The public can expect to see new beluga whales and a new whale pool at the Vancouver Aquarium after its expansion is completed in 2017.
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.
Before elaborating, Nightingale first emphasized to host Rick Cluff that the aquarium "is pretty well known for its excellent animal care".
"Secondarily with a very small population of 35 belugas [in captivity] in North America, we work with all the other aquariums that hold belugas to maintain the genetic diversity," Nightingale added. "And that means that animals have come and gone from the Vancouver Aquarium since the first animals were ever there. And that will continue."
Vancouver Aquarium officials refused to speak to the Georgia Straight in advance of a recent feature story about whether its expansion plans in Stanley Park would result in more whales and dolphins being kept in captivity.
On CBC Radio, Nightingale likened the aquarium's 50th anniversary to what happens to human beings when they turn 50.
"So the way I’ve told everybody about it: humans turn 50 and they head off to the eye doctor and the dentist," he told Cluff. "Aquariums turn 50; they have to deal with some rotting concrete and bad pipes. So parts of the aquarium needed the equivalent of two knees, a hip, and a quintuple bypass."
The first phase, which will be completed in June, includes a new entrance, indoor food service, a tech-connections gallery, and a changing display hall, according to Nightingale.
He likened the second phase, which will be completed in 2017, to receiving two knees and a hip.
He also told the Early Edition host that part of the plan includes rebuilding old killer-whale pool, which is now part of the B.C. Wild Coast exhibit.
"New facilities first give the animals we have much better space," Nightingale said on CBC Radio. "So the example I use is that we'll have two certified beluga pools instead of the one we have now, so that we can mix and match animals—moms and calves, keep dads away from babies—all the things you need to do in managing an animal population. And it gives the visitors a much better experience in terms of the reasons those animals are there."
Nightingale pointed out that the Vancouver Aquarium is a nonprofit organization, unlike many other marine parks in North America.
When asked about profits generated by the whale exhibit, he told Cluff "that's what pays for all the education, the conservation, and research work that people in the community find so valuable about the aquarium."
"So there are no beneficial owners," the aquarium boss added. "Nobody is pocketing a lot of money. Any money that the aquarium generates from operations is exactly what pays for all the mission-based activities that people know and love about the aquarium."
In its filings to the Canada Revenue Agency in 2012, the aquarium disclosed that one staff member was paid between $250,000 to $299,000 that year. Seven other full-time employees were paid between $120,000 and $199,000.
The CBC Radio Early Edition podcast of Nightingale's interview is available here.