Park commissioners lament Vancouver Aquarium only option for rescued false killer whale

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      Park commissioners have said they are saddened to learn another cetacean will live in captivity at the Vancouver Aquarium.

      The Green Party’s Stuart Mackinnon suggested animals deemed unfit for release could be relocated to protected sea pens.

      “Another creature from the wild is going to be kept in captivity,” he said in a telephone interview. “I understand the aquarium is saying that it was too young when it was taken and that it cannot be released. But keeping it in a small pool for the entertainment of humans doesn’t seem like a dignified life for such a creature.”

      Vision Vancouver commissioner Catherine Evans told the Straight she wished there were a better option.

      “I’m sad that it’s not releasable,” Evans said. “But if captivity is the only option for an animal, then the Vancouver Aquarium is a good place.”

      On May 26, the Vancouver Aquarium announced that a false killer whale named Chester would stay in Stanley Park. The animal was rescued off the west coast of Vancouver Island in July 2014 and nursed back to health by aquarium staff.

      In a telephone interview, Vancouver Aquarium senior vice president Clint Wright emphasized the decision to keep the whale in captivity was made by Fisheries and Oceans Canada. He said Chester will now share a tank with a Pacific white-sided dolphin named Helen.

      An aquarium media release states that Fisheries and Oceans Canada advises false killer whales be kept with other members of their own species. Asked if there are plans to acquire an additional false killer whale, Wright said there is currently no suitable partner held by any aquarium in North America.

      “If a rescued animal comes up elsewhere at a facility that meets the high standards of the Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums, then that would be something that we would be looking at and doing what is in the best interests of Chester,” Wright said.

      The park board’s oversight of the Vancouver Aquarium became an election issue during the 2014 race for mayor. Vision Vancouver candidates pledged to end captive whale and dolphin breeding while NPA candidates said they would take a hands-off approach to the aquarium. The NPA eventually won four of the board’s seven seats.

      Both Mackinnon and Evans told the Straight the park board was neither consulted nor informed in advance of the aquarium’s decision to permanently house Chester in Stanley Park.

      The announcement came just two days after the aquarium lost a Pacific white-sided dolphin. On May 24, an animal named Hana died after being diagnosed with a gastrointestinal disorder. A team of specialists performed surgery but the animal died shortly after.

      Hana was the second cetacean the aquarium lost in 2015. On February 19, a beluga whale named Nanuq died while on loan to a SeaWorld facility in Orlando, Florida.

      The Vancouver Aquarium now owns one false killer whale, one Pacific white-sided dolphin, a pair of Pacific harbour porpoises, and eight beluga whales. Two of the belugas are kept in Stanley Park, four are housed at SeaWorld facilities in the United States, and two are on loan to the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta.

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      5 Comments

      Jon Q. Publik

      May 26, 2015 at 8:13pm

      Wow two relatively neutral pieces on the Vancouver Aquarium by the Georgia Straight in the span of a week.

      Not surprised by Mr. Mackinnon's response - seems to toe the party line (Wiebe wasn't available for comment?) but it does seem like a rather shallow answer, especially considering a third party ultimately made the decision. Ms. Evans takes a much more pragmatic approach to the situation.

      Richard S.

      May 26, 2015 at 9:14pm

      The Vancouver Aquarium produced this wild animal's assimilation with humans. Whether or not it was a deliberate action is besides the point. The result is unfortunately a common one for any marine mammal that has the misfortune to be 'rescued' by the Vancouver Aquarium. It is quite possibly a fate worse than death.

      Jeff M

      May 26, 2015 at 11:00pm

      This is exactly why oversight by independent animal welfare experts was recommended by the outgoing vision board, because this is clearly a decision that benefits only the Aquarium and not either Helen or Chester.

      Chester is a little guy now, but full grown he'll be 5-6m long and weigh between 1000-1200 kg. Contrast that the Helen, who's what, just over 2 m and less than 200kg.

      No breeding ban or phase out. Epic fail

      May 27, 2015 at 7:55am

      The previous Park Board could have imposed a breeding ban or a phase out of cetaceans in captivity last year.

      Instead, the Park Board Commissioners waited until after the 2014 elections to act. Then Vision's Trevor Loke and Aaron Jasper voted down a motion that would have led to a breeding ban and an oversight committee. The entire body of work done last summer was squandered, hundreds of people weighed in the issue during the public consultation process.

      With the next civic election in 2018, a result of the new 4-year term, there will be no changes. The City will issue building permits for new, larger tanks, these will get built, and more cetaceans will be housed at the Aquarium for the entertainment of visitors. Epic fail.

      On the other hand...

      May 27, 2015 at 10:44am

      The problem here is the word "captivity" and the romantic idea that noble animals are being held against their will for our amusement in a jail for animals. You could just as plausibly maintain the Aquarium is a luxury resort for animals where they are free of the concerns associated with being in the food chain.

      The most reasonable framing device though is the "Vancouver Aquarium as a hospital for animals" where they get care and are released when and if that's possible. Cetaceans at the Aquarium have a much better fate than dogs and cats at the SPCA so if people are concerned about animal welfare they should turn their attention to the pet trade.