The Vancouver Aquarium has filed a legal challenge seeking to overturn a Vancouver Park Board resolution to ban the breeding of whales and dolphins at the popular Stanley Park tourist attraction.

In a petition filed in B.C. Supreme Court, the aquarium claims the board's decision falls outside its jurisdiction as a municipal body. The aquarium says the resolution interferes with its day-to-day operations. 

"We resent being turned into a political football," said aquarium president John Nightingale.

"The resolutions put forth by the park board restrict the aquarium's ability to fully continue its mandate."

Board voted to end breeding

On July 31, the board voted unanimously to allow the aquarium to keep cetaceans in captivity, but ordered an end to the breeding of most whales and dolphins in Vancouver parks, unless they are an endangered species.

According to the petition, the aquarium was established in 1956 and has received more than 40 million visitors since that time. The petition details a licensing agreement between the organization and the parks board in which the board promised not to to interfere with the aquarium's administration and to engage in "good faith communications."

The aquarium currently houses two Pacific white-sided dolphins, two harbour porpoises and two beluga whales. But it also has five more belugas on loan to facilities in the United States.

Vancouver Aquarium's John Nightingale

Vancouver Aquarium president John Nightingale announces plans to launch a legal challenge to Vancouver Park Board's decision banning breeding of cetaceans in captivity. (Tim Weekes/CBC)

The aquarium claims Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson was partly responsible for increased public debate about the keeping of cetaceans.

"The public debate was informed to a great extent by international campaigns directed against the capture and exhibition of cetaceans and, in the Vancouver area, in large part precipitated by comments made by the mayor of the City of Vancouver that the aquarium should begin to 'phase out' its keeping of whales and dolphins." 

Ban serves no 'legitimate' municipal purpose

The aquarium claims the resolution on breeding serves no legitimate municipal purpose. And the aquarium says resolutions affecting cetaceans like the belugas outside Canada are beyond the territorial jurisdiction of the board.

The aquarium also rejects the board's proposed imposition of an oversight committee consisting of animal welfare experts. The petition claims that would put its dolphins and whales at risk by handing their welfare over to people with no scientific expertise.

Nightingale said aquarium management and staff are experts on the subject and should be left to do their jobs.

Animal activist Marley Daviduk attended many park board meetings to protest the keeping of whales in captivity. She believes the legal fight is largely prompted by a need for money.

"If the place has no cetaceans, then they've got no tourist attractions," Daviduk said.

"So of course they're going to fight tooth and nail to continue breeding these belugas, because it makes them a lot of money."

The park board has yet to file a statement of defence.

On mobile? Click here to see the Vancouver Aquarium's Supreme Court petition