Stanley Park’s ecological hypocrisy


If you’ve wandered by Lost Lagoon in the last month or so, you may have noticed something different. For the first time in roughly 60 years, the lagoon is swan-free. In August, the last three remaining mute swans – Tristan, Bijan, and Marika – were captured and relocated to a 10-acre nature preserve in the Lower Mainland to live out their days.

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For many longtime visitors and locals, the image of white swans, perfectly poised and gliding gracefully across the lagoon, back dropped by towering trees and snowcapped mountains, was a nostalgic Vancouver image branded into our brains.

Swans hit their population apex in the 1970s. There were over 70 in Stanley Park alone, dotting Lost Lagoon like floating ornaments, which makes this summer’s swan song most definitely the end of an era. According to the Park Board, the public has generally been in support of phasing out the iconic but non-native waterfowl (mute swans are from Eurasia).

Like the menu at your favourite restaurant, it’s trendy to go local. Stanley Park would like you to think it’s no different. 60 years ago it was a different story. We tried to emulate the places we came from, and brought in the invasive species to do so. As with many non-native creatures, the mute swans tended to displace local birds.

When otters recently killed a fourth swan earlier in the summer (the details of which are murky but allegedly involve the swan somehow getting entangled in branches, making it a sitting duck for an otter swarming), it accelerated the relocation of the final three.

Despite my own Stanley Park nostalgia, I agree wholeheartedly with the phasing out of non-native species, which is why I find it deeply hypocritical that, at one end of the park, great efforts are taking place to return areas like Lost Lagoon to a more natural state, whereas at the other end of the park, the Vancouver Aquarium is celebrating 60 years of animal captivity. And it’s expanding.

The Aquarium’s current captive population sits at an outrageous 300 species of fish, more than 60 mammals, and over 50 birds and reptiles. Over the years, the aquarium has added crocodiles, monkeys, sea otters, penguins, parrots and snakes. I thought we voted to close the Stanley Park Zoo back in the 1990s, but that array of creatures sounds frighteningly zoo-like, doesn’t it?

If we’re removing non-native, floating white ornaments at one end of the park, why are we allowing other non-native, floating white ornaments – namely the two beluga whales – to remain for show?

The Aquarium will spout things like animal research, rescue and rehabilitation until they’re belly up, but c’mon, mammals like belugas are big draws. For 60 years you could gaze at the swans for free, and they were a costly bunch of squawkers to maintain. In 2016, gazing through the glass at the belugas will cost you $36.

If Stanley Park and the City of Vancouver truly care about our natural ecology, going green, and phasing out of non-native species, their first stop should be the Vancouver Aquarium. 

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