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.


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30 Responses

  1. Lisa Mae

    So incredibly sorry to hear of both Qila’s and Aurora’s passing. They were both such beautiful and intelligent animals. I made a point of coming to see them every time I am in Vancouver. I have one of the gift shop stuffed beluga whales that I call “Qila” and I can always be found clutching her in my sleep (despite being far too old to reasonably do so). Regardless of one’s position on having belugas in captivity, Qila and Aurora truly contributed to making the world a better place – aside from their contributions to scientific research, they helped connect lay people such as myself to the arctic and reminded us of the importance of conservation. I’m so glad I had the opportunity to come and see them so many times over the years. They will be greatly, greatly missed.

  2. Danica

    My girl guides and another group of guides did a sleepover over there the first weekend of Nov it was a amazing just sitting there watching the both Qlia and Aurora and Daisy swim all night long it is something I will never forget thanks for all the hard work you do has a member I do enjoy coming and watch the animals and hear the amazing stories of rescues and animals you save on a daily bases hope Aurora gets better soon and hope Daisy is okay has well. And I will truly miss Qlia

  3. Bruce Fougner

    Qila was blessed to have been able to share her spirit with so many people. For my youngest son’s 12 birthday I purchased a Beluga experience from a charity the Vancouver Aquarium supported. He took his best friend and along with the two dad’s we all had an experience that made profound changes in our lives. The two boys developed an interest in Science in general and Marine Biology in particular and while they didn’t pursue any careers in that area it did motivate them to get through their science classes at High School.

    My thoughts are with all the staff at the Aquarium who spend so many years with her, thank you for making a difference in my families lives

  4. Katie Joyce

    We are so sorry to hear about Qila.
    Will have many fond memories of Qila, Tiqa, Nala, Aurora, Imaq and Kavna when we were fortunate enough to have encounters with them all, as well as visiting on many occasions.
    Being able to share that time with you all will live in our hearts forever.
    Have pictures of adventures with you when we helped name Nala (Nalautsaagaq), and will treasure them always.
    Such beautiful creatures, and Qila will be sadly missed. Especially her cute way of nodding.
    (((Huge Hugs to all staff)))
    Dave, Katie & Devin Joyce

  5. Pete Lewis

    We visited you on October 3rd just a few weeks ago,how sad, it was a wonderful experience to see Qila,we have some photos to remember her.Pete and Sue from England..

  6. Angela

    Heartfelt condolences to all the staff. When I received the email from Vanaqua announcing Qila’s passing I was shocked. My daughter and I visited just this past Thursday for members appreciation week and enjoyed learning even more about her. Do the vets have any idea yet what happened? Hopefully having Daisy also in the enclosure will be a comfort to Aurora.

  7. Florence Von

    I could feel the tears in my eyes when I saw the news this evening. I just visited the aquarium with my two girls and baby boy this past Monday.

    We moved to Vancouver in 2009 and the aquarium has always been our top choice for a family weekend or a ProD day activity. My young girl Sophie Qin was born on July 23rd too as Qila did. I remember she was about 5 years old when one day at the Arctic she asked about Qila’s last name. I could not give her an answer so my little girl decided to give her favorite marine baby a full name as Princess Beluga Qila Qin so that they would share the same birthday and the same family name, like, love forever.

    The snow white stuffy PBQQ with the pink ribbon, a gift from Aunt Angela, has comforted Princess Sophie since the first day she was born. Now they are having sweet dreams together upstairs but I know it will be a sleepless night for all the care team members. You took such good care of Qila, and now work hard to help Aurora adjust to the change. Thank you with all my heart.

    I think we’ll go back visiting this weekend to see Aurora. Hope she’ll get through this most difficult time.

  8. Diane McDonald

    My son was born 2 years after Qila. For year we had a family membership and frequently stopped by to visit Qila. My heart felt condolences to all involved in her care. A sad day :(.

  9. Dianna

    What a beautiful picture of Qila and Indy! It has been a very sad day, and I have cried many tears for Qila, but I feel so blessed to have been able to spend many happy hours watching this lovely beluga, and seeing the happiness she brought to so many people. Much love to the staff who cared for her and loved her so much. <3

  10. Alicia Curry

    My condolences on the loss of Qila, my heart goes out to the staff and anyone else affected by this during this difficult time.She was so beautiful and will be greatly missed.

  11. Kristin Mooney

    I am so sorry for the loss of this sweet whale. I hope to visit your aquarium one day-I am drawn to all marine animals. I was a huge fan of Wally since he was rescued on my birthday and I love otters. Always watching Rialto and friends on the cams! You give your animals such high quality care-I hope Aurora transitions okay. Do you know why Qila passed? Was it just age? I know you all must be grieving so. Thank you for all you do for these beautiful animals.

  12. Kristina

    I am so sorry for your loss I remember you first got qila she touched the hearts of many and she definitely touched mine I’m just so happy I was able to see her grow up over the years

  13. Cass Morrison

    The Belugas are always my first stop when visiting and I watch on the webcam as well. So sorry for your loss.

  14. Araceli

    I’m so sad for Aurora and all of you that care for the Belugas. I remember when Qila was born. The day I finally got to bring my own daughter to the aquarium, on her third birthday, and see her face light up in awe and wonder at Qila and Aurora, see her connect with these beautiful beings, it was incredibly special. Qila will be missed and never forgotten.

    • Vancouver Aquarium

      She touched so many of us in her own special way. We’re glad to hear about the connection you and your daughter had with her — those moments stay with us forever.

  15. Miranda

    We were there last Sunday to see Qila swimming. She was always my son’s first reason to visit aquarium. I even don’t know how to tell him this bad news.
    I feel so sorry for the team that they lost Qila. And hope Aurora will get out of the pain from losing her daughter.

    • Vicki Larritt

      So sad to hear the news about one of the Aquarium ‘babies’. I live in Adelaide, South Australia and visited the Aquarium in August and watched Qila’s ‘antics’. Since being back in Adelaide, I’ve been watching her on the webcam in addition to Rialto. It was relaxing and peaceful to watch her. It is such a heartache when we lose our animal babies/friends and I will miss watching her swimming around. I would think that Aurora will need a lot of support to help her with her loss.

      • Vancouver Aquarium

        Absolutely, our marine mammal care team is with her now and will be monitoring her around-the-clock to help her adjust to the change. Thanks for your warm message.

  16. Brian Cotton

    Sad to hear the news of Qila’s sudden passing. I was at the Aquarium this past Sunday with my wife and daughter and got pictures of Qila through the glass. We were fortunate to see her on one of her final days. This is a reminder to protect and conserve our beautiful and precious species in our waters. RIP Qila.

  17. Ted Allen

    So so sad for your loss today! Words can not express how much this loss must be to all who loved Qila! As I believe belugas have an average lifespan of 35 – 45/50 years it makes this extra sad!
    My condolences to all and may you find peace in knowing how well you cared for her and the enormous knowledge you have been able to pass on to better the understand belugas and show everyone how these beautiful mammals need protection! My thoughts are with you during this most difficult time!! Please keep up the good work! I know the hostility many show the Aquarium and claims they make about animals in captivity but please allow me to pass a short story to you! I used to have bearded dragons and after the passing of one we took the last one out of his cage and gave him free run of our condo, along with our Yorkie. He did just great and became “potty trained to just one spot”. Started to head to the bedroom after dark to sleep where we did! He would come into the living room when we had guests over and looked them over as if to see who they were! He slept on the sun deck or infont of the fireplace alongside our yorkie! In his later years he would sleep on my pillow at night! Oh yea — most people say it’s cruel to keep them captive and they can’t be like domesticated animals — wrong! In the wild they live a different kind of life, often very harsh conditions and predators! Just a little story that in my mind, shows that animals can have a great life in captivity as long as properly cared for! Please carry on your great work!!

  18. Ed And Missy

    My wife and I did the whale encounter with Qila this May it was one of the memorial times of our life and we even included her in our Holiday Cards this year . She was such a smart and playful member of you family . What a great ambassador for Vancouver she will be missed by all that knew and met her our thoughts are with you Ed and Missy Lanoue Poplar Grove IL

    • Vancouver Aquarium

      Qila certainly was a favourite among many. We are all lucky to have shared our special moments with her. We’re glad you and your family were able to do the same.


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