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Heart failure led to death of beluga whale at Vancouver Aquarium

Two young girls watch Tiqa at the Vancouver Aquarium in Stanley Park, Tuesday, August 3, 2010. Tiqa died Sept. 16, 2011.

Jonathan Hayward/ The Canadian Press/Jonathan Hayward/ The Canadian Press

Vancouver Aquarium staff will run cardiac tests on their three surviving beluga whales after preliminary tests showed that the most recent beluga death was due to an accumulation of fluid around the marine mammal's heart and lungs caused by heart failure.

Further testing of Tiqa will take months to complete, but her condition could be linked to toxins, congenital defects or viral causes, Martin Haulena, an aquarium veterinarian, said on Friday.

"There are puzzles that need to be solved," he said.

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The three-year-old whale died Sept. 16 after an illness of about 10 days. The surviving belugas are Kavna, Aurora and Qila. Dr. Haulena said there is no sign Tiqa's death is having any impact on the other belugas. "It's not affecting their activity levels or appetite," he said.

Dr. Haulena noted he is looking at ways to monitor heart function in belugas, including electrocardiogram tests and cardiac workups. That kind of monitoring is not routine. "It's like when you go to a doctor. You don't run a routine ECG unless you suspect a problem," he said.

He said he has been consulting with other specialists about how to do such checks, which would, among other things, involve placing electrodes on the whales.

Dr. Haulena said the aquarium has been told by the Ministry of Agriculture, where a specialist conducted a necropsy, that the situation could not have been easily detected. Tiqa is the third beluga whale at the aquarium to die since 2005. One whale died in 2006.

He said there is no indication that a mysterious break-in the morning of Tiqa's death had any links to the whale's demise, although the continuing investigation will look into whether Tiqa consumed anything over time that may have affected her health.

Early last Friday, a man was spotted climbing over fence in the pool area where the whale lived. The intruder fled quickly when spotted. Vancouver Police said Friday they have no updates on the matter.

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About the Author
B.C. reporter

Ian Bailey is a Vancouver-based reporter for The Globe and Mail.  He covers politics and general news. Prior to arriving at The Globe and Mail, he reported from Toronto and St. John’s for The Canadian Press.  He has also covered British Columbia for CP, The National Post and The Province. More

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