Vancouver Aquarium announces it will cease keeping whales and dolphins in captivity in Stanley Park

The nonprofit's CEO has said that research and conservation efforts will continue despite the organization no longer housing cetaceans in tanks in Vancouver

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      The Vancouver Aquarium will no longer keep whales and dolphins in tanks in Stanley Park.

      "The ongoing controversy and the discussion in the community had gotten to the point where it's debilitating our ability to get on with our principal mission, which is engaging more people,” aquarium CEO John Nightingale told CTV News this morning (January 18).

      "We are moving into a new era."

      In a January 18 blog post, Nightingale states: "We have made the difficult decision to no longer display cetaceans at Vancouver Aquarium."

      "The ongoing discussions about whales and dolphins in our care have been a distraction from real threats to the ocean and have sidelined the critical work we lead," he continued there. "We aim to inspire people in every corner of the planet to participate in creating healthy oceans, and it’s time to get on with it."

      There will be one exception: a Pacific white-sided dolphin named Helen.

      “After many years in professional care and with only partial flippers, Helen is not a candidate for release,” Nightingale explained. He also said the aquarium could serve as a “temporary accommodation of a rescued cetacean”.

      The announcement follows a number of cetacean deaths at the aquarium.

      Last November, a young false killer whale named Chester died. It was the fifth cetacean to die in tanks in Stanley Park in less than three years.

      Two beluga whales named Aurora and Qila passed away in November 2016.

      In August 2016, a harbour porpoise named Jack died.

      In May 2015, a dolphin named Hana died shortly after undergoing bowel surgery.

      In addition, other marine mammals that the Vancouver Aquarium is associated with but which it does not keep in Stanley Park died during the same period.

      In July of 2015, a beluga whale whose father is owned by the Vancouver Aquarium died at a SeaWorld facility in San Antonio, Texas. The calf was just three weeks old. Before that, in February 2015, a beluga whale named Nanuq died while on loan to a SeaWorld facility in Orlando, Florida.

      The Vancouver Aquarium first brought a whale into captivity in 1964. For many years, that animal, an orca whale named Moby Doll, was the facility's main attraction.

      The Vancouver park board placed a ban on the aquarium capturing wild animals for display purposes in 1996. Since then, any new addition has been classified as a "rescued" animal or was born in captivity.

      The aquarium began coming under increasing pressure to end its whale and dolphin programs after the publication of a 2014 feature article in the Georgia Straight raised concerns about the long-term effects of captivity.

      In May 2017, the Vancouver park board voted to phase out cetacean captivity at the aquarium, which is located on land controlled by the board. The bylaw amendment forbade the organization from bringing any additional whales and dolphins to Stanley Park. Shortly after, the aquarium said it was filing for a judicial review of that decision.

      Today’s announcement would appear to put the matter to rest.

      Chester, a false killer whale, was rescued from the waters of Tofino and brought to the Vancouver Aquarium's Stanley Park facility in July 2014.

      In another January 18 media release, Nightingale said that research and conservation efforts will continue.

      “Having significantly contributed to tens of millions of people caring about whales and dolphins over the past four decades, Vancouver Aquarium will now focus on raising awareness of ocean issues impacting other marine animals and will no longer display cetaceans at its facility,” he said in the release.

      Nightingale said the nonprofit organization would also continue to play a role in animal rescues.

      “Rescued animals are transferred to the Marine Mammal Rescue Centre—located outside Stanley Park—for critical, short-term care, with the aim to rehabilitate and release back to the wild,” he explained. “Should a rescued cetacean need ongoing care, the animal care team will identify an appropriate long-term facility and work to arrange for a transfer of the patient. When necessary, on a temporary basis, Vancouver Aquarium may need to house a rescued cetacean at its unique facility until an appropriate receiving facility has been identified.”

      And so at Stanley Park, the aquarium is left with only one cetacean: the Pacific white-sided dolphin named Helen.

      However, a July 2014 park board report revealed that in addition to those animals that have died during the past three years, the Vancouver Aquarium owns five other beluga whales.

      Three are believed to be at SeaWorld facilities in the United States and two are at the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta.

      Today's announcement from the Vancouver Aquarium did not mention those animals.