Featured Image Credit: Vancouver Aquarium
Yesterday, the Vancouver Park Board officially approved bylaw amendments banning the Vancouver Aquarium from importing and displaying animals known as cetaceans – a group that includes narwhals, dolphins, porpoises, killer whales and beluga whales.
John Nightingale, the aquarium’s president and CEO, said in a statement on Monday that the bylaw will make cetaceans pay the ultimate price and force rescuers to euthanize them when they can’t be released back into the wild.
“There are no other long-term homes or options in Canada for rescued, non-releasable cetaceans,” he said.
The year-long debate comes after numerous heated and emotional discussions over the aquariums future of its cetacean program. Yesterday, however, hundreds of protesters both inside and outside the meeting denounced the park board’s decision.
— Vancouver Aquarium (@vanaqua) May 16, 2017
Nightingale addressed these supporters who stood in the pouring rain chanting and shouting shortly after the motion passed.
“I know you’ll stand with me and not give up,” he said to the crowd. “We will continue to oppose what the park board had just done in various ways, and fight for the right to help the animals who need help when they’re stranded on our coast, and to help connect the public with what’s going on in nature.”
“I don’t understand how something like this can be left up to politicians to decide,” Marcus Minham, a protester at the meeting, told Daily Hive. “It’s absurd it has gotten this far just because some politicians want to make a name for themselves.”
Aside from putting an end to importing new cetaceans, the decision puts into question how injured animals rescued by the aquarium will be cared for.
The Vancouver Aquarium is a member of the CAZA, which means it is an accredited aquarium in Canada and held to high standards of care for its animals. It is home to Canada’s ONLY marine mammal hospital. Which means any cetaceans who are out in the wild stranded, dying, injured or lost will have to be killed instead of being brought back to the aquarium where they could have received exceptional treatment and rehabilitation.
Jason Bruck from the University of St. Andrew’s and Scottish Oceans Institute’s Sea Mammal Research Unit is a world expert on the interplay of evolution, cognition and sociality in animals. His Ph.D. work with dolphins identified the first example of life-long social recognition in a non-human animal.
Bruck reflects on the past when a similar bylaw was passed in the U.K.
“In the early 1990’s activists managed to push through legislation in the U.K. that made it impossible for sea parks to maintain captive animal facilities. Since 1993 the only option available to veterinarians for stranded U.K. cetaceans has been euthanasia,” said Bruck. “Ironically, this happened as environmental degradation made marine rescue more necessary. The fact that the Vancouver Park Board has made the same mistake flys in the face of logic and data. How does this help animals?”
How DOES this help these animals?
Looking towards the future, the Vancouver Aquarium stated in recent press release:
“Until tonight, the Vancouver Aquarium has been focused on the immediate issue of saving the rescue program. We will now focus our attention on the cetacean ban which will have far-reaching implications for whales, dolphins and porpoises. We will keep all options open as we review its impacts on our mandate of conservation that includes advancing scientific knowledge and educating the public.”