It was an incredible feat of determination on both the part of the animal and his rescuers when Chester the false killer whale survived his stranding on a windswept beach near Tofino in July 2014. Although he had less than a 10 per cent chance of making it, the little calf would not only live through his transport back to the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Mammal Rescue Centre, but he would go on to become a beloved member of the Aquarium family: affectionate, cheeky, and full of fun.
“From the first day I met him, I knew he was a fighter, never giving up, always stepping up to the challenges that he faced. Over the years, he’s proven to be a sweet, fun and even mischievous animal. I often compared him to an energetic toddler who loved to play and truly enjoyed connecting with his trainers, our larger team of staff and volunteers and, especially, his visitors, many of whom bonded with Chester immediately after meeting him,” said Brian Sheehan, Vancouver Aquarium curator of marine mammals.
It is with deep sadness that we share the devastating loss of Chester, early this morning. His health was compromised when he stranded on the beach and he continued to have health challenges from time to time.
Regular health checks and assessments are part of the care for every animal at the Aquarium; Chester was looking well earlier this week, in his usual good spirits and responding well during his enrichment and training sessions. By Wednesday afternoon however, his behaviour changed. Despite overnight intensive care on Wednesday and Thursday, he passed away early Friday morning.
Head veterinarian Dr. Martin Haulena said he hopes to learn more during the post-mortem exam being conducted today. “We know that stranded animals, possibly because of injuries sustained during stranding, do have incidences of renal failure later on. That is something we’ll be looking at during the necropsy.”
As the first stranded false killer whale calf to have survived in Canada, his rescue was nothing short of a miracle. Chester was a dependent calf estimated to be about a month old when he was found on Chesterman’s Beach, in extremely poor condition with several lacerations and wounds along his body. He was transferred to the Rescue Centre where he received more than 10,000 hours of veterinary treatment, rehabilitation and care. Because he was so young when he was found, Chester’s lack of life skills would have put him at a disadvantage in the wild — he did not know how to forage on his own or protect himself from predators and other possible dangers. In May of 2015, Fisheries and Oceans Canada deemed him non-releasable and asked the Vancouver Aquarium to provide a long-term home for him.
“Spending these past three and half years with Chester has had a profound impact on the entire Vancouver Aquarium family, from employees and volunteers, to our members and visitors,” said Brian Sheehan. “Chester connected with more than four million people during his time with us, sharing his joy and curiosity with every person he encountered. We’ve been incredibly lucky to love him and to learn from him.”
Very little is known about false killer whales (Pseudorca crassidens). Despite having “whale” in their name, the species is actually part of the dolphin family. Global trend or abundance data are unavailable, and there are no estimates of annual survival rates. Threats to false killer whales include bycatch, underwater noise and disturbance, as well as environmental contamination in their food chain.
With so little known about his species, Chester’s rehabilitation and care provided invaluable learning opportunities for veterinarians, scientists and students around the world. He contributed to a greater body of knowledge by participating in valuable research, such as vocalization and echolocation studies and assessment of his lung function via respirometry.
Today and for the next few days, our marine mammal care team will be dedicating their time with Helen, to help her adjust to the change.
Chester enchanted and educated millions of Vancouver Aquarium visitors about his unusual species and their life in the wild – we encourage you to share your stories of Chester with us. He will be missed by all.