Park board extends debate on Vancouver Aquarium's captive whale program
Published Saturday, July 26, 2014 10:34PM EDT
An ongoing debate at the Vancouver Aquarium about whether to continue its captive whale and dolphin program has taken a new turn now that the facility has begun caring for an injured false killer whale.
The Vancouver Park Board held a meeting Saturday to decide the fate of the aquarium's captive cetaceans, but there wasn't enough time to hear from all of them, so the debate has been extended to Monday.
Meanwhile, staff at the Vancouver Aquarium are continuing to care for a young injured false whale that was found near Tofino on July 10. Less than six weeks old, the whale has been suffering from respiratory problems and wounds from being tossed around by the surf on the beach for several hours.
False killer whales, which are members of the dolphin family, are rarely seen in B.C.'s coastal waters, preferring the open ocean. The whale is still so ill, it can barely swim, and remains in a flotation sling.
"Ideally, he'd still be with mom, based on his age, but at some point he got separated from her," says Vancouver Aquarium veterinarian Justin Rosenberg.
While the calf is also slowly building its strength, head veterinarian Martin Haulena says it's unlikely the whale will ever be released back into the ocean.
"Animals that strand at a time in their lives where they would still be with their mom -- dependent calves -- are not considered good candidates for release," Halena says.
"Not likely to be released" is a controversial concept these days as aquariums around the world reconsider their positions on whether whales and dolphins should be kept in captivity.
Vancouver's Park Board is currently reviewing whether to keep cetaceans at the aquarium. Many in the city argue that it's cruel to keep animals in small tanks when they should be swimming in vast oceans. Others argue that all the whales and dolphins at the aquarium are either rescued animals or adopted from other aquariums. They also note that the aquarium’s research is integral to learning more about the creatures.
The documentary "Blackfish" helped bring the long simmering debate about captive whales to the masses. Renowned primate biologist Jane Goodall went a step further when she wrote a public letter in the spring saying that the Vancouver Aquarium’s cetacean breeding program was “no longer defensible by science.”
Even the city's mayor, Gregor Robertson, says he's of the opinion that the aquarium should phase out its whale and dolphin captivity program.
A bylaw regarding their captivity must be renewed next year, but already several Park Board members have spoken out against the program.
"If it is not a rescue and release it is not ok to have these animals in captivity," Parks Board vice chair Constance Barnes has said.
Others on the board want to hear from the public before they decide. The Park Board held a special meeting on the issue Saturday, but when more than 130 people came forward asking to speak, the meeting had to be extended to Monday evening to give everyone a chance.
The park board isn't expected to decide before the fall whether to renew the bylaw. Vancouver Park Board Chair Aaron jasper says he isn't in any rush to make a decision on the controversial issue.
No matter what the result, it's likely the false whale calf currently being nursed at the aquarium won't remain in Vancouver. If he survives, there are plans to move him to another aquarium.
With a report from CTV's Melanie Nagy