Mayor Gregor Robertson calls for an end to whale and dolphin captivity at the Vancouver Aquarium

Gregor Robertson has said he believes that the Vancouver Aquarium should no longer keep whales and dolphins at its facility in Stanley Park.

In a statement emailed to the Straight, the Vancouver mayor is quoted praising the aquarium for its work in research and conservation. But Robertson adds that he feels the facility should cease holding cetaceans there.

“My personal view is that the Vancouver Aquarium should begin to phase out the holding of whales and dolphins in captivity,” Robertson says in the statement. “I’m hopeful that the Aquarium and the Park Board can work collaboratively and come to an agreement on how to achieve this with a dialogue and review that will be informed, thoughtful, and inclusive.”

Robertson, however, stopped short of voicing support for a public vote on whale and dolphin captivity in Vancouver.

“I do not however support a city-wide referendum on the issue, as the ability to phase out the holding of whales and dolphins in captivity is within the Park Board’s authority,” the statement concludes.

The Vancouver Aquarium responded to Robertson's comments with a statement emailed to media by director of communications Charlene Chiang.

"It is unfortunate we were unable to connect with the Mayor of Vancouver prior to his issuing his statement," it reads. "We appreciate the fact that he is very supportive of the Aquarium, and we recognize he has personal feelings, but believe he might not understand the vital role belugas and dolphins play in our important conservation efforts."

The email goes on to state that animals at the aquarium receive "exceptional care". It maintains that their presence there is important for scientific research.

"Dolphins and belugas at Vancouver Aquarium play a direct and vital role in engaging people in key ocean issues," it continues. "In addition, with the rapid environmental changes in the arctic where belugas live, continued research, much of which must be done in marine science centres like the Vancouver Aquarium, is critical to their future."

The email notes that the aqaurium committed to not participate in the capture of wild cetaceans for display purposes in 1996. "The Aquarium is the only facility in Canada that can rescue, rehabilitate and provide a long-term home to marine animals that are deemed non-releasable by appropriate government authorities," it states.

In related news, the chair of the Vancouver park board has announced he intends to request that the Vancouver Aquarium appear at a public meeting and deliver a presentation on programming.

According to an April 9 media release, Vision Vancouver’s Aaron Jasper says he will also ask park board staff to report on best practices for aquariums around the world, and deliver information on the Vancouver Aquarium’s work with whales and dolphins, including polices on rehabilitation.

Jasper is also asking for an overview of current agreements between the park board and the Vancouver Aquarium.

"The issue of cetaceans in captivity is an emotional one for many people, and it is important we have all of the information in a public setting, and work with the Aquarium on next steps,” says Jasper, quoted in the release. “Many of us on the Park Board have received a lot of feedback from the public with their opinions on the issue, and we share many of their concerns.”

In a subsequent telephone interview, Jasper told the Straight that he is against giving the public a say on whale and dolphin captivity at the aquarium, explaining he believes the issue is too complicated to be put to a plebiscite or referendum.

"I'm open to taking further action, but I think that this is the responsible step," he said. "This doesn't stop my colleagues. If my colleagues want to bring forward a motion for a referendum or a plebiscite, that is their prerogative as elected officials. But I personally do not support a referendum on this issue. The reason I don't is because I think it is too complex of an issue to be captured in a simply worded question."

Jasper, however, added that he feels the status quo is "unsatisfactory".

"I wrestle with the ethics of marine mammals kept in aquariums," he said.

In recent weeks, Vision Vancouver park commissioners Sarah Blyth and Constance Barnes have repeatedly voiced their opposition to cetacean captivity at the Vancouver Aquarium.

Blyth told the Straight that the park board is receiving letters from the public about the issue on a daily basis.

On February 12, the Georgia Straight published an in-depth article about the Vancouver Aquarium, marine mammal captivity, and the aquarium’s plans to increase the number of whales and dolphins that it keeps in its tanks. That story noted that the Vancouver Aquarium is one of the last facilities in Canada that continues to have large marine mammals on display.

In a follow-up story, aquarium CEO John Nightingale refused to confirm to the Straight whether or not the Vancouver Aquarium is moving ahead with additional whale and dolphin exhibits, despite the fact that more than $100 million has been budgeted for its expansion project and construction is ongoing.

On the question of a public vote on the matter, Nightingale told the Straight that in his opinion, there is nothing to debate.

“Nothing has changed since the park board last dealt with it,” he said. “They have an upcoming review in 2015 that we’ll certainly participate in.”

The Vancouver Aquarium’s agreement with the park board is up for review in 2015. Activists seeking an end to cetacean captivity have asked that the issue be put to a plebiscite as part of the civic election scheduled for November 2014.

Comments (45) Add New Comment
The Vancouver Aquarium in Stanley Park started the orca slave trade and has a history of wildlife exploitation. They are planning to make their largest expansion to date. This
will be with Canadian tax monies not supported by the public. These plans include more cetaceans!

In addition, it includes river otters (that Vancouverites voted against during a 90s referendum to close the Stanley Park Zoo), beaver (who are found living freely in Stanley Park), and suggested Arctic Foxes and other wildlife.

As of August 2012 at least 39 cetaceans died as a result of this Aquarium’s captivity. This includes 9 orcas, 7 narwhals, 10 Belugas, and 13 Pacific white-sided dolphins.
They have also “loaned” 3 belugas to US Sea Worlds.

History has proven that More Pools Means Captive Cetaceans and other wildlife. Further, the ongoing expansions destroy precious park land that provides natural habitat for a diversity of wildlife. Stanley Park is a free eco classroom.

Lifeforce spearheaded the fight for the 1996 Cetacean Bylaw to phase out all cetacean captivity. We must improve this Bylaw that the Vancouver Aquarium vehemently opposed and got watered down.

Please Email: Vancouver Parks Board Commissioners at and Mayor and Councillors at;

Boycott the Vancouver Aquarium Imprisonment! Support a Waterless Education Centre!
Rating: -18
Do I smell an election?
Rating: +10
I think this is great news from the Mayor, however why does the mayor feel the public shouldnt have a vote on whether or not the aquarium should bring in more cetaceans? If they are rehabilitating and rescueing cetaceans, then they shouldnt be held at the aquarium. They should be held at an off site rehab center where they dont have to perform.
The aquarium does not need cetaceans to bring in crowds. I for one used to be a member and stopped going because my 5 year old didnt feel right about the animals in the tanks and started asking questions. I then in turn started asking questions and didnt like what I was finding out. We didnt set foot again and wont until they agree to phase out cetaceans. I know many many parents who feel the same as I do. This isnt just an activist cause. This is a cause. And its a cause our children are taking part in.
The aquarium rescues 100s of mammals a year, however how many cetaceans have they rescued and released? 1 is all I can see. But I can see how many have died there as well and from what I can find out, its 39 cetacean deaths? To me that doesnt sound like conservation or great education when it comes to cetaceans. Would love to learn differently from the aquarium, however they seem not keen to answer those sorts of questions and just spew basic statements that are all the same.
Rating: -14
The mayor's comments are irrelevant.
Rating: -8
Lifeforce, I think you need to get your facts straight. 29 cetaceans died since 2012? And seriously 7 narwhals? Straight up ridiculous.
Rating: -13
Xander Davis
And throw the Aquarium and its land grubbing ways out of the park altogether.

Lots of other cities would welcome it on their waterfront.

As it is now you see a lot parents sitting outside while their kids tear around inside because the adult tickets are too expensive.

And how much does City Hall give to the Aquarium in grants, forgiving of taxes and the like.

But a press-release email, Mr. Robertson.
Lets see your lips move on the air without the comm-crew around you.

"Uh, um … I-I-I … ah, er, um … ha-ha-hadda … uh, er, ah … script?" is the usual sound.
Don't look behind that curtain. The mayor is a hollow man.
Rating: -9
Martin Dunphy

Thanks for the comment.
However, as Lifeforce posted, the number of dead cetaceans is 39, not 29, as you state, and that number is "as of August 2012", not "since", as you also erroneously state.
And the narwhals died in disastrous capture attempts and curatorial inexperience in 1968 and 1970.
Nothing "ridiculous" there.
Rating: +18
Rating: +9
End cruelty
The Vancouver Aquarium and its antiquated stance on captivity will swiftly become known as a national embarrassment, as is happening to Marineland. It is so unnecessary, and sends entirely the wrong message to children about how to treat animals.
The VA can be a world leader in conservation and rehabilitation without keeping animals confined in tanks for humans' amusement. If they would only catch up to the 21st century and stop exploiting animals, they would be the pride of our city.
Rating: +9
The Aquarium's response to Mayor Robertson's hopes to discuss a mutual phase out of cetaceans exposes that they are still living in the past barbaric age of exploitation of wildlife in Victorian type menageries. The Vancouver Aquarium is failing to connect with nature through modern day technologies and failing to connect with present day public opinion against captivity!
Support moving forward with a Waterless Education Centre.
Rating: -8
Martin, a typo but none-the-less a ridiculous and completely non-factual number. Last cetacean wild-caught was in 1990,that was 24 years ago.
Rating: -15
Martin Dunphy

My request would be that you do the minimum of research before posting. That number includes cetaceans born in captivity, for which the Vancouver Aquarium has an appalling record.

Start here:

The only thing "ridiculous and completely non-factual" here are your comments, which, quite frankly, make me suspect your motivation.

Rating: +6
Martin M
Why is it that Aaron Jasper has asked the aquarium to present its case to the Park Board when a letter sent by 16 different NGOs requesting an audience with them has not even been acknowledged after nearly a month?

This is nothing but posturing by City Hall to try to avoid dealing with the issue again. It's pathetic how the aquarium never fails to make our municipal politicians look like a bunch of clowns.
Rating: -4
Marcus W

"As of August 2012 at least 39 cetaceans died as a result of this Aquarium’s captivity. This includes 9 orcas, 7 narwhals, 10 Belugas, and 13 Pacific white-sided dolphins."

Those animals died since the Aquarium opened in 1956, many of them between 1970 and 1990. Animals die in captivity just as they die in the wild, and to allege that all of them died as the 'result of captivity' is just ridiculous.

You would serve the public better by bringing attention to the fact that as per Greenpeace's estimate, 300,000 cetaceans die as the result of entanglement in fixed fishing nets alone - every year. That is 800+ cetaceans per day, and that does not include deaths resulting from pollution, noise pollution, habitat loss, overfishing, boat collisions etc. - Those are the real issues we face.
Rating: +6
My son and i have started protesting at the aquarium. Someone asked me, have you done your research? It doesnt take research to know that it is wrong to keep a large, intelligent, mammal in a small space. It doesnt say much about us humans as a species. And then people try to obscure the issue by using words like "research", "conservation", ""Dolphins and belugas at Vancouver Aquarium play a direct and vital role in engaging people in key ocean issues,". Then some people say "even if we do stop future aquisitions of ceraceans we cant release the ones already in captivity." why not? Why cant we release them into a cove? Im protesting not just to stop bringing any more cetaceans into the aquarium. We want the ones in the aquarium to be released.
Rating: -19
Mayor is an irrelevant idiot and hopefully no longer the mayor soon, he is not to be believed or trusted. Worst mayor ever
Rating: -9
Whales have the short end of the stick, be they wild or captive:

Wild- deal with toxins, fishing nets, ice bergs, declining food stocks, human trash, boats/sonar, hunting.

Captive- confined to small space, subjected to crowds of people, water probably equally as filthy as the wild (albeit for different reasons)

Poor whales :-(
Rating: +8
Mark Bowen
As long as it's strictly a rescue thing, where they are unable to survive in the wild, I think it's OK to display cetaceans to the public for the conservation benefits they can bring to the rest of the remaining wild population.

Most people don't really care about things they have never seen. They see a cetacean up close, they care about protecting them. There is real value in that.

Breeding the captive ones seems a little fuzzier to me morally. To raise an intelligent animal from birth in a tiny tank (compared to the thousands of kilometers it crosses in its lifetime), where that is the only thing it will ever know... Just kind of sits wrong.

If it never knew any different, maybe it's not that bad... But we would think it vile to raise a human from birth in any kind of captivity, no matter how spacious the prison grounds or how caring the guards.

A tricky issue, and one that should probably be mostly decided by the scientists and conservationists who have worked most closely with these animals, as they do know them best. Never the sort of thing that should be decided in the boardrooms of the for-profit aquariums around the world.

In any case, I think everyone would at least agree that capturing these aquatic cousins of ours from the wild should be strictly banned. Rescues only.
Rating: +1
Alan Layton
The only scientific information that will be gleaned from studying captive cetaceans is how cetaceans behave in captivity. With so many high profile local politicians calling for a phase out, I don't see how the Vancouver Aquarium can continue with their captive program much longer.
Rating: -13
Good news but I would be more impressed if it wasn't a cheap political ploy timed to remind some voting herds that Vision is in favour of "green" or "enviro" window dressing. Much like the parks board members who had a similar epiphany this announcement merely begs the question: why, with majorities on PB and Council, are whales and dolphins still at the acquarium?
Rating: +8


Add new comment
To prevent automated spam submissions leave this field empty.