Vancouver Aquarium’s long-time resident beluga whale Qila has died Wednesday morning.
In a release, the Aquarium says Qila’s death was a “sudden loss.” It has not been revealed what led to her death.
Up until today, the aquarium only had two resident belugas – Qila and her mother Aurora.
Qila was born at the Vancouver Aquarium on July 23, 1995, becoming the first beluga whale born in a Canadian aquarium.
Qila’s mother, Aurora, arrived at the Vancouver Aquarium from Churchill, Manitoba in the summer of 1990. She was born in approximately 1987.
Qila’s calf Tiqa was born in 2008, but died three years later because of an infection. Qila’s father Nanuq died in 2015 while on loan to SeaWorld in Orlando.
“For two decades, Qila has engaged with and inspired tens of millions of people locally, across Canada and around the world,” reads the aquarium’s statement on Qila’s death.
“She was a delight for our team of staff and volunteers every single day — always the first to give us a wink, a little tail flap or a head bob in the morning. It is difficult to put into words the love we all had for her. We will miss her immensely.”
From the archives: A baby beluga was born at the Vancouver Aquarium on July 23, 1995, becoming the first beluga born in a Canadian aquarium. The baby whale born to mother Aurora would later be named Qila.
The aquarium says they will be turning their attention to Aurora as she adjusts to the change.
Qila was 21-years old when she passed away. Vancouver Aquarium has previously said beluga whales are believed to live to about 25 to 30-years old in the wild. But other estimates range from 35 to 50 years, and even as long as 60-70 years.
In 2014, the Vancouver Park Board voted to keep the cetacean program at the Vancouver Aquarium, but banned most breeding.
Animal activists have been voicing their concerns about whales kept in captivity for years.
Today, Vancouver Humane Society is once again calling on the Vancouver Aquarium to end its cetacean program.
“Qila’s death is extremely sad, but the fact she spent 21 years in a concrete pool instead of being free in the open ocean is tragic,” said Vancouver Humane Society spokesperson Peter Fricker in a release.
Fricker said whales and dolphins suffer in captivity, as they are highly intelligent and social animals, which have evolved to thrive in a specific environment that cannot be replicated in captivity.
WATCH: The death of one of the Vancouver Aquarium’s beluga whales has re-ignited the debate over animals in captivity. As Linda Aylesworth reports, a necropsy is now underway to determine how Qila died.