Following months of public debate surrounding the future of the Vancouver Aquarium’s whales and dolphins, the Vancouver Park Board voted unanimously to ban breeding them in captivity in most cases.
The move by the board amends a current bylaw “to prohibit the breeding of captive cetaceans in Vancouver parks, unless, in each particular instance, the captive cetacean is a threatened species and the Oversight Committee, the Board, and the Society [Vancouver Aquarium] agree that captive breeding is necessary for the survival of such threatened species.”
The board also directed the aquarium to establish a committee made up of animal welfare experts that will provide public oversight to ensure the well-being of cetaceans at the aquarium and will require it to prepare bi-annual reports on their status. It also called for the park staff and aquarium “to investigate and, where viable, implement alternatives to cetacean exhibits and continue to research cetacean rehabilitation and release.”
It’s not quite the victory those who have been fighting to end captivity for whales and dolphins at the aquarium had hoped for, but it’s still a welcome step in the battle to end the practice of keeping these animals in tanks.
For months animal advocates have been urging the aquarium to stop keeping whales and dolphins in Vancouver with calls that drew support from the public and experts, including Jane Goodall, who sent a letter to the aquarium earlier this spring, writing that confinement and captive breeding programs, including its partnership with SeaWorld, are “no longer defensible by science.” The mayor and a few park board members, most notably Constance Barnes and Sarah Blyth, also stepped up to support phasing out the aquarium’s whale and dolphin programs.
The aquarium is currently home to two female belugas, Aurora and Qila, two female Pacific white-sided dolphins, Hana and Helen, and two rescued harbour porpoises, Jack and Daisy, who are reportedly too young to breed. However, the aquarium also owns seven other belugas, who are on loan at SeaWorld and the Georgia Aquarium, who may still be used in breeding programs elsewhere.
After hearing public testimony at meetings and receiving thousands of letters from both sides of the debate, the board believes it reached a good compromise.
“I think we struck a balance between supporting the good work of the Aquarium and continuing the discussion of the ethics of keeping cetaceans in captivity,” said Park Board Chair Aaron Jasper.
“Every time we came back to the breeding program, we just felt that’s a program that might serve other purposes, but we were not convinced that it served the purpose of conservation, rescue rehabilitation or research. So that’s where we drew the line in the sand,” he told the CBC.
Aquarium president John Nightingale expressed disappointment with the board’s actions, saying it will be hard to stop animals from breeding and that whatever method the park board considers to mandate an end to it is not natural and will amount to animal cruelty.
Still, it’s much easier to argue that what’s cruel and unnatural is keeping them in captivity in the first place. Hopefully the aquarium’s change in policy will serve as an example for other facilities considering changes.
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