Walrus calves' big move sparks calls for aquarium boycott

An animal rights group is calling for citizens to boycott both the Aquarium du Québec and Vancouver Aquarium to protest the transfer of the two baby walruses. But the aquariums say the animals are ready to move.

Activists protesting the transfer of 2 walrus calves born in Quebec City to a Vancouver aquarium

A Vancouver-based group called the Lifeforce Foundation says the proposed move is 'insensitive to the psychological and physical needs' of the baby walruses and their mothers, but the aquariums say the calves are ready to go. (Submitted/Francis Bouchard)

An animal rights group is calling for a boycott to protest the transfer of two baby walruses from Quebec City to Vancouver.

The walrus calves are expected to move from the Aquarium du Québec, where they were born, to the Vancouver Aquarium before Christmas.

The Vancouver-based group, called the Lifeforce Foundation, says captive breeding can interfere with natural lifestyles, and that taking the walruses away from their mothers is insensitive and cruel.

"Why is there a rush to get them here by Christmas? Is it some kind of Christmas promotion?" said founder Peter Hamilton.

The aquarium said that despite the timing of the move, they are hoping to introduce the calves to the public in the spring.

The calves, a female named Lakina and a male named Balzak, made headlines when they were delivered days apart in the spring of 2016.

They are believed to be the first full-term baby walruses to be born in captivity in Canada.

The organization says the animals are being treated like "inanimate, marketing items" and wants citizens to boycott both aquariums.
Lakina, one of the baby walruses that will soon be separated from its mother. (Isabelle Giroux/Submitted)

Another main concern for the group is that baby walruses often nurse for two years or longer, and Hamilton said the aquarium has a moral obligation to provide the animals with a healthy nursing period.

'Our experts know what they're doing'

The Vancouver Aquarium said in a statement that animal care experts have determined the calves are ready.

"Lakina and Balzak are no longer nursing and have naturally become more independent and curious, their care team has determined they are ready for this next chapter."

For the Aquarium du Québec, the decision to move the walruses is a win for everyone involved. 

"The decision was made by aquarium experts," said spokesperson Simon Boivin. "These people not only supervised the pregnancy and birth of the young walruses, but they were there to make sure their first days were a success."

According to those experts, the young walruses have developed enough autonomy and social ability not only to make the transfer to Vancouver, but to benefit from it.

Boivin added that the aquariums have the wellbeing of the animals in mind — and not just the young ones.

The walruses' father, Boris, has been in isolation from his calves because he could present a risk to them, Boivin said. The young walruses have been kept with their mothers. 

"Now, bringing Boris into the common area, we think that he could benefit in the same way that the young walruses could benefit from the Vancouver installation."

With files from Chad Pawson and Radio-Canada