Jane Goodall has issued a letter calling for an end to whale and dolphin captivity at the Vancouver Aquarium.
The statement appears in its entirety below. Therein, the renowned primatologist and founder of the Jane Goodall Institute acknowledges the Vancouver Aquarium as an “industry leader” noteworthy for pledging not to keep cetaceans caught from the wild. However, it then goes on to argue that whale and dolphin captivity of any kind is an outdated practice that should come to an end.
“The current permission of Vancouver Aquarium cetacean breeding programs on-site, and at SeaWorld with belugas on loan, is no longer defensible by science,” Goodall states. “This is demonstrated by the high mortality rates evident in these breeding programs and by the ongoing use of these animals in interactive shows as entertainment.”
Goodall suggests there should be a gradual phase out of marine mammal exhibits, which is an option that Vancouver activists and civic politicians have described as a realistic means of ending cetacean captivity at the aquarium's facility in Stanley Park.
“The phasing out of such cetacean programs is the natural progression of human-kind’s evolving view of our non-human animal kin,” the letter continues. “I hope the Vancouver Park Board and the Vancouver Aquarium will be a leader in compassionate conservation on this issue, as you have done before.”
Goodall’s letter is addressed to the Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation.
In response, the Vancouver Aquarium issued a statement to media in which vice-president Clint Wright takes issue with some of Goodall’s arguments.
“The Vancouver Aquarium has the greatest respect for Jane Goodall but her information may be incomplete,” Wright states quoted in the release. “The current science is clear that beluga whales live as long, if not longer, while in human care. Scientific and behavioural evidence shows that cetaceans at the Vancouver Aquarium are content and thriving.”
The emailed message goes on to emphasize the aquarium’s work in areas of research, public engagement, and conservation. It also questions how much Goodall knows about the Vancouver facility.
“We don't believe Dr. Goodall has ever visited the Vancouver Aquarium,” says Wright quoted in the release. “We welcome the opportunity to host her so she may see, first-hand, the exceptional care our cetaceans receive.”
Goodall's letter was supplied to the Straight by Vision Vancouver park board vice chair Constance Barnes.
In a telephone interview, Barnes described the letter as a “very powerful” gesture of support for those who have called for an end to whale and dolphin exhibits. She said she plans on releasing it to the public at this evening's May 26 park board meeting.
Barnes maintained that momentum against cetacean captivity is building. She described this as an opportunity for the aquarium to “be a hero” and announce it will begin the gradual phase-out that Goodall has called for.
The complete text of Goodall’s letter appears below.
May 13, 2014
Dear Park Board Chairman and Commissioners,
The capture, breeding and keeping of cetaceans world-wide has come under increasing public scrutiny due to recent high-profile stories being released from industry insiders. The scientific community is also responding to the captivity of these highly social and intelligent species as we now know more than ever, about the complex environments such species require to thrive and achieve good welfare. Those of us who have had the fortunate opportunity to study wild animals in their natural settings where family, community structure and communication form a foundation for these animals’ existence, know the implications of captivity on such species.
I understand the Vancouver Park Board and the Vancouver Aquarium became industry leaders in 1996, when an agreement was made to not allow the keeping of cetaceans caught from the wild after September 16th of that year (with the exception of endangered species or rehabilitation animals that could not be released). However, the current permission of Vancouver Aquarium cetacean breeding programs on-site, and at SeaWorld with belugas on loan, is no longer defensible by science. This is demonstrated by the high mortality rates evident in these breeding programs and by the ongoing use of these animals in interactive shows as entertainment.
The idea that certain cetaceans “do better” in captivity than others is also misleading, as belugas, dolphins and porpoises are highly social animals which can travel in large pods and migrate long distances. In captivity, these highly vocal and complex communicators are forced to live in a low-sensory environment, which is unable to fully meet the needs of their physical and emotional worlds.
As society at large and the scientific community now reflect on the keeping of highly cognitive species like primates, elephants, and cetaceans in entertainment and research, I ask the Vancouver Park Board and the Vancouver Aquarium to do the same. The phasing out of such cetacean programs is the natural progression of human-kind’s evolving view of our non-human animal kin. I hope the Vancouver Park Board and the Vancouver Aquarium will be a leader in compassionate conservation on this issue, as you have done before.
Jane Goodall, Ph.D., DBE
Founder, the Jane Goodall Institute &
UN Messenger of Peace