UPDATE: Vancouver Aquarium will fight park board’s vote to ban new cetaceans

The Vancouver Park Board has voted to ban new cetaceans at the aquarium’s Stanley Park facility

The Vancouver Aquarium will continue to fight the park board’s decision Monday to ban new cetaceans at their Stanley Park facility.

The Vancouver Park Board voted to ban new cetaceans at the Vancouver Aquarium during a May 15 meeting.The decision comes after two belugas, Qila and Aurora, died within two weeks of each other in November 2016. While no definitive reason for their deaths was ever found, the aquarium said that toxins in the water were likely to blame.

The amendment, which covers whales, dolphins, and porpoises, would replace a section of the bylaw that allows Vancouver parks to keep cetaceans in the following cases:

  • Captive cetaceans caught from the wild prior to September 16, 1996, and cetaceans born into captivity at any time;
  • Cetaceans which are already being kept or maintained in a park as of September 16,
  • 1996;
  • A member of an endangered cetacean species, provided that approval for bringing it into a park has first been obtained from the Park Board; and
  • An animal that has been injured or is otherwise in distress and in need of assistance to survive or rehabilitation, whether or not the intention is to release it back into its natural wild habitat.

This section would be replaced by a recommended amendment:

  • no person shall bring a cetacean into a park.=
  • no person shall keep a cetacean in a park, except that this prohibition does not apply to cetaceans already in a park on [date of enactment]
  • no person shall produce or present in a park a show, performance, or other form of entertainment, which includes one or more cetaceans.

Park board vice-chair Erin Shum said she could not support this amendment which she said put “politics… before science.”

“I am not convinced,” Shum said. “I will be voting no.”

Shum was the only person to vote against.

“It’s not just a scientific decision,” said commissioner Catherine Evans. “It’s not can you do this, it’s should you do this.”

Commissioner John Coupar noted that the decision would only affect cetaceans in Stanley Park, where it has jurisdiction, and not the aquarium’s marine mammal rescue centre at the Main Street docks.

VIDEO: Vancouver Aquarium tags harbour seal before releasing her into the wild

However, in a statement issued by Vancouver Aquarium CEO Dr. John Nightingale the aquarium said that centre was insuffiencent.

“The park board’s ban will mean the aquarium’s marine mammal rescue program will no longer be able to provide long-term care and shelter for rescued, non-releasable whales, dolphins and porpoises,” Nightingale said, “leaving Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO), which oversees the rescue program, with little option other than to euthanize those animals.”

The aquarium had started a judicial review in 2o14 but declined to comment on whether the organization was considering any legal action at this point. Nightingale did stress that the aquarium would continue to apply pressure to reverse the decision made by the park board.

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