The Vancouver Aquarium will no longer keep whales and dolphins in captivity. CEO John Nightingale told Canada’s CBC News that the continuing public debate on whether whales and dolphins belong in concrete tanks is hindering its wider mission.
Nightingale said he still believes that putting cetaceans on show serves a purpose in “engaging people.”
“But you also have to be realistic,” he said. “And it has gotten to the point where the debate in the community, with the lawyers, with the politicians … is debilitating our work on our [conservation] mission.”
Dr. Lori Marino, President of the Whale Sanctuary Project, praised the aquarium’s decision. “It’s the right one, not only from the point of view of the ethics of keeping healthy dolphins and whales on display in tanks, but also for their ability to now focus entirely on what they have always done so well: scientific field studies, conservation projects, and public education.”
Commissioners said they were concerned about the ethics of keeping the animals in concrete tanks.Last spring, the Vancouver Park Board voted to ban the aquarium from bringing in new dolphins and whales. Commissioners said they were concerned about the ethics of keeping the animals in concrete tanks.
The park board’s decision was proposed on the heels of the deaths of the aquarium’s resident beluga whales last fall. Qila and her mother Aurora died in November 2016 of unknown causes. The aquarium wanted to replace them and to open a new $20-million beluga exhibit.
Then, in November 2017, Chester, a young false killer whale, died, leaving only Helen, a Pacific white-sided dolphin in their care.
The aquarium had planned to replace its lost cetaceans, and Nightingale said he would “fight to the end” against the ban.
But the movement to bring an end to keeping whales and dolphins on display has gotten more and more powerful. And now the aquarium has conceded that there’s no value in keeping up the fight. Nightingale acknowledged the number of visitors to the aquarium has fallen since the death of Qila and Aurora, the two belugas, and then of Chester.
“We decided, through a lot of discussion in the fall, that we needed to get on with it,” he said. “We’ve been here 61 years, the aquarium’s going to be here another 61 years, so it’s really important that we not tie our hands behind our backs.”
The Vancouver Aquarium’s decision leaves just one facility in Canada still vowing to keep whales and dolphins in concrete tanks: Marineland of Canada, outside of Toronto. Marineland currently has 51 belugas on display, and one orca, Kiska, who was captured from the wild, has suffered the loss of all five of her children, and lives entirely alone.
Dr. Marino noted that while Marineland is focused entirely on entertainment, “the Vancouver Aquarium has a strong scientific base to stand on and continue its important work.”