When Qila, the first-ever beluga whale to be conceived and born in a Canadian aquarium, arrived on July 23, 1995, it was cause for celebration. The little whale was quick to win the hearts of everyone who spent time with her, from her caregivers and trainers, to the visitors and members who came to see her as she grew and to learn about her unique species. So it is with very heavy hearts that we share her sudden loss this morning.
For two decades Qila has engaged with and inspired tens of millions of people locally, across Canada and around the world. She was a delight for our team of staff and volunteers every single day — always the first to give us a wink, a little tail flap or a head bob in the morning. It is difficult to put into words the love we all had for her. We will miss her immensely.
Conserving beluga whales and their ecosystems has been the focus of Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre for more than five decades. During this time, scientists here have studied their physiology, learned about their hearing and acoustic abilities, collected baseline data for studies in the wild, and discovered unique vocalizations between beluga whale mothers and calves, called contact calls. This groundbreaking research began at Vancouver Aquarium in 2002; beluga whales Aurora and Qila contributed to those early studies led by Dr. Valeria Vergara.
Our marine mammal care team, led by Dr. Martin Haulena and Brian Sheehan, have cared for Qila over the past 21 years. There have been days when they’ve spent more time with our beluga whales than they have with their own children, and we are grateful for their incredible leadership, professionalism and care for our marine mammals. Today we’re turning our attention to beluga whale Aurora as she adjusts to the change.
Thank you to everyone who has reached out to our team with warm messages of support. We appreciate every single message as we know how much Qila also meant to you.
If you’d like to learn more about the conservation work we’re leading with beluga whales, you may do so here.