Dolphin trainer turned conservationist Ric O'Barry can take a lot of the credit for drawing the public’s attention to Japan’s annual dolphin hunt in Taiji.
Now O’Barry wants people’s attention turned to the Vancouver Aquarium.
In a July 21 letter addressed to Mayor Gregor Robertson, O’Barry and Earth Island Institute director David Phillips argue it's time whale and dolphin captivity came to an end.
“Captivity is hard on cetaceans for many reasons,” they write. “Concrete pools are too small and too enervating for cetaceans to thrive, especially given that wild dolphin travel many miles each day in their natural environment. These social animals are often put in tanks with unfamiliar individuals, which can cause considerable stress and difficulties. It has been proven that many species of cetaceans die early in captivity compared to the wild.”
The letter continues: “Captivity also does a disservice to people, especially children. Seeing these magnificent animals perform circus tricks for dead fish, with little context about how these animals live in the wild, is a form of bad education and should stop.”
It comes as the Vancouver Aquarium prepares to go before the park board for a special meeting about whale and dolphin captivity scheduled for Saturday (July 26).
Included in the letter is an expression of gratitude to the mayor for publicly opposing cetacean captivity at the aquarium.
(On April 9, the Straight reported that Robertson believes the aquarium should no longer keep whales and dolphins in Stanley Park. “My personal view is that the Vancouver Aquarium should begin to phase out the holding of whales and dolphins in captivity,” he said.)
The letter concludes with an offer of assistance.
“Both Ric O’Barry and Earth Island Institute have had extensive experience successfully releasing dolphins and whales to sea pens and/or to the wild,” it states. “We know this can be done and offer our assistance in working for successful outcomes for dolphins and whales at the Vancouver Aquarium.”
In an August 2009 interview with the Straight related to The Cove’s theatrical release, aquarium CEO John Nightingale maintained that while the aquarium’s two dolphins were obtained from Japan, they were not captured in a drive fishery like the one depicted in the film.
“If white-sided dolphins are not being taken in the drive fishery, there is no even indirect possible connection,” he said.
That article notes that O’Barry, now a marine mammal specialist for the Earth Island Institute and director of the Dolphin Project, visited Vancouver in 2003 and urged the park board then to bring an end to dolphin captivity in Stanley Park.
O’Barry and Phillips are not the first conservationists with international followings to express concerns for cetaceans kept at the Vancouver Aquarium.
On May 26, the Straight reported that renowned primatologist Jane Goodall issued a letter calling for an end to whale and dolphin captivity in Vancouver.
“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 wrote. “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 July 26 park board meeting will include a presentation by aquarium management and the presentation of a staff report on best practices for aquariums around the world. Members of the public are also invited to speak. (Advance registration is required.)