Janos Maté: Give citizens a vote on whale and dolphin captivity at the Vancouver Aquarium
The following is a letter that was sent to Vancouver park board commissioners by WhaleFriends founding member Janos Maté. It was prompted by a February 12, 2014, article published in the Georgia Straight titled “Vancouver Aquarium bucks national trend by keeping whales and dolphins”.
Dear park board commissioner,
I wrote to you on July 9, 2013, and I write again, to request that you take immediate action to ensure that during the next civic election, in 2014, the citizens of Vancouver will finally get the democratic opportunity to answer the question through a plebiscite, whether or not they are in favour of phasing out cetacean (whales and dolphins) captivity in Stanley Park.
The Vancouver Aquarium resides on public lands in Stanley Park and therefore, the parks board has the responsibility to ensure that the animals kept captive in the aquarium are not suffering due to the conditions of their confinement. The parks board also has responsibility to ensure that the citizens of the city are given the democratic option to express their opinions on matters of great concern.
Dolphins are highly intelligent and social animals. They have human-like emotions of joy and grief. They have self-awareness. They exhibit culture and they have been observed looking after the sick ones in their community.
Just like humans, dolphins suffer greatly in captivity.
The American Humane Society has concluded that “keeping small cetaceans like dolphins in confinement in concrete tanks is inhumane beyond comprehension”. They suffer whether or not they were taken from the wild or bred for captivity.
Mindful of the above characteristics of dolphins, in May 2013, the Government of India officially recognized dolphins as non-human persons, whose rights to life and liberty must be respected. India thereby banned the import, capture, and captivity of cetaceans in all public and private enterprises.
These animals are kept in captivity by the Vancouver aquarium for one reason only: profits. There is no educational or scientific value to the aquarium’s whale and dolphin displays. An March 9, 2010, article in the Vancouver Sun quotes the internationally respected oceanographer and educator Jacques Cousteau, stating: “the educational benefit of watching a dolphin in captivity would be like learning about humanity only by watching prisoners in solitary confinement”.
In 1996, the parks board decided that should the aquarium request permission to expand in Stanley Park, a city-wide referendum would be held. In 2005, the parks board decided that the question of phasing out cetacean captivity in Stanley Park should be put to a city wide referendum. Then, in 2006, the parks board rescinded both of those earlier decisions, denying the citizens of Vancouver the democratic opportunity to have a direct say on this issue.
On July 19, 2010, the park board discussed and rejected a motion to hold a plebiscite during the 2011 civic election on the question of phasing out cetacean (whales and dolphins) captivity in Vancouver parks. The commissioners who voted against the motion cited their concerns regarding a potential lawsuit against the city by the aquarium, should such a plebiscite be held prior to 2015. The existing contract between the city and the aquarium as being up for review in 2015 was referenced, but the legal grounds for a lawsuit were never fully explained or verified. The fear of an unsubstantiated lawsuit was used expediently for voting against the motion. How can a democratic plebiscite be the basis for a lawsuit?
Reportedly, the Vision Vancouver park board plans to hold a full review of this matter in 2015. Holding a plebiscite during 2014 would provide a solid basis for such a review.
The citizens of Vancouver have called for the phasing out of cetacean captivity in the Vancouver Aquarium: over the years the parks board has received over 20,000 signatures on petitions in this regard.
Commissioner, I am very concerned that as has been reported, upon completion of the current $100 million expansion, the Aquarium plans to expand its captive whale and dolphin populations. This must not be allowed to happen.
Commissioner, I repeat: For all of the above reasons, I again respectfully ask that you take immediate action to ensure that during the next civic election, in 2014, that the citizens of Vancouver will finally be able answer the question through a plebiscite, whether or not they are in favour of phasing out cetacean captivity in Stanley Park.