British Columbia

Vancouver Park Board releases draft plan to end cetacean display

The draft amendments would allow the aquarium to keep their current cetaceans but not take in new ones. The aquarium's CEO says that would mean euthanizing injured wild animals that can't be returned to the ocean.

Aquarium CEO says amendments 'condemn to certain death the very animals that need rescuing'

A beluga swims past visitors at the Vancouver Aquarium. The last two belugas in the aquarium died in late 2016. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

The Vancouver Park Board released a draft plan to end the display of cetaceans at the Vancouver Aquarium.

Current bylaws allow for whales to be brought into the aquarium on certain conditions — for example, if a whale is in distress, is a member of an endangered species or is already being kept in another park.

Draft amendments to the cetacean display bylaws would remove those exemptions. 

The amendments will also allow the aquarium to keep their three current cetaceans but forbids their use in shows or displays.

"The proposed draft bylaw amendments reflect the board's direction to ban the importation of all cetaceans into Vancouver parks, however, acknowledges the need to address the current cetaceans already in residence at the Vancouver Aquarium," a statement from the Park Board reads.

Officials with the park board say they still support the aquarium's marine mammal rescue efforts, and as most of the animals rescued by that program are seals, the phasing out of cetaceans "will have a minimal impact on the program."

Aquarium says amendments 'ill-conceived'

The aquarium fired back, calling the amendments "ill-conceived" and claimed they would "condemn to certain death the very animals that need rescuing" by forcing rescuers to euthanize animals that can't be returned to the wild.

John Nightingale, president and CEO of the aquarium, says the park board is "turning their backs" on the animals.

"They've been told over and over again that [rescue] work for cetaceans — whales, dolphins and porpoises — can't continue without the possibility of the aquarium providing a long-term home for those that have been rehabilitated, but for whatever reason, cannot live in nature," he said.

Nightingale said it's true that most of the marine mammals the aquarium rescues are seals and otters, but said not helping cetaceans is like a doctor refusing to treat certain patients.

He said the public is overwhelmingly in support of the aquarium's work.

Discussion of the draft amendments will take place at a May 15 meeting.