The death of Kavna the beluga whale at the Vancouver Aquarium last week brought back memories for many people.
It was also a reminder that for years I’ve had in my possession a copy of a book written by former Vancouver mayor and former B.C. premier Gordon Campbell.
The book, Tuaq: The Only One, is beautifully illustrated by Sarina Sandana-Weisbeck and dedicated to the “memory and the spirit of Tuaq, baby beluga whale.”
Tuaq was a baby beluga born to Kavna in 1977, not long after she was captured and placed at the Vancouver Aquarium. Tuaq died just four months later and from what I’ve been told, Campbell wrote the book in response to the grief felt by one of his children over the loss. At the time, Campbell was executive assistant to former mayor Art Philips. Campbell became mayor of Vancouver in 1986 and was elected as premier in 2001, a position he held until his resignation in 2010. Today, Campbell is Canadian high commissioner to the United Kingdom, where he now resides.
I emailed Campbell in London asking for comments on Kavna’s death and the book, but I’m assuming a small event called the 2012 Olympic Games that city kept him too busy to respond in time for my deadline.
The book tells the story of the birth of Tuaq and how the baby beluga became sadder and sadder when it realized it would never experience life outside the aquarium’s walls. The official cause of Tuaq’s death was a massive infection, but according to the book the true cause of death was a broken heart.
“With each passing day Tuaq became weaker and weaker,” wrote Campbell. “Although both Kavna and Sanaq tried to help Tuaq, each knew that Tuaq would have to leave the seapen to be happy. Tuaq knew only his own sadness, his heart was broken and his soul ached for the open sea.”
The 46-year-old Kavna died of cancer more than a week ago at the aquarium. A blogger from California was at the aquarium that day and took several photographs of Kavna just moments before her death.
In the photos taken by Anthony Price, the beluga can be seen floating on her side and in one case upside down in the area where she had been penned. The photos also show aquarium staff crowding around the pen at the time Price believes she died.
Price wrote that during the beluga show, the two healthy whales continuously swam to the mesh barrier that divided them from Kavna.
Price wrote on his blog, “She swam toward the barrier and it looked like she began hitting her face against it. I heard a trainer call for help and saw others rushing to the area.”
Price writes trainers then asked onlookers to move towards the penguin exhibit.
“By this time, Kavna was moving very little. We saw other employees bringing a whale harness and what looked like a wetsuit. They began turning orange wheels, which either drained the tank or brought the whale toward their surface of the water. The trainers also turned Kavna upright…”
Just days after Kavna’s death, a rescued sea otter treated at the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Mammal Rescue Centre for severe injuries and numerous health complications also died.