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Protesters claim loophole as aquarium phases out housing cetaceans

Last Updated May 13, 2018 at 12:50 pm PST

Protesters gather outside the Vancouver Aquarium on May 12, 2018. (Monika Gul, NEWS 1130 Photo)
Summary

Annual "Empty the Tanks" rally takes place at the aquarium as the facility promises to no longer house cetaceans

As the Vancouver Aquarium phases out whales and dolphins, protesters say there's a way they can still house the animals

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – As people walked through the doors, loud protesters gathered outside the Vancouver Aquarium in Stanley Park to speak out against the facility and its housing of cetaceans.

The “Empty the Tanks” rally is an annual event and while organizers say they’re happy the aquarium is putting in plans to phase out cetacean displays, they claim there’s a loophole that will allow rescued cetaceans to be kept in captivity as aquarium staff perform off-site rescues.

“We have no problem with anyone wanting to help animals in a truly altruistic generous sort of way, but in the past we can see animals that have been brought here, as purported rescues, still languished and still faced the same challenges that they’re wild-caught and purpose-bred animals in the past have also suffered,” says organizer David Isbister.

The people behind Saturday’s rally claim more than two dozen cetaceans have died at the Vancouver Aquarium since being introduced there more than 50 years ago.


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People held signs that read, “Captivity cruel,” and ‘Help stop the show, don’t buy a ticket,’ as families continued entering the aquarium. Others chanted “empty the tanks” and “don’t buy the ticket.”

Others shouted, “Stop going to the aquarium to educate children, ask them about the dinosaurs.”

For its part, the aquarium posted a sign in front of the line-up to the ticket booth saying, “Due to a planned protest today, bag searches will be conducted before entry for the safety of our animals, visitors and personnel.”

A message posted outside the Vancouver Aquarium as a protest takes place in front of the tourist attraction on May 12, 2018. (Monika Gul, NEWS 1130 Photo)

In January, the facility announced it would no longer be housing whales and dolphins. The move came following a ban approved by the Vancouver Park Board in 2017. Outgoing President and CEO John Nightingale confirmed at the time the displays would be replaced with something new, but didn’t say what.

The loophole, rally organizers are referring to, is even though the aquarium says it will no longer be housing cetaceans here, it will continue to be involved in the rescue and rehabilitation of the animals.

Earlier this year, the Park Board lost its fight against the aquarium when a court ruled the Park Board has no jurisdiction to change a statute of the Vancouver Charter.

The aquarium was thrust into the spotlight following the deaths of Aurora and Qila, a pair of mother/daughter belugas that died within just 10 days of each other in 2016. An investigation found the paid died of unknown toxins and it was unclear how they contracted those toxins.

Their deaths originally prompted the debate about whether cetaceans should be kept in captivity.

Last year, also saw the death of Chester, a three-year-old false killer whale, who died of erysipelas, an illness that has resulted in the deaths of wild cetaceans and those in human care.

Any other whales that belong to the aquarium are currently out on loan and there is one Pacific white-sided dolphin, Helen, who remains in Vancouver.

By 2029, the aquarium says it will phase out all belugas in its care.