Judge finds park board lacks authority to forbid Vancouver Aquarium from keeping cetaceans in Stanley Park

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      The Vancouver Aquarium has won a victory in its struggle to keep whales and dolphins in its tanks in Stanley Park. However, the win comes shortly after the nonprofit organization announced it was abandoning that fight.

      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. Park commissioners passed a bylaw amendment that forbade the aquarium from adding new cetaceans to its programs. Shortly after, the aquarium said it was filing for a judicial review of the park board’s decision.

      Today (February 9), the court ruled in the aquarium’s favour.

      B.C. Supreme Court Justice Andrew Mayer did not make a decision on the question of marine-mammal captivity. Instead, he wrote that the agreement that exists between the park board and the Vancouver Aquarium states that the former will not interfere in the day-to-day activities of the later.

      Therefore, the park board lacks the authority to tell the aquarium it cannot display cetaceans in Stanley Park.

      "As a result the bylaw amendment is not enforceable," Mayer wrote.

      The Vancouver park board issued a brief statement saying it was reviewing the decision and would not comment further.

      "The Park Board is obviously disappointed with the conclusion the court reached in this matter," it reads. "The Board will be reviewing the reasons for judgment and considering its options going forward."

      The aquarium has also said that it is reviewing the decision and does not yet know what further action, if any, it will take.

      On January 18, aquarium CEO John Nightingale announced the organization was phasing out whale and dolphin displays.

      "We have made the difficult decision to no longer display cetaceans at Vancouver Aquarium,” he wrote on the organization’s website.

      "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," Nightingale 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."

      The announcement followed 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 with which the Vancouver Aquarium is associated but 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 aquarium’s January 18 announcement included one exception. Nightingale said that a Pacific white-sided dolphin named Helen could not be released into the wild and would remain in Stanley Park.