Vancouver Aquarium heads to the park board to make its case for captivity

The Vancouver Aquarium will appear before the park board at a special meeting scheduled for next Saturday (July 26) at 9 a.m.

Aquarium management will make a presentation on the facility’s work with large marine mammals. In addition, park board staff will deliver a report on best practices for aquariums around the world. Members of the public are also invited to speak. (Advance registration is required.)

Park commissioner Sarah Blyth told the Straight that she’s never seen such a high level of interest in a civic issue.

“We’ve had thousands of emails, sometimes more than a thousand emails a day,” she said. “We envision that this will be a very long meeting.”

Blyth revealed that a “noticeable majority” of those emails take positions against whale and dolphin captivity.

The park board’s hearing on the aquarium comes ahead of a contract review scheduled for 2015.

A review of the aquarium’s work with cetaceans was requested by park board chair Aaron Jasper on April 9, 2014. The same day, Mayor Gregor Robertson called for an end to whale and dolphin captivity at the Vancouver Aquarium. Several park commissioners have publicly voiced the same opinion.

The aquarium currently holds two beluga whales and two Pacific white-sided dolphins in its tanks in Stanley Park. In recent months, activists have intensified calls for a phase out of those exhibits and a prohibition on any more large marine mammals being brought into Stanley Park.

In a telephone interview, aquarium CEO John Nightingale told the Straight that upon the completion of an ongoing expansion, three additional belugas currently on loan to Sea World facilities in the United States could be brought back to Vancouver. He said the aquarium could also house more dolphins if, in the future, dolphins are found to require rescue and subsequently are deemed unsuitable for release back into the wild.

Nightingale noted that the aquarium can survive financially without cetacean exhibits. However, he claimed that research, conservation, and educational efforts will suffer if the facility is forced to give up its whales and dolphins.

“With cetaceans gone, with an inability to directly engage people and for them to see the real thing, and with an inability to do any of that research, the aquarium will be a vastly diminished place,” he said.

One of the submissions to be discussed through the park board’s review is a bylaw change drafted by the B.C. SPCA.

The B.C. SPCA’s chief scientific officer, Sara Dubois, described its proposal as a “sunset bylaw”. She explained it would provide for whales and dolphins currently housed at the aquarium to remain there while prohibiting both breeding and the importation of additional cetaceans from other facilities. (The bylaw also leaves room for rescued animals to be kept at the aquarium, provided they are deemed unreleasable by Fisheries and Oceans Canada and approved for permanent housing by the park board.)

“Moving the animals out of the aquarium right now doesn’t make sense,” Dubois said. “They do provide excellent care for them—that’s not the concern at all. The concern is new animals.”

Comments (10) Add New Comment
Jon Q. Publik
Hmm interesting that the author neglects to note that the majority of those anti-captivity letters were via the Peta.org website, even when the author asked Sarah Bylth this very question via twitter while likely preparing this article. What I also find interesting is that the BC SPCA an independent organization has found that that aquarium provides excellent care for it's animals which seems to run contrary to every single has been saying since day one.
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Travis Lupick
I was told that a lot of letters that have come in to the park board were sent via a PETA website. And I was told that a lot of letters that have come in were sent via a Vancouver Aquarium website. I was also told that a lot of letters have come packaged in binders produced by elementary school children. And that many letters look like they were drafted by independent adults.
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Richard C
So hang on, the BC SPCA says that the care provided by the Vancouver Aquarium is excellent and they have no problems with that at all, yet we have been having the mantra that the animals are 'suffering' at the aquarium shoved down our throats by the activists for months. Seems to me as much as Sarah Blyth has chalked out this campaign as being her big grand stand finish and a springboard for her friend Ms. Barnes' next political move, their emotionally charged declarations are lacking in support from experts who know what really goes on at the aquarium.

The facts are easy enough, the animals aren't suffering- they are in the care of some of the worlds leading animal husbandry and veterinary experts, whose compassionate work is putting the physical and mental well-being of these animals front and centre. If they are not suffering then it is hard to accept the abuse and accusations of cruelty and torture being levelled at these people and the institution itself.

Can we at least accept that the starting position of 'captivity is cruel' for many of the activist groups, who have been misleading their listeners about the aquarium's practices and status as a non-profit amongst other things this whole time, is not something that should be taken at face value?

The Aquarium recognised nearly two decades ago that capture from the wild was wrong and not in line with its mission, since then it has conducted itself exceptionally and has advanced the fields of marine mammal care, wild marine mammal research, rescue and rehab (including release where possible) and educated millions of visitors, students, government officials and professionals in related fields.

For a self-supporting non-profit in Canada to be achieving the things they are and leading the way on how aquariums worldwide should be evolving and serving wildlife through conservation action, research and rescue is frankly amazing. This city should be supporting them proudly for managing to achieve all of this. Rather than promoting the activists who are deliberately misleading well-meaning animal lovers by painting a false picture of what is really going on in our city. It is an unfortunate but understandable reaction from a section of the public on the back of Blackfish etc. but the Parks Board should be responsible enough to approach this maturely, make a decision on current facts and communicate the truth.
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Jill
They need to end captivity and all the BS they spout about how great they are caring for these mammals that should be free with their family.

This is so disturbing~! >>>. He said the aquarium could also house more dolphins if, in the future, dolphins are found to require rescue and subsequently are deemed unsuitable for release back into the wild.
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Mitchell Wenger
@Jill seriously? You are trying to pass this comment off even though the article clearly show an independent source saying the animals at the aquarium receive excellent treatment?
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Ian Boothby
The animals they're talking about are unreleasable so they'll always be captive. Freeing the whales would kill them. All that can happen is moving them to a different tank, even a sea pen if one existed would require the same or more care but just be a less healthy environment because of pollution.
The only real solution is the one Constance Barnes suggested. If you think any form of captivity is cruel then as she said, you have to consider euthanizing them. But the people that do think it's cruel are politicians and people who've seen movies. Experts disagree and this if life and death, it's not something we can just guess at.
Whenever you hear someone suggest "Phasing Out" the whales and dolphins that's a euphemism, we use those to avoid saying the truth , like telling a kid you're taking the dog to a farm up north.
We've known it for a long time but Constance Barnes finally said it, "Phasing Out" = death.
Don't let the city kill these animals with good intentions, bad information and political aspirations.
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katie m
I went to the aquarium in 2013. The inside exhibits were fantastic whilst the outside marine mammals were appalling and held no 'educational value'. I just hope the expansion is a decent one...
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Christopher Porter
Excellent care of Marine Mammals is a subjective term based on what you are comparing it to. 50 years ago when Moby Doll was harpooned and became the first cetacean on display for the Aquarium, care was "ground breaking". What is important is for us to analyze what definition of excellent we want.

The fact is surviving animals in captivity do receive good care, when they survive! This is from first hand experience with 25 years in the Industry (including years as Vancouver's Head Trainer) and becoming one of the biggest providers of marine animals for aquariums in the world. Animals that don't adapt do die. The complex nature of animals we yet fully understand, causes accidents to happen that are not intentional or envisioned. Good intentions does not always lead to good results.

What we have to start doing is asking is this all worth it?

Is 80 million plus dollars worth spending upgrading pools to import animals from Japan and USA parks? Would it not make more sense to spend the 60 million dollars estimated to complete the Wild Killer Whale Recovery Plan by Department of Fisheries and National Marine Fisheries?

Is it worth that just 8 dollars from every 34 dollars of the ticket price at the Aquarium goes towards animals, research , education , conservation while the rest goes to Admin, Marketing, Retail, General ops. (according to 2013 annual report)?

Why does the Aquarium need to fundraise for the care of the baby whale rescue which according to them costs less than $500 a day when they earned 30 million dollars last year? If the new animals they plan to import get sick how will they pay for that?

I have been on both sides of the argument and realize there needs to be a third option. There needs to be more transparency and accountability on what occurs at the Aquarium and what will occur. There should be an independent position on their Animal Care Committee and a comprehensive look at the history today.

The SPCA's proposal to create a center that can benefit our local animals and meet the Aquarium's mandate sounds like a win. Better than the current one of a couple of tubs sitting in Vancouver's Port parking lot using water taken from near the SeaBus.

Excellence should be about making better what we learned was wrong. 1 Cetacean release vs. 39 deaths is not excellent. Google Ceta Base and look at independent survival numbers of the Aquarium.
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French Young
@Chris interesting, your choice of creative math. Perhaps it would interest you for example the BC SPCA only spends 2.8% of its total expenditure on animal care & welfare. There isn't a need for a third option, because based on my reading of the article, there isn't a third option being presented. The SPCA is suggesting that the Aquarium continue on with its day to day operations barring a few changes. Every single dollar spent on marine conservation is worth it, and that is what the Vancouver Aquarium and many other institutions are doing.
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Teresa Wagner
He can say all he wants about "excellent care" of the animals. The point is that they do not BELONG in captivity! Cetaceans belong in the ocean, not artificial tanks to make money for an institution. Follow the example of the National Aquarium in Baltimore which is likely to free the animals to sea pens and never hold a healthy animal in captivity again. The Vancouver Aquarium has a choice right now to go down in history on the side of evil on this issue or the side of progress and compassion for animals.
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