Porpoise rescued in Horseshoe Bay now a permanent resident of aquarium

A porpoise that was found near death on a West Vancouver beach last year has become a full-time resident of the Vancouver Aquarium.

Jack, a five-week-old harbour porpoise calf, was found stranded near the Horseshoe Bay ferry terminal Sept. 16, having likely been abandoned by his mother.

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The 12-kilogram animal was having trouble breathing, hiss muscles and skin were severely damaged from his time on land and he could no longer swim.

Aquarium staff rushed the creature to their Marine Mammal Rescue Centre on Vancouver's Main Street, where they began an intensive rehabilitation program. After a six-month effort by employees and more than 2,000 hours of work by a large crew of volunteers, Jack returned to full strength, but officials with Fisheries and Oceans Canada, which oversees marine mammal rehabilitations in this country, deemed the porpoise unfit for reintroduction to the wild, meaning Jack will have to stay at the aquarium indefinitely.

About a month ago, the recovered animal was introduced to the facility's other rescued harbour porpoise, Daisy, and on Tuesday Jack officially went on display in Daisy's tank.

"He was very calm cool collected, then Daisy was introduced . . . and they swam around together a little bit," said rescue centre manager Lindsaye Akhurst. "It was like Daisy was showing Jack around her pool."

Despite the animal's apparently smooth adoption of his new environment, staff would have preferred to set Jack free, she said, but the circumstances of the rescue made that impossible.

Had the calf not been abandoned, he would have spent as much as a year with his mother, learning the ropes of his ocean habitat. Without that experience, Jack has not acquired the skills a porpoise needs to make a living in the ocean, she said.

"Our goal is always of course to release," said Akhurst. "(But) his age coming into our centre, and . . . the lengthy hands-on rehabilitation process, those were kind of two factors that made it hard for him to be released back to the wild."

Getting Jack to this point was a tricky process, she said. For the first two months, the animal had to be tube-fed a special fish-based formula every two hours, and could only exercise with the support of sling or a human assistant. Once he was strong enough to swim, he was weaned gradually on to solid herring, and underwent months of physiotherapy to help improve his strength further.

It wasn't until that process was complete that they were ready to introduce Jack to Daisy,

a porpoise rescued in 2008. Fortunately, that experiment went swimmingly.

"They are now starting to socialize together," said Akhurst. "(It's) really great to see, especially for Daisy because . . . for the past almost four years, she hasn't been in contact with a porpoise."

The Vancouver tourist attraction is the only aquarium in North America with the species on display, said Akhurst.

Harbour porpoises are believed to live into their late teens or early 20s in captivity.

jweldon@nsnews.com

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