The Cove star Ric O'Barry offers to help the Vancouver Aquarium free its dolphins from captivity

    1 of 1 2 of 1

      Dolphin trainer turned conservationist Ric O'Barry can take a lot of the credit for drawing the public’s attention to Japan’s annual dolphin hunt in Taiji.

      The Cove, a 2009 documentary that follows O’Barry and his team’s successful efforts to capture the slaughter on film, won an Academy Award and received a host of other accolades.

      Now O’Barry wants people’s attention turned to the Vancouver Aquarium.

      In a July 21 letter addressed to Mayor Gregor Robertson, O’Barry and Earth Island Institute director David Phillips argue it's time whale and dolphin captivity came to an end.

      “Captivity is hard on cetaceans for many reasons,” they write. “Concrete pools are too small and too enervating for cetaceans to thrive, especially given that wild dolphin travel many miles each day in their natural environment. These social animals are often put in tanks with unfamiliar individuals, which can cause considerable stress and difficulties. It has been proven that many species of cetaceans die early in captivity compared to the wild.”

      The letter continues: “Captivity also does a disservice to people, especially children. Seeing these magnificent animals perform circus tricks for dead fish, with little context about how these animals live in the wild, is a form of bad education and should stop.”

      It comes as the Vancouver Aquarium prepares to go before the park board for a special meeting about whale and dolphin captivity scheduled for Saturday (July 26).

      Included in the letter is an expression of gratitude to the mayor for publicly opposing cetacean captivity at the aquarium.

      (On April 9, the Straight reported that Robertson believes the aquarium should no longer keep whales and dolphins in Stanley Park. “My personal view is that the Vancouver Aquarium should begin to phase out the holding of whales and dolphins in captivity,” he said.)

      The letter concludes with an offer of assistance.

      “Both Ric O’Barry and Earth Island Institute have had extensive experience successfully releasing dolphins and whales to sea pens and/or to the wild,” it states. “We know this can be done and offer our assistance in working for successful outcomes for dolphins and whales at the Vancouver Aquarium.”

      In an August 2009 interview with the Straight related to The Cove’s theatrical release, aquarium CEO John Nightingale maintained that while the aquarium’s two dolphins were obtained from Japan, they were not captured in a drive fishery like the one depicted in the film.

      “If white-sided dolphins are not being taken in the drive fishery, there is no even indirect possible connection,” he said.

      That article notes that O’Barry, now a marine mammal specialist for the Earth Island Institute and director of the Dolphin Project, visited Vancouver in 2003 and urged the park board then to bring an end to dolphin captivity in Stanley Park.

      O’Barry and Phillips are not the first conservationists with international followings to express concerns for cetaceans kept at the Vancouver Aquarium.

      On May 26, the Straight reported that renowned primatologist Jane Goodall issued a letter calling for an end to whale and dolphin captivity in Vancouver.

      “The current permission of Vancouver Aquarium cetacean breeding programs on-site, and at SeaWorld with belugas on loan, is no longer defensible by science,” Goodall wrote. “This is demonstrated by the high mortality rates evident in these breeding programs and by the ongoing use of these animals in interactive shows as entertainment.”

      The July 26 park board meeting will include a presentation by aquarium management and the presentation of a staff report on best practices for aquariums around the world. Members of the public are also invited to speak. (Advance registration is required.)




      Jul 24, 2014 at 10:57am

      Long overdue for baby boomers to take a stand against all imprisoned animals in zoos/aquariums. Flipper was a captive dolphin who was trained so you could have your Saturday afternoon laughs. Time to grow up and do the right thing.

      Kris Jones

      Jul 24, 2014 at 11:29am

      Wait you mean the same Earth Island Institute that proved with it's attempt to rehabilitate and release Kieko that it didn't really work? Kieko died one year after being released from captivity. I have yet to see any independently substantiated proof that would lead me to believe that Ric would have the ability or knowledge to successfully rehabilitate injured animals and prepare them for release.

      Trevor B.

      Jul 24, 2014 at 3:41pm

      Helen and Hana were recued and rehabilitated by the Vancouver Aquarium. Not obtained. They were injured and caught up in fixed fishing nets from a completely different area of Japan. After they were rehabilitated, they were assessed and deemed non-releasable.


      Jul 24, 2014 at 4:23pm

      Trevor, don't confuse the leftist rhetoric with facts. They don't know how to respond to facts.

      Grasping at Straws Much

      Jul 25, 2014 at 9:44am

      In response to Trevor B. and bobo...

      I'm confused. These dolphins weren't obtained? That's probably news to the Vancouver Aquarium, since the dolphins are there in their tanks right now.

      Show me a definition of the word "obtained" where, ah, obtaining something is not a part of it.

      These dolphins were obtained through rescue and rehabilitation. Therefore, they were obtained.