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Vancouver Aquarium drops lawsuit against Park Board, city

Last Updated Jun 25, 2019 at 3:58 pm PDT

FILE - The outside of the Vancouver Aquarium is pictured in Vancouver, B.C. Friday, Nov. 18, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Summary

The development comes as Ocean Wise announces a new licence agreement with the Park Board

In a press release on Tuesday Ocean Wise said all legal action related to the amendment has now been discontinued

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – The Vancouver Aquarium has dropped its lawsuit against the Park Board and the City of Vancouver.

The development comes as Ocean Wise announces a new licence agreement with the Park Board, which allows the Aquarium to stay in Stanley Park for the next 35 years. Ocean Wise says it’s confirmed its commitment to no longer display whales, dolphins, and belugas.

Lasse Gustavson, head of the Aquarium’s parent company, says the new agreement is similar to what’s already in place.

“There’s a combination of a fixed fee and a percentage of the sales in our food services so it’s difficult to give an exact number, but it’s in the ballpark of around $200,000 a year. Depending on the sales it could be up to $300,000.”

And as a bonus, the Park Board is throwing in five years rent-free.

“There is a five-year term at no cost for Ocean Wise. I think that’s the Park Board trying to support the next phase of the Aquarium because we’ve been going through some rough patches,” Gustavson says. “I certainly take that as a gesture of support for the next phase of the Aquarium and the good collaboration that we are looking forward to.”

RELATED: Advocates protest Vancouver Aquarium lawsuit against city, Park Board

Those “rough patches” include the Aquarium’s lawsuit against the Board and the city.

In a press release on the deal Tuesday, Ocean Wise said: “In reaching this new agreement, Ocean Wise has confirmed its 2018 commitment to no longer display cetaceans in Stanley Park. All legal action related to the Park Board’s May 2017 amendment to its bylaw restricting cetaceans in Vancouver parks has now been discontinued.”

In May of 2017, the Board voted six to one to approve a bylaw banning whales, dolphins and porpoises in captivity after two beluga whales died at the Aquarium.

According to the Aquarium’s civil claim, filed shortly after, the bylaw interfered with its “ability to carry out day-to-day administration” of the Marine Science Centre. The facility claimed the ban was a breach of contract, and that it lost millions of dollars in revenue.

The B.C. Court of Appeal ruled in February to support the Board’s right to create the bylaw, although a judge had initially agreed with the Aquarium and declared the bylaw was void. The Aquarium appealed that decision.

The Aquarium, which has operated in Stanley Park since 1956, is currently home to one cetacean – a senior white-sided dolphin named Helen. Gustavson says staff are working on finding her a new home.

RELATED: Ottawa passes legislation that bans whale and dolphin captivity in Canada

It had announced in February 2017 that it would phase out its cetacean program by 2029, but intended on bringing in five more belugas in the interim once it opened its Canada’s Arctic exhibit.

The lawsuit said the Aquarium wrote off $2.2 million in design and consulting costs for the exhibit, and claims it lost a “major private donation” which was in support of the habitat. It said attendance dropped about 13 per cent in 2017 and 2018, leading to $8 million in lost revenue over the last two years.

The Aquarium will be in Stanley Park until at least 2054, but it will be markedly different than the previous 63 years.

“We’re going to build a world-class aquarium without whales and dolphins,” Gustavson says.

With files from the Canadian Press, Renee Bernard and Lauren Boothby.