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Vancouver Aquarium to no longer house whales, dolphins

Last Updated Jan 18, 2018 at 10:14 am PDT

FILE - Vancouver Aquarium. (James Cybulski, NEWS 1130, Photo)

No layoffs expected, as Vancouver Aquarium stops housing whales and dolphins

Whales belonging to the Vancouve Aquarium are on loan across the US; Pacific white-sided dolphin remains here

Soon-to-be-empty displays at Vancouver Aquarium to be replaced with something new

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – A shake-up at the Vancouver Aquarium: The popular tourist attraction has announced it will no longer be housing whales or dolphins.

The move comes as we wait for a judge to make a decision on a judicial review of a newly imposed cetacean ban imposed by the Park Board.

No layoffs are expected, but the aquarium’s President and CEO Dr. John Nightingale understands if some employees choose to leave. “There are so many animals and jobs. I expect some people who might have come here especially to work with whales and dolphins may choose to go work elsewhere and that is unfortunate.”

Since the ban was approved last year, he admits he’s been frustrated and disheartened but wasn’t sure if they had any other choice.

“I’ve been asked why the aquarium fought city hall so hard and the reason is anybody who had been to the aquarium at all and watched the public look at beluga whales or dolphins can understand both viscerally and immediately just how engaging they are. You could be two, you could be 80-years-old, you could have a PhD, you could have no education — but those animals were among the best I’ve ever seen at connecting people through them to ocean issues and new things people had never thought about. Losing that is very frustrating for sure and we’re going to have a bunch of upset [staff] who say, ‘Keep on fighting.’ But keeping on fighting has begun to dramatically reduce our ability to pursue our conservation mission.”

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The whales belonging to the facility are currently on loan across the US while its one Pacific white-sided dolphin, Helen, remains here.

“We know from years of experience and from our colleagues that she should live with others of her kind, so we have two choices and neither one is great. We either bring in a companion animal to live with her for the rest of her life, in which case I don’t know what will happen — I get arrested by the Park Board and thrown in jail… or we put her on an airplane and send her to live with white-sided dolphins some other place. While she’s perfectly healthy and happy, she is an older animal and we have to assess the risk to her life by doing that because having her die in that process would defeat the whole purpose,” says Nightingale.

“We¬†don’t know what the answer is yet. But we’re working hard on it and in the next weeks and months, we will know.”

The soon-to-be-empty displays will be replaced with something new.

“We were ready to start construction of the second phase of our revitalization, which was a new Arctic [display]… That commitment remains unabated, but now we have to redesign an exhibit that was ready to go under construction that won’t have belugas. So, it has to be re-thought, re-developed and redesigned. And that process is underway.”

LISTEN: NEWS 1130’s Sonia Aslam speaks with Vancouver Aquarium President and CEO John Nightingale:

He adds construction on that second phase would need to start by this fall, but based on permits approved by the city, he has no timeline for when things will be complete. “It will get under construction one way or the other this fall.”

Nightingale says the Vancouver Aquarium rescue centre won’t be affected and they’ll still be allowed to at another building because it’s not on Park Board land.

“What we are going to continue to discuss — and it’s one part of the bylaw we want to change — is even though we’re not going to have whales and dolphins here permanently, we want to be able to use the extraordinary facilities at the aquarium from time to time, on a case-by0case temporary basis, when necessary for the rescue and rehab process.”

The Park Board implemented a ban on all cetaceans after Aurora and Qila, a pair of mother/daughter belugas died within just 10 days of each other in 2016. An investigation found the two died of unknown toxins.