Park board votes to end the breeding of whales and dolphins at the Vancouver Aquarium

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      The park board has passed a motion instructing staff to draft a bylaw that effectively ends the breeding of whales and dolphins at the Vancouver Aquarium.

      It also resolved to conduct a detailed study investigating "if cetacean well-being is possible within the confines of the Vancouver Aquarium's cetacean compounds".

      Commissioners voted unanimously to amend the Parks Control bylaw “to prohibit the breeding of captive cetaceans in Vancouver parks, unless, in each particular instance, the captive cetacean is a threatened species and the Oversight Committee, the Board, and the Society [Vancouver Aquarium] agree that captive breeding is necessary for the survival of such threatened species”.

      The committee mentioned above refers to a second recommendation the board adopted to establish a group that will have a mandate to “provide public oversight to ensure the well-being of all cetaceans owned by the Society”. It will prepare bi-annual reports “on the status and well-being of all cetaceans owned by the Society”.

      A third section of the motion passed calls for park staff to work with the aquarium "to investigate and, where viable, implement alternatives to cetacean exhibits and continue to research cetacean rehabilitation and release".

      Finally, the board called on the aquarium and relevant partners to "undertake a detailed examination" on the impacts that captivity has on cetaceans. That study should "use all available scientific data to determine if cetacean well-being is possible within the confines of the Vancouver Aquarium's cetacean compounds".

      The vote was made by five Vision Vancouver commissionersThe two NPA commissioners, Melissa De Genova and John Coupar, did not attend today's meeting.

      After opening remarks by park board chair Aaron Jasper,  the first to speak in favour of the motion was Niki Sharma, who is running for a seat on city council in civic elections scheduled for November.

      “We feel that breeding an animal for a life of captivity without their being a sound conservation reason for that should be banned and prohibited," she said. “We are directing the staff to draft a bylaw change.”

      Up next was Sarah Blyth, who was instrumental in putting the issue of whale and dolphin captivity on the park board's agenda.

      "I think this is the beginning of a broader conversation on this issue of whales and captivity in Stanley Park," she said. "Do we need cetaceans in captivity?"

      In the months preceeding today's vote, the only commissioner to equal Blyth's enthusiasm for the topic was Constance Barnes.

      “I don’t really believe that the folks that are out there fighting for these cetaceans are activists," she said. "I look at this as people that are advocating for an animal that doesn’t have a voice. And I know myselfand I am maybe walking a fine line herebut less than 100 years ago, my people were being bred, and less than 100 years ago, my people were being sold, and we were being traded.”

      All three of those commissioners expressed concerns for beluga whales that the Vancouver Aquarium owns but has on loan to facilities in the United States. They acknowledged that the park board’s current agreement with the Vancouver Aquarium means that those animals are beyond the jurisdiction of civic politicians.

      Blyth noted that while the Vancouver Aquarium owns two Pacific white-sided dolphins and nine beluga whales, only four of those animals are actually held in tanks in Stanley Park.

      “Most of our whales are not in Vancouver," she said. "They are in Sea World and at the Georgia Aquarium. And I think that people have questions about that and how we fit into an international breeding program. Do we want to be a part of this?”

      The motion passed by the park board today did not include any suggestions for changes in the ways that the aquarium deals with animals that are rescued and deemed non-releasable into the wild. Speaking with media after the meeting, Jasper said he believed the aquarium's dealings with rescued whales and dolphins would continue, "business as usual".

      The aquarium is currently undergoing a $100-million expansion. Earlier this month, CEO John Nightingale told the Straight that upon that project's completion, three belugas currently on loan to Sea World facilities in the United States could be brought back to Vancouver for breeding purposes. He said the aquarium could also house more dolphins if, in the future, dolphins are found to require rescue and subsequently are deemed unsuitable for release.

      Reached late in the evening via email, a spokesperson for the Vancouver Aquarium told the Straight that it will not be releasing a statement in response to the park board's decision until tomorrow (August 1).

      Update: In an August 1 letter posted at the aquarium's website, Nightingale claims that his organization has no breeding program.

      "The Park Board’s use of the word breeding implies that we carry out some sort of planned, regulated or artificial reproduction program," he writes. "We don’t do that at the Vancouver Aquarium. Our animals do mate, just as they do in the wild, because we keep them in natural groupingsjust as they live in nature."

      Nightingale goes on to describe the July 31 vote as a "political decision" that was "not based on the facts or science presented".

      "The Park Board decision now puts our research, our international reputation, and Canada’s belugas at serious risk over the medium and longer term," he continues.

      The complete text of the aquarium's letter is available here.

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      Tommy Khang

      Jul 31, 2014 at 8:46pm

      Did Barnes just compare cetacean captivity to slavery in America? Wow just wow.


      Jul 31, 2014 at 8:51pm

      Sad day for the Aquarium. How exactly is the Park Board going to stop a natural behaviour? Seems like animal cruelty to stop it.

      FYI. Your picture caption is incorrect. 130 signed up to speak. A lot less showed up.

      Proud day to be doll fan

      Jul 31, 2014 at 10:22pm

      Are queer cetaceans still allowed to breed?


      Jul 31, 2014 at 10:47pm

      In the majority of cases the female whale is artificially inseminated. Nothing natural, ethical, or respectful about that.


      Jul 31, 2014 at 11:04pm

      So holding up signs and chanting isn't activism, but the vets, scientists, and teachers who look after the beloved animals at one of Vancouver's most popular family attractions are perpetuating slavery. "Maybe walking a fine line" indeed.


      Jul 31, 2014 at 11:39pm

      Insulting that's she would say aquarium supports are not activists


      Aug 1, 2014 at 2:26am

      I do not understand why a person who is clearly sided with the animal activist/extremist group was allowed to vote. She was clearly biased and had made up her mind before any speaker even opened his/her mouth to present their case. Another board member was seen talking in a very friendly manner with one of the protestors while a speaker who supported the aquarium was presenting her case. I was shocked to see that she did not even took the time to listen to what the speaker had to say. The votes should be casted by board members who was supposed to hold an open unbiased stance who after careful evaluation of the points presented by both sides during the meetings will draws up his/her informed decision. If the speakers were not being listened to then what is the point of having them come all the way from afar to present their cases? NDP members recused from the vote citing conflict of interest, but what about the members who are obviously in total full support of the animal activist groups? Another problem I saw is that none of these members have any experience of knowledge in looking after whales and dolphin and they have no idea about their behavior either. As such, they are not qualified to make the assessment whether these whales/dolphin are under stressed and whether it is right or wrong to keep them in captivity. All she went by was her own emotion and sentiment without any scientific fact. To compare slavery in the US with the condition of whales/dolphin in the aquarium is a perfect example of her ignorance in this whole matter. There is no breeding program in the aquarium so they are essentially trying to ban a program that does not even exist. To implement such a ban without engaging in acts of animal cruelty would be an impossible task. Again, this just shows how little they know and how unqualified they are at this job. It is a joke. They need to stop trying to deal with things they do not understand. Leave it to the scientists, please.

      Raymond Tomlin

      Aug 1, 2014 at 2:51am

      Every now and then, the Vision Vancouver Park Board Commissioners get something right. The decision that was taken to end the breeding of whales and dolphins at the Vancouver Aquarium is one such decision.

      For all the griping in the comments above, were any one of you present to hear the almost 100 speakers address the issue before the Park Board, ending the <a href=" target="_blank">cruel practice</a> of keeping whales and dolphins in captivity? Had you been present, you would have heard reasoned argument from a wide range of members of the public, <a href=" target="_blank">scientists and children</a>, animal rights activists, parents and educators, and more concerned citizens of every age and circumstance.

      Park Board Commissioners Niki Sharma and PB Chair Aaron Jasper were clear that they were not going into the three-day Park Board hearing with their minds made up. After many long hours, all five Vision Park Board Commissioners, after due and thoughtful consideration, made the best decision that they could; that's all you can reasonably ask of your elected officials.

      And what of Non-Partisan Association Park Board Commissioners Melissa DeGenova (in Paris at the moment), or possible future Park Board Chair (if the NPA win a majority at Park Board this autumn), John Coupar: where were they during the three days of hearings? Not present at Park Board, I can tell you.

      This is an election year. If you don't like the decision that was taken by the five Vision Vancouver Park Board Commissioners on Thursday evening, vote to ensure that no Vision Park Board Commissioners are elected come November.

      Me? I think the Vision Commissioners did themselves proud.


      Aug 1, 2014 at 3:14am

      Fuck the Parks Board, they have absolutely no legal right to makes rules like this. The Aquarium should sue them like several community centres have over the One Card fiasco.

      Alan Layton

      Aug 1, 2014 at 7:21am

      It's not a perfect arrangement with plenty of loopholes for CEO Nightingale's law team to jump through, but it's a great step in the right direction. Kudos to the commissioners who spoke so passionately about their feelings. This is only the start and I feel comfortable that eventually cetacean exhibitions will disappear. If they need to keep some permanently then they're going to have to build natural enclosures for them and leave them be.

      I'm surprised that the fact that VanAqua is renting out their animals to other cetacean circuses has not been discussed by the proponents of the aquarium. Where is the scientific benefit of that? That practice needs to be stopped immediately. If they are really concerned for the welfare of the animals and are the greatest circus in existence then they need to take better care of their performers.

      CEO Nightingale has said that the taxpayer is going to have to pay for the loss of income and as far as I'm concerned he should be replaced by someone with imagination. If he can't come up with other ways of funding then he has to go. Even if they never fully recoup the losses it'll still be able to function at it's basic level of rescuing threatened or endangered species. Most of their rescues and rehabs are baby harbour seals and they are far from being threatened and many of them were not abandoned in the first place and even if they were, that's part of nature and they will become food for other creatures of the environment.

      As I've said before, if a circus is supposed to be the only way to save endangered species and provide valuable research about them in the wild (which is bullshit) then the zoo would still be functioning and they would have a full display of polar bears, primates and many other animals. But they were axed years ago due to public outcry. There is no difference here.

      Did anyone else find it interesting that NPA's LaPointe is a proponent of the Circus yet the only two NPA commissioners skipped the vote? What's up with that?