A tragedy, yes, but a completely predicable one. On September 16th, beluga whale Tiqa died at the aquarium at the age of three. (Vancouver Sun) This is the third such death in six years, and one that John Nightingale, president of VanAqua, claims they will investigate.
No real investigation needs to be done, of course: the answer is right in front of us. The dwindling number of cetaceans at the Vancouver Aquarium is no mystery–at every aquarium in the world, captive whales and dolphins die regularly and at a fraction of their predicted lifespans. There are a number of different factors that play into this, but they all stem from the same basic problem: cetaceans are too big and too complex to be kept in captivity, but they bring in the visitors. At the Vancouver Aquarium, captive cetaceans draw the biggest crowds, and thus contribute in a major way to their bottom line. To a business, this is what counts.
After Tiqa’s death, Nightingale described belugas as “putter-around whales…pretty ideally suited to life in an aquarium.” In nature, belugas will dive for 15 minutes at a time, reaching depths of 800 metres. 40% of their dives are over 40 metres deep, and they spend about half of their time below the surface of the water. That doesn’t sound much like “puttering around” to me.
By the way, the average lifespan of a wild beluga is 50 or 60 years. There have been 15 belugas exhibited at the Vancouver Aquarium since 1967, and all but three died within a decade of being born or wild-caught.