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Working Hard to Save Aurora
Posted on November 25, 2016
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For the veterinary and marine mammal teams at the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre, this has been a rollercoaster week, as they work day and night to save the life of beluga Aurora.

Since she was moved into the medical pool for intensive care last Thursday, the 30-year-old whale has been under 24-hour monitoring, and receiving fluids and medicine every three hours, a procedure that requires 16 to 18 people each time.

Despite the efforts though, head veterinarian Dr. Martin Haulena says the outcome was looking grim yesterday evening, when Aurora’s already-compromised gastrointestinal tract started to fail completely. Even as the overnight shift continued to care for her in driving rain and wind, he began to prepare for the worst.

Late last night though, test results arrived from the necropsy of Qila — the beluga who died Nov. 16 — providing new clues about Aurora’s illness. Haulena and the team began a new therapeutic strategy targeting her gastrointestinal tract. On Friday, Aurora seemed much better: playing with enrichment items and seeking scratches and rubs from her trainers.

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Aurora showing some signs of improvements by engaging with marine mammal trainer Phil Wong.

“We haven’t seen these kinds of behaviours from her in almost two weeks,” said Haulena. Still, he cautions that she has a long way to go, and the team still faces challenges getting her body condition back to where it should be, since she hasn’t taken in adequate calories in the same length of time.

The warm messages and beautiful stories shared by people who have connected with belugas at the Vancouver Aquarium over the years are helping our team get through this trying time. We would love to hear them all and encourage you to share your own story  by commenting on this Aquablog. We are thankful for all the positive thoughts being sent our way.

 


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  1. Dear staff & volunteers at Vancouver Aquarium,
    Lucas and I just wanted to let you know that we are so incredibly sorry to hear about your loss.
    We know how much Qila and Aurora were family to you, and how hard you all worked to save them. We send our deepest condolences. We can’t imagine how difficult it is to deal with negative media attention and the nay-sayers after losing creatures that were like family for the past 30 years so please remember there is a lot of support out there also.
    Luke and I continually speak out for the efforts of Van Aqua and MMR in their efforts of research to understand how these beautiful cetaceans communicate, and reinforce that the information obtained in observing them at the aquarium can be used by the scientific community to affect government decisions around industry in their natural environment (shipping channels and oil exploration).
    Without being exposed to Aurora, Qila and the other amazing animals at Van Aqua, people wouldn’t know about the species and maybe wouldn’t care about them in the wild.
    So I just wanted to reiterate that your efforts to Amaze, Engage & Inspire are not lost on us and we send our loving thoughts to you in this time of sadness.
    Blessings,
    Claire & Lucas Nielsen

    1. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and ongoing support of the conservation, education and research work we do at the Aquarium. We are committed to helping protect aquatic life and are grateful for supporters like you.

  2. My daughter Elisabeth (8) and I are so sad to hear of the loss of Aurora and Qila. We live in Denmark and I saw them when I visited Vancouver around 2007. I often told my daughter about them when she was little and we got to share a common affection for belugas. I promised her we would travel to Canada to see them one day when she was older. This spring she asked me why we had to wait till she was older – couldn’t we do it now? I had a bit of money set aside for something ‘sensible’. I am so glad that we spent in on an unforgettable trip to Vancouver this summer to meet Aurora and Qila. Elisabeth and I are quite upset right now but we will be making a special photo album with our beluga photos tonight.

  3. I am so sorry about your/our loss of two beautiful belugas. I heard/read about possible medical causes, but did you happen to check the water? I never heard anything about that. Perhaps a protester threw something into the tank and poisoned the water…

  4. My son is almost three and we’ve been visiting the Aquarium together since before his first birthday. He loves to run excitedly from exhibit to exhibit, but lunch time is always spent in front of the beluga tank. This past visit, only a few weeks ago it seems we visited with Nana & Papa. Nana, knowing that my son can never have enough ‘buddies’ allowed him to pick a new stuffed animal. He picked his new ‘Baby Beluga’ and was attached to it for weeks. Debates will always continue about animals in captivity, but as a father I can see my son learning a million miles a second at the aquarium. I hope the their cause of death is figured out and some learning can take place. I don’t look forward to our next visit to the aquarium what I tell my son about the belugas whereabouts. Condolences to anyone affected by their loss, especially to their primary care team. Please know your work made so many children and their parents extremely joyful.

    1. The aquarium has a motto of Amaze, Engage & Inspire. This they do very well. There is also a board there somewhere that says “People do not care for what they do not know about” or something like that. I am a huge environmentalist and it has been hard for me to get my head around animals (especially the intelligent mammals) in captivity. But then I look at the dedication of the aquarium as a Science Centre, the animals’ great quality of life there, their happiness, their engagement with the trainers & guests. They are excellent ambassadors of their species to teach us about wild Belugas (especially how they communicate) to ensure that we as a society care about them and pressure the government to make laws to protect them in the face of shipping and oil exploration infringement on their natural habitat. My son has been sharing Chester’s story with schools and media but we also fell in love with Qila and Aurora and all the other inhabitants at the Vancouver Aquarium.

  5. So sorry that after all your days and nights of work that Auroua passed away tonight. Such a loss but you all did the very best you could and no regrets there.
    So sad.

  6. I just heard the terrible news about Aurora. My heart is breaking. My son and I were regular visitors while he was growing up. All the whales were very special to us. Thanks for the memories Aurora. My condolences to all at the Aquarium who did their best to help her.

  7. Aurora is on my mind each day and each night, and I send love and healing wishes to her with every thought, and I send vibes of appreciation and strength to all her caregivers working to help her through this difficult time. Thank-you for all you do!

  8. I remember the first time we had a sleepover at the Aquarium. We got an amazing sleeping spot right in front of the Beluga tank floor to ceiling window and never slept a wink! How could we possibly waste a night of watching Aurora and Qila by sleeping. It was so quiet and the lights were off and we just laid in our sleeping bags watching them for hours. It was magical! A night my son and I will NEVER forget. The Aquarium has brought us so much joy as a family over the last 12 years, It has shaped my children’s lives. We are so grateful for all that the staff does to make this a magical place for TONS of families near and far. Qila will be missed so much and we send our happy thoughts to Aurora and the entire team caring for her. We know you are working day and night to save her. Bless you all!!

  9. Aurora is a big part of the family and I’m glad she’s doing better. She’s still in my thoughts and prayers as well as the staff and team working to make her better. Thank you for the update.

  10. Even though my family has always lived in Alberta, we had a membership at the Vancouver Aquarium. My love for the ocean started here and you still capture my heart. With the belugas, I will never ever forget sleeping in the underwater viewing area with the belugas over 20 years ago!!! My brother and I went to the sleepover twice and I can guarantee I didn’t sleep either of those nights because I couldn’t take my eyes off these amazing creatures. I also remember one beluga, I can’t remember it’s name, and this was before they had the nice habitat they have now. It was so small. But this particular beluga would fill up his mouth with water and spray people who had cameras…only people with cameras!!! I don’t know if he was trained to do it, or if he just figured out who to target but it always made me smile. Good luck Aurora and team!!! You guys are all amazing

  11. When I worked at the Aquarium I loved coming in early, before we were open, to hang out with the belugas and dolphins. Aurora would always come to see me. Come right up to the glass and glide along it right in front of me. I am very saddened that she has lost her baby. I hope Aurora overcomes whatever it is she is fighting. Much love to you all. Keep up the good work 🙂

  12. We have been thinking of Aurora during her struggle to get well again. We are confident that she is receiving the best possible care and attention from such a dedicated team of professionals. Thank you for posting updates when there are new developments. We appreciate you all and understand these are difficult times when trying to decide best course of action.

  13. One of my favourite memories of the belugas was parking the kids stroller in front of the window and having up to 30 minutes of quiet peaceful babies as they were mesmerized watching the belugas swim. 9 years later and literally hundreds of visits to the aquarium, we still love to visit the beluga habitat. Your dedication to the care of Aurora and all the other animals at the Aquarium is inspiring.

  14. My best friend and I went to the aquarium as soon as we could after Qila was born. The belugas were magical, they have childlike inquisiteness and are beautiful in thw water. You can’t help but to stop and stare in wonder and amazement – no matter your age. We visited often Qila and Aurora, including quite a few of my visits when I came to Vancouver after leaving years ago. My heart was broken when I heard Qila had passed away so suddenly. I appreciate the efforts of the teams working around the clock to save such a glorious beluga. I am keeping them in my thoughts and prayers.

  15. Thinking of Aurora & her team. Sending live & positive vibes ❤️I came to visit from Victoria on Tues. the 22nd having fallen in love with baby Rialto and now all the rescued otters ❤️ I was one of the first at opening and had some special time one on one with Elfin ❤️ My heart was with you as I passed by the Beluga area seeing the medical sign. Thank you for all the great work you do ❤️

  16. At the beginning of this month my guide unit and other guide unit got the wonderful opportunity to spend overnight at the aquarium watching these two beluga whales all night long are at least has I did has I would wake up and drift off to sleep and the wake up again and of course we watched Daisy too by the way how is she doing has she is in the same tank? I would like to thank the Vancouver aquarium for this wonderful event and show our girls these amazing animals and for most girls a once in a life time experience thank you for all your hard work trying to save Aurora and thank you for saying Quila she was amazing animal has a meber I have spent many hours watching her has well. Keep up the good work

  17. Our family feels a special connection with the Vancouver Aquarium and plan at least a week of visits when we travel from Ontario. We have had special time with Qila and Aurora, and their wonderful Trainers, and through these visits we learned so much about the life of a beluga. We also had the opportunity to see first hand just how involved AND invested the Trainers are in the lives of these beautiful mammals. We feel the pain of the loss of Qila and the stress of trying to keep Aurora comfortable while helping her heal. We pray you all take care of yourselves, that your families take comfort in knowing you are giving your all, and that your efforts have the best result. Please know you are on our minds and in our hearts.

  18. I’ve lived here all my life and treasure precious memories of visiting the Vancouver Aquarium over the past 30 years. The love and care shown to all the creatures here is so very visible in every visit. Most special to me were our Orcas and our Belugas. We in British Columbia are privileged to have such a place to visit. We pray for Auroras recovery and are thankful for all you do.

  19. I sure hope all goes well for every one @Vancouveraquarium especially Aurora. Still hoping to take my family there since i started getting better from me being sick. My kids have never been to B.C. I was just too sick & can’t afford the trip yet. It’s a whole different place there now since the 1970’s. I’m glad the aquarium is still there. Take care.

  20. My family fell in love with Aurora and Qila the moment we saw them wiggle their melons during a training session, and it’s that love that made us so excited to do a beluga encounter a couple of years ago. My heart breaks for the loss of Qila, but we are so proud of you and your team. May all your strength and love help her fight and stay with us for years to come.

  21. Sending our best to the entire team at VanAqua. We know you’re doing everything you can. Thank you to everyone who is working around the clock for Aurora and all the VanAqua critters we love so much.

  22. My wife and I were engaged in Vancouver in 2009. We went specifically for the opportunity for her to get to meet the belugas (we also fed the sea otters). We’ve been following the aquarium’s operations for years and were excited to finally visit (from Southeast Texas). We anxiously await any news and our thoughts are with all the keepers, veterinarians, and volunteers that are taking care of Aurora, and have had to work through the loss of Qila.

  23. i had long wanted to see a whale…close up and to touch one. My Brother knew this and when I planned to visit him in Vancouver he made plans for me to do the Beluga Experience. I was beyond thrilled to meet Aurora! I know she is trained to do the things she did but for me it was a spiritual connection…human being with a beautiful creature. I was so in awe of the touch of her skin…and that precious face looking up at me. We were surrounded by others but for just a few seconds, it was Aurora and me. My brother made my dream come true with the Aquarium and Aurora.