Vancouver Aquarium president John Nightingale stepping down

John Nightingale, the president and CEO of the Vancouver Aquarium has announced he will be retiring at the end of 2018.

‘I’ve been very fortunate to have a career doing work close to my heart,’ says CEO

Outgoing CEO John Nightingale says the Vancouver Aquarium has a critical role to play in teaching future generations about ocean life and inspiring them to protect it. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)

The long-running president and CEO of the Vancouver Aquarium has announced he will be retiring at the end of 2018.

John Nightingale says his 25 years as head of the organization went beyond what he could have imagined.

"I've been very fortunate to have a career doing work close to my heart … supporting science and making use of that science to effect change during an era when our blue planet needed it most."

Nightingale's last few years in the job weren't without controversy, however, after the deaths of the belugas Aquila and Aurora in 2016 and Chester, a false killer whale, in 2017.

Aurora the beluga died at the aquarium in 2016. (Meighan Makarchuk/Vancouver Aquarium)

Cetacean ban

The deaths sparked heated debate and calls for a ban on the cetacean program, but Nightingale fought to continue it.

Last spring, the Vancouver Park Board voted to prevent the aquarium from bringing in any new whales and dolphins, after commissioners said they were concerned about the ethics of keeping the animals in captivity.

At the time, Nightingale said he would "fight to the end" against the ban.

In June 2017, the aquarium launched a legal challenge to overturn the Park Board's ban. But in January, Nightingale announced the aquarium had given up the fight.

"It has gotten to the point where the debate in the community, with the lawyers, with the politicians ... is debilitating our work on our mission," he said.

Supporters of a cetacean ban at the Vancouver Aquarium during a demonstration in May 2017. (David Horemans/CBC)

'Amaze, engage and inspire'

Nightingale stepped into the CEO role in 1993 following a role as assistant director at the New York Aquarium.

Since then he expanded the Vancouver Aquarium's science, research and conservation programs, and launched the Ocean Wise program, as well as the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup and the Coastal Ocean Research Institute.

"From day one, I have sincerely believed that organizations like Ocean Wise, and its flagship Vancouver Aquarium, have a critical role to play in conservation," he said.

"We teach current and future generations about the life in our oceans with the hope they feel inspired to protect it."

Randy Pratt, chair of the Ocean Wise board of directors, said Nightingale leaves an immense legacy.

"From the very beginning, John knew that by bringing the oceans to life for people, we would amaze, engage and inspire a community of ocean conservationists — and he was right," said Pratt.

Nightingale will stay on at the aquarium as it undertakes an international search for the next CEO.