At a heated meeting last night, the Vancouver Park Board decided to put aside a vote on a proposed plebiscite about the future of whales and dolphins in captivity at the Vancouver Aquarium.

People packed the park board office armed with signs saying, 'The Public Demands a Whale Referendum'.

The motion, tabled by commissioner Sarah Kirby-Yung, called on the board to ask the city to hold a plebiscite on keeping cetaceans at the Vancouver Aquarium, during the 2018 civic election.

The NPA commissioner first introduced her motion at a board meeting on Nov. 28, 2016, following the death of 30-year-old female beluga Aurora and her 21-year-old calf Qila. Necropsies have failed to reveal the cause of death for both whales.

The motion also calls on the board to request the aquarium does not bring additional cetaceans into the facility until the results of the plebiscite are known.

Seeking more options

But those hoping for a quick decision on the proposed plebiscite were disappointed when commissioners instead voted 4-to-3 to set aside the motion and asked staff to report back next month with more options.

Commissioner Sarah Kirby-Yung, who put forward the motion, expressed disappointment with the move.

"I think it's a move to delay," said Kirby-Yung.

Vancouver park board whales protesters

Opponents of the cetacean program were at the park board meeting Monday night. (Dillion Hodgin/CBC)

Mandalena Lewis was one of those at the meeting who wants to see a ban on whales in captivity.

"It's really frustrating to hear your representatives sort of eschew serious issues that Vancouverites have," she said after the vote was put aside.

The aquarium's president John Nightingale was at the meeting, but declined to comment.

Debate frozen after last election​

The breeding of whales and dolphins at the aquarium was nearly banned by the park board in 2014 — but the aquarium filed a petition in B.C. Supreme Court challenging the decision, arguing it interfered with the day-to-day operation of its business.

The ban, however, never came into effect because the Vision Vancouver-controlled board never passed the bylaw. Then when the NPA took control of the park board after the November 2014 municipal election, it chose not to enact the proposed ban or reopen the discussion. 

In 2014 Vancouver City Councillor Adriane Carr introduced a motion for council to put a similar plebiscite question on the ballot for the municipal election later that year. 

City council voted nine to one to defeat the motion, largely over concerns the move would mean stepping on the jurisdiction of the park board.

With file from Brenna Rose