British Columbia

Jane Goodall on Vancouver Aquarium belugas: 'That's not right'

In a feature interview with CBC Radio's The Early Edition, Jane Goodall explains why she has taken a stand against the Vancouver Aquarium's practice of keeping whales and dolphins in captivity.

In a feature interview, renowned conservationist says she'd visit the aquarium despite her criticisms

Aurora, a 20-year-old Beluga whale, swims with her calf at the Vancouver Aquarium in Vancouver, B.C., in 2009. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

In a feature interview with CBC Radio's The Early Edition, Jane Goodall explains why she has taken a stand against the Vancouver Aquarium's practice of keeping whales and dolphins in captivity.

The renowned conservationist, who is considered the world's foremost expert on chimpanzees, says despite her criticisms, she's been to the aquarium before and would go again.

This is a condensed and edited version of Goodall's interview with Rick Cluff. 

Renowned conservationist Dr. Jane Goodall entered the controversy over the Vancouver Aquarium's beluga program, penning a letter in May to the park board saying that on-site cetacean breeding is "no longer defensible by science." (CBC)

Why did you want to step into this debate between the Vancouver Aquarium and the Park Board about cetaceans in captivity?

I see whales and dolphins in the wild, I don't pretend to be an expert in their behaviour. And I just love watching them. I am so utterly fascinated by these extraordinary beings that can go deep down under the sea and have these long migrations, and fascinating ways of communicating with each other. I find it utterly exciting.

But isn't that one of the benefits of having them in captivity? Not everyone can experience whales in the wild. Yet if they're properly cared for, in a facility like the Aquarium, people of all ages can marvel at them and have a better appreciation of the species at large.

You cannot possibly imagine their real life, and their real behaviour, and they would be served better by making films of them, which people do, than looking at them in conditions [that] for them, cannot possibly be good ever.

The Aquarium has released this response to your argument: "The Vancouver Aquarium has the greatest respect for Jane Goodall but her information may be incomplete...we don't believe Dr. Goodall has ever visited the Aquarium, and we welcome the opportunity to host her, so she may see firsthand, the exceptional care our cetaceans receive." Dr. Goodall, would you visit the Aquarium?

I have visited the Aquarium in the past. I'm not denying that in those conditions, the animals are well-cared for. I think they're doing fantastic work rescuing a lot of marine animals. But from everything I've read about beluga whales, and I've said already, I'm not an expert, I do not pretend to be an expert, but they have these extraordinary ways of communicating with each other. And when they're in relatively small tanks, they gradually stop communicating. To me, that's not right.

This debate is much larger than just what's going on at the's part of a larger network. How do we begin to stop something as widespread as keeping cetaceans in captivity?

How you bring it to an end, is you don't breed them, and you don't catch wild ones. But one always has to look at some kind of compromise. I was talking to people in Australia, who had the idea for a really huge, enclosed net-like structure, out in the actual ocean. Although the cetaceans wouldn't be able to swim out on their migrations, they could still be in the ocean. It would be costly, but the people there say it could be done if there was enough will to do it.

Jane Goodall, thank you for your time today. We extend an open invitation, anytime you want to visit the Vancouver Aquarium, or visit Vancouver in general, you're more than welcome.

I will be coming to Vancouver. I do from time to time. Maybe we can fit in a visit to the Aquarium. I'd be more than happy to come.


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