The practice of keeping whales and dolphins in captivity at aquariums and marine parks has come under intense scrutiny while the public seemingly continues to change its views in favor of the animals when it comes to whether or not it’s acceptable. This month world-renowned conservationist Dr. Jane Goodall added her voice to those in opposition of confining these large, intelligent species in tanks at the Vancouver Aquarium.
In a letter written to the Board of Parks and Recreation, Goodall asked both the board and the aquarium to stand up for the welfare of cetaceans by phasing out its whale and dolphin exhibits. The park is currently home to belugas and Pacific white-sided dolphins, who were imported from Japan.
In her letter, Goodall noted that the aquarium became an industry leader when it stopped keeping cetaceans who were captured in the wild for display in 1996, but that its continued confinement and captive breeding programs, including partnerships with SeaWorld, are “no longer defensible by science,” as evidenced by the high mortality rates and the fact that they continue to be used in shows purely for entertainment.
She goes on to state that, “The idea that certain cetaceans ‘do better’ in captivity than others is also misleading, as belugas, dolphins and porpoises are highly social animals which can travel in large pods and migrate long distances. In captivity, these highly vocal and complex communicators are forced to live in a low-sensory environment, which is unable to fully meet the needs of their physical and emotional worlds.”
Approval for a $100 million expansion for the aquarium by the board in 2006, which is currently in the works, previously raised concerns from scientists and the public that more marine mammals would be brought there.
The debate about the future of the aquarium heated up again this spring when Mayor Gregor Robertson and Park Board Members Constance Barnes and Sarah Blyth spoke out in favor of phasing out marine mammals at the aquarium.
Animal advocates who continue to protest have asked that the issue be brought to voters this November, but according to the Globe and Mail, Vancouver residents won’t get a chance to weigh in. A motion to put it on the ballot was rejected by councillors, “largely over concerns that city council would be stepping on the jurisdiction of the city’s park board.” The responsibility to end captivity lies with the park board because the aquarium is built on public land. Now the aquarium will undergo a review that’s expected to be finished in July.
Meanwhile, aquarium officials continue to defend keeping whales and dolphins and insist that what it’s doing is playing an important role in conservation efforts. Aquarium president and CEO Dr. John Nightingale said he disagrees with the opposition and was surprised by Goodall’s letter, stating that she is “clearly operating under information provided by the activist community.”
Goodall may be known largely for her work with primates, but at this point it’s probably safe to say that she knows a thing or two about animals and can come to her own conclusions about the downsides of captivity without the help of activists. In her letter, she concludes:
As society at large and the scientific community now reflect on the keeping of highly cognitive species like primates, elephants, and cetaceans in entertainment and research, I ask the Vancouver Park Board and the Vancouver Aquarium to do the same. The phasing out of such cetacean programs is the natural progression of human-kind’s evolving view of our non-human animal kin. I hope the Vancouver Park Board and the Vancouver Aquarium will be a leader in compassionate conservation on this issue, as you have done before.
Hopefully the Vancouver Aquarium will listen to the reasoned arguments of concerned scientists, residents and politicians and become the next to stop keeping whales and dolphins.
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