Park commissioners have said they are saddened to learn another cetacean will live in captivity at the Vancouver Aquarium.
The Green Party’s Stuart Mackinnon suggested animals deemed unfit for release could be relocated to protected sea pens.
“Another creature from the wild is going to be kept in captivity,” he said in a telephone interview. “I understand the aquarium is saying that it was too young when it was taken and that it cannot be released. But keeping it in a small pool for the entertainment of humans doesn’t seem like a dignified life for such a creature.”
Vision Vancouver commissioner Catherine Evans told the Straight she wished there were a better option.
“I’m sad that it’s not releasable,” Evans said. “But if captivity is the only option for an animal, then the Vancouver Aquarium is a good place.”
On May 26, the Vancouver Aquarium announced that a false killer whale named Chester would stay in Stanley Park. The animal was rescued off the west coast of Vancouver Island in July 2014 and nursed back to health by aquarium staff.
In a telephone interview, Vancouver Aquarium senior vice president Clint Wright emphasized the decision to keep the whale in captivity was made by Fisheries and Oceans Canada. He said Chester will now share a tank with a Pacific white-sided dolphin named Helen.
An aquarium media release states that Fisheries and Oceans Canada advises false killer whales be kept with other members of their own species. Asked if there are plans to acquire an additional false killer whale, Wright said there is currently no suitable partner held by any aquarium in North America.
“If a rescued animal comes up elsewhere at a facility that meets the high standards of the Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums, then that would be something that we would be looking at and doing what is in the best interests of Chester,” Wright said.
The park board’s oversight of the Vancouver Aquarium became an election issue during the 2014 race for mayor. Vision Vancouver candidates pledged to end captive whale and dolphin breeding while NPA candidates said they would take a hands-off approach to the aquarium. The NPA eventually won four of the board’s seven seats.
Both Mackinnon and Evans told the Straight the park board was neither consulted nor informed in advance of the aquarium’s decision to permanently house Chester in Stanley Park.
The announcement came just two days after the aquarium lost a Pacific white-sided dolphin. On May 24, an animal named Hana died after being diagnosed with a gastrointestinal disorder. A team of specialists performed surgery but the animal died shortly after.
Hana was the second cetacean the aquarium lost in 2015. On February 19, a beluga whale named Nanuq died while on loan to a SeaWorld facility in Orlando, Florida.
The Vancouver Aquarium now owns one false killer whale, one Pacific white-sided dolphin, a pair of Pacific harbour porpoises, and eight beluga whales. Two of the belugas are kept in Stanley Park, four are housed at SeaWorld facilities in the United States, and two are on loan to the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta.