08/09/2012 at 04:00 PM EDT
After experiencing a sudden decline in her health, Kavna, a 46-year-old beluga whale residing at Vancouver Aquarium, died on Monday, with a necropsy later showing cancerous lesions.
The whale served as the inspiration for the children's song "Baby Beluga," about an imaginary whale that swims wild and free in the ocean. The song was penned by Canadian artist Raffi Cavoukian after he met Kavna in 1979.
"She had a profound impact on me," he told Canadian radio station News 1130
. "[Kavna] 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! That encounter inspired the song "Baby Beluga," and as I like to say, the song set the whale free."
Echoing Cavoukian's sentiments, Clint Wright, the Vancouver Aquarium's general manager, called Kavna "one of the favorites for the trainers to work with," in a press conference
, adding that the aquarium's staff remain in shock over her death.
"It was very sudden, it was very acute and happened so quickly," he said. "She's been so robust for so long, we believed she was impervious to everything. It was a great shock to everybody."