Large crowd shows up at Vancouver park board meeting on keeping whales and dolphins captive
It seemed unlikely that the Vancouver park board would get through its review of the Vancouver Aquarium today.
That's because there are 130 speakers registered for a special meeting.
The five Vision Vancouver commissioners at the meeting passed a motion at the outset limiting each speaker to three minutes.
The public remarks followed an opening presentation by Joseph K. Gaydos, chief scientist at the UC Davis Wildlife Center's SeaDoc Society Program.
He was retained by the park board to "provide a non-biased, third party review" of the aquarium's captive cetacean program and how it compares to those of comparable aquariums.
In his public comments, Gaydos repeated much of what's in a report that's been posted on the park board website, beginning on a diplomatic note.
"I think here, we're actually all for cetaceans," Gaydos said. "If I can reach out and say if there are 130 people here today, that they're here because they care about cetaceans. I just want to remind everybody that there's common ground here that's unlike any other dialogue that usually happens that tends to be controversial."
He said that his review identified 608 aquariums in 79 countries. He focused on 35 facilities in North America, which each attract more than 750,000 visitors per year.
The Vancouver Aquarium says it draws about one million visitors a year.
Of the 35 aquariums reviewed by Gaydos, only 12 have cetaceans in captivity, including Vancouver's aquarium.
It has nine beluga whales, but only two are kept here. Five others are on loan to SeaWorld parks, and the other two are at an aquarium in Georgia.
Gaydos said that the Vancouver Aquarium has four other cetaceans: two harbour porpoises, which cannot be released into the wild, and two Pacific white-sided dolphins, which he said were rescued from Japan.
Because the Vancouver Aquarium is in Stanley Park, the park board is its landlord.
He identified three aquariums without cetaceans that attract more annual visitors than the Vancouver Aquarium: Monterey Bay Aquarium (1.9 million visitors per year), Aquarium of the Pacific (1.5 million visitors per year), and New England Bay Aquarium (1.3 million visitors per year).
Gaydos also reviewed how the capture, importation, display, and captivity of cetaceans is regulated around the world.
He identified three countries that ban captivity: Chile, Croatia, and India.
Two U.S. states, South Carolina and Hawaii, ban the diplay of cetaceans, he said, noting that Cyprus, Chile, Slovenia, and India also prohibit these displays.
Live capture is banned in Costa Rica, Chile, and India, according to Gaydos, and importing cetaceans is illegal in Cyprus, Switzerland, and India.
"India said that these cetaceans are seen as nonhuman persons with a right, and it's morally unacceptable for people to keep them as entertainment," Gaydos said.
Some in the audience applauded after that comment.
In a subsquent question-and-answer period, Gaydos told Comm. Niki Sharma that all information about facilities listed in his report was supplied by aquarium operators.
The two NPA commissioners, Melissa De Genova and John Coupar, did not attend today's meeting.
De Genova was travelling.
The chair of the meeting, Aaron Jasper, said that Coupar had recused himself because of a potential conflict of interest involving his employer and the aquarium.
It meant that only one of the commissioners present, Vision Vancouver's Trevor Loke, will be seeking reelection in November.