Three options for freeing whales and dolphins from the Vancouver Aquarium

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      Removing whales and dolphins from the Vancouver Aquarium isn’t as simple as one might think. As politicians squabble over whether or not to hold a plebiscite on the matter, an animal-rights activist outlined three paths the aquarium could take in ending cetacean captivity at its facility in Stanley Park.

      Julie Woodyer, campaigns director for Zoocheck Canada, told the Georgia Straight by phone that the ideal outcome would be rehabilitating cetaceans and reintroducing them into the wild. She noted, however, that such undertakings are prohibitively expensive. (Nobody on the park board or city council is discussing the release of animals currently held at the aquarium.)

      Woodyer described option two as “attrition”, where a moratorium is placed on the aquarium bringing any new animals into its tanks and where breeding programs are discontinued.

      “The downside of attrition is, you don’t want to end up getting down to one or even just two animals,” she added. “These are highly social animals, so they should be in larger groups.”

      Option three, Woodyer continued, is the transfer of the aquarium’s whales and dolphins to facilities with equal or greater standards of care and where there are larger cetacean populations with which the Vancouver animals could socialize and live out the rest of their days in conditions as comfortable as possible.

      “The social groups that exist at the Vancouver Aquarium currently are not really sufficient,” Woodyer said. “They should be making every effort they can to move those animals out now.”

      At the centre of the debate are two dolphins and two beluga whales held in tanks in Stanley Park, plus an additional three whales the aquarium has on loan to Sea World facilities in the United States.

      On April 9, Gregor Robertson revealed that he opposes the aquarium keeping those animals in captivity. But the mayor didn’t exactly say what he thinks should happen next.

      Former Green Party park commissioner Stuart Mackinnon told the Straight that the first step should be giving the public a say on the matter. He suggested that a nonbinding plebiscite could be held in conjunction with civic elections scheduled for November.

      “Once the public has voted, it would be hard for a future board to change that,” Mackinnon said.

      Mackinnon tried and failed to get a plebiscite on the ballot in 2010. He recalled it was a “really nasty battle”, but he said he thinks there’s more support for such an action today.

      Tim Louis, external chair for the Coalition of Progressive Electors, told the Straight that his civic party already has a draft of the language for a plebiscite.

      If people voted in favour of captivity, “current conditions” at the aquarium would remain in place until the facility’s lease expires in 2027. If people voted against captivity, the aquarium would be advised to phase out whale and dolphin exhibits by 2027.

      “The details would be worked out in partnership with the Vancouver Aquarium, the park board, and folks that are experts in this area,” Louis added.

      Vision park-board chair Aaron Jasper recently announced he is asking the aquarium to appear at a public meeting and deliver a presentation on programming. He has also requested that staff research best practices for aquariums.

      Jasper told the Straight that he opposes holding a public vote on cetacean captivity, arguing that it’s “too complex an issue”. He said, however, that another park commissioner could draft a motion calling for a plebiscite. A majority of the board would then have to vote in favour of sending the request to city council.

      In accordance with the Vancouver Charter, council would then hold a vote on whether or not the question would appear on the ballot.

      Annelise Sorg, president of No Whales in Captivity, described the November 2014 election as the “last chance” activists have for real change at the aquarium.

      “We’ve been through this for decades,” she said. “What we need to discuss is a referendum that will bring this up in the municipal elections.”

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      Apr 16, 2014 at 1:58pm

      You forgot the tastiest option: Public BBQ!

      Anne U

      Apr 17, 2014 at 7:33am

      Why does this article about whales and dolphins feature a photograph of otters? They're very cute but don't seem germane to the story.

      Herp Derp

      Apr 17, 2014 at 9:03am

      Come on we are now writing about how an accountant would solve a complex issue regarding animals? Gimme a break and tell them to go back to bean counting and cuddling animals. If anyone should be coming up with a hypothetical solution it should be someone with a scientific background not someone who clearly has no idea what they are doing.


      Apr 17, 2014 at 12:03pm

      People like these have taught me that you don't need to have religious beliefs to belong to a cult. If I remember correctly at least one of their dolphins was a rescue who had to have part of her pectoral fins amputated due to her injuries. Most of the stuff pushed by anti captivity activists is actually unscientific, and whales and dolphins can and do thrive in aquariums given the right conditions.

      Ian Boothby

      Apr 17, 2014 at 3:42pm

      So of those three options, the first is impossible (they are unreleasable), the second about not allowing breeding is something that can be discussed but no new whales are being captured the only "new" whales would be ones from other facilities, and the third option is move them to another tank where they'd get equal care to what they get now. This is being sold as a "Free Willy" movement but it's really a move Willy to a similar environment. #emptythetanks is really #movethemtoanothertank but that's not as catchy. These are good intentions but they're just going to hurt the animals in the long run.

      Travis Lupick

      Apr 17, 2014 at 3:56pm

      @Ian Boothby, thanks for the comment.

      It's my understanding that option two ("attrition") includes rules forbidding the aquarium from importing cetaceans from other facilities in addition to a cessation of all breeding programs. Essentially, it would be letting the aquarium keep only the whales and dolphins that it holds now until they are die of natural causes, and then that would be the end of it.

      It's worth noting that the "attrition" option is the only one I've heard discussed by any Vancouver politician as having any realistic chance of actually being adopted as a means of ending marine mammal captivity in Stanley Park. Options one and three haven't even made it onto anybody's radar.

      Ian Boothby

      Apr 17, 2014 at 5:11pm

      The headline is "Three Options for Freeing Whales and Dolphins". Okay so according to you, there aren't really options at all. And the third isn't freeing the whales or dolphins it's just not allowing the whales and dolphins to breed by sterilizing them. That's not freeing anything it's just not raising any more in that environment. So the headline is false in every respect. This is the problem with this movement, one thing is presented but it's never true. Because the truth isn't sexy, headline grabbing and twitter retweet bait. But the truth is important if you actually want to help these animals.

      Pia G.

      Apr 17, 2014 at 7:55pm

      The Aquarium was the first and only aquarium in the world to implement a "no capture" policy back in 1996. The belugas, there from before 1996, need to be cared for the rest of their lives. Any other marine mammals that would come to the aquarium would have to be either rehabilitated and deemed unreleasable by the DFO (such as the two injured dolphins Helen and Hannah, Jack and Daisy the orphaned harbour porpoises, and the orphaned and injured otters), or animals from other facilities that have been in human care since before 1996 or were born in human care (to avoid promoting capture from the wild). None of these animals are releasable and need to be cared for. So if you make the decision to ban all whales then what happens to those unreleasable animals that need to be in human care? Where do they go? What facility out there is better? Clearly these activisits don't want to see them in Sea World which is about as big as a facility gets. The Vancouver Aquarium does amazing work for these animals and for those out in nature that these animals help give a voice to. Please think about what actually helps these animals before hamstringing efforts that do more good in the long run.

      King long

      Apr 17, 2014 at 10:44pm

      Attention grabbing headlines and political opportunity, a movement that grew after a Hollywood documentary full of misleading information and a constructed narrative. Let's take emotion out of this please and listen to some logic. Enough "information" from journalists and activists lets leave this up to the scientific community. The ones that actually logically understand the matter. Moreover, I am quite tired about vancouverrites themselves seeming to think they should alone decide the fate of these things. People from all around greater vancouver benefit and contribute an immense amount of money and patronage to these places and definitely outnumber the locals. Last time it was left up solely to vancouver bc almost lost the 100+ year old pne...

      Well consider me tickled pink

      Apr 17, 2014 at 10:47pm

      @Travis Holy Astringent Plum-like Fruit Batman! Hath hell frozen over?

      It's interesting that you admit that only option two holds any merit according to politicians you deigned to discuss the issue with but I am sure you and anyone with something larger than a peanut for a brain can read between the lines of this non-article. But if not, for all the peanut heads (and below) out there let me summarize what the politicians want to do:

      Nothing! Diddly-Squat! Zero! Nada!

      Vision - A staff review, which in all likelihood would vindicate the aquarium - ideally they will start before the election and once election is over the issue will vanish

      Green - A non-binding plebiscite; meaning the vote will hold no real merit and is just for show

      COPE - seriously great verbiage on that draft referendum team; either nothing changes or something changes in 2027 (that's three consecutive terms away from the 2014 election) and for COPE to do this doesn't it first need to actually WIN A SEAT??