Vancouver Park Board has voted on 9th March 2017 to ban the importation and display of live cetaceans at Vancouver Aquarium. The vote came after two nights of debate and thousands of public submissions concerning the welfare of captive cetaceans. The ban will come into effect by amending a Parks Control bylaw in 2017.
Voters at the Vancouver Park Board have requested Vancouver Aquarium staff bring forward a bylaw amendment that will ban the importation and display of live cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises) in Vancouver parks. Three other options were available to voters; a direct vote in 2018 by all electorate members, accepting the aquarium’s plans to end cetacean captivity by 2029 or maintaining the current situation. The vote to bring forward the bylaw amendment instead was unanimous.
Sarah Kirby-Yung, a commissioner who previously worked as a Vancouver Aquarium spokeswoman, has commented that their job is to listen to the public and that the historic vote to ban cetaceans at the aquarium was “the will of Vancouverites”. Crowds at the Park Board meeting burst into song, Raffi’s Baby Beluga, when the vote was announced.
Chief Executive Officer of Vancouver Aquarium, Dr John Nightingale, left the meeting before the vote and has since commended the aquarium’s sixty-year history of saving marine mammals. He confirmed the aquarium is deeply disappointed with the vote, as the ban will impact upon the research undertaken at the aquarium and devastate the work of their marine mammal rescue centre. The centre is the only one of its kind in Canada and may no longer be permitted to rescue injured or sick cetaceans.
Vancouver aquarium had been undergoing a $100 million expansion at the time of the vote, including plans to return five loaned beluga whales in 2019 and construct two larger whale pools. In February 2017, John Nightingale had announced the aquarium would discontinue its cetacean displays by 2029. The Association of Zoos and Aquariums has joined with Vancouver Aquarium to oppose the Park Board decision to bring forward the bylaw amendment.
The Vancouver Human Society has commented the research at Vancouver Aquarium does not outweigh the negative impacts of captivity on animal welfare. Furthermore, that the aquarium has only published thirteen peer-reviewed scientific papers on cetaceans during the last thirty years. Other countries that have already banned the import or exhibition of cetaceans are China, India, Slovenia, Croatia, Cyprus, Costa Rica and Switzerland. The capture and display of cetaceans is known to cause mental, emotional and physical stress for these highly intelligent and social animals.
Whilst the display of cetaceans in Vancouver Aquarium has been hotly debated for many years, the issue came to the public’s attention after the unexplained death of Vancouver Aquarium’s two remaining beluga whales, Aurora and Qila, in November 2016. Protests at the aquarium and board meetings, petitions and email campaigns had been targeting the Park Board to ban the display of cetaceans since the whales’ deaths.
There are currently three cetaceans at Vancouver aquarium and the bylaw amendment may allow them to remain until their natural deaths or they may need to be removed. Aquarium staff will now seek legal counsel before providing a report about the amendment and its enactment. Whilst three readings of the amendment will take place before approval, the bylaw may take effect by May 15th 2017.