Vancouver Aquarium dismisses Goodall's call to free the whales
Josh Elliott, CTVNews.ca
Published Friday, May 30, 2014 9:14AM EDT
The head of the Vancouver Aquarium says animal activist Jane Goodall’s call for the attraction to phase out its captive whale and dolphin population is based on inaccurate, out-of-date information.
Goodall recently condemned the continued captivity of whales and dolphins, or cetaceans, in a letter to the Vancouver Park Board chairman and commissioners. The noted chimpanzee researcher and animal activist said the high mortality rate of the aquarium’s breeding program is “no longer defensible by science,” and called for the animals to be released.
Clint Wright, aquarium general manager and senior vice president at the Vancouver Aquarium, said Goodall hasn’t been there in 30 years, but invited her to come and see it for herself.
“A lot’s happened in that time,” he told CTV’s Canada AM on Friday. “I’m not sure she’s aware of the work we do.”
Wright said he has the “greatest respect” for Goodall, and her letter came as a shock, but added: “We think that some of the information that she has there isn’t completely accurate or up to date.”
Wright said the Vancouver Aquarium has some of the world’s leading veterinarians working with its whales, and that they receive the best care possible.
“People only need to come down and see these animals to know that all the trainers and people that work with them love them,” he said.
Forty million people have visited the Vancouver Aquarium since it opened in 1956, he said, suggesting that the facility has helped inspire three generations of environmentally-conscious British Columbians.
The Vancouver Aquarium stopped capturing wild cetaceans for its own uses back in 1996, but has continued to breed the captive animals it does have. It also adopts wild, injured cetaceans that require rehabilitation.
“The phasing out of such cetacean programs is the natural progression of human-kind’s evolving view of our non-human kin,” Goodall wrote in her letter.
“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.”
The Vancouver Aquarium phased out its killer whale population back in 2001, when it sent its last orca to SeaWorld in San Diego. But it has no plans to phase out its other animals.
Goodall, who is best-known for studying social and family interactions in chimpanzees, said an artificial aquarium environment doesn’t meet the physical and emotional needs of the highly social whales. The animals are “highly vocal and complex communicators,” Goodall said, and captivity puts them in a low-sensory environment where they cannot thrive.
“Those of us who have had the fortunate opportunity to study wild animals in their natural settings where family, community structure and communication form a foundation for these animals’ existence, know the implications of captivity on such species,” she wrote.
According to Wright, the aquarium provides valuable research opportunities for threatened species like the beluga whale, which is losing its wild habitat due to glacial melt.
“Those animals are actually contributing to our knowledge of animals in the wild,” he said.