John Nightingale: Park board picks a fight with mother nature

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      The following is an August 1 letter by John Nightingale, president and CEO of the Vancouver Aquarium. It was originally published on the Vancouver Aquarium's website following a July 31 park board vote to end the breeding of whales and dolphins on lands where the park board exercises jurisdiction.

      Regardless of the species, reproduction is the most fundamental law of nature. It’s inside all of us, and it’s there for a good reason. Inside the DNA of every living thing is the basic need to reproduce and carry on. Consequently, the decision by the Vancouver Park Board to prohibit the breeding of cetaceans at the Vancouver Aquarium is misinformed, misguided and pits the Park Board against the facts, the science and Mother Nature herself.

      The Park Board’s use of the word breeding implies that we carry out some sort of planned, regulated or artificial reproduction program. 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 groupings – just as they live in nature. Mating is the most natural thing in the world. In fact, sex and reproduction play an important role in our research and in our education programs. For the Park Board to stop whales and dolphins from doing what comes naturally is like telling Park Board commissioners not to have sex, ever. It’s unnatural.

      The political decision made by the Park Board was not based on the facts or science presented. It certainly didn’t take into consideration testimony from dozens of the world’s scientific community, including experts in animal welfare and animal cognition. It also wasn’t based on the support the Aquarium receives from its 75,000 members, 1,500 conservation staff and volunteers, or one million visitors each year. And it doesn’t reflect the sentiment of Vancouver residents, as shown by our polling which indicates broad public support for Vancouver Aquarium. It was a decision based on a relative handful of activists who want to close, over time, Vancouver’s 58-year-old, award-winning marine science centre.

      Canada’s beluga whales are facing some pretty tough times. Changes in climate, increased marine pollution, and many other human-based problems put cetaceans and our country’s oceans at risk. The handful of belugas at the Aquarium is vital to our research efforts in helping us understand and help save Canada’s wild beluga population. The Park Board decision now puts our research, our international reputation, and Canada’s belugas at serious risk over the medium and longer term.

      The Vancouver Aquarium will need to take some time to determine the real consequences and options open to us in light of the Park Board decision.

      We sincerely hoped that the Park Board would join us, and the thousands of Vancouverites and residents of the lower mainland, who support our efforts to protect and help save Canada’s belugas. That turns out not to be the case. Instead, the current Vancouver Park Board, most of whom are not running again, and can’t be held accountable at the upcoming municipal election, have decided that their legacy is to pick a fight with Mother Nature.



      Daniel Tanner

      Aug 1, 2014 at 12:28pm

      John Nightingale is fighting a battle he cannot win. By railing against this decision, he is showing everyone that his claims that Vancouver Aquarium is all about research and conservation are nothing but hollow words. He is continuing their pattern of misinformation by claiming that they have no formal breeding program, just like they hid the fact that they have 9, not 5 belugas, and failed to correct it over the probably hundreds of times that number appeared in the press.
      Let's face it, they can continue to save frogs, investigate the sea star disease, and do many other things that will benefit our oceans without breeding whales and dolphins in their tanks.
      As of right now, the only thing conservationist about their attitude seems to be their desire to conserve their bottom line.

      Russ in Victoria

      Aug 1, 2014 at 12:40pm

      The thoughts expressed by Mr. Nightingale crossed my mind when I first learned of this decision on the morning news today. First, the park board has banned the Vancouver Aquarium from doing something that it doesn't actually do, and second, they expect the animals to abstain from sex. Do they want the aquarium to provide a 24x7 in-tank chaperone?

      The next thought that crossed my mind was that a bunch of Republicans must have snuck across the border and taken control of the Vancouver Park Board.


      Aug 1, 2014 at 12:52pm

      A totally delusional act by a bunch of elected humans who would ever have thought such a thing could happen? Against science, public opinion and (gasp) common sense....tell me it's not so! While this maybe the 21st century and "humans" may have been around close to a million years stupidity is the one sure thing you can bet on.

      Tommy Khang

      Aug 1, 2014 at 1:27pm

      Vision Vancouver the Anti-Whale Sex Party! But wait there's more: The Anti-Neighbourhoods Party! The Anti-Seniors Party! The we don't care about consulting you Party! The Say-We Can Solve Homelessness by 2015 - Oh Wait We Can't Party! The Our Spin Doctors are Desperate For Votes so Lets Smear the NPA Party! The We Build Bike Lanes for our Friends Party!

      I am sure there is more.

      Alan Layton

      Aug 1, 2014 at 2:04pm

      Tommy Khang - where was the NPA during the vote?

      Tommy Khang

      Aug 1, 2014 at 3:16pm

      @Alan Coupar stated that he had to recuse himself from the vote due to a connection between himself, his employer and the aquarium. According to other media sources DeGenova is away in Europe.

      Just a Voter

      Aug 1, 2014 at 6:23pm

      And Alan Layton, what difference would it have made to have any other party in the room? The Vision Vancouver commissioners had decided how they would vote, they control the majority, and as expected they voted as a block. When's the last time that ANY vote in Council or Park Board ever included an independent position on the part of a Vision Vancouver representative?


      Aug 1, 2014 at 9:17pm

      I am a biologist and I have NEVER read anything less scientific than this letter written by John Nightingale!!! It is more than embarrassing for him to compare birth control implemented for whales that are only and exclusively kept in captivity to bring money into the bank accounts of the aquarium, with the sex of park board commissioners. Let's be honest about it, the purpose of baby whales (and of course adult whales as well) is only and exclusively to crab as much cash out of peoples pockets as possible, for NOTHING ELSE!!! He wants to fill his pocket with money, nothing else....and the whales have to pay for it!!
      Just look at the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California. They are a world-leading aquarium with a world-leading research centre, not Vancouver, and the have no Cetaceans.


      Aug 1, 2014 at 10:33pm

      contraceptives and cetacean anesthesia are high risk, is the right solution really to force animals like jack and daisy apart?

      A Hoffman

      Aug 4, 2014 at 9:57am

      Paelzer, please link the peer reviewed articles or thesis dissertation you have written on captive cetacean behaviour or mating practices. I assume that since you are "a biologist" and therefore apparently an authority on this, you have some research to share with us that supports your assertion.