Vancouver Aquarium boss not worried about The Cove

The president of the Vancouver Aquarium says he’s not worried that a soon-to-be-released documentary about dolphins will undermine public support for his facility. In a phone interview with the Straight, John Nightingale said the makers of The Cove want to end the Japanese “drive fishery” in the town of Taiji. This involves forcing dolphins into a small cove, where they’re slaughtered.

“The film itself, its main goal is to do what it can to end the drive fishery,” Nightingale said, noting that he also supports ending this fishery.

A central figure in the film is American anticaptivity activist Ric O’Barry, who visited Vancouver in 2003 and urged the park board not to allow dolphins to be kept in Stanley Park. The commissioners didn’t heed his message. “This industry has got so much power, they have been able to brainwash the public with their advertising dollars for the last 40 years so that people think dolphins belong in concrete tanks doing stupid dolphin tricks,” O’Barry said.

The aquarium has three Pacific white-sided dolphins that were imported from Japan: Spinnaker, Hana, and Helen. It also has a B.C. harbour porpoise named Daisy.

O’Barry said he is employed by the California-based Earth Island Institute. Its associate director, Mark Berman, told the Straight in a phone interview that aquariums shouldn’t buy dolphins from Japan because all of its aquariums have links to Taiji, where, according to O’Barry and others, 23,000 dolphins and porpoises are killed each year. “Any foreign aquarium that’s buying from them is indirectly rewarding these same people in Taiji who are doing the slaughter,” Berman said.

Nightingale said the institute’s view is mistaken because Pacific white-sided dolphins are almost never caught in the drive fishery. “It shows a lack of knowledge about the way things work, the way governance works, the way permits work, and even the way the drive fishery works,” he said. “If white-sided dolphins are not being taken in the drive fishery, there is no even indirect possible connection.”

Nightingale said that all three dolphins came from a fixed-net fishery and not from a drive fishery. Berman said that even if this were the case, the dolphins should have been released rather than kept in captivity.




Aug 13, 2009 at 10:48am

Dolphins should not be kept in small tanks doing dumb tricks so that John Nightingale can get paid. It is clear that John Nightingale thinks that it is okay to keep wildlife in captivity as long as they sell tickets. Why doesn't he just save everyone the trouble and just admit he doesn't care. And for those of us who care, please take your kids to see The Cove and boycott the Aquarium. Give your kids some real education.

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Aug 13, 2009 at 5:55pm

The Vancouver Aquarium must stop their decades long partnership with Japanese aquariums. Heck in the 80s they kept an orca here for Japan. The orca died within 2.5 years in Japan. The blood continues to be on their hands with their acquisition of dolphins from Japan. Are they morally bankrupt to deal with dolphin murderers? The dolphin drive fisheries relies heavily on the dolphin sales to aquariums. The root of evil dolphin abuse is from Japan's "fisheries".

People should get out to see supernatural BC wildlife and stop supporting imprisonment of marine wildlife in the Vancouver Aquarium. One doesn't need to go far and spent more than what it costs for aquarium ticket. Nearby Tsawassen is Lighthouse Marine Park in Point Roberts. Here is where one can view orcas, porpoises, eagles, Great Blue Herons, and a diversity of other wildlife.

Freedom NOT Captivity!

Peter Hamilton
Lifeforce Founding Director

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Aug 13, 2009 at 8:48pm

The three Pacific white-sided dolphins currently residing in the Vancouver Aquarium are 'rehabilitated' and 'nonreleasable' into the wild, according to the host of the dolphin show I watched yesterday. One of the female dolphins is missing parts of her front flippers because she got tangled up in a net. I guess that's one of the reasons why she's rehabilitated and nonreleasable - she probably can't swim well enough to have great survival chances in the wild. Sure, maybe it's still wrong to keep a wild animal in captivity, even if you are lengthening her life span (inside cats vs outside cats, right?), but the decision is more morally ambiguous.

I also take serious issue with O'Barry's off-hand comment about dolphins 'doing stupid dolphin tricks'. He was probably too busy hating on the Aquarium to watch a dolpin show, but if he had, like I have and hopefully many other readers have, he would've found that the Aquarium achieves an admirable balance between education and entertainment. Having seen a couple of shows in the rest of the world, I can say that without a doubt, the Vancouver Aquarium has the most educational and meaningful and least degrading and demeaning marine mammal shows I have ever had the pleasure of attending.

I think the Vancouver Aquarium does good work, and that we also need to be aware of the moral ambiguities associated with aquariums and zoos. But putting up strawmen and casting these institutions with fine people and good intentions as pure evil is hardly constructive criticism. Why not, instead, discuss these issues of right and wrong thoughtfully and civilly, and maybe we can work together towards a better solution?

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Aug 15, 2009 at 4:02pm

where can I watch the cove? I live downtown vancouver.

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Aug 17, 2009 at 8:59am

If people would get their facts straight for once, and do a little bit of digging, it would be very clear that the Aquarium did not recieve their dolphins from the slaughter/dolphin drive, and very strongly opposes the drive in every way shape and form.

The movie is playing at the Scotiabank theater...though, I'm having a lot of difficulty finding the times it is playing.

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Aug 19, 2009 at 10:52am

I second Vanaquafan's comment about the dolphins. In fact, I'm surprised John Nightingale didn't mention this in the interview. On second thought, he might have, but the media always like to present a warped view on whatever story they cover.

The Vancouver Aquarium also does a lot of work off site in rehabilitating injured marine mammals and all the many abandoned seal pups. The harbour porpoise there now was saved as a calf, yet was unable to be released for a few very valid reasons. It's the same case with the seals. Most are able to be released, but the ones kept are the few which weren't.

I do completely agree with the notion that dolphins (or any other marine mammal) should not be captured from the wild and kept for display. However, rescuing ones which would have been unable to survive in the wild is helping both that specific animal, and the entire species once people are able to be educated in which ways they can help. Many people can't afford to go see animals in their wild state. Even if they did it would prove hugely disruptive to the ecosystem if suddenly tens of thousands (the Vancouver Aquarium sees 1 million visitors per year) started pouring into these protected areas.

Finally, they are performing much research into why certain populations of marine mammals (such as stellar sea lions) are disappearing in the wild. Research which couldn't have been done had it not been for visitor support.

. . . now let's just hope The Cove can succeed in slaughtering the practices which should be ended!

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Dec 20, 2009 at 8:55pm

Hello Oceansoul. While I applaud your attempt to bring balance to what you write I do think you should stop to give some thought about what these rehabilitated animals must now endure.

Think about it as if you're in their place. You're wandering the streets of Vancouver one day when a car jumps the curb and takes off your leg.

You have a choice. Get in amputated by would-be rescuers who have nothing but your "best interests" at heart or simply die. The catch to being rescued, of course, is that you have to spend the rest of your potentially long life in a white room performing tricks like hopping around on your one good leg while singing show tunes for gawking spectators, all while your trainer's feed you the occassional piece of three-day old soggy pizza for good behaviour.

Which would you choose?

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Jun 28, 2010 at 10:49pm

I think it is sad that we live in a society that tolerates the murder and capture of such an intelligent and magnificent creature. Were the dolphins directly from the Taiji cove in Japan? Does it really matter? So they weren't herded into a cove and slaughtered while their family members watch in horror and tried to escape, but could only wait for their turn while swimming in the blood of their family, they were just tangled in nets in an over fished ocean and hauled up out of the water where one of them had its fins cut off because they couldn't get it out of the net unless they did that, and the others that were too tangled were simply slaughtered on the decks of the boat. Does it matter that they are not from the cove when you look at where they are from and what we are doing to our oceans and probably a species far more intelligent than ourselves?

Education is great; these animals do serve a purpose for humanity, in the wild where they belong not locked in a backyard swimming pool for the rest of their lives. These animals swim vast oceans at breakneck speeds riding waves and diving to amazing depths. Are those pools big enough for these wonderful athletic creatures? No. Should aquariums be allowed to hold the beautiful amazing creature in their tanks? No.

Your conscience knows the truth of this situation but the ease of following the herd and not raising you head prevent you from action. Taking a stand to say "this is wrong and we don't want it in our city, we don't want it in our province, we don't want this in our country! We don't want this in our world!" We are not the only intelligent creature on this planet. I should really think before placing humans in the intelligent creature category considering the state we have put this once beautiful planet in.

Shame on us for not acting when we had the chance. Is it too late?

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Cathy Earle

Feb 3, 2014 at 12:40pm

"Nightingale said the institute’s view is mistaken because Pacific white-sided dolphins are almost never caught in the drive fishery. “It shows a lack of knowledge about the way things work, the way governance works, the way permits work, and even the way the drive fishery works,” he said. “If white-sided dolphins are not being taken in the drive fishery, there is no even indirect possible connection.”

Interesting comment considering there have been 8 Pacific White-sided dolphins taken captive for the entertainment industry so far this year, their quota is 134.

2013-14 killing season: Pacific White-sided: 32 caught · 8 killed · 24 live-capture.

The year this article was written 2009: Pacific White-sided Dolphin: 14 total caught, 1 killed & 13 captured.

I think that throws out the theory that: "there is no even indirect possible connection." It also shows apparent lack of knowledge from Mr. Nightingale.

See more at:

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merrell gerber

Mar 30, 2014 at 5:35pm

why is vancouver aquarium breeding dolphins ? Hana had two babies die. AND why are they ''loaning'' beluga whales to SeaWorld for 'breeding purposes'' ? $$$$$ to be made.

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