“Baby Beluga” dies at Vancouver Aquarium

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“Baby Beluga” dies at Vancouver Aquarium

Yesterday, Kavna, the 46-year-old beluga at the Vancouver Aquarium, died of cancer.  Most captive belugas die in their teens or early 20’s, so at first glance it would seem that 46 years is indeed an above-average lifespan.  At the Vancouver Aquarium, 14 belugas have been exhibited since 1967, and 7 died within 10 years of being born or wild-caught.  (3 have been sold to Sea World.) This is not an impressive track record, and it looks even worse when compared with the fact that scientists now believe that the average lifespan of a wild beluga is 50 to 60 years.

The Vancouver Aquarium apparently isn’t up on the latest research.  In today’s issue of the Vancouver Sun, the aquarium’s veterinarian Dr. Martin Haulena notes that “belugas have an average lifespan of 25 to 30 years in the wild and Kavna far outlived that.” (article)

belugas in a cramped, barren tank at the Vancouver Aquarium

Belugas at the Vancouver Aquarium, 2009 (Photo: Jo-Anne McArthur, We Animals)

It isn’t uncommon for the captive animal industry to stretch the truth when it comes to presenting captivity as favourable to an increasingly skeptical public:

The Indianapolis Zoo’s website stated that the average lifespan of wild bottlenose dolphins was 37 years of age until a newspaper reporter pointed out that none of the aquarium’s dolphins had lived past 21. The information on the website changed to follow suit: suddenly, the life expectancy of wild bottlenose dolphins was listed as only 17 years. (more)

Kavna was also the inspiration for musician Raffi’s famous “Baby Beluga” song, the first verse of which is:

Baby beluga in the deep blue sea,
Swim so wild and you swim so free.
Heaven above and the sea below,
And a little white whale on the go.

This is a peculiar choice of lyrics, since Kavna was captured near Churchill, Manitoba, in 1976 and never got to swim wild and free again.

An aquarium is completely incapable of providing an environment that even remotely resembles that of a wild beluga.  In nature, belugas can dive for 15 minutes at a time, reaching depths of 800 metres.  70% of their dives are over 40 metres deep, and they spend 40% to 60% of their time below the surface of the water.  Even in the largest of facilities, the average cetacean is provided with only one-ten-thousandth of 1% of the space they would regularly use in the wild.

References and sources for all of the facts in this blog post can be found on our Aquariums page.  Check it out for lots more information.



August 9, 2012 at 10:19 am

It’s been driving me crazy hearing them say on the radio all day that wild belugas live to just 30 years! Such a blatant and shameful manipulation on the Aquarium’s part. I was going to write to the CBC to correct them, I think I’ll send them your piece. Thank you for this Becci!

Julia West

August 16, 2012 at 5:47 am

“At the Vancouver Aquarium, 14 belugas have been exhibited since 1967, and all but 3 died within 10 years of being born or wild-caught.”

Your report is factually incorrect. The Vancouver Aquarium has kept: Kavna, Imaq, Nanuq,Allua,Aurora, and Quila all of which have been alive for over 10 years. Imaq (21), Nanuq(24) and Allua(24) are not dead they are all on breeding loan at Seaworld.Kavna lived 46 years years,)Quila is 17 years old and was born at the aquarium,Aurora is her mother and thus is older than her. Yes some calves have died and I understand the point you are trying to make, but your argument would be much stronger if you would do your research.


August 16, 2012 at 10:57 am

Hi Julia,

Thanks so much for your comment and for making me look a little more
closely at my research! We try extremely hard to get our facts right, so
your input is very much appreciated. I am leery about including Imaq,
Nanuq, and Allua in a count of live belugas, since it’s very difficult to
keep track of what happens to these animals once they begin to make their
way through the breeding loan process and names are sometimes changed so
as to confuse the situation; that said, of course, they certainly don’t
qualify as dead, either. I have changed my blog post (and the research
page attached to it) to reflect that in fact, 7 of 14 belugas at the
Vancouver Aquarium died before the age of 10, rather than all but 3, and that 3 belugas are on loan to SeaWorld.

Thank you again, I really appreciate your input. Have a great day!

The Vancouver Aquarium — Torn Between the Good and the Bad « sittingatthecrossroads

October 1, 2012 at 1:31 am

[…] of facts that I found: – their beluga whales dying within ten years after being born or caught (x)(x) – how the aquarium acquires their marine animals […]

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