Vancouver Aquarium boss won’t reveal future plans for whale and dolphin captivity

Despite an expansion price tag surpassing $100 million, Vancouver Aquarium president John Nightingale maintains there are no plans in place for additional whale and dolphin exhibits at Stanley Park.

Asked to clarify whether or not the aquarium intends to use additional swimming space to house more beluga whales, Nightingale said that new facilities are “several years” away from completion.

“So we don’t have any firm plans,” Nightingale told the Straight by phone, “except that we do intend that cetaceans continue to play a vital role in engaging the public.”

Those remarks clash with previous statements. On February 19, Nightingale told CBC Radio that the aquarium will “likely” acquire more large marine mammals. And in August 2012, aquarium vice-president Clint Wright told the Globe and Mail that another beluga will be brought in for a new breeding program.

The Vancouver Aquarium stopped keeping orcas in 2001. It still holds two Pacific white-sided dolphins, two beluga whales, and several porpoises, sea otters, seals, and sea lions.

Nightingale was similarly vague about plans for the facility’s dolphin tank.

“I don’t know,” he said. “The dolphins, the two species we have, live in the B.C. Wild Coast [exhibit], and that’s the third phase of our expansion and that is several years away.”

The Vancouver park board is the aquarium’s landlord. In the run-up to the November 2014 civic elections, marine-mammal conservationists called for a plebiscite regarding cetacean captivity.

In February, park-board commissioner Niki Sharma told the Straight that the city’s agreement with the aquarium is up for review in 2015 and that the issue likely won’t be dealt with until that time.

More recently, Vancouver park-board commissioner Sarah Blyth stated on Facebook that she has concerns about the aquarium’s whale and dolphin exhibits.

“I do believe it’s time to have a serious conversation about breeding in captivity and capturing wild and free mammals,” she wrote. “With all of the knowledge we have Im not sure if its the right thing for Vancouver anymore.”

Blyth later told the Straight that the park board is receiving a lot of letters and is aware of an online petition with more than 10,000 signatures that asks for the public to have a say on cetacean captivity.

Nightingale and Blyth were responding to questions regarding a March 17 event that will see Carol Ray, a former Sea World trainer, speak at the Vancity Theatre alongside a screening of the 2013 documentary Blackfish. ("The Vancouver Aquarium hasn’t held or displayed orcas in 13 years, we don’t have anything to do with orcas, and it [the film] isn’t about us," Nightingale said.)

In a telephone interview, Ray told the Straight that Blackfish has been a “great catalyst” for debate.

“I think it sparked a lot of interest in a lot of people who hadn’t given any consideration to the issues of whales and dolphins in captivity before,” she said.

The Vancouver chapter of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society has invited park commissioners to attend the screening. Blyth said she thinks that’s a good idea.

“Some of them have already seen it,” Blyth revealed. “But I think it will be an educational experience.”

Follow Travis Lupick on TwitterFacebook, and Instagram.



Peter Hamilton, Lifeforce

Mar 12, 2014 at 1:58pm

Vancouver SADquarium! (

In May 1988 there was a joint statement issued about the Vancouver Parks Board/Vancouver Aquarium Association Project for Aquatic Exhibition, expansion. It read: “Will the Aquarium be collecting more Whales for the new facility? No. The new habitat is designed for the existing three whales - 2 females and a male.” However, when one beluga died the aquarium applied for a permit to capture three more belugas in 1990. The same thing happened with the 1984 expansion. They said the BC Tel Pool was too small for two belugas but when one died they captured two more in 1985. This led to overcrowding the pools and abnormal aggression. The increased number of prisoners resulted in no extra space for them. Three were sent to SeaWorlds.

The Aquarium is planning to make their largest expansion to date. This will be with our tax moneies and donations from polluters such as Teck. These plans include river otters (that Vancouverites voted against during the referendum to close the Stanley Park Zoo), beaver (who are found living freely in Stanley Park), and maybe Arctic Foxes and others.

As history proves > More Pools, More Captive Dolphins and other wildlife. Boycott the Vancouver Aquarium.

View Belugas: Far From Home:


Mar 13, 2014 at 12:42pm

Hi Therea:
Lifeforce has been campaigning to stop captivity since the 80s. In the 90s Lifeforce was a driving force to close the Stanley Park Zoo. See

The Vancouver Aquarium, Canada is subject to a 1996 Cetacean Bylaw lobbied for by Lifeforce, an ecology/animal rights organization, and many others. It restricts captures from the wild but it was weakened by the Vancouver Aquarium and must be improvement to reach the intended goal to phase out captivity. In the early 90s, politicians and the people of Vancouver also voted in a referendum to close the Stanley Park Zoo.

Captivity, entertainment, and scientifically fallacious experiments are part of a barbaric speciesist past. Freedom will eventually come! It can be accomplished by phasing out orcas and others by improving the Cetacean Bylaw.


Mar 13, 2014 at 11:16pm

With 100 million of public money spent I am certain that they are building bigger beluga tanks. I would hope so. Look at the shit hole that they swim in now. Vancouver Aquarium has quite a "checkered" history & it's hand is soaked in blood by contributing to the many deaths of whales in its care. VA is the 1st aquarium in the world 2 take a killer whale "moby doll" dying months later in its care. This opened up the world that orcas are good 4 captivity with public perception changed.

The killer whale skana was used for research unethically and even the researcher Dr. Spong came out on the other side saying his research was misguided on such an intelligent animal. Bjossa dies right after it's sent to sea world and VA has a hand in the death of whales when they ship them there 4 breeding or when not convenient ie construction because we all know after watching blackfish how sea world treats their whales. The only thing that stops being being a supporter is their refusal to end their beluga breeding program. A program that has been an abject failure with only one calf (Qila) surviving past three years.

Momma in love with belugas

Mar 14, 2014 at 6:55am

I was a bit confused on the whole business of beluga whale trade & the complexity of keeping them in captivity. Deep down I love seeing them at the aquarium & happy they are there. They make me smile, but I do understand that our human needs for joy must not come from from making our fellow animals suffer 4 our amusement. See how many time the beluga swim in a circle 24/7 for us to take enjoyment 4 15 minute show. This practice of captivity must end. Recently this discussion happened right here June 2013 in Vancity theatre via hot docs ex sea world trainer Dr. Ventre speaking at 13 minute mark about the difference between keeping orca, beluga is just size differential and it's not ethical to even keep a polar bear. The whole beluga whale display/trade must ultimately be stopped. What's concerning is on a global level.
Http:// - please check out @ 13 minutes.

Momma in love with Belugas

Mar 14, 2014 at 1:41pm

sorry my link is correct here: check out @ 13 minutes about the Beluga whale trade and the buisness in this that happening globally particularly in Russia. Blckfish Q&A session conducted on 23 June 2013 using a Skype connection with an audience in Vancouver, Canada. The former SeaWorld trainer answering the questions is Jeffrey Ventre, who lives in Washington State, USA. Topics of this talk include how the industry should change; the story of Morgan; the issue of justice and civil rights for nonhuman persons; how technology can help educate the public, and Beluga Whlaes!!!

The world's your oyster

Mar 15, 2014 at 11:22am

According to Straight article: Canada Revenue Agency in 2012 disclosed that one staff member @ aquarium ( John Nightingale) was paid between $250,000 to $299,000 that year. Seven other full-time employees were paid between $120,000 and $199,000. All these people salaries depend on not understanding captivity. The reason the aquarium keeps whales in captivity is for profit. These views on captivity are antiquated and self-serving. As a mother of 2 & previous dedicated volunteer: I can say there is a great divide between what staff who get paid working wages and executives. This does not include the volunteer who giving free labour & time, many unpaid university internships further contributing to debt, youth poverty and unemployment issues. The volunteers / workers essentially keep the place running publicly while the executives upstairs get paid and off the backs of free labour & time. If the upper management were truly committed to making the VA efficient, they would lower their salaries and put that money into their own extremely hard working staff and trainers as well. This is first world exploitation at its finest.

The aquarium brings in more than $22 million a year in revenues, and that’s just the “non-profit” society. The “for-profit” businesses names: The Vancouver Aquarium Ltd., Vancouver Aquarium Marketing Ltd., Vancouver Aquarium Consulting Ltd, etc. Vancouver Aquarium is largely marketed as a "non-profit” society to society. This is legal but ethical?

We live in a democracy where Vancouver is allows this to happen on public land like our beloved Stanley Park. We should be ashamed that Vancouver is allowing this. We elect these members of parks parks board to serve us. No these expansions take place with no public consultations / referendums or anything to ask the public. The Vancouver aquarium is looking no better than Sea World in this aspect. A corporate business model based.
I'm ashamed that Vancouver is allowing this.

JL Sylvest

Apr 30, 2014 at 2:45pm

Instead of or in addition to a motion for a referendum on keeping Cetaceans in Captivity in Vancouver, what about a motion for a memorial in Stanley Park adjacent to the Aquarium - specifically a memorial remembering the dozens of Cetaceans that have died in the Aquarium during their captivity.

It's a no-win for the Aquarium and those opposed to the Motion. If they are opposed, they are literally opposed to remembering the deaths of Cetaceans under their care. And a memorial is a sincere gesture, as it plainly presents the outcome of captivity to the public before they decide to participate in that captivity by buying an entry fee and viewing the captives. In fact, a memorial would be a fitting tribute to the decisions and consequences made in the past when people were more ignorant as to the outcome of captivity on the quality of life, breeding, and life span of Cetaceans.