British Columbia

B.C.'s pipeline battle has parallels in 1975 standoff over killer whale capture

NDP premier Dave Barrett fought the federal government to prevent transfer of captured orca to Ontario

Book chronicles how former NDP premier Dave Barrett fought Ottawa over orca's transfer

In September 1975, B.C. NDP premier Dave Barrett's government tried to block the federally-approved transfer of a killer whale captured off the West Coast to be taken to Marineland amusement park in Niagara Falls, Ont. (Scott Dunlop/Canadian Press)

The B.C. government's pipeline standoff is not the first time a NDP premier has fought the federal government over the use of coastal waters, a University of Victoria historian says.

In 1975, premier Dave Barrett tried to block the transfer of a captured killer whale to an Ontario amusement park, Jason Colby writes in his forthcoming book, Orca: How We Came To Know and Love the Ocean's Greatest Predator.

Colby, an associate professor of history, believes the whale tale has parallels with the present-day skirmish over the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline project.

That battle ended poorly for B.C., with Marineland in Niagara Falls, Ont., getting its whale and the federal government putting down the province's bid for a say over marine resources. 

However, Colby argued the episode marked the end of killer whale capture in the region and the birth of B.C. government advocacy for the ocean environment.  

Inspired by Greenpeace

"It's really connected to the fascinating story of Greenpeace," Colby told On the Island host Gregor Craigie.

Right now, B.C. is locked in a dispute with Alberta and the federal government over Trans Mountain's future after Premier John Horgan's government announced it is looking at limiting shipments of diluted bitumen from the west coast, pending a review of spill-safety measures.

In the 1970s, Victoria's Sealand of the Pacific, an aquarium that closed in the early 1990s, had captured six orcas in Pedder Bay, on the south coast of Vancouver Island. One of them was earmarked for the Marineland amusement park, he said.

In September 1975, Greenpeace activists Bob Hunter and Paul Spong, who had been waging an international campaign against commercial whaling, implored Barrett to intervene to prevent the whale's transfer to Ontario.

Federal environment officials had issued permits to capture and move the whale, Colby said.

"Barrett's government had to figure out how do you make this case that even though the feds have jurisdiction, this is a provincial matter as well," he said.

The province's recreation minister, Jack Radford, drew on English common law as well as well as emerging environmental values to issue a declaration that orcas and all whales, were Crown property, and therefore under provincial control.

"He declares a moratorium on killer whale capture in provincial waters even though he has no legal way to do that, and he demands that Sealand and Marineland release these whales ... because the practice of capture was 'neither morally nor biologically justified,'" Colby said.

Banned from BC Ferries

But the B.C. government soon discovered its options for acting upon that sense of moral obligation were limited.

So Barrett pressured ferries and an airline to refuse to transport the whale, named Kanduke. The former premier was "a fighter and he was a character," Colby said.

The whale was going to be flown from Vancouver to Ontario, so Barrett started barred BC Ferries from transporting the whale.

 "Then Marineland and Sealand try to fly this whale out of Victoria airport by Air Canada, and Barrett and Greenpeace pressure Air Canada to refuse service, which it does," Colby said.

Dave Barrett's efforts to prevent a captured whale from being transported to Ontario included barring BC Ferries from carrying it. (CHEK News)

Finally, Colby said, "there's this fascinating scene where this whale is finally loaded up onto a truck and taken to the airport  to be flown out on a private charter plane."

Colby said as the truck transported Kanduke to the Victoria airport, the route was lined with people, including some provincial officials, protesting the theft of the whale by the federal government and by the province of Ontario.

"Marineland ultimately gets its whale, but the long term impacts are, I would argue, profound." 

"It was really the first time that the provincial government had made a statement about the shifting provincial values  around the marine  environment and especially this charismatic species that was coming to mean so much to people in the region on both sides of the border," he said.

With files from CBC Radio One's On the Island with Gregor Craigie.


  • An earlier version of this story said Greenpeace activists Bob Hunter and Paul Spong had been waging an international campaign against orca capture. They had, in fact, been waging a campaign against commercial whaling.
    Feb 21, 2018 8:19 AM PT