Following whale deaths, protesters crash park board meeting to demand captivity ban at the aquarium

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      The November 28 meeting of the park board was noisily interrupted when more than a dozen protesters voiced opposition to the Vancouver Aquarium for keeping whales and dolphins in captivity.

      “We ask you to immediately place a moratorium on the acquisition of any new cetaceans, move forward toward a full ban of keeping these intelligent and sensitive individuals, mandate that the Vancouver Aquarium is to become a facility that strictly only does rescue and rehabilitation without additional captive individuals performing shows, serving as exhibits or entertainment,” said the group’s leader, David Isbister. Meanwhile, private security guards removed some demonstrators’ signs.

      The action was prompted by the recent deaths of two beluga whales. Since then, park board chair Sarah Kirby-Yung suggested Vancouver hold a public vote on cetacean captivity. She then started the city down that path by filing a notice of motion at the November 28 meeting.

      In a phone interview, Kirby-Yung said her goal is to put a “straightforward” question on the ballot for the civic election in November 2018.

      “The language I’ve used is to determine if Vancouver residents support keeping cetaceans at the Vancouver Aquarium,” she told the Straight. “It doesn’t talk about breeding or otherwise. It simply says if they support having them there or not having them there.”

      That was a policy shift for the member of the Non-Partisan Association, which has long maintained that the aquarium should run its operation without political interference.

      Kirby-Yung’s position as chair was previously held by Aaron Jasper, a member of the opposing Vision Vancouver civic party who tried to ban captive breeding at the aquarium.  In a telephone interview, he recounted how in 2014, the then-Vision majority park board drafted plans to ban cetacean breeding at the aquarium and to create an independent oversight committee that would monitor animals at the park. After those bylaws were drafted but before they were implemented, an election saw power on the park board shift from Vision to the NPA. That prompted Vision councillors to hold off on making the new rules official. Then, when the NPA took power, they scrapped the plan entirely.

      “The very first thing they announced was that they were going to kill it,” Jasper recalled.

      On Kirby-Yung’s plans for a plebiscite, he criticized giving the aquarium so much time to campaign in favour of the status quo.

      “This park board shirks its responsibility by punting this down the road to a plebiscite,” Jasper said. “And a more cynical perspective is that it is actually a gift to the aquarium.”

      He also noted that Kirby-Yung was vice president of marketing and communications for the aquarium from 2008 to 2010.

      “If she [Kirby-Yung] believes that whales should not be in captivity, then she should act on that,” Jasper added. “Show some leadership.”