Aug. 9, 2012 at 11:50 AM ET
Kavna, the beluga whale that inspired the beloved children’s song "Baby Beluga" by singer Raffi, died at the Vancouver Aquarium on Monday. The whale was in good health until early last weekend, when her keepers first suspected she was unwell. A necropsy showed cancerous lesions.
Kavna's keepers believe she was around 46 years old, if not older, making her one of the oldest beluga whales in captivity. Belugas in the wild usually live to between 25 and 30 years.
"It was very sudden, it was very acute, and happened so quickly," said Clint Wright, Vancouver Aquarium’s general manager, at a press conference. "We were all hoping that she was come through this. She’s been so robust for so long, we believed she was was impervious to everything. It was a great shock to everybody."
Although Kavna was much beloved at the zoo, aquarium manager Wright admits that she could be a challenge to work with. Regardless, she was “so big and one of the favorites for the trainers to work with.”
The beluga was known around the world for inspiring "Baby Beluga," a children’s song about an imaginary whale by singer Raffi Cavoukian.
"She had a profound impact on me when I met her in 1979," Cavoukian told Canadian radio station, News 1130. "The folks at the [Vancouver] Aquarium brought me to poolside and the trainer helped me to play with Kavna. Kavna even came out of the water and placed a gentle, graceful kiss on my cheek and I couldn't stop talking about it for a couple of weeks!"
Known by generations of children, Raffi's song celebrates a baby beluga swimming wild and free.
“Baby beluga in the deep blue sea,
Swim so wild and you swim so free.
Heaven above and the sea below,
And a little white whale on the go.”
“My thoughts have been with Kavna all day. Thanks #belugagrads for your continued support,” the singer tweeted on Tuesday.
Raffi also took to Twitter Tuesday to clarify that "Baby Beluga" wasn't about Kavna (a whale who was not swimming "wild and free"), but was simply inspired by her, saying, "please know Kavna only inspired the song, which is about an imaginary universal beluga baby." He then tweeted at several writers asking them to change headlines on stories which insinuated the song was about Kavna.