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With the business of summer rescuing and rehabilitating over 100 seals, and one sea otter, Corky, we thought it was time for an update on Chester, the rescued false killer whale and a look at the people who care for him on a daily basis.

Chester has come a long way since he stranded on Chesterman beach on July 10, 2014. Estimated at less than a 10 per cent chance of survival, it took a highly skilled team over 10,000 hours to rehabilitate Chester into the healthy and curious “toddler” he is today. You can see him now interacting with and exploring with Pacific white-sided dolphin Helen in the Wild Coast habitat.

Dozens of people were involved in Chester’s rescue, ongoing care and transition to his new permanent home at the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre. We wanted to highlight just a few of the dedicated individuals who have worked to see Chester grow stronger and healthier this past year.

Paula Lash: Senior Marine Mammal Trainer

Originally from Arizona with a degree in marine biology, Paula has worked at the Aquarium for over seven years after positions at the Texas state aquarium and the Sydney, Australia, Sea Life aquarium.

Paula was one of the staff members who was there from day one with Chester, arriving to Tofino with the Rescue Centre van to help transport Chester back to Vancouver.

“The day Chester was rescued was an overwhelming and stressful day; not knowing if he would make it,” said Paula. “Being part of his rehabilitation and care team over the past year I have really enjoyed seeing him learn and grow. It is the best part of my job!”

False Killer Whale Rescue

Paula was onsite from day one in Chester’s rescue.

Paula was part of the team that spent hundreds of hours supporting Chester in the water at the Rescue Centre when he was too weak to swim. Today, she works with Chester on husbandry behaviours including voluntary blood draw which allows our animal care team to provide medical assessments and treatment if needed.

Leonora Marquez: Senior Marine Mammal Trainer

Originally from Mexico, Leonora has a bachelor’s degree in marine biology and has spent over 12 years working with marine mammals at different zoos and aquariums. Her first experience as a marine mammal trainer was at the Guadalajara zoo, conducting therapy programs with bottlenose dolphins for children with autism and Down syndrome. Afterwards Leonora spent two years at Dolphin Discovery in Cancun before moving to Canada and landing a position at the Vancouver Aquarium where she has been working with the animals for over 10 years.

Leonora was part of Chester’s rehabilitation process, working overnight shifts in the water at the Rescue Centre when he first arrived. Leonora was also on the team that helped to transport Chester from the back research area to the Main Pool in the wild coast, where she works on different husbandry and high energy behaviours.

False killer whale at Vancouver Aquarium

Leonora (left) assists with Chester’s move to the Wild Coast habitat.

“One of the things that most impacted me about Chester was when we moved him in to the Wild Coast with Helen,” said Leonora. “There was such a good sense of trust built up between Chester and our trainers that he was comfortable transitioning into this new, larger space for him. Seeing him interact now with Helen and continue to curiously explore his surroundings has been great. I am very proud to be part of this team!”

Melissa Bauch: Assistant Marine Mammal Trainer

One of the newest members of the marine mammal team, Melissa first worked as an intern on different animal care teams before being brought on to the team full time last May. Originally from Whitby Ontario, Melissa moved to Vancouver in 2013 after completing a double degree in marine biology and psychology from Dalhousie University.

Melissa had been working at the Aquarium as a trainer for just over a year when Chester was first rescued and brought to the Rescue Centre to receive lifesaving care. “I signed up right away to volunteer for overnight shifts as soon as he arrived,” said Melissa. “Within 24 hours of his arrival I spent my first night in the water supporting him.”

Most recently Melissa has been working on Chester’s husbandry behaviours, which allow trainers to look over Chester’s body each and every day, to ensure his overall health.

Vancouver Aquarium Marine Mammal Rescue

Melissa (middle, front) celebrates the one year anniversary of Chester’s rescue with the team.

What has impacted Melissa most about working with Chester this past year? “For me, seeing the animal that Chester was when he came to the Rescue Centre, eyes shut and unable to support his own body weight, to seeing the thriving animal he has become today has been the most incredible experience! I am very proud of all the people, staff and volunteers who have made it all possible, and of course Chester for always being a fighter.”

You can supported the rescued animals like Chester that call the Aquarium home by donating to the Marine Mammal Rescue Centre today. Learn more about Chester and his incredible survival story on your next Aquarium visit.

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