On April 9, the mayor of Vancouver revealed he personally opposes whale and dolphin captivity at the aquarium in Stanley Park.
Gregor Robertson adding his voice to the controversial debate on the future of the Vancouver Aquarium set off a small firestorm that quickly resulted in stories published by just about every media outlet in the city.
And yet it still is far from clear whether or not the aquarium plans to increase the number of whales and/or dolphins it keeps beyond the two beluga whales and two dolphins it holds now.
On March 11, I was granted a telephone interview with aquarium CEO John Nightingale, during which I repeatedly pressed him on whether or not a facility renovation underway will end with a greater number of large marine mammals kept in Stanley Park.
I never received an answer that I would describe as satisfactory.
“Really, with more than $100 million going into this expansion, there are no real plans for what’s going to happen with that money and these new facilities?” I asked in frustration towards the end of our conversation.
Nightingale’s response: “The dolphins, the two species we have, live in the B.C. Wild Coast, and that’s the third phase of our expansion and that is several years away.”
In recent years, Nightingale and aquarium staff have ducked and dodged the questions I was asking a number of times.
Here’s a selection of the answers they've provided, presented in their original contexts:
The Vancouver Aquarium intends to increase its beluga population, which is now down to a mother-daughter pair. After construction is completed on a new Arctic habitat around 2016, staff will bring in a male partner to breed another whale, said Mr. Wright, for continued public education and academic research, despite concerns from animal welfare groups.
- August 7, 2012, at the Globe and Mail.
"There are no current plans to increase the number of cetaceans at Vancouver Aquarium." - Vancouver Aquarium spokesperson Charlene Chiang in a previously unpublished email to the Straight.
- Received on January 31, 2014.
In an interview this morning on the CBC Radio Early Edition show, president and CEO John Nightingale was asked point blank if the aquarium will bring in more large marine mammals. "The simple answer is likely," Nightingale replied.
- February 19, 2014, at CBC News.
Asked to clarify whether or not the aquarium intends to use additional swimming space to house more beluga whales, Nightingale said that new facilities are “several years” away from completion. “So we don’t have any firm plans,” Nightingale told the Straight by phone, “except that we do intend that cetaceans continue to play a vital role in engaging the public.”
- March 12, 2014, at the Georgia Straight.
Last week aquarium president John Nightingale told the Courier that once a new expanded whale tank is completed, the facility would bring back three belugas on loan to other facilities to join the two already there.
- April 9, 2014, at the Vancouver Courier.
There’s also this lengthy back-and-forth that occurred over Twitter with the @VancouverAqua account, in which the aquarium repeatedly ignored point-blank questions on future plans for cetacean captivity.
Even the aquarium’s fiercest critics are not campaigning for the release of whales and dolphins currently held in Stanley Park (there are questions around whether returning those animals to the wild would be safe).
All anybody is asking for is a public vote—almost certainly non-binding—on whether or not the Vancouver Aquarium should add new whales and/or dolphins to its tanks.
On that question, the aquarium should let its intentions be known.