On Thursday (July 31), the park board will convene for its third special meeting on the Vancouver Aquarium.
An eight-hour session was held last Saturday (July 26), and a four-hour meeting occurred on Monday (July 28). More than 130 members of the public spoke on the topic.
“It was the most speakers that I have had since I was elected,” said Vision Vancouver park commissioner Sarah Blyth. “I talked to Loretta [Woodcock] and she said that the last time they had people come to speak on this issue [in 2011], it was 50 people. So 132 definitely shows this is growing in the public’s view.”
During those meetings, the aquarium presented its case for keeping whales and dolphins in tanks in Stanley Park. Dr. Joseph K. Gaydos, a practicing wildlife veterinarian, delivered the results of a study commissioned by the park board to “provide a non-biased, third party review of the Vancouver Aquarium’s captive cetacean program”. And park commissioners questioned aquarium staff about the organization's programming, research, and conservation efforts.
Blyth, who was instrumental in putting the issue of marine mammal captivity on the park board’s agenda, said that Thursday’s meeting will see commissioners review and debate the information they’ve received, and then “probably have a series of meetings to figure out what is the best way to move ahead”.
As the park board continues its review, four former Vancouver mayors have signed their names to letters in support of the aquarium.
Sam Sullivan, now the Liberal MLA for Vancouver-False Creek, wrote that he is concerned changes enacted by the park board could negatively affect the aquarium.
“Eighteen years ago the Aquarium took a principled stand as the first institution in the world to pledge to never capture cetaceans from the wild,” Sullivan continued. “That pledge means the Aquarium houses only whales and dolphins that cannot live in the wild. We believe these animals are far better off in Vancouver than they would be in other facilities elsewhere.”
Larry Campbell and Philip Owen sent the park board letters that contained the same text as that of Sullivan’s.
Mike Harcourt wrote a different letter in which he described the aquarium as facing “a potential ill-conceived proposal”.
“It’s far better that the Vancouver Aquarium build on its huge success, and exciting ideas for the future, than be diverted, delayed, held up by this ill-conceived proposal,” Harcourt suggested. “A green City like Vancouver does not turn its back on nature. The conservation focussed research and direct activities that are at the core of the Vancouver Aquarium are vital to the future of the oceans, life there, and indeed – to all of us.”
In contrast, Mayor Gregor Robertson has said he opposes the aquarium keeping cetaceans in captivity.
“My personal view is that the Vancouver Aquarium should begin to phase out the holding of whales and dolphins,” he said in an April 9 statement emailed to media. “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.”
The park board’s July 31 meeting on the aquarium is scheduled to begin at 6 p.m.