ago, the dolphins have contributed to several research projects by Vancouver Aquarium and collaborating scientists from around the world, including one to help understand how Pacific white-sided dolphins navigate underwater using sound (echolocation), and why they get caught in fishing nets. More recently, they contributed to a study of lung-function that may soon help inform marine mammal rescue efforts, particularly during a mass stranding of cetaceans, which require quick decisions to save sick and injured animals. Most poignantly, perhaps, Hana’s legacy will be the important medical advances and understanding that were made during her surgery, which will help to save future cetaceans.

Dolphin research at Vancouver Aquarium

Hana participated in echolocation studies like this one pictured above.

Just as important, Hana inspired millions. School classes, Aquarium members and visitors from around the world learned about Pacific white-sided dolphins, the plight of entangled marine mammals and the broad range of issues affecting animals living in our oceans. She will be missed by all.

The other Pacific white-sided dolphin, Helen, is in good health and, under the guidance of Dr. Haulena, the veterinary and animal husbandry teams will closely monitor her over the coming weeks to ensure she adjusts to the change in the Wild Coast habitat.

The Vancouver Aquarium is a self-sustaining, not-for-profit marine science centre that offers a long-term home to rescued, non-releasable marine mammals. Our Marine Mammal Rescue Centre rescues and rehabilitates over 100 marine mammals each year. Donations to the Rescue Centre help to fund critical care and ongoing rehabilitation.

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30 Responses

  1. Anne Zwagerman

    I should have read the sequel bwfore replying. She certainly got the best possiblechance

    Irish Anne

  2. Carlo

    I’m so sad by this loss. Hana and Helen were inseparable! I hope Chester will be a great companion to Helen after this tragedy. At least Hana is now at peace. And don’t listen to the protesters. They are just misinformed about all this. And if they come this happens everywhere. 🙁

  3. April

    I’m so sorry for your loss. Thank you for your hard work and trying to save her during this illness and for your love and care you gave her after her rescue. Thoughts go out to Helen too. I hope a companion can be found for her.

  4. Heather L

    Hana, you were such an amazing and beautiful animal.
    I can’t believe you are gone. You will be remembered by all who ever saw you.
    My deepest condolences to the staff and the volunteers
    And thank you the veterinary team who performed the surgery.
    Rip Hana!

  5. Marilyn Borugian

    Sweet Hana, thank you for brightening all our lives. Hugs to Helen and all the staff and volunteers.

  6. JH

    As a member for the last 4 years, it feels like the aquarium and specifically Helen and Hana have been part of our family. We have grown together and watched them learn new tricks while watching our son perform dolphin shows. Any tips on how to expose a child to this kind of loss would be helpful. Thoughts and condolences to Helen and the aquarium staff in this sad time.

  7. Dorothy Young

    I was saddened to learn of the passing of Hana. She was so brave. She entertained and taught us many things over the years. Thankfully the unique surgery that was performed permitted doctors and scientists to learn from it. It is too bad that Hana is swimming in another world now but it was her time. She will not only be missed by Helen and her trainers but also by those of us who love dolphins and the Vancouver Aquarium. Please continue to do your great work and research. You are an Aquarium the world, not just Canada, can be proud of.

  8. Stephanie

    Condolences to the team and all of Hana’s handlers. She had a wonderful second chance with all of your help, and was quite certainly the best cared for dolphin in the world with Helen aside.

  9. Brenda Clarke

    Whenever I go to the Vancouver Aquarium, and I go at least 5 times a month, and I have been a steady member now for just over 22 years, I feel that everyone there is my family, and all the animals are my pets. I have so many photos, and memories of the the Orcas, and Dolphins, and I remember watching Hana’s shows. I will sorely miss her as a pet that I really loved.
    RIP my sweet fun pet, and I will always remember you, with looking at all the photos I have of you. You were great to watch, and laugh with.

    • Vancouver Aquarium

      Thank you Brenda for your kind words. We are grateful for the support of our members and community during this difficult time. Hana was greatly loved by many and she will be deeply missed.

  10. Wendy Ewing

    I was heartbroken to hear of the death of Hana, a gentle, noble animal. My deepest respect extends to everyone involved in Hana’s care. Please know your extraordinary care, love, and commitment was a gift to Hana. Thank you for the amazing work you do.

  11. Amie Padilla

    Oh such sad news! Our family feels so fortunate to have seen Hana during some of her best leaps at the Vancouver Aquarium. What a beautiful creature who certainly maximized her ‘second chance’ thanks to the staff around her. My condolences to you all – we’ll miss her.

    • Vancouver Aquarium

      Thank you Amie, we appreciated your support during this difficult time. Hana connected with many people during her 10 years at the Aquarium. She will be greatly missed by our staff members, volunteers and guests.

  12. Mokah

    So sorry to hear of the loss of such a beautiful animal. I am happy though that she had a second chance at life at the aquarium and was able to help educate researchers and families alike about the life of pacific white-sided dolphins. I hope that her memory is enough to help the research continue and help other animals in the future. I will stop in and visit Helen when we return to Vancouver in July.

    • Vancouver Aquarium

      Thank you Mokah for your kind words. Hana certainly touched the lives of many during her 10 years at the Aquarium, we were happy to provide a long term home for this rescued and rehabilitated marine mammal.

  13. Marcus Wernicke

    She was such a kind and gentle soul, just a beautiful animal. I will miss her.

  14. Lianne

    I’m very sorry for your loss, I know that Hana had a wonderfully extended life after her rescue.

    Hugs all around.

  15. Marge

    So glad I got to see Hana just a couple days before she fell ill. I saw her many times before this and always loved her story of survival. It will be a loss and my thoughts are with her friend Helen and everyone who cared for her.

  16. Sophie Dessureualt

    We are very saddened by this loss. My daughter and I loved to spend time watching Hana and Helen every time we came to the aquarium. Thank you for all the care and love you give to these magnificent animals.

    • Vancouver Aquarium

      Thank you Sophie for your kind words. We hope Hana was able to inspire you and your daughter about ocean conservation during her time here at the Aquarium.

  17. Trijnie

    We were lucky to see Hana and Helen last year during our visit.
    Such sad news that Hana passed away. I know all of you experts at the Vancouver Acquarium did everything you could. Keep up all the good work that you guys are doing!

  18. JL

    I’ll never forget the day Hana arrived. So much excitement to meet a new face, who at the time was simply known as “Number 8”. She was a picturesque dolphin and had such an amazing zest for life. She’ll be missed.

  19. Pam Collingwood

    I sit here crying right now. I can’t even imagine how the staff and volunteers feel right now at the loss of Hana. To lose such a precious friend. My thoughts are with you all.


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