Just when you thought it was safe to go back to the Vancouver Aquarium, the Stanley Park attraction could soon be home to a great white shark. Documents obtained by the Courier under a freedom of information request reveal that the controversial tourist draw is in negotiations with SeaWorld San Diego to take possession of a 6.4-metres-long (21 feet) great white shark.
The shark, named Brody after a character played by actor Roy Schneider in the 1975 film Jaws, was captured off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard two years ago after it jumped on to the stern of a fishing boat. It will be housed in the “Wild Coast” exhibit that's home to two beluga whales, two dolphins, as well as a variety of otters, porpoises, harbour seals, sea lions and mallard ducks.
“We’ve been hearing a lot of complaints about how keeping dolphins and whales in enclosed areas is unnatural and cruel, and so the decision was made to introduce an apex predator like Brody into their environment as an ideal way to simulate the conditions of being in the wild,” said an aquarium worker who asked to remain anonymous. “I expect it will also add a lot of entertainment value for our guests.”
In exchange for the shark, SeaWorld will get three endangered Panamanian golden frogs recently bred by the aquarium.
The aquarium is located on public land operated by the Vancouver park board. It has long drawn protests from animal rights activists and could become a hot-button issue for the November municipal election.
Vision Vancouver park board chair Sarah Blyth, who recently announced she would not seek re-election partly due to her discomfort with keeping intelligent cetaceans in captivity, said she doesn’t think bringing a great white shark to town is a smart idea.
“This seems nuts,” she said. “They're going to need a bigger fish tank."
Blyth pointed out that a similar experiment in captive wildlife management went tragically wrong at the Regina Ocean Centre in 2005 when a giant squid named Bailey swallowed Happy the Porpoise in front of dozens of spectators. Brody is suspected of being behind the disappearance last month of three penguins from the SeaWorld facility although there were no witnesses and the case remains under investigation.
Morgan Sherill, executive director of the activist group Opposing Cetacean Relocation Association (ORCA), said her group is starting an online petition in the hope of stopping the move.
“At this point I don’t know what else we can do. We might need to start doing more of those yoga protests outside the aquarium for them to realize how strongly people are against this, although I would much rather see a shark kept in a swimming pool than an orca. Sharks are evil.”
Sherill's comments were immediately denounced on Twitter by anti shark-fin soup activists.
Dr. Klaus Daimler, a marine biologist and instructor at the University of Victoria, said having Brody in close proximity with other marine life could prove beneficial.
“Some of these animals are being rehabilitated in preparation for eventually being released back into the ocean,” Daimler explained. “What better way for researchers to gauge their survival skills than seeing how they respond to living beside one of the deadliest hunters in the wild? It’s sink or swim.”
Vancouver Aquarium president and CEO John Nightingale did not return interview requests from the Courier before deadline.