British Columbia

Vancouver Aquarium gets $600K in donations — enough for 2.5 weeks of animal care

The Vancouver Aquarium says it has received about $600,000 dollars in donations from the public — mostly in small amounts — since announcing its dire financial situation last week. The non-profit's CEO says that's only enough to care for its 70,000 animals for two and a half weeks.

The aquarium has reduced monthly costs from about $3M to $1m, but only has enough cash until mid-June.

The Vancouver Aquarium says it has received $600,000 in donations from the public since it announced major financial challenges last week, but the money is only enough to care for its 70,000 animals for two and a half weeks. (Joe Passaretti/CBC)

The Vancouver Aquarium has received a flood of support from the public since it announced its precarious financial situation last week, but according to the CEO of the non-profit that operates the 64-year-old attraction, it won't be enough to keep the aquarium afloat.

Lasse Gustavsson, CEO of Ocean Wise, said about $600,000 in donations has come in, but depending on the generosity of the public isn't sustainable. Without a support package from provincial or federal governments, the institution will have to close permanently, likely sometime in June.

"Every dollar is a love letter — that's how it feels — but obviously we can't depend on that kind of generosity for a very long time. The $600,000 we've been receiving so far, that keeps us going for two and a half weeks," said Gustavsson on Thursday.

Gustavsson said since closing its doors on March 17 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the aquarium has made deep cuts to costs. The gift shop, cafe and entrance fees made up the bulk of its $3.3 million monthly average revenue, which is about how much it cost to operate. Now, the cost has been slashed to just over $1 million.

The Vancouver Aquarium shut its doors to the public on March 17, leading to a sudden loss of most of its $3.3 million monthly revenue. (Vancouver Aquarium)

About 60 per cent of staff have been laid off — 331 people. Renovations have been cancelled and maintenance has been reduced. Gustavsson said the only staff remaining are directly involved in caring for the 70,000 animals at the aquarium.

Few animals could be released to wild

He said a small portion of the animals could potentially be released into the wild with Department of Fisheries and Oceans permits, like the rockfish which are a local species, but it would cost roughly $5 million to find new homes for the collection.

Big animals were either born in captivity, so are not fit for the wild, or they would pose a threat to other wildlife.

The Marine Mammal Rescue Centre pictured in June 2019. The centre has suspended operations while Ocean Wise struggles with the sudden loss of revenue from closing the Vancouver Aquarium due to COVID-19. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

"We have 10 sea lions. They are used to being in contact with people. If they were released, they could potentially become a threat to others, because they would seek attention from people who don't know how to behave around sea lions," said Gustavsson.

Ocean Wise has suspended its Marine Mammal Rescue Centre operations, where the last animal in care — a sea lion that was shot with a crossbow — was released back into the wild earlier this month.

The team at the centre rehabilitates about 150 animals each year, but Gustavsson said they would only take a new animal in now if it's especially important to conservation, such as a whale.

He said they're looking at the possibility of finding large donations from wealthy philanthropists, but realistically, only government help will be enough. 

"I see no other way, actually," said Gustavsson.


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About the Author

Rafferty Baker is a video journalist with CBC News, based in Vancouver. You can find his stories on CBC Radio, television, and online at cbc.ca/bc.

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