Lifeforce, an ecology and animal rights organization based in Vancouver, British Columbia, has fought against aquarium expansions, captivity and animal experiments since 1981. For decades we have led the fight to protect and to promote Stanley Park as a free natural ecology classroom, and stop the ongoing Vancouver Aquarium captivity business there. In 1988, we succeeded in getting Stanley Park designated a Historic Site. In 1996 Lifeforce campaigned for the Cetacean Bylaw, whose passage supposed to have phased out cetacean captivity. However, in later years the Vancouver Aquarium and the Non Partisan Association made amendments to the bylaw that allowed them to perpetuate the keeping of captive cetaceans.
There have been 52 cetacean deaths in 52 years in connection with the Vancouver Aquarium, with a mother and daughter beluga being the most recent, dying three months ago within nine days of each other.
The majority of Commissioners have asked the Parks Board Staff to find quick and effective actions to phase out the captivity of cetaceans. Hopefully it will result in a stronger Cetacean Bylaw. Then there will be peace and freedom for cetaceans.
However, the Vancouver media has not been reporting the whole story and truths about the Vancouver Aquarium:
- It was reported that the Vancouver Aquarium does not receive any government funding when in fact all their multi-million dollar expansions and programs are funded by government.
- The media failed to ask why the present NPA Commissioner and former Aquarium communications employee now wants a referendum that would delay the captivity decision for 2 years. They did not clarify that the smarter Parks Board Commissioners requested a staff report be done in order to phase out cetacean captivity faster through more effective means such as the bylaw!
- The media even gave negative reports of delaying any risky referendum, without mentioning the positive alternatives such as a better bylaw.
- This week the Vancouver Aquarium held a press conference about their latest expansion and captivity plans. It was reported as if the Aquarium’s announcements were written in stone, but in fact they had not been approved by the Parks Board. The Aquarium must have Parks Board and City permissions for new plans. As a result, many people thought it was a done deal to continue cetacean captivity.
- There was no media follow up to the Parks Board Chair concerns about the above press conference.
The Vancouver Park Board Chair, Michael Wiebe, recently clarified that the Vancouver Aquarium expansion and captivity plans had been announced without consultation with the Board. This could put into question the aquarium’s engagement in “good faith communications,” as they say in their lawsuit is part of the licensing agreement with the Board. (On The Coast, CBC Radio, Feb. 22/16)
It was also stated that the aquarium’s legal challenge against the board’s decision to forbid captive breeding of cetaceans is still before the courts (since August 2014). The Chair said that it has prevented the board from discussing some of the issues. Even though the Aquarium said they want to bring belugas back and would not breed them, it appears that they still may try to breed other dolphins. That would fill the proposed new pools with species from all “Canadian shores” under the guise of conservation, and perpetuate captivity forever.
The City of Vancouver has been more than a fair landlord over the aquarium. They have given many benefits, for decades charging a rent of only $1 annually. They have allowed the Aquarium extra land for a bear grotto that was supposed to have been returned to green space; for a sea lion holding expansion that was built outside the lease footprint; and for numerous “temporary” work trailers. In addition, the 1990 Arctic Canada expansion was permitted to hold three belugas, but the Aquarium put five belugas in it, causing overcrowding and aggression.
The aquarium is a “non profit” organization which also operates other businesses (such as managing an aquarium in Spain and aquaculture for the sushi market). They have always received millions of dollars from taxpayers through the Federal and Provincial governments for grants, programs and expansions. Now, the Aquarium’s legal actions could muzzle free speech by the Parks Board and City. They could also bring financial burdens onto the people of Vancouver.
The Parks Board has gotten a legal opinion that the Cetacean Bylaw can be amended to guarantee a restriction on what animals are permitted in Stanley Park. But the Aquarium’s new plans will perpetuate cetacean captivity forever. A legal bylaw must be enacted to stop it, because any promises the Aquarium makes can easily be broken.
There will be a Special Parks Board Meeting on March 8 (and March 9th if needed) to discuss the Staff Report on ending the captivity of cetaceans.
(Featured image: beluga in Vancouver Aquarium. Image courtesy Kim Bartlett – Animal People, Inc.)