A baby false killer whale rescued by the Vancouver Aquarium from a beach in Tofino one year ago has recovered, but veterinarians are stopping short of releasing the mammal into the ocean.
When Chester was found in July 2014, he was just four to six weeks old and in severe distress with a number of lacerations and wounds along his body.
Chester now weighs 174 kilograms and has a length of 2.36 metres, up from a weight of 76 kilograms and length of under two metres when he was rescued.
Aquarium staff say over 10,000 hours of veterinary treatment, rehabilitation and care have been provided to the whale since he was first admitted into the Aquarium’s Marine Mammal Rescue Centre at Port Metro Vancouver.
While Chester has fully recovered, the federal government’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans’ scientific panel has deemed the whale unreleasable.
Officials state the false killer whale was abandoned by his mother shortly after he was born, which means the whale does not have the necessary life skills to survive on its own in the wild.
“As a young animal still learning and growing, Chester’s lack of life skills puts him at a real disadvantage in the wild – he does not have the skills to forage on his own or protect himself from predators and other possible dangers, such as boats,” said Dr. Martin Haulena, head veterinarian of the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre, in a statement.
“Our experienced team at the Vancouver Aquarium is able to provide him with the long-term care he needs. Our focus now is to get him acclimated to his new habitat and begin his socialization.”
Chester is currently residing in a larger habitat within the Aquarium’s research area. Moving forward, the Aquarium will relocate him to the much-larger, public Wild Coast habitat where the facility’s remaining Pacific white-sided dolphin, Helen, lives.
The scientific panel also recommended that Chester should reside with other false killer whales.
A member of the dolphin family, the false killer whale is a distinct species from the more commonly known orca whale. Globally widespread, but locally uncommon, false killer whales are an open ocean species found in the tropics in all oceans of the world, and only occasionally spotted in B.C. waters.