The Vancouver Aquarium ranks on par or above average in every category in which it has been compared to similar facilities in North America.
Areas on which the Vancouver Aquarium was compared to similar facilities fall into three categories.
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Cetacean stranding response and rehabilitation
According to the report, 100 percent of North American aquariums housing cetaceans (whales and dolphins) have programs designed to respond to cetacean strandings. While stating that program qualities were not compared, the document goes on to note several areas where the Vancouver Aquarium has excelled.
“Through its cetacean stranding and response program, the Vancouver Aquarium has pioneered cetacean emergency care and transport protocols, developed critical care and neonatal diets and feeding protocols, and developed techniques for the antemortem (before death) diagnosis of diseases,” the report states. “Also, they have helped pioneer satellite-linked telemetry and post-release monitoring of stranded cetaceans.”
The Vancouver Aquarium provides an above-average number of veterinary staff for its animals compared to other facilities housing cetaceans. While the average number of full-time veterinarians employed by such facilities is 1.75, the Vancouver Aquarium employs two full-time veterinarians. (Interestingly, the study found that aquariums not keeping cetaceans employ an average of 2.6 full-time veterinarians.)
According to the report, the number of peer-reviewed publications produced by aquariums holding cetaceans ranged greatly, from six to 84.
The Vancouver Aquarium has produced 32 peer-reviewed manuscripts on cetaceans, it states. Of those, 20 pertained to animals in its care in Stanley Park while 12 concerned wild cetaceans.
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In addition, the report states that the Vancouver Aquarium provides “exceptional care for cetaceans” and “is meeting all North American industry standards for the care and husbandry of marine mammals”.
The Vancouver Aquarium was compared to three Canadian facilities and 31 in the United States. Of those institutions, only 12 (34 percent) held cetaceans in captivity. (While 150 aquariums were identified in North America and considered for the report’s production, only 34 facilities were found suitable for direct comparisons to the Vancouver Aquarium.)
Presenting a snapshot of cetacean captivity in North America, the document states that six facilities keep a total of 79 beluga whales, four facilities keep 18 Pacific white-sided dolphins, and only the Vancouver Aquarium keeps harbour porpoises. (For this section, various Sea World facilities are counted as one entity.)
The report concludes with several “considerations” for the park board.
It’s recommended that the park board recognize that a “large-scale scientific study on the welfare of captive cetaceans would be an ideal next step for evaluating the ethics of housing captive cetaceans”.
It’s also suggested that the park board request that the Vancouver Aquarium submit annual reports on the state of cetaceans for which it provides care.
“Such a report could include information on the number and species of cetaceans currently owned by the Vancouver Aquarium, the location where these species are being housed, the number of births and deaths that have occurred in the past year, the number of research projects and presentations that have come from captive cetaceans or have been supported by captive cetacean research, the number of wild cetacean strandings that have responded to, and the number of people that have visited the aquarium to learn about cetaceans,” the document states.
The report was researched and drafted by Dr. Joseph K. Gaydos, a practicing wildlife veterinarian and chief scientist for the UC Davis Wildlife Health Center’s SeaDoc Society Program.
In a preamble to the report, Gaydos is described as being retained by the park board “to provide a non-biased, third party review of the Vancouver Aquarium’s captive cetacean program and a comparison of these operations to other comparable aquariums”.
It’s noted that Gaydos’s mandate did not include making evaluations of the Vancouver Aquarium’s standards for space, nutrition, care of cetaceans, or the ethical or moral aspects of keeping cetaceans in captivity.
A review of the aquarium’s work with cetaceans was requested by park board chair Aaron Jasper on April 9. It comes as activists have intensified calls for a phase-out of those exhibits and a prohibition on any more large marine mammals being brought into Stanley Park. Meanwhile, aquarium CEO John Nightingale has told the Straight that upon the completion of an ongoing expansion, additional beluga whales and dolphins could be brought to Vancouver and put on display.
Correction: The Straight has repeatedly reported that the Vancouver Aquarium owns five beluga whales, keeping two at its facility in Stanley Park while owning an additional three currently on loan to Sea World facilities in the United States. According to the park board report, the Vancouver Aquarium actually owns nine beluga whales. Two are kept in Vancouver, five are housed at Sea World facilities in the United States, and two are on loan to the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta.