British Columbia

Vancouver Aquarium could close permanently without emergency funding, CEO says

The Vancouver Aquarium, the first public aquarium in the country, could shut down permanently within several months unless it begins receiving financial aid, according to its CEO.

Canada's 1st public aquarium losing more than $3M every month due to pandemic

The Ocean Wise Conservation Association, which runs the Vancouver Aquarium, laid off 60 per cent of its workforce — about 340 people — as the losses began last month. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

The Vancouver Aquarium, the first public aquarium in the country, could shut down permanently within several months unless it begins receiving financial aid, according to its CEO.

The Stanley Park attraction has lost more than $3 million since it closed due to the pandemic on March 17. If it continues losing money at that rate, the aquarium will run out of reserve funding by summer, Ocean Wise CEO Lasse Gustavsson said.

"I don't think we can find any additional savings at this point in time. We've been working three-four weeks to cut everything that we can possibly find in terms of service," Gustavsson said Wednesday.

The Vancouver Aquarium is a not-for-profit operation, but depends primarily on revenue from visitors rather than government support. Gustavsson said the centre usually makes $3.3 million from visitation every month, but that revenue has been lost in the pandemic.

The Ocean Wise Conservation Association, which runs the facility, laid off 60 per cent of its workforce — about 340 people — as the losses began last month. Gustavsson said remaining staff are working part-time and senior leaders have taken pay cuts in an effort to save money. 

"We've cut almost anything we can," he said. "We are also saving on things like electricity, water, cleaning ... anything that we can do."

Still, the association said it costs $1 million per month to feed and care for the 70,000 animals at the aquarium. Ocean Wise has gone to provincial, federal and the city governments to ask for millions in emergency financial aid, but has not yet succeeded.

Ocean Wise, which runs the Vancouver Aquarium, says it costs $1 million per month to feed and care for the 70,000 animals at the facility. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

With the aquarium steadily burning through its reserve funding, Gustavsson said bankruptcy is becoming a real possibility.

"We are planning for the worst," he said.

"Unless we were able to mobilize support from governments and others, we will have to close permanently," he continued. "If we're going to close this down in a decent way, paying all our bills and all our dues, we have two, maybe three more months."

Gustavsson said the aquarium would need to find new homes for the animals in the event of a closure, though the process would almost certainly be complicated by the pandemic.

The aquarium first opened to the public in 1956.

If you have a COVID-19-related story we should pursue that affects British Columbians, please email us at impact@cbc.ca.  

With files from Meera Bains

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