Gregor Robertson has said he believes that the Vancouver Aquarium should no longer keep whales and dolphins at its facility in Stanley Park.
In a statement emailed to the Straight, the Vancouver mayor is quoted praising the aquarium for its work in research and conservation. But Robertson adds that he feels the facility should cease holding cetaceans there.
“My personal view is that the Vancouver Aquarium should begin to phase out the holding of whales and dolphins in captivity,” Robertson says in the statement. “I’m hopeful that the Aquarium and the Park Board can work collaboratively and come to an agreement on how to achieve this with a dialogue and review that will be informed, thoughtful, and inclusive.”
Robertson, however, stopped short of voicing support for a public vote on whale and dolphin captivity in Vancouver.
“I do not however support a city-wide referendum on the issue, as the ability to phase out the holding of whales and dolphins in captivity is within the Park Board’s authority,” the statement concludes.
The Vancouver Aquarium responded to Robertson's comments with a statement emailed to media by director of communications Charlene Chiang.
"It is unfortunate we were unable to connect with the Mayor of Vancouver prior to his issuing his statement," it reads. "We appreciate the fact that he is very supportive of the Aquarium, and we recognize he has personal feelings, but believe he might not understand the vital role belugas and dolphins play in our important conservation efforts."
The email goes on to state that animals at the aquarium receive "exceptional care". It maintains that their presence there is important for scientific research.
"Dolphins and belugas at Vancouver Aquarium play a direct and vital role in engaging people in key ocean issues," it continues. "In addition, with the rapid environmental changes in the arctic where belugas live, continued research, much of which must be done in marine science centres like the Vancouver Aquarium, is critical to their future."
The email notes that the aqaurium committed to not participate in the capture of wild cetaceans for display purposes in 1996. "The Aquarium is the only facility in Canada that can rescue, rehabilitate and provide a long-term home to marine animals that are deemed non-releasable by appropriate government authorities," it states.
In related news, the chair of the Vancouver park board has announced he intends to request that the Vancouver Aquarium appear at a public meeting and deliver a presentation on programming.
According to an April 9 media release, Vision Vancouver’s Aaron Jasper says he will also ask park board staff to report on best practices for aquariums around the world, and deliver information on the Vancouver Aquarium’s work with whales and dolphins, including polices on rehabilitation.
Jasper is also asking for an overview of current agreements between the park board and the Vancouver Aquarium.
"The issue of cetaceans in captivity is an emotional one for many people, and it is important we have all of the information in a public setting, and work with the Aquarium on next steps,” says Jasper, quoted in the release. “Many of us on the Park Board have received a lot of feedback from the public with their opinions on the issue, and we share many of their concerns.”
In a subsequent telephone interview, Jasper told the Straight that he is against giving the public a say on whale and dolphin captivity at the aquarium, explaining he believes the issue is too complicated to be put to a plebiscite or referendum.
"I'm open to taking further action, but I think that this is the responsible step," he said. "This doesn't stop my colleagues. If my colleagues want to bring forward a motion for a referendum or a plebiscite, that is their prerogative as elected officials. But I personally do not support a referendum on this issue. The reason I don't is because I think it is too complex of an issue to be captured in a simply worded question."
Jasper, however, added that he feels the status quo is "unsatisfactory".
"I wrestle with the ethics of marine mammals kept in aquariums," he said.
In recent weeks, Vision Vancouver park commissioners Sarah Blyth and Constance Barnes have repeatedly voiced their opposition to cetacean captivity at the Vancouver Aquarium.
Blyth told the Straight that the park board is receiving letters from the public about the issue on a daily basis.
On February 12, the Georgia Straight published an in-depth article about the Vancouver Aquarium, marine mammal captivity, and the aquarium’s plans to increase the number of whales and dolphins that it keeps in its tanks. That story noted that the Vancouver Aquarium is one of the last facilities in Canada that continues to have large marine mammals on display.
In a follow-up story, aquarium CEO John Nightingale refused to confirm to the Straight whether or not the Vancouver Aquarium is moving ahead with additional whale and dolphin exhibits, despite the fact that more than $100 million has been budgeted for its expansion project and construction is ongoing.
On the question of a public vote on the matter, 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.”
The Vancouver Aquarium’s agreement with the park board is up for review in 2015. Activists seeking an end to cetacean captivity have asked that the issue be put to a plebiscite as part of the civic election scheduled for November 2014.