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Mixed reactions to cetacean ban, Vancouver Aquarium vows to fight it

(Courtesy Vancouver Aquarium)

Aquarium CEO promises to fight new ban through the court system

BC SPCA please with Park Board decision to ban cetacean captivity

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – In a tilted vote of 6-1, the Vancouver Park Board on Monday night voted to ban the captivity of cetaceans at the Vancouver Aquarium. The bylaw changes mean the three cetaceans currently at the Stanley Park attraction will remain there, but no others can be brought in.

The killer whale, harbour porpoise and white-sided dolphin at the aquarium aren’t allowed to participate in any shows moving forward.

The aquarium opposes the ban, fearing it will hamper its ability to save or help injured animals that are found on BC’s coast. It had previously announced it would phase out beluga whales in captivity by 2029.

Aquarium CEO John Nightingale feels the move severely limits the ability of the Marine Mammal Rescue Centre and he says future whales or dolphins that are saved from the wild may have to be put down if they’re unable to be released back into their habitat because they can’t be housed at the facility.

This issue may be settled at a municipal government level, however, Nightingale is vowing to fight the ban every step of the way through the court system — although it’s unclear what those next steps may be.

Meantime, Vancouver City Councillor and former Park Board Commissioner Melissa De Genova says she respects the board’s “independent” decision. “That being said, the Park Board does come to [city council] and ask us for more [money] every year in their budget. I will be inquiring today regarding the costs and the financial risk that this could create for the City of Vancouver and the Park Board.”

She admits she is slightly concerned about the potential legalities of this controversial issue. “I’m concerned about any legal risks that the city may assume considering previous decisions of the Vancouver Park Board and the fact that the aquarium, I understand from reports in the media, went forward with a large expansion for the purpose of having a place for rescued marine mammals and cetaceans along with other exhibits that they have.”

Green Party City Councillor Adriane Carr says she understands why the decision was made and she has a message for the facility’s CEO. “Unfortunately, the head of the aquarium has actually made it more political than it ever needed to be and has really promulgated a lot of the negative reaction that we’re seeing and certainly saw at the Park Board last night. It didn’t need to be that way. I think there is a logical progression in most of the aquariums around the world that have kept cetaceans in captivity to phase them out. And that’s based on our understanding which is based in science.”

The BC SPCA is also weighing in on the board’s decision.

“In the past 30 years, new research has emerged on the complexity of cetaceans and their ability to communicate, to create social bonds and to demonstrate cognitive abilities such as self-awareness, recognition of individuals and memory,” says Chief Scientific Officer for the BC SPCA Dr. Sara Dubois. “As humans we know that confinement and social isolation in small indoor spaces without any control over our environment is emotionally damaging for our well-being. We now have evidence that for cetaceans appropriate social interaction and having enough diverse space are very basic requirements for their psychological well-being as well.”

Dubois adds the SPCA has been supportive of the work done by rescue workers at the aquarium and she doesn’t think last night’s decision will impact those efforts.

Last fall two beluga whales, a mother and daughter, died within 10 days of each other at the aquarium last November. The cause of death was blamed on a toxin but the exact substance couldn’t be identified.