WATCH: Clint Wright, General Manager for the Vancouver Aquarium, tell us what’s next for Chester the false killer whale
Chester the false killer whale that was rescued by the Vancouver Aquarium after being found in distress on Vancouver Island last summer won’t be released back into the wild.
The animal was spotted in distress at North Chesterman beach, just outside of Tofino, last summer and brought to Vancouver for care.
He arrived in critical condition and had several lacerations and wounds on his body.
Ever since Chester was rescued, he has been cared for by the veterinarian staff at the Marine Mammal Rescue Centre.
He has been receiving treatment, and veterinarians at the aquarium had to use a specially designed floating sling to support his weight in the water.
WATCH: Checking in with Chester the false killer whale
Historically, stranded cetaceans have had a low chance of survival, but aquarium staff were always cautiously optimistic about his recovery.
From the get-go, Chester was showing a fighting spirit, beating the odds.
But Paul Cottrell with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans says Chester is not a candidate for release.
Cottrell says they assembled an independent panel back in December to help decide what to do with Chester.
He says the panel recommended that Chester is not suited for release, given his age and lack of social and foraging skills.
The second question for the panel was where Chester should be held in captivity.
“Ideally, Chester would be with other pseudo orcas,” he says, “but currently there is not a suitable situation where that could occur.”
The panel decided staying at the aquarium would be a good fit.
Chester will now be introduced into the aquarium’s dolphin enclosure.
On Sunday, the aquarium lost Hana, one of its two Pacific white-sided dolphins, to a gastrointestinal distension following surgery, but the only other Pacific white-sided dolphin, Helen, remains at the facility.
Aquarium staff says false killer whales have been kept successfully with Pacific white-sided dolphins and the species tend to get along well together.
WATCH: Chester the false killer whale enjoys the rain
Chester is a rare species to come into the aquarium’s care. False killer whales are seldom seen along the B.C. coast, are not related to the well-known killer whale, or orca, species and are an open ocean species found in the tropics in all oceans of the world.
Dr. Martin Haulena says for them, Chester’s story is one of dedication and hard work.
“It is a neat story of how far we have come in terms of our knowledge of marine mammals, particularly cetaceans,” he says.
While the aquarium had successful release stories such as Levi the porpoise that was rescued from Saanich inlet and rehabilitated by their staff, Haulena says Chester is a bigger, unique animal and he has come a long way already.
“We know that approximately three or four false killer whale calves, around his age, have been stranded around the world and none of those animals made it during rehabilitation,” says Haulena.
He says he has high hopes for Chester, who looks to be in a great condition and has grown from 76 to 174 kilograms in just a year.
“To get him where he is today is an incredible accomplishment, not that there will not be any setbacks,” says Haulena. “So we will be watching him closely.”