The Vancouver board of parks and recreation voted in early March to ban importation and cetacean captivity at Vancouver Aquarium. The vote came after two nights of debate and thousands of public submissions concerning the welfare of captive cetaceans. The ban on cetacean captivity will come into effect by amending a parks control bylaw in 2017.
Sarah Kirby-Yung, a commissioner who previously worked as a Vancouver Aquarium spokeswoman, 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 board’s meeting began singing Raffi’s “Baby Beluga” song when the vote was announced.
Chief Executive Officer of Vancouver Aquarium, Dr. John Nightingale, left the meeting before the vote and confirmed that the aquarium is deeply disappointed with the result. The ban will impact research at the aquarium and could impact the work of their marine mammal rescue center, he said. The center is the only one of its kind in Canada and may no longer be permitted to rescue injured or sick cetaceans.
Vancouver Aquarium Opposes Decision
Vancouver Aquarium had been undergoing a $100-million expansion, including plans to 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 newly voted-upon, almost immediate ban.
Vancouverites have hotly debated the cetacean display at the Vancouver Aquarium for many years. The issue came to a head however after the aquarium’s two remaining beluga whales, Aurora and Qila, suffered unexplained deaths in November 2016. Protests, petitions and email campaigns have since targeted the parks and recreation board to ban whale displays.
There are three remaining cetaceans at Vancouver Aquarium. It’s unknown whether the bylaw amendment means they will remain there until their natural deaths or move to another aquarium. Aquarium staff will seek legal counsel before providing a report about the amendment and its enactment. Depending upon the result, the bylaw may take effect by May 15th, 2017.