British Columbia

Plebiscite on cetaceans at Vancouver Aquarium proposed at Vancouver Park Board

The debate over the future of cetaceans at the Vancouver Aquarium has officially reopened, following the recent deaths of two belugas.

Protesters criticized the current policy at a Park Board meeting where the motion was introduced

The Vancouver Park Board will consider a motion for a plebiscite on whether the Vancouver Aquarium should be allowed to keep cetaceans. (John Healey/Vancouver Aquarium)

The debate over the future of cetaceans at the Vancouver Aquarium has officially reopened, following the recent deaths of two belugas.

Vancouver Park Board Chair Sarah Kirby-Yung introduced a notice of motion at Monday night's meeting, indicating she would be bringing forward a proposal for a plebiscite in the 2018 municipal election on the topic.

It came shortly after a number of protesters halted the meeting for a short time, as they held up signs and chanted their objections to keeping whales in captivity.

"Get on the right side of history and do your job," one of the protesters said to commissioners.

"No more cetaceans. Enact a plan now. Have a ban now," said another.

The disturbance lasted less than three minutes as security guards quickly ushered them out, though the protestors continued to make enough noise outside to be heard inside the chambers.

Protesters interrupt a Vancouver Park Board meeting on Nov. 28, 2016. (Vancouver Park Board)

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.

However the ban never came into effect because the Vision Vancouver-controlled board did not pass a necessary bylaw,

Then when the Non-Partisan Association took control of the park board after the November 2014 municipal election, it chose not to enact the proposed ban or reopen the discussion. 

But the deaths of the last two beluga whales at Vancouver Aquarium this month reignited the debate, and Kirby-Yung announced last week that she believed Vancouverites should have a say on the policy. 

"Our responsibility is to listen to the public ... What we don't have is a sense of how residents feel, statistically, across the city," she said.

"Having belugas at the aquarium, and cetaceans, has provided huge benefits in terms of engaging the public and their appreciation for marine life and marine conservation ... But times do change, and I think we need to listen and be receptive to that."

While the two belugas were the last remaining belugas at the facility, the aquarium still owns several others that are on loan to other aquariums. It also has a porpoise, a dolphin and a false killer whale that are kept at the Vancouver facility. While it does keep rescued animals, it no longer captures healthy animals in the wild.