LaPointe supports whales, dolphins in captivity at aquarium

NPA mayoral candidate's views in line with four former mayors

The divisive issue of whether whales and dolphins should be kept in captivity at the Vancouver Aquarium was amped up Thursday with NPA mayoral candidate Kirk LaPointe issuing a statement supporting the aquarium’s existing policies regarding cetaceans.

LaPointe’s views are in stark contrast to those of Mayor Gregor Robertson and his Vision Vancouver park board colleagues Constance Barnes and Sarah Blyth who support a phasing out of keeping whales and dolphins in captivity at the aquarium in Stanley Park.

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“[Robertson’s] views have triggered a disruptive process that is costing the city’s taxpayers untold amounts of money in public hearings and consulting fees,” LaPointe said in his statement emailed to media. “The process is interfering with the aquarium’s ongoing research and expansion plans that would allow it to continue its important scientific work.”

LaPointe’s reference to public hearings was regarding a series of forums the park board began Saturday, continued Monday and hosts Thursday where upwards of 100 people are weighing in on whether cetaceans should remain in captivity.

At the end of the forums, the park board could recommend changes to the aquarium’s cetacean policy, which presently allows for belugas and Pacific white-sided dolphins to remain in captivity. The park board licenses the aquarium.

“In fairness to the aquarium, they’re going to have shovels in the ground this time next year,” Vision park board commissioner Aaron Jasper said of the aquarium’s second phase of its expansion plans. “We have an obligation to let them know whether or not we are going to change the bylaws.”

In 2006, Jasper said, the NPA ruling park board approved the aquarium’s expansion plans but also set 2015 as the year to review the bylaws governing the cetacean policy.

Jasper urged LaPointe to speak to former NPA park board commissioner Al De Genova, who moved the motion in 2006 to review the bylaws, and former NPA park board commissioner Ian Robertson, who was on the board at the time and is now seeking a council seat with the NPA.

“All we’re doing is keeping in step with what was passed by previous boards,” said Jasper, although he acknowledged the debate around the bylaws is occurring this year and not in 2015 as the NPA ruling board decided in 2006.

LaPointe’s statement comes the day after former mayors Larry Campbell, Sam Sullivan, Mike Harcourt and Philip Owen went public with their support for the aquarium’s existing policies of keeping cetaceans at the aquarium.

“It’s far better that the Vancouver Aquarium build on its huge success and exciting ideas for the future than be diverted, delayed, held up by this ill-conceived proposal,” Harcourt wrote. “A green city like Vancouver does not turn its back on nature. The conservation focused research and direct activities that are at the core of the Vancouver Aquarium are vital to the future of the oceans, life there and indeed, to all of us.”

Also this week, the Vancouver Board of Trade issued a statement in support of the aquarium, saying the park board’s review of its policies regarding cetaceans “runs the risk of negatively impacting the aquarium’s future ability to continue to operate in a self-supporting manner and to conduct important work in ocean conservation, research and education. Further, the likely negative social and economic impact of this review to the city and province cannot be ignored.”

Iain Black, president and CEO of the board of trade, took to Twitter and posted a tweet Wednesday that said: “Astonished how many people opposed to @VancouverAqua’s cetacean policy don’t actually understand the current one.”

The mayor told the Courier in April his views on phasing out cetaceans have been consistent over the years and he supported phasing out orcas from the aquarium when that issue arose several years ago.

Robertson wouldn’t comment on whether he thought penguins, sea lions and fish in captivity at the aquarium should also be phased out. But, he said, there’s “real clarity” that cetaceans shouldn’t be in captivity.

“That’s a widely shared opinion these days,” the mayor said.

Last week, the park board released an independent report that compared the aquarium’s operations pertaining to cetaceans with others aquariums in the world. The report’s lead author was Dr. Joseph K. Gaydos, a practising veterinarian and chief scientist for the University of California, Davis Wildlife Health Center’s SeaDoc Society.

Gaydos doesn’t recommend whether the park board should amend its existing policies on cetaceans. But he noted the aquarium is “meeting all North American industry standards for the care and husbandry of marine mammals.”

Gaydos suggested the park board request the aquarium provide an annual report on the state of cetaceans at the facility, adding that it would “go a long way to ensure that the public feels that data is being shared.”

Such a report, he said, could include information on number and species of cetaceans, where they are being housed, the number of births and deaths and a count of how many people visited the aquarium to learn about cetaceans.

The aquarium went on record in 1996 saying it became the first such facility in the world to commit to no longer capture cetaceans from the wild for display, and only care for:

  • cetaceans captured before 1996.
  • cetaceans already kept in a zoo or aquarium before 1996.
  • cetaceans born in a zoo or aquarium.
  • cetaceans that were rescued from the wild and rehabilitated but not able to be released because of injury or not able to survive on their own.

John Nightingale, the CEO of the aquarium, spoke at the forums this week and told park board it would take legal action to recover some of the costs of the expansion, if the board decided to ban or phase out whales and dolphins at the facility.

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