Every animal rehabilitated at the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Mammal Rescue Centre holds a special place in the hearts of the Rescue Centre team, Vancouver Aquarium veterinary staff, employees, volunteers, members and visitors. The few animals that can’t be released become part of the family at the Vancouver Aquarium and take up an even bigger piece of those hearts.
Which is why the loss of rescued and rehabilitated harbour porpoise Jack late Thursday night is a devastating blow for all who knew and loved him.
Rescued by the Marine Mammal Rescue Centre in September 2011 after he was discovered stranded on the beach in Horseshoe Bay, Jack was 12 kilograms when found: dehydrated, in poor condition and estimated to be just four to six weeks old. He was close to death; veterinary staff did not expect him to survive the first few hours of his rescue.
The experience and learning taken from Jack’s rehabilitation — which included more than two months of around-the-clock care by staff and volunteers, and the development of special equipment, formula and a physiotherapy plan — allowed the Rescue Centre team to go on and successfully rehabilitate other rescued cetaceans. These include Levi, the first harbour porpoise in Canada to be rehabilitated and released in 2013, and Chester, a false killer whale rescued in 2014 and receiving long-term care at the Vancouver Aquarium.
Because he was so young at the time of his rescue, Jack didn’t have the skills needed to survive on his own in the ocean. In May 2012, Fisheries and Oceans Canada deemed him non-releasable and Jack joined rescued harbour porpoise Daisy at the Vancouver Aquarium, where he quickly captured the affection of Aquarium staff and visitors. The little porpoise was known for his lively personality and would often be found engaging with enamored visitors in the viewing area of his habitat.
Animal care staff were concerned when Jack’s rambunctious spirit was absent on Tuesday. His lack of interest in food and play led to immediate action. Unfortunately, the sudden symptoms progressed rapidly. Veterinary staff stayed with him around the clock, providing treatment, fluids and supporting him in the water. Sadly, Jack passed away just before midnight on Thursday.
Vancouver Aquarium staff and volunteers are heartbroken.
“We are so grateful to have spent these past five years caring for, and learning from, Jack,” said Vancouver Aquarium head veterinarian Dr. Martin Haulena. “On any given day, I knew that I could spend time with him and feel uplifted by his playful personality. The connections we have with these animals make it especially difficult when we lose them. But I have fond memories and, just as important, he contributed to our understanding of porpoise physiology and threats to porpoises while he participated in pulmonary studies, as well as hearing studies. He also helped us develop innovative techniques for counting porpoises in the wild using novel instruments. Some of that technology has been applied to the endangered vaquita to determine its population estimates, which helped to inform the development of an action plan to save the species.”
Little is known about harbour porpoises — Listed as a species of special concern under Canada’s Species at Risk Act (SARA), they are a short-lived, shy species; there are no estimates of annual survival rates. Threats to harbour porpoises include bycatch, underwater noise and disturbance, as well as environmental contamination in their food chain.
Jack and Daisy have educated millions of visitors about their species and helped our own and visiting researchers learn more about porpoise biology, bioacoustics and behavior.
Click here to learn more about the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Mammal Rescue Centre; how we work to save stranded animals like Jack, Levi and Chester, and how what we learn from them helps marine mammals in the wild.