With pressures on cetacean captivity continuing to mount across North America, Canada’s Vancouver Aquarium has announced it will no longer display such animals, instead choosing to focus on creating healthier oceans as part of its public education programme.
The aquarium faced controversy in 2017, when two of its whales died in quick succession, with Aurora and her daughter Qila dying just days apart, leaving the facility with its signature tank empty. A five-month investigation into the deaths determined that the cetaceans were killed because of an unknown toxin introduced “by food, water, or through human interference”.
Starting 2017 with five cetaceans, the aquarium ended the year with just one: Helen - a Pacific white-sided dolphin rescued in 2005. The 30-year-old is not a candidate for release due to only having partial flippers and will remain at the facility.
“Despite independent polling, year over year, that clearly shows overwhelming support for our cetacean programme, we have made the difficult decision to no longer display cetaceans at Vancouver Aquarium, with the exception of doing what is best for Helen and any need to use the Aquarium for the temporary accommodation of a rescued cetacean,” said a statement from the aquarium.
“The Vancouver Aquarium Marine Mammal Rescue Centre — the only marine mammal hospital of its kind in Canada — will continue to rescue and rehabilitate animals in need, including whales or dolphins.
“Rescued animals are transferred to the Marine Mammal Rescue Centre – located outside Stanley Park – for critical, short-term care, with the aim to rehabilitate and release back to the wild. Should a rescued cetacean need ongoing care, the animal care team will identify an appropriate long-term facility and work to arrange for a transfer of the patient. When necessary, on a temporary basis, we may need to house a rescued cetacean at our unique facility until an appropriate receiving facility has been identified.”
Also last year, the aquarium also announced a CA$100m (US$76.1m, €72.2m, £61.3m) 12-year expansion of its Arctic habitats. Breaking ground in Q3, the work will transform the aquarium, creating a new habitat and display that will engage visitors about the challenges facing Canada’s North. Among the species featured will be coldwater corals, seals and walruses. The transformed exhibit is scheduled to open in 2019.
“This marks a shift for the aquarium, but it’s a move that is in line with our commitment to our community, country, and to the world’s oceans,” said the statement.
“The Vancouver Aquarium was the original environmental organisation in Vancouver. We put conservation into action every day. It’s what we do, it’s who we are, and we will keep doing it long into the future.”