Last July, the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Mammal Rescue Centre team rescued a baby false killer whale (Pseudorca crassidens) found stranded and in distress on Chesterman Beach in Tofino. Since his rescue and successful rehabilitation, the false killer whale has been receiving ongoing care at the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre while a long-term option was determined by Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO). To facilitate the process, DFO convened a scientific panel, comprising marine mammal experts from Canada and the United States, which has determined that the animal would not survive if released into the wild; DFO has asked Vancouver Aquarium to continue providing Chester with the long-term care he requires.
The scientific panel determined the animal to be non-releasable after performing a thorough evaluation of his recovery, along with his long-term needs. The panel’s assessment is based on the animal’s age, his lack of survival and foraging skills in the wild, and his extensive contact with humans.
The panel also advised that, due to the social nature of false killer whales, the animal should be housed with other false killer whales, if possible. Options for Chester’s long-term care were limited as there are only a few false killer whales in professional care and Chester was the first false killer whale to be rescued in Canada. False killer whales have been successfully housed with other dolphin species, including Pacific white-sided dolphins. The panel determined that Vancouver Aquarium would be a good option for the ongoing care of Chester given the team’s extensive experience. Vancouver Aquarium is also an accredited facility of Canada’s Accredited Zoos and Aquariums, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and the Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums, and meets or exceeds the recommendations for the care of marine mammals in Canada based on the Canadian Council of Animal Care standards.
“We’re very pleased to continue providing long-term care to Chester at the Vancouver Aquarium where he has thrived since his rescue 10 months ago,” says Dr. Martin Haulena, Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre head veterinarian. “Chester stranded as a very young calf, still wholly dependent upon his mother, and has never learned how to survive on his own in the wild. His remarkable recovery has been led by an amazing team at the Vancouver Aquarium where he immediately began contributing to important research, providing us an immense opportunity to learn more about false killer whales, as so little is currently known about the species.”
Chester stranded at an estimated four to six weeks of age and was found in poor condition with several lacerations and wounds along his body. He was transferred to Vancouver Aquarium’s Marine Mammal Rescue Centre – Canada’s only team of professional rescue staff readily available to save stranded whales and dolphins – where he has received more than 10,000 hours of veterinary treatment, rehabilitation and care.
Historically, stranded cetaceans have a low chance of survival. After several months of around-the-clock care, Chester had regained strength, put on weight and outgrew the habitat at the Rescue Centre. In December 2014, he was relocated to a larger habitat at the Aquarium’s research area.
“As a young animal still learning and growing, Chester’s lack of life skills puts him at a real disadvantage in the wild – he does not have the skills to forage on his own or protect himself from predators and other possible dangers, such as boats,” adds Dr. Haulena. “Our experienced team at the Vancouver Aquarium is able to provide him with the long-term care he needs. Our focus now is to get him acclimated to his new habitat and begin his socialization.”
The next step in Chester’s long-term needs includes relocating him to the Wild Coast habitat. Once he is acclimated to his new habitat, he will begin to socialize with other marine mammals, starting with an introduction to Helen, a rescued Pacific white-sided dolphin, under the care and guidance of head veterinarian Dr. Martin Haulena and his team.
Vancouver Aquarium is a self-supporting, non-profit society and does not receive ongoing funds to provide intensive care for its rescued and rehabilitated animals. To make a contribution to help this marine mammal and others like it, please visit www.vanaqua.org/donate.