Vancouver Aquarium takes the park board to court, challenging oversight and captive breeding ban

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      The Vancouver aquarium has announced it will mount a legal challenge against the park board.

      At an August 27 press conference, CEO John Nightingale said the organization will request that the B.C. Supreme Court conduct a judicial review of park board motions passed on July 31, 2014.

      On that date, park commissioners in attendance voted unanimously to ban captive cetacean breeding on park board land (which includes the aquarium’s location in Stanley Park).

      The park board also passed a motion that requires the aquarium to submit annual reports and respond to an “oversight committee”.

      Today Nightingale argued those actions exceed the park board’s mandate.

      "Vancouver Aquarium objects to the resolutions on the legal grounds that the resolutions serve no legitimate municipal purpose and are beyond the jurisdiction of the park board," states a media release.

      Reached via phone while the aquarium’s press conference continued, park board commissioner Sarah Blyth said she was still working to understanding why exactly the aquarium was mounting a legal challenge.

      “When I look, I see they rejected the oversight committee,” Blyth explained. “But all the oversight committee would be is transparency. So that raises the question, why are they uncomfortable with that type of transparency?”

      Speaking to the Straight shortly after, parks chair Aaron Jasper would only say that the board was still reviewing the aquarium's statements.

      Following the press conference, Nightingale answered questions from reporters related to the park board's ban on captive breeding. He described it as "not practical".

      In the past, the aquarium CEO has gone further, calling the ban "animal cruelty".

      At the same time, he has denied that any sort of organized mating is taking place.

      “The park board’s use of the word breeding implies that we carry out some sort of planned, regulated or artificial reproduction program,” Nightingale wrote in an August 1 open letter. “We don’t do that at the Vancouver Aquarium.”

      However, on August 6, the Straight reported that documents combined with interviews with park commissioners revealed that the aquarium has participated in organized breeding at locations beyond its walls in Stanley Park.

      It assisted a U.S. facility with an application for a permit to import 18 beluga whales previously captured from the wild off the coast of Russia, those records shows. And according to U.S. court filings, those efforts were for the explicit purpose of expanding a cross-continent breeding program run by aquariums. (See "Vancouver Aquarium beluga whales used in cross-continent breeding".)

      Interviewed for that story in early-August, Jasper stressed that the park board's vote banning breeding was intended to target organizaed mating programs. He called attention to one Vancouver beluga whale, Nanuq, that the aquarium has transferred via airplane to four different facilities, each time for the purpose of breeding.

      The aquarium refused to grant an interview for that story.

      The park board has said it will respond to the aquarium's August 27 announcement when it is able to do so. This story will be updated with that response if and when becomes available.

      At the board's July 31 meeting, commissioner Niki Sharma said that while she recognized the park board's jurisdiction does extend beyond park lands, on those properties, commissioners do not want whales and dolphins breeding in aquariums.

      “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 explained. “Breeding animals for a life in captivity is not something that we saw to continue in our parks.”



      Tommy Khang

      Aug 27, 2014 at 11:17am

      Well look at this I am sure thankful Aaron Jasper and Vision considered this possibility when they decided to embark down this path months ago - oh wait they didn't consider any financial ramifications and Jasper even admitted this. Trying to spin this as an issue of transparency is a joke - the PB own study revealed that the animals receive excellent care and as required by the CRA the aquarium issues annual reports on a timely basis.

      Why Travis would you neglect to highlight the main crux of the issue presented - that this is a legal challenge on the grounds that the Aquarium views the Parks Board decision as being a pure political play on part of the Vision dominated PB.


      Aug 27, 2014 at 11:20am

      And once again we must consider the prospect of weeping for the imprisoned potential progeny. :(


      Aug 27, 2014 at 11:27am

      When it's just a relationship between humans and animals, it can be mutually beneficial and wonderful.

      Unfortunately, when it's a relationship between humans-money-animals, it becomes horrifically and systematically cruel almost every single time and it's inevitably the animals who suffer. And these cetaceans and their offspring are of high financial value to this institution.

      I understand that the aquarium feels like it's walking around with a black eye when it thought it was supposed to be the 'good guy' in all this. But, forgive the cliche, sometimes when you love something you have to *free it.

      *At least to a degree that it can handle since being physically/emotionally/socially crippled by its imprisonment, which is certainly somewhat more freedom than being kept on display in the tiny tanks Van Aqua offers.


      Aug 27, 2014 at 11:32am

      Sarah Blyth: As irrelevent as she is transparent.



      Aug 27, 2014 at 1:11pm

      Now let's see if the parks board can back this up with facts instead of the opinions of a bunch of animal rights activists and what they saw in a movie. The park board itself said the animals were well lokked after and there has never been a solid argument that there is anything wrong with the aquariums practices. I wonder if all the whiners are wiling to pay the bill taxpayers are going to be stuck with.


      Aug 27, 2014 at 1:18pm

      Some people will go to any lengths to hand on to their little kingdoms. Freeing the whales and dolphins would do that to the aquarium.

      Jeff Matthews

      Aug 27, 2014 at 2:03pm

      This is indeed an issue of transparency, the aquarium is deathly afraid of it. For months, the Aquarium failed to correct hundreds of media references to their 5 belugas, knowing full well that they own 9. They continue to make the outrageous claim that they have no formal breeding program, when the Straight and others have published evidence that they are part of a continent-wide breeding program with SeaWorld that has been using artificial insemination for years. Every single captive born beluga in North American over the last decade was sired by a VanAqua male beluga, Nanuq or Imaq (who are on "breeding loan" to SeaWorld). Instead of being forthright with the public, they rely on wordplay and doublethink, more hallmarks of a large corporation than a conservation organization.

      Jon Q. Publik

      Aug 27, 2014 at 2:27pm

      The irony of the initial PB decision by the Vision Vancouver farm team is that it likely effectively guarantees that Vision will not win the majority of the seats in the upcoming election. The electorate who feel that what Vision did is a travesty against the Vancouver Aquarium will vote for the seemingly pro-aquarium NPA while those who felt like the decision didn't go far enough (the activists) will vote for COPE/Green who have stated platforms that are against captivity.

      Ted Williams

      Aug 27, 2014 at 3:39pm

      @Jeff are you playing fast and loose with the facts? It would be beneficial if you perhaps linked to the other articles that you mention in your post, mainly being the acquisitions found in Sandy Garossino Huffington Post "BLOG post" uses no sources to back up her statements. She does link a published paper on artificial insemination that doesn't mention the Vancouver Aquarium or name either Nanuq or Imaq.

      Also for transparency's sake it would be prudent for fellow readers and commentators to note that the Georgia Straight article on the cross-continent breeding program makes no reference to artificial insemination.


      Aug 27, 2014 at 4:29pm

      I watched blackfish. I wouldn't say that it changed my opinions, but it did make them much stronger.

      I've seen orcas from the BC ferry. I've seen them in essentially a swimming pool in Ohio. It just didn't look right. I tried to believe what they said - that with enough stimulation from trainers they lead a good life. But it still didn't look right. After blackfish, I now feel more strongly in that position.

      Yes, it is a documentary. Yes, it strengthened my opinions. Yes, that was the purpose of the documentary (all documentaries). No, I don't feel manipulated or brained washed by animal activists.