COPE to push for a public vote on whale captivity at the Vancouver Aquarium ahead of 2015 review

The question of whale and dolphin captivity at the Vancouver Aquarium will be put to a public vote, if the Coalition of Progressive Electors (COPE) has its way.

On March 30, COPE members adopted a policy in favour of a referendum on the issue. They propose that civic elections scheduled for November 2014 include a question on the ballot asking if people support phasing out whale and dolphin exhibits at the aquarium in Stanley Park.

The policy was drafted by Anita Romaniuk, chair of the COPE parks committee and a former Vancouver park board commissioner.

In a telephone interview, she told the Straight that the city’s agreement with the aquarium is up for review in 2015, and so a November vote would help the park board make informed decisions during those negotiations. Holding a vote this year also makes sense because, Romaniuk continued, it's her understanding that opinions on the park board are increasingly against captivity, indicating that it's time the issue comes up for debate.

“We have tried in the past, at least three times, to have a referendum put forward,” she said. “But due to other people on council or on the park board, that has never happened....So this is about giving people a say on the matter.”

Desite repeated requests, the aquarium has refused to confirm to the Straight whether or not it plans to increase the number of whales and dolphins it keeps on display.

The COPE policy proposal states that a “substantive number” of Vancouver residents oppose keeping cetaceans in captivity while the aquarium maintains that it has a majority of people’s support.

“If the Aquarium is correct and the voters prefer that the exhibits continue, the current conditions will remain until 2027,” it reads. “If those who consider keeping whales and dolphins in captivity to be cruel and exploitive are correct and people vote to phase out the cetacean exhibits, the Aquarium will be advised to phase these out by the end of its lease in 2027.”

In accordance with the Vancouver Charter, a majority of city council must approve a question proposed for a plebiscite or referendum before it can appear on a ballot.

Councillors with Vision Vancouver and the Non-Partisan Association did not return requests for interviews by deadline.

In a telephone interview, Green councillor Adriane Carr told the Straight that “it’s about time” the public was given a say on whales and dolphins at the aquarium.

“The science is clear; whales and cetaceans are thinking beings,” she said. “It’s beyond me to understand any rationale why they should be in captivity.”

Carr described the issue as “really snowballing right now”. She called attention to an online petition pertaining to a public vote on the Vancouver Aquarium that has received more than 10,000 signatures.

In a March 11 interview, aquarium president John Nightingale told the Straight that in his opinion, there is nothing to debate.

“Nothing has changed since the park board last dealt with it,” he said. “They have an upcoming review in 2015 that we’ll certainly participate in.”

Romaniuk noted that the aquarium has long maintained that there is no need for a vote on marine mammal captivity. “They do not want a public referendum, which probably tells you something,” she said. “They’re not quite as sure about their support as they claim to be.”

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Apr 1, 2014 at 4:23pm



Apr 1, 2014 at 9:31pm

It is time! It is time that the Vancouver Aquarium move forward into the 21st C. and cease and desist from keeping marine mammals in captivity (and stop participating in the global trafficking of such animals as well). As it is now, Martingale and his awful whale jail brings shame upon this city. Enough!


Apr 1, 2014 at 9:54pm

The general public especially in Vancouver loves to see animals in captivity. The Aldergrove Zoo (or whatever it's called now)and the Vancouver Aquarium are two examples. Maybe if the city wasn't as boring as it is they wouldn't fee that strongly about keeping these animals in horrible conditions for the amusement of shallow people.

Money for Animals

Apr 2, 2014 at 9:52am

The 'Zoo' and the Aquarium exist to make CA$H, they are primarily in it for the MONEY, look at their Financials.

This has little to do with the welfare of Animals.

Animals in captivity for life ought to be illegal punishable by Jail time, except for limited rehab of injured wildlife to release back into the wild no Animals should be kept in Captivity unless it is to restore endangered species.

free all animals

Apr 2, 2014 at 9:54am

If we are going o free the whales what about the rest of the animals? Dogs, cats, birds, snakes. Why is it okay to free the whales, dolphins etc. but not okay to save the rest of creatures on this earth. Dogs and cats weren't always kept in captivity where they?

I will go to a dog park today and start taking dogs of their leashes in protest.



Apr 3, 2014 at 12:00am

Dogs and cats have been domesticated for many years. Whales, orcas, dolphins and other marine animals are not, they are wild whether they are in the ocean or locked up at an aquarium. I think it is ridiculous that the Vancouver Aquarium would even think about adding to their animal count! They can continue to rescue. rehabilitate and release marine life. If there are some that can't be released then fine keep them but not for human entertainment. One word to the Vancouver Aquarium "Blackfish"

free all animals

Apr 3, 2014 at 12:14pm

Lori, your missing the point. At some point "Man" decided that dogs/cats should be domesticated as well as many other animals and people seem to be okay with that. Why isn't it the same for these orcas? Remember what I said in the last post dogs and cats were wild animals at one point as well and now they are domesticated confined to peoples houses and yards. I have a hard time seeing the difference. For Gods sakes people still bet on dogs at dog races!!!!


Apr 7, 2014 at 11:12am

I continue to read these posts in disappointment. The aquariums and zoos are in no way put in place strictly for money revenue. To be honest i think you all are missing the point completely. These aquariums are put in place to teach and bring wildlife into our perspective. Having wildlife in captivity allows us to expand our knowledge and actually learn about another world other than the one we walk on every day. You people can sit here and debate about how cruel and torturous holding animals captive is but in reality if the jobs are done correctly it is not at all. In my opinion i think that animals should still be held captive (to a minimum) but further regulations should be put in place to guarantee that these living animals will be taken care of in the most proper way possible. Many aquarium actually save wildlife and bring them to captivity where they can nourish them back to health. Do your research people. You can't just google everything because there are bias opinions that don't actually show both sides. LOOK AT THE BIG PICTURE.


Apr 7, 2014 at 2:19pm

Must be election time, it's a cheap way of trying to get a few votes.


Apr 8, 2014 at 6:59pm

If VA truely cares about conservation and rehabilitation they would not be buying dolphins (injured or not) from Japan. By doing so they support JAZA who clearly supports the dolphin drive fisheries who brutally kill thousands of dolphins every year.