Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Infant Whale's Death at Vancouver Aquarium

Insane title for this article (see below). Let me give you a possible answer: captivity??


Cause of infant whale's death at Vancouver aquarium may never be known


VANCOUVER (CP) - Test results on the death of the Vancouver Aquarium's youngest beluga whale show Tuvaq was severely anemic when he died last month.

But scientists have been unable to link the condition to the infant whale's sudden and shocking death in the middle of a pool on July 17.

"It's only natural to try and say one is probably related to the other but there's no scientific basis for it and it has frustrated a lot of people so far," David Huff, the aquarium's veterinarian, told a news conference on Tuesday.

Huff said the two-year-old whale likely died from some kind of heart arythmia, but not a heart attack as some experts had previously speculated.

He called the lack of certainty into Tuvaq's cause of death "frustrating" but said the investigation was closed.

"The fact is the pathologists, who are about as academic as anybody around here, have signed off on the case and said this is as far as we've gone."

Huff said he compares the results to sudden infant death syndrome in human children.

"That's the most likely autopsy to produce nothing," said Huff, who stood in front of a tank where Laverne, a dolphin that was recently added to the aquarium, splashed about.

Laverne is a Pacific white-sided dolphin that was brought in to join Spinnaker, another dolphin at the aquarium.

A blood sample taken from Tuvaq four to six weeks before he died tested normal, said Huff.

The aquarium has ruled out disease and a lack of nutrition as possible causes of the death.

But Annelise Sorg of the Coalition for No Whales in Captivity wondered if Tuvaq had been chewing on the tank's plumbing and pumps and could have been poisoned.

"These animals are swimming in their own cesspool and I wonder if what wouldn't kill an adult beluga might kill a baby one," said Sorg.

Huff said the infant whale's fat deposits showed he was a healthy whale, suggesting the condition came on extremely fast.

"Tuvaq's blubber was very thick and if you've been dealing with a chronic debilitating disease that's been going on for a long time, the one thing (whales) can't hide is they do lose weight."

Meanwhile, marine experts at the aquarium say the new dolphin is getting along "very well" with Spinnaker.

"We want to do what's best for Spin and I feel that we've done that. Dolphins are social animals and having a companion such as Laverne is very important," said trainer Brian Sheehan.

Sorg said Spinnaker should be sent back to Japan where at least there he would be with a pod of dolphins that he was captured with.

"Captivity is unnatural," said Sorg. "It is wrong."

The aquarium sent its 23-year-old female beluga whale, Allua, to SeaWorld in San Diego on July 24. The whale was known as 'auntie' for nursing Tuvaq when his mother turned her back on him at birth.

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