Here at Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre, we love to have guest experts in to share their knowledge of the marine world with our employees and guests.
But it’s not very often we get one that’s still in elementary school!
Lucas Nielsen, a 10-year-old from Vanderhoof, B.C., made a special trip to Vancouver Aquarium last week to give us a presentation on his favourite animal: Chester, our rescued false killer whale.
Lucas has a neurological condition, and so he and his family make frequent trips to Vancouver for medical appointments and consultations. When they’re in town, they always make time to visit the Aquarium, where they are members.
It was on one of those trips that Lucas met Chester, shortly after the rescued calf was introduced to our Wild Coast habitat after being rehabilitated by our Marine Mammal Rescue Centre staff in 2014. Ever since, Lucas has been fascinated with Chester, and the pair has developed a bit of a rapport on his subsequent visits.
His presentation, which Lucas undertook as a school project, outlined times when Chester appears to have recognized Lucas, even following him from one underwater window to another and engaging him by exhibiting playful behaviours, such as sticking out his tongue or attempting to feed him by regurgitating squid.
“I like Chester because he acts like a big dog,” says Lucas, who considers Chester a friend.
Getting to know Chester has encouraged Lucas to research the false killer whale species. In his presentation, Lucas touched on the mysterious nature of this southern Pacific dolphin species, which he identified as being “data deficient”— meaning we don’t know much about them — and he also summed up some of the things we do know, such as the fact that they are found in pods of up to 100 animals and have been found in mass strandings. Lucas also chronicled the rescue efforts by Vancouver Aquarium staff and volunteers that led to Chester’s successful rehabilitation. He even managed to surprise some of our staff by showing Vancouver Aquarium videos of the rescue effort that some of them had never seen.
Developing an interest in marine science is just one benefit of visiting the Aquarium, says Lucas’s mom, Claire. As a home-school student in a special education program, Lucas works on a lot of hands-on projects that encourage him to develop independence. “Standing up and speaking in front of people is an important life skill, and we’re all about life skills,” says Claire.
As well, Lucas gets a rare sense of calm and belonging when he visits the Aquarium, which is a family tradition. “I used to live in the Cayman Islands and we’ve been to aquariums all over the world, this is the best one” says Claire, who has been coming to Vancouver Aquarium since she was five years old.
“When I was Lucas’s age, I had no idea what would go into running an organization like this. We learn new things every time we come. I’m so appreciative.”
We also appreciate Lucas taking the time and overcoming some nerves to share what he’s learned with us.
Injured and sick animals like Chester receive care at the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Mammal Rescue Centre, presented by Port Metro Vancouver and supported by Teekay Shipping. This is a self-supporting, non-profit society and does not receive ongoing funds to provide around-the-clock care for its rescued and rehabilitated animals. Click here to learn more about how your donations to the Rescue Centre helps to support rescued and rehabilitated animals each year.