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.

Rescued false killer whale

Chester was stranded as an infant. His rescue was assisted by many including the DFO.

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, rescued false killer whale

Dr. Martin Haulena performs an ultrasound on Chester to monitor his health.

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.”

Rescued marine mammal Vancouver Aquarium

Earlier this year Chester was moved behind-the-scenes at the Vancouver Aquarium to provide a larger habitat.

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

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11 Responses

  1. michelle

    I am also dissapointed he’s staying. I’ve read on multiple sites how these creatures can be returned to another pod to show them the ways and years later are healthy and thriving even when born in captivity. If this were you’re chjild wouldn’t you treat them differently. I would.

    • Vancouver Aquarium

      Hi Michelle — Chester was rescued as a calf who was fully dependent upon its mother for food and protection. His recovery was only possible due to the dedicated efforts of our Marine Mammal Rescue Centre team of staff and volunteers who spent more than 10,000 hours caring for him, day and night. He is not a candidate for release as he would not have the ability to find food on his own or protect himself against dangers (like boats) in the wild. There is a lot of misinformation being shared about rescued cetaceans; each case is unique and Chester’s rescue and rehabilitation means he’s now thriving at our marine science centre.

  2. Kimberly Forssander

    You did amazing job nursing him, but I’m disappointed that you are going to keep him. In a phone call last November I was promised that wasn’t the case to keep him and I was told if you should keep him longer he would not be performing in shows. How and what can I believe now? I think it’s very sad that he’s staying

    • Vancouver Aquarium

      Hi Kimberly,

      The decision as to whether or not rehabilitated animals may be released is determined by Fisheries and Oceans Canada. In this case, it was the decision of an independent scientific panel that worked with DFO to make that decision. Vancouver Aquarium does not make these decisions; we do, however, provide a long-term home for marine mammals that need ongoing care, such as Chester.

  3. Deanna

    So pleased the aquarium is here to save creatures that otherwise would die, captive whales are not ideal but alive is better than dead,and they can contribute like Helen and Hana did for dolphin research.

  4. Diane Dickerson

    I was lucky enough to be able to work with these beautiful animals at Seaworld in Queensland Australia. Squirt was one of the star attractions. She was such a gentile giant and would always come to my side when ever I entered the water.i believe we actually fell in love with each other. Good luck guys xxx

  5. Joppa Wills

    Thank you for all the work you are doing!
    My grand children and I happened to see a fantastic performance by Helen & Hana a couple of wks ago. The best one yet! My grand daughter filmed it. So sad to here about Hana passing away, and thankful for such a great team that tried to save her. Once we learned she had died, our immediate concern went to Helen being lonely on her own. Really hoping this is a great adventure for both Helen and Chester. So thankful that we have the aquarium and the support structure for marine mammal rescue. Wonderful work saving Chester. We look forward to visiting him with Helen.

  6. Patricia

    I was greatly saddened by the news of Hana’s death and concerned for Helen’s well being as I am sure you are. Any chance that Chester can be placed with Helen? So proud to be members. Keep up the good work!

  7. Amie Padilla

    Funny how one chapter closes (sadly with Hana) and another opens…and so continues the circle of life. Another amazing story highlighting the important work you do at the Vancouver Aquarium Proud to be members and here’s hoping Chester and Helen become fast friends.

  8. Sandie

    So glad to hear the positive news that Chester gets to stay. Look forward to visiting with him when he moves out front. A bit of good news after the recent sadness.


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