Activists warn an NPA mayor will mean more whales in captivity at the Vancouver Aquarium

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      A vote for the NPA is a vote for more whales in captivity. That’s the message that animal-rights activists want Vancouver voters to take to the polls on Saturday (November 15).

      “There is one party that is really bad for the whales in Stanley Park, and that’s the NPA,” Jeff Matthews, a volunteer with the Vancouver Animal Defense League, told the Straight.

      What’s at stake is a July park-board decision that provided for a ban on whale and dolphin breeding at the Vancouver Aquarium, Matthews explained. He warned that the NPA will repeal that motion if it gets the chance.

      In a separate interview, Annelise Sorg, president of No Whales in Captivity, said the same thing.

      “If they [the NPA] get elected, that is what they will do,” she emphasized. “Vision, COPE, and the Greens are pretty much united against keeping whales in captivity, so that’s the way to go."

      Vision Vancouver mayoral incumbent Gregor Robertson called for an end to whale and dolphin captivity in April. “My personal view is that the Vancouver Aquarium should begin to phase out the holding of whales and dolphins in captivity,” he said quoted in a statement emailed to media.

      The NPA did not make a representative available for an interview. Mayoral candidate Kirk LaPointe revealed his position on the issue in a July 31 news release.

      “I fully support the Vancouver Aquarium’s existing policies of conservation and research around cetaceans,” he said. “I also deplore the mayor’s position that cetaceans should be phased out of this renowned cultural and scientific institution.”

      Niki Sharma is a parks commissioner running on the Vision slate for city council this year. In a telephone interview, she suggested that the NPA doesn’t understand the motion passed in July.

      “The position that we took as a park board was really a balanced approach, hoping that the aquarium could continue to do its work when it comes to science and rehabilitation,” Sharma said. “But it really took on the question of whether or not we should be keeping whales in captivity for the long term.”

      Matthews and Sorg both called attention to what they described as a long relationship between the aquarium and the NPA.

      Sorg recalled that in 2005, an aquarium employee named Heather Holden made a successful run for park board with the NPA and was subsequently appointed chair. The following year, an NPA–majority board repealed a motion that required a public vote before any expansion of the aquarium could proceed. That paved the way for the renovation under way today, which aquarium CEO John Nightingale has said could allow for more whales and dolphins to be kept in its tanks in Stanley Park.

      “The aquarium has always played footsies with the NPA,” Sorg said. “Now that we’ve managed to get some resolution with Vision, the aquarium has placed in there another candidate that is staff or was former staff.”

      That was a reference to NPA park-board candidate Sarah Kirby-Yung, who held the position of vice-president of marketing and communications at the aquarium from 2008 to 2010.

      Sorg said she believes Kirby-Yung’s candidacy is a direct response to the park board’s ban on captive breeding.

      “They’re using their usual political tricks to make sure that people elected to the park board will dismantle whatever restrictions are placed on the aquarium by previous park boards,” Sorg argued.

      Matthews maintained it’s the same play that worked for the aquarium in the past . “This could have gone to a public referendum in 2005/2006 but the NPA stopped that,” he said. “And now we’re seeing a repeat of history.”

      Kirby-Yung has addressed the issue of a potential conflict of interest on Twitter. She called it a “fair question” but dismissed concerns. “I am an ex-employee of Aquarium,” Kirby-Yung wrote on November 6. “Now I work for Coast Hotels. So no conflict.”

      According to a July 23 park board report, the Vancouver Aquarium 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. Also kept in tanks in Stanley Park are two Pacific white-sided dolphins, a pair of Pacific harbour porpoises, plus a number of sea otters, seals, and sea lions.

      On February 12, the Georgia Straight published an in-depth article about marine mammal captivity and the aquarium's plans to increase the number of whales and dolphins that it keeps in Vancouver. That story noted that the Vancouver Aquarium is one of the last facilities in Canada that continues to have large marine mammals on display.

      Comments

      22 Comments

      McFogg

      Nov 12, 2014 at 1:12pm

      Are a couple of whales the most important issue in this election? I think not. Check out the DTES if you want to see real suffering

      Martin Dunphy

      Nov 12, 2014 at 1:45pm

      McFogg:

      Thanks for the comment. It is <em>one</em> of the issues, deemed important by a large number of Vancouverites, and is therefore worthy of reporting, no?
      As are issues associated with the DTES. And neighbourhood planning, and homelessness, and...

      more important things...

      Nov 12, 2014 at 2:16pm

      There are definitely more important things to be concerned about - these protesters should by the DTES on their way from UBC to Stanley Park. But then again, its so trendy right now to be an animal activist.

      Tommy Khang

      Nov 12, 2014 at 3:27pm

      Wait I thought you are only allowed to post one conspiracy theory story a day? (That piece by Charlie was fantastic by the way).

      Mark A

      Nov 12, 2014 at 3:44pm

      How much are these people being paid by Vision right now ?
      The aquarium has said that they will not have any new captive whales etc except where there is a rescue and the animal cannot be returned to the wild.
      The Vancouver Aquarium does a lot of good work for animal welfare

      Ian Boothby

      Nov 12, 2014 at 4:21pm

      Better to be a conservationist than an animal activist. One acts based on facts and the other feelings. A person with only compassion in their hearts will feed a hungry dog their chocolate bar. They'll also try to release unreleasable animals which like the chocolate will lead to pain and death.
      On this issue the chair of the Park Board said, "I'm not a whale biologist, I'm a realtor, and sometimes you just have to go with your gut."
      Maybe a realtor going with their gut over science isn't the best thing for these animals.
      Vision Vancouver's Constance Barnes compared the whales situation to the slavery her people faced 100 years ago. You know, the slavery we had in Canada in 1914.
      These are people in power making real decisions that we're taking seriously.

      bobo

      Nov 12, 2014 at 4:22pm

      Hey Mark, Vision doesn't concern itself with the facts, just whatever propaganda looks good. Witness Gregor's lame apology.

      Janos Mate

      Nov 13, 2014 at 11:35am

      I genuinely do not understand the hostility between people when discussing fairly profound issues such as the captivity of whales and dolphins in the Vancouver Aquarium. I say profound because our tolerance of the suffering that these sentient beings endure as a sheer result of the conditions of their confinement reflects the ethical evolution of our own specie. The attitude that rationalizes such suffering (be it for research, education, entertainment or profit) is the same that rationalizes so much of the damage that humans bring to the world. It is an attitude that says humans have the right to do whatever is in their power to the rest of nature, to all other life forms. It precisely the attitude that is rapidly undermining nature's capacity to sustain all life ...including human life.

      Of course the captivity of whales and dolphins is not the only important issue facing the city. Traffic congestion, homelessness, lack of affordable housing, youth unemployment, the city's carbon footprint, the cost of living and many other issues, including cetacean captivity in Stanley Park, are all important. Surely we have the capacity to have a suitable and well informed conversation about all of these concerns. That is what the basis of a democratic electoral process.

      Tommy Khang

      Nov 13, 2014 at 12:30pm

      @Janos a well informed conversation? Come on now, your fellow activists above are basically accusing the NPA of being in cahoots with the Vancouver Aquarium, going as far as to smear one candidate because they merely worked at the organization four years ago.

      Look for Janos this is a one way conversation because of his fundamental belief that cetaceans are sentient beings, while some of their behaviours may seem to be similar to humans this is still not actually the case and Janos et al are guilty of anthropomorphism. At the end of the day what others have said is true and the issue of cetaceans in captivity will have a relatively little impact on the vote of the Parks Board compared to the issue of the Community Centre Associations and the One Card.