“Baby Beluga” dies at Vancouver Aquarium
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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)
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.