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Whale sanctuary off BC coast would eliminate need for cetaceans in aquariums

Last Updated May 18, 2017 at 8:15 am PST

(Courtesy Vancouver Aquarium)

New mega-project looks to eliminate concerns injured animals, not at the aquarium, may be put down

Vancouver Aquarium CEO vows to fight park board decision to ban cetaceans at the facility

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – The president of the Vancouver Aquarium has said cetaceans that are rescued in the future are at risk of being put down, now that the attraction is no longer allowed to house them.

However, a new mega-project aims to eliminate that worry, creating a new home for whales, dolphins and porpoises.

“We will be building a permanent sanctuary for orcas, belugas and other cold-water dolphins. They will have space, orders of magnitude greater than what they could ever have in an aquarium and the depth to dive. What we’re looking for is a cove or an inlet that can be netted off, that will be a permanent habitat for retired orcas, beluga whales and cold water-dolphins who are currently living in concrete tanks,” explains Dr. Lori Marino, a neuroscientist, specialist in animal behaviour and executive director of The Whale Sanctuary Project.

“There are sanctuaries for all kinds of large wild animals, elephants and primates and big cats. There’s not a single permanent sanctuary for dolphins and whales. And we plan to change that.”

The project is currently reviewing three sites, one in Nova Scotia, Washington State and one here in BC.

The hope is to have the location picked by the end of the year and open in 2019 or 2020. “It would also have a marine mammal veterinary hospital, a great state-of-the-art education facility. And we will also be doing rescues and rehabs. So we will serve the purpose of being able to house wild animals who come in injured or sick,” says Marino.

She adds the site will allow visitors but animals will not be on display.

Marino hopes it becomes the go-to place for cetaceans unable to return to the wild, meaning places like the Vancouver Aquarium would no longer need to house them in concrete pens.

“We hope that once the smoke clears and everyone calms down, the Vancouver Aquarium will see that there are options for them. We would like to extend an invitation to discuss those options with them. We are hoping that the Vancouver Aquarium will see that if we are able to build a sanctuary then we would be able to house large marine mammals.”

She says in the end, the project is about the wellbeing of animals. “This is not an us-against-[aquarium,] this is doing the best thing for the animals in good faith.”

The changes to the aquarium being allowed to house cetaceans came down during a Vancouver Park Board vote on Monday night.