Why won't the Vancouver Aquarium reveal if it is adding more whales and dolphins to its tanks?

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      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 - Vancouver Aquarium spokesperson Charlene Chiang in a previously unpublished email to the Straight.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.

      Comments

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      6 Comments

      Alyson

      Apr 12, 2014 at 10:51am

      All of these aquariums housing "show" cetaceans are the same. Deceptive, manipulative and always attempting to deflect from the truth. The truth is it's time to end the exploitation of marine mammals for entertainment purposes. Put it to a vote and the educated general public will agree.

      Bristol Bel

      Apr 12, 2014 at 11:33am

      The whales and dolphins ready in capitivity at the Vancouver Aquarium deserve to enjoy the larger tanks which should have been included for them in the expansion. I have always lived in Vancouver seen many animals come and go and felt the sadness when they do not thrive in their habitats at the aquarium. I do not want to see MORE whales and dolphins at the Aquarium.

      Lawrence Hearn

      Apr 13, 2014 at 7:55am

      Animal eaters are animal abusers. Just as Japan's 'scientific' whaling has been rejected by the International Court, the Vancouver Aquarium's 'scientific' excuses for torturing sea mammals are just that - excuses for abuses.

      Stuart Mackinnon

      Apr 14, 2014 at 9:07am

      Thank you Travis for making the issue crystal clear.

      NT Maple Ridge

      Apr 14, 2014 at 10:26pm

      I don't want to ask a really dumb question, but what if Nightingale (and/or others) really don't know? I mean, if the conclusion of the expansion is several years away, which means there's a long time for things to change. From reading just the quotes it sounds to me more like the Aquarium is trying not to make promises they can't keep, rather than deliberately obscuring the truth. Regardless of the overall ethical debate of whether or not cetaceans should be in aquariums in the first place, the fact remains that these cetaceans ARE already in exhibits at the aquarium, and I don't see much of a problem with expanding their homes, or bringing in other animals from other facilities to provide them with companionship, especially if those are animals who previously lived at the Aquarium! After all, we in Vancouver are lucky enough to have a facility that promised nearly twenty years ago to not remove any cetaceans from the ocean just for display - we know that they're not taking animals from the ocean, it's in their rules as well as parks bylaws - so I'm having difficulty seeing what the serious issue is here.

      Dave, Florida

      Apr 15, 2014 at 8:44am

      @NT Maple Ridge, No such thing as a stupid question.

      But did you catch the part in that post about there being $100 million being spent here?

      It's my experience that when there's that kind of money on the line, you have a pretty good idea of how you're spending it.