Protesters respond to Vancouver Aquarium lawsuit with demonstration in Stanley Park

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      A group of protesters is expected to gather outside the front gates of the Vancouver Aquarium today (May 20) beginning at 11:30 a.m.

      Similar demonstrations have occurred with some regularity for several years now. They’ve been held in opposition to the aquarium’s practice of keeping whales and dolphins in captivity. Then, in January 2018, former Vancouver Aquarium CEO John Nightingale announced the organization intends to stop holding cetaceans at its facility 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,” Nightingale said.

      So what’s today’s protest about?

      Despite the organization's decision to voluntarily phase out whale and dolphin captivity, its continued with legal challenges related to its civic partners' efforts to impose a ban.

      Last week, the aquarium’s parent company, Ocean Wise Conservation Association, filed a lawsuit against the City of Vancouver and the Vancouver park board. A notice of claim alleges that a ban on cetacean captivity that the park board passed in May 2017 constitutes a breach of contract on behalf of the city. It claims the ban cost the Vancouver Aquarium $4 million in annual revenue for the last two years.

      “Demonstrators will gather to speak against the crass and greedy lawsuit that seeks to extract damages from the municipally elected body who responded to citizen concerns with political action,” reads a media release issued by a protest group that calls itself No More Dead Cetaceans.

      In addition to the lawsuit, the group’s media release notes that animals owned by the Vancouver Aquarium remain in captivity at several locations in addition to the aquarium’s Vancouver address.

      “Activists will continue to demand a formal end to all participation in breeding, trading, display, and non-release based rescues of cetaceans, as well as acceptance that this is a harmful practice with consequences that the aquarium must be responsible for,” it reads.

      This is the Vancouver Aquarium’s second lawsuit against the city related to the park board’s decision to forbid the organization from housing whales and dolphins in tanks at Stanley Park.

      The aquarium previously challenged the park board’s authority to issue such a ban.

      In February 2019, a three-judge B.C. Court of Appeal panel ruled the park board does indeed have the authority to tell the Vancouver Aquarium that it is no longer allowed to keep cetaceans on display.

      The park board’s decision followed a series of cetacean deaths at the aquarium.

      In November 2017, a young false killer whale named Chester passed away. 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. Other marine mammals associated the Vancouver Aquarium but not kept in Stanley Park also died during the same period.