Within two weeks, Vancouver city council will have to decide whether it is going to give the public a vote on whale and dolphin captivity at the Vancouver Aquarium.
Late April 15, Green councillor Adriane Carr filed a notice of motion calling for a plebiscite on the question of ending cetacean exhibits at the aquarium in Stanley Park.
In a telephone interview, Carr told the Straight that civic elections scheduled for November 2014 provide an ideal opportunity to seek the public’s opinion on the matter.
“I think this is an issue dear to the hearts of Vancouverites,” she said. “People recognize that it’s not fitting to keep sentient beings—cetaceans—in captivity.”
Carr’s motion calls for a non-binding plebiscite to be held in the event that the Vancouver park board and the aquarium fail to reach an agreement on a phase-out of cetacean exhibits. It sets a deadline of six weeks prior civic elections scheduled for November 15, which is October 4, the latest date on which Vancouver city council can vote to include a plebiscite on the ballot.
The text of the motion states that there is “considerable scientific evidence that cetaceans (whales and dolphins) are sentient beings with complex social relations…that suffer distress and premature death in captivity in aquarium pools”.
It also notes that a $100-million expansion is currently underway at the Vancouver Aquarium, and that plans includes the enlargement of aquatic tanks to accommodate additional dolphins and as many as 10 beluga whales.
Currently on display in Stanley Park are two Pacific white-sided dolphins, two beluga whales, and several porpoises, sea otters, seals, and sea lions. The aquarium also owns three additional belugas it has on “breeding loan” to SeaWorld parks in the United States.
On April 9, Mayor Gregor Robertson and other prominent members of the ruling Vision Vancouver party voiced personal opinions against the aquarium keeping whales and dolphins. But the politicians also said they oppose holding a public vote on the matter.
“My personal view is that the Vancouver Aquarium should begin to phase out the holding of whales and dolphins in captivity,” said Robertson in an emailed 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.”
The aquarium issued a public statement in response to the mayor's remarks. According to that email, animals at the aquarium receive "exceptional care".
"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."
Carr acknowledged Robertson’s preference to see the issue resolved through negotiations with the aquarium. She stressed that she’s addressed that wish by including a provision in her motion that a plebiscite will only be held if talks with the aquarium fail.
“The mayor is on public record saying that he hopes there will be that agreement reached between the park board and the aquarium,” Carr said. “So I’ve given room for that to happen, and hopefully that will create more of an enticement for the mayor and Vision to support this.”
The motion calling for a plebiscite is scheduled to go before city council on April 29.