Demands stop short of phasing out cetacean program entirely. Two belugas, two Pacific white-sided dolphins and two rescued harbour porpoises currently reside at facility
The Vancouver Park Board has unanimously voted to allow the aquarium be allowed to keep cetaceans in captivity, but ordered an end to the breeding of most whales and dolphins. The vote came after more than a hundred speakers voiced concerns and demanded a phasing out of the program permitting whales and dolphins to be kept in captivity.
The board has also directed staff to bring forward an amendment to the park bylaw that would prohibit breeding whales, dolphins and porpoises in Vancouver parks unless they are a threatened species. It also ordered the establishment of an oversight committee of animal welfare experts to ensure the safety and well being of captive cetaceans but stopped short of demanding the whale and dolphin program be phased out entirely.
"Every time we came back to the breeding program, we just felt that's a program that might serve other purposes, but we were not convinced that it served the purpose of conservation, rescue rehabilitation or research. So that's where we drew the line in the sand," said Park board chair Aaron Jasper.
Aquarium president John Nightingale stated the facility does not run a formal breeding program and preventing the animals from breeding on their own will be difficult.” Healthy animals sometimes mate. So keeping them apart or using artificial contraceptives or whatever method the park board is going to mandate is not natural, so it's actually kind of animal cruelty," he said.
Only two female belugas currently reside at the aquarium, along with two female Pacific white-sided dolphins and two rescued harbour porpoises, the latter of which are too young to breed. However, seven other belugas are on loan to other institutions, including five at SeaWorld and two at the Georgia Aquarium. The park board is calling on the aquarium to undertake a study "using all available scientific data" to determine if cetacean well being is possible in the aquarium's whale pools.
Nightingale is disappointed at the political interference in the aquarium's operations.
"I'd have to say I think we're probably most deeply disappointed in the park board's decision to take management of its animals, and to some degree our whole mission from our experts at the aquarium, and transfer it to the politicians."
Scientific opinions to the research benefits of captive cetaceans are mixed, with some experts speaking in favour and many speaking against confining whales and dolphins in aquarium pools. In May, renowned conservationist Jane Goodall penneda letter to the aquarium saying on-site cetacean breeding is "no longer defensible by science."
In the past, deaths of whales and dolphins born at the facility have led to calls for ending the cetacean program. The aquarium currently has a mix of rescued animals that cannot be returned to the ocean and animals that were born in captivity. It also operates a marine mammal rescue centre that recently rescued a false killer whale that was beached near Tofino.