UPDATE: The Vancouver Aquarium said Aurora passed away Friday night.
The Vancouver Aquarium beluga whale that has been battling a serious illness for nearly two weeks began showing signs of improvement, just a day after taking a significant turn for the worse.
Head veterinarian Dr. Martin Haulena says Aurora’s condition worsened on Thursday, putting staff, who have already been with the whale 24/7, on high alert.
“When things got really bad, I was not sure we were going to have Aurora around Friday morning quite honestly,” Haulena told Global News. “To see her at least more comfortable and more eager to interact today is great.”
Aurora has been monitored by the aquarium staff for 13 days now. Her daughter, 21-year-old Qila, passed away from similar symptoms on Nov. 16.
Like Qila did before she died, Aurora is displaying clinical signs that include abdominal discomfort, nausea, cramping and signs of mild inflammation in her blood. She is also not eating by herself.
Haulena says Aurora has been in the equivalent of a human intensive care unit all this time.
She is being cared for 24/7, with Haulena and his team checking in on her every three hours.
Since Aurora started to get treated in the special medical pool on Nov. 17, she was given 79 litres of fluids, has undergone 24 medical procedures and had nine ultrasound examinations performed. The aquarium has also consulted with 39 experts from 19 different institutions in 14 different cities to get to the bottom of what’s causing Aurora’s symptoms.
Haulena says his team is changing how they care for Aurora and the kind of treatment she is receiving practically every hour, based on the information coming back to them from a variety of tests as well as the information coming back from Qila’s necropsy.
Haulena says new information from a pathologist examining Qila’s gastrointestinal tract provided a key clue on how to care for Aurora last night.
The pathologist discovered just how severely Qila’s gastrointestinal tract has been affected in a very short time.
Based on these results, Haulena said they have made a few changes that seem to have helped Aurora’s situation.
There are some signs her condition is improving and Haulena says they are encouraged by that.
He also says Aurora is exhibiting a lot of interactive behaviour, which is not quite normal for her, and could be a worrying sign.
But he is hoping the signs could also just mean Aurora is eager to start moving more, because she is more comfortable.
“One of the dangers is getting false hope,” said Haulena. “We have had that already in the last two weeks, when we had her turn around only to get worse again.”
He says it’s been a long, emotional road for everyone involved in Aurora’s care.
“It’s been hard and emotionally draining with Qila’s death and Aurora’s ups and downs, but that’s what we do,” said Haulena.