British Columbia

Whale sanctuary group eyeing B.C. coast as potential location

What happens to whales in captivity when they are released or "retired?" A U.S. group wants to build a sanctuary for them, possibly on the B.C. coast.

Sanctuary for animals a major roadblock for phasing out dolphins and whales in captivity, group says

Trainers have Orca killer whales perform for the crowd during a show at SeaWorld in 2014. A U.S. group wants to build a sanctuary for animals like these, possibly on the B.C. coast. (Mike Blake/Reuters)

A U.S. non-profit wants to build a sanctuary for rescued and retired aquarium whales to live out the rest of their days, and they're eyeing the B.C. coast as a possible location.

Whale Sanctuary Project president Dr. Lori Marino says a permanent sanctuary for cetaceans is a major roadblock to fully phasing out dolphins and whales in captivity

"If we are interested in phasing out the keeping of dolphins and whales in concrete tanks, we have to have somewhere for them to go," Marino told On The Coast host Stephen Quinn.

Marino is looking at "naturalistic" environments, such as coves, inlets and bays, to be the site of the sanctuary. It would need to offer protection for the animals and allow them to be cared for for the rest of their lives.

The opening of the natural feature would be netted off, and she envisions visitors being able to view the sanctuary. She says estimates have pegged the cost of such a project at up to $20 million.

The project will be funded through grants and endowments, Marino says, but so far the response from SeaWorld has not been positive.

"They are saying they're not interested, which is understandable," she said. "But we will continue and hope that at some point they will decide to join us. … In either case, we are going to build this, because the Sanctuary Project is filling a gap."

In addition to the coast of B.C.'s mainland, sites on Vancouver Island and Puget Sound are also being examined, as are sites on the east coast of North America, Marino says.

Marino says she hopes to have a sanctuary up and running in three to five years.

With files from CBC Radio One's On The Coast

To hear the full story, click the audio labelled: B.C. coast could be chosen as site for whale sanctuary