John Nightingale: Park board picks a fight with mother nature
The following is an August 1 letter by John Nightingale, president and CEO of the Vancouver Aquarium. It was originally published on the Vancouver Aquarium's website following a July 31 park board vote to end the breeding of whales and dolphins on lands where the park board exercises jurisdiction.
Regardless of the species, reproduction is the most fundamental law of nature. It’s inside all of us, and it’s there for a good reason. Inside the DNA of every living thing is the basic need to reproduce and carry on. Consequently, the decision by the Vancouver Park Board to prohibit the breeding of cetaceans at the Vancouver Aquarium is misinformed, misguided and pits the Park Board against the facts, the science and Mother Nature herself.
The Park Board’s use of the word breeding implies that we carry out some sort of planned, regulated or artificial reproduction program. We don’t do that at the Vancouver Aquarium. Our animals do mate, just as they do in the wild, because we keep them in natural groupings – just as they live in nature. Mating is the most natural thing in the world. In fact, sex and reproduction play an important role in our research and in our education programs. For the Park Board to stop whales and dolphins from doing what comes naturally is like telling Park Board commissioners not to have sex, ever. It’s unnatural.
The political decision made by the Park Board was not based on the facts or science presented. It certainly didn’t take into consideration testimony from dozens of the world’s scientific community, including experts in animal welfare and animal cognition. It also wasn’t based on the support the Aquarium receives from its 75,000 members, 1,500 conservation staff and volunteers, or one million visitors each year. And it doesn’t reflect the sentiment of Vancouver residents, as shown by our polling which indicates broad public support for Vancouver Aquarium. It was a decision based on a relative handful of activists who want to close, over time, Vancouver’s 58-year-old, award-winning marine science centre.
Canada’s beluga whales are facing some pretty tough times. Changes in climate, increased marine pollution, and many other human-based problems put cetaceans and our country’s oceans at risk. The handful of belugas at the Aquarium is vital to our research efforts in helping us understand and help save Canada’s wild beluga population. The Park Board decision now puts our research, our international reputation, and Canada’s belugas at serious risk over the medium and longer term.
The Vancouver Aquarium will need to take some time to determine the real consequences and options open to us in light of the Park Board decision.
We sincerely hoped that the Park Board would join us, and the thousands of Vancouverites and residents of the lower mainland, who support our efforts to protect and help save Canada’s belugas. That turns out not to be the case. Instead, the current Vancouver Park Board, most of whom are not running again, and can’t be held accountable at the upcoming municipal election, have decided that their legacy is to pick a fight with Mother Nature.