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An Open Letter on Cetaceans in Our Care
Posted on February 20, 2014
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We would like to take this opportunity to provide facts in the light of the continued circulation of inaccurate messages that have been shared by some who may be misinformed about our animals and our conservation efforts.

Vancouver Aquarium is a non-profit society—proceeds directly support our conservation, research and education programs. Our team of 1,500 staff and volunteers provide exceptional care to our animals and are deeply committed to ocean conservation. One of the most impactful ways we do this is by raising awareness and through public engagement.

We are a leader in managing our cetacean populations, which includes our belugas and Pacific white-sided dolphins. On September 16, 1996, Vancouver Aquarium took a leadership role and became the first aquarium in the world to make a commitment to no longer capture cetaceans (whales and dolphins) from the wild for display and to only care for:

  • Cetaceans that were captured before 1996
  • Cetaceans that were already being kept in a zoo or aquarium before 1996
  • Cetaceans that were born in a zoo or aquarium
  • Cetaceans that were rescued from the wild and rehabilitated, but deemed non-releasable by the appropriate government authorities

We do not and will not capture wild cetaceans for display. The last dolphin collected for the Aquarium was in 1971 and the last cetacean of any kind was collected in 1990 when our beluga whale, Aurora, joined us. Our responsible breeding program, managed in partnership with accredited institutions in North America, enables us to maintain a population of marine mammals at the Aquarium that continues to contribute to vital public engagement and interpretation. And, we serve as a long-term home for rescued cetaceans that cannot be returned to the wild due to their injuries or inability to survive on their own.

Unfortunately, there has been and continues to be a great deal of misinformation being circulated, often deliberately, about where our Pacific white-sided dolphins came from.

Our Pacific white-sided dolphins did not come from Japanese drive fisheries or from Taiji. In fact there is not a single dolphin from the drive fisheries in any accredited aquarium in North America. Institutions accredited by Canada’s Accredited Zoos and Aquariums, The Association of Zoos and Aquariums (US) or the Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums (International) all condemn that practice. To claim otherwise is deliberately misleading and dishonest.

Our Pacific white-sided dolphins Helen and Hana were rescued as badly injured animals from fixed (non-moving) fishing nets on the opposite coast of Japan (East Coast). As rescued animals, they were deemed non-releasable (could not be returned to nature) by the Japanese Government. Those same dolphins are now being provided with a safe and healthy, long-term home at the Aquarium and are helping Aquarium researchers understand how dolphins perceive nets—a study we hope will lead to the development of dolphin safe nets, ultimately protecting other wild dolphins from a similar fate.

The Vancouver Aquarium will continue, where possible, to provide long-term homes for rescued cetaceans deemed non-releasable by government. The ultimate goal of our marine mammal rescue program is for a healthy release back to the wild. Last year we saw the successful rescue, rehabilitation and reintroduction of the harbor porpoise Levi. We believe, however, that the number of non-releasable cetaceans that will require long-term homes is likely to increase over the coming years—this is a long term commitment on our part to do what we can for local species and individuals in critical need. We are the only facility capable of this in the whole of Canada and one of a handful in North America.

Our beluga whales and dolphins participate in ongoing research to help us better understand wild populations and contribute to their conservation. The skills our staff developed through working with belugas at Vancouver Aquarium have directly contributed to wild beluga research including behavioral studies taking place this summer.

We have decades of baseline medical data, including exposure to disease, on our cetaceans which is used as a comparative for animal health in wild populations. This is extremely important right now with the changing climate in the Arctic and the potential exposure of wild animals to novel diseases.

Aquariums perform a vital role in educating people about aquatic conservation and contribute to critical research to conserve aquatic life. Seeing animals in aquariums has helped change public perception and increased support for conserving wild populations. There is no real substitute for connecting with our oceans and animals first-hand to generate a feeling of interest and engagement that leads to positive behavioral changes—changes that will ensure the continued health of our oceans.

We know from our visitors that, while videos and other interpretive materials help amplify or explain, as humans, our interest in ocean health most often starts with the animals themselves. Helping to establish this connection is increasingly important as more and more Canadians live in communities where we have less and less personal experience with nature.

With regard to our expansion, we have been planning our current revitalization for over 10 years. The Vancouver Aquarium proposed a revitalization and expansion to its facilities in Stanley Park to improve the animal habitats and public spaces and, in 2006, we conducted a public consultation—which exceeded municipal guidelines—to seek community input on the desirability of the proposal. The proposal received strong public support and, following a thorough public hearing process with the Vancouver Parks Board, it was approved. Some of our belugas were moved out ahead of the construction on loan to other accredited facilities in North America. The expansion will provide even larger habitats for our animals and revitalize some older systems in much-needed repair. The first phase of this revitalization is scheduled to open this summer.

We have been sharing our story for 57 years by connecting the million-plus visitors who come through our doors each year to our natural world. We’re currently connecting visitors to our conservation, research and education efforts through our VA Up Close feature that provides an intimate look at the amazing care our animals receive and their role in protecting their wild counterparts.

We hope this provides a better understanding of the important conservation work we lead at the Aquarium and that you will join us in our mission-focused efforts to protect our oceans and the aquatic life that depend on them.

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  1. I live in the Interior and gave on occasion have taken my children, when they were younger to the aquarium. I fully endorse the work that all staff and volunteers do. I look forward to my next visit. The opponents do not see the full picture. My dogs, as with all mammals, still have sexual feelings that can not be taken away. I thank you for all your research and care you give to these marvelous creatures. Some of us will never see them in the wild. Please keep up the great work that you do.

    1. Thank you for taking the time to share these words with us, your support means a lot to our dedicated team of experts who work tirelessly to protect our oceans and it’s wonderful creatures. We look forward to you and your family’s next visit with us.

  2. Wayne: I am a current volunteer and member at the Aquarium. I am also old enough to have visited the Aquarium in the 60’s and 70’s and ever since on a regular basis. I encourage you to visit the Aquarium of today and talk to the current staff and volunteers. Perhaps you may wish to take an encounter and visit the behind the scenes areas to see for yourself.

  3. I am a past member and past behind the scenes volunteer at the aquarium and I experienced some of the distress experienced by the larger mammals (aquatic and terrestrial) kept by the Zoo in the 1970’s. The aquarium at that time, while being an exceptional educational resource, was very careful to keep from the public some of the “real” problems encountered trying to keep specimens alive in captivity. I remember the large Octopus escaping regularly in search of food in other tanks only to be found drying out on the floor. And it was otherwise changed out by divers on a regular basis (a good practice) but the public were lead to believe (at the time) it was one long loved specimen that had a name. Similarly I remember being ushered out of the “killer whale” enclosure after an accident with its trainers. I remember the endless “pacing” of all of the large mammals in their enclosures and tanks.

    Compared to Vancouver Aquarium (which is moving in a more ethical direction ), Marineland is an irresponsible travesty. However, Vancouver Aquarium should be more sensitive to the fact that they are enthusiasts motivated to capture catalog and study based on a human need and not necessarily in the best interests of the specimens they keep. Cetaceans are large creatures meant to live, breed and die in the wild (whether by human hand or not), and it is simply hubris to hide behind the curtain of research and education when study could be conducted in the wild. Not as sexy or economically viable, for certain, but the Aquarium should at least honestly acknowledge its bias. Large mammals born in captivity are not pets and it is unethical to personify and humanize them. The aquarium needs to acknowledge that this is a sensitive area, a double edged sword and should move more and more towards the elimination of permanent captivity and public display of cetaceans. Study from afar should be the goal, and collection of all animals for display in public galleries needs to undergo constant ethical review.

    1. Hi Wayne — The 60s and 70s were really a time of great innovation and learning where the science of caring for many species was, in many cases, just beginning. There were few, if any, trained aquarists in those days, no courses and certainly far fewer aquariums. There was also a lot of trial and error. Today, there is usually at least one aquarium in each major city, trained and knowledgeable personnel are relatively easy to find, there are university courses and a mountain of literature regarding husbandry of various aquatic species. In addition, aquatic life support technology has advanced to the point where exquisite control of environmental parameters is now almost routine. Thank you for your volunteerism.

  4. I’ve been very fortunate to live on the west coast. Since 1975 I’ve been diving the BC waters, and have experianced the most incredible life in our coastal waters. I’ve snorkeled in the water with Stellar Sea lions, Pacific White Sided Dolphins, and diving with Nurse Sharks, and literally rivers of Salmon returning up the Alberni Inlet. I’ve seen Grey Whales, Orcas, along with porpose and dolphins while boating in the Straight of Georgia. The Vancouver Aquarium is the greatest venue for informing, teaching and impressing how wonderful our waters here are, along with the need to protect our waters. Very few of us get the chance to experiance being close up to the Whales and Dolphins. To see how they live, comunicate, feed, and care for each other. This new expansion will only make their lives better and the experiance for us that much more incredible.

  5. Let me start by saying that I am an ardent supporter of the Vancouver Aquarium. I purchase a membership each year and frequently visit. Having also visited Sea World, I can say that comparing VA and SW is like comparing night and day. I was horrified at the performances in SW. Trainers riding the animals, whales beaching themselves in time with gaudy light and sound effects… Truly these were tricks for entertainment purposes. I will not be returning to SW! The shows that VA puts on are nothing like them. The trainers interact with the animals showing how they get the animals used to trainers for medical care and research, demonstrate the animals amazing abilities like swimming and leaping or showcasing their echolocation with whistles. Aside from the microphone the trainers use so the audience can hear the presentation, there are no special effects. While the animals do get fed during the show, I don’t understand how it is cruel? How is it any different from rewarding a dog for shaking a paw or rolling over? Further, the animals get fed regardless of performance or not. The care of the animals is always the first and foremost priority at VA. In fact, if you were to ask any VA staff, they would tell you that the animals get fed THEN they get paid.
    I must admit, I am baffled by the calls to “release the dolphins and whales.” I understand how others perceive their existence in a tank as suffering, but I don’t understand why the perceived suffering is limited to the dolphins and whales. How is it that a situation that would be causing suffering to a whale or dolphin isn’t causing the same suffering to a porpoise, seal, sea lion, turtle, shark or octopus. It can’t be a matter of size, the sea lions are bigger than the dolphins, nor intelligence as the octopus is as smart as the whales.
    I don’t have a lot of knowledge on the details of VA’s responsible breeding program, but I do know that they lent out Nanuq to ensure he did not try and mate with his daughter, Qila. It seems to me that if you put a group of animals together of mixed gender, you are going to have some of them trying to mate. You could use birth control hormones to prevent pregnancies, but that requires a huge amount of hormones and poses difficulties for the trainers who interact with the animals, and the divers who clean the tanks. Sterilization is an option, but that is a very invasive procedure. Would that not be crueler than to just let the animals do what comes naturally?
    As a final note, I would like to state that I fully support VA’s position not to have a display showing the dolphin slaughter in Taiiji. Please remember that VA is a facility open to the public, and as such needs to maintain a family friendly appearance. I don’t see anyone decorating their residence showcasing the dolphin slaughter… I agree that it is a horrendous practice that needs to stop, but VA is not the place to be soap boxing that issue.

  6. Having a male whale sent from overseas in a semi and trapped with a female in a tiny tank is not natural. Also, these male whales that essentially lives in transit.

    1. The Aquariums male whales which have been loaned out to other Aquariums have only been moved a couple of times in their entire lives. They are both decades old now.

  7. Dear aquarium,
    Thank you for no longer capturing whales and dolphins for display. My concern is with your breeding program… Which let’s face it, has little success. My concern is that you partner with evil institutions like Sea World, who thank goodness was prevented from importing more captured belugas just last summer. I beg you to stop breeding. Its been so sad to since my childhood see these calves die in your tanks. My childhood memories of Bjossa are so sad for her constant breeding and loss of her babies. At some point it just needs to be said… You are not good at keeping these poor babies alive. You do not need whales in tanks to engage children to respect ocean animals. My son delights in a jellyfish or frog. Please listen to the public and phase out the whales and dolphins

  8. How do you stop something that happens naturaly? They do not force their animals to reproduce. They do not do the artifical insemination because its un natural

  9. It’s appalling to me that you are suggesting that the best way to connect with Nature is through a TV screen. A genuine disconnect from Nature, whether it’s a forest or an ocean is, in my opinion, one of the reasons why we are in an environmental crisis unlike any in our human history. Do you care more about a tree on your desk top background, our one you put your palm against in a park?

    Have you ever gone to the Aquarium? Have you ever listened to their programs? Have you ever participated in any of their conservation efforts?

    Try that first before you make such judgements. It’s called an informed opinion.

  10. Our family moved to B.C. from Ontario last year – my husband, 2 children and myself. After growing up with many visits to Marineland as a child, I have to say I was hesitant to visit the Vancouver Aquarium. But, I did read enough to warrant a visit which resulted in a family membership. We did not see any “performances” at all like the ones that have kept Marineland in business for profit since 1961. I am surprised at the allegations/accusations/comments made against Vancouver Aquarium. I am also satisfied with and appreciate the information provided in their open letter. There is absolutely no comparison between the two facilities! I actually can’t believe how Marineland’s practices have been allowed to continue for so long.

    If people want to protect animal life they should turn to the plight of the poor animals at Marineland instead.

  11. I have just read your open letter and appreciate your frankness. I visited Vancouver from the UK in 2013 and visited VA on two occasions. To put the record straight I did NOT see any of the “shows” on my first visit but spent my time visiting the displays and information centres on site. I found your exhibits about the dangers posed to the oceans and marine creatures by human activity eye opening and they gave me much food for thought, to the extent that now back home if I come across plastic bags etc discarded I am now aware that they could find their way to the sea and possibly cause harm to marine life through ingestion or suffocation, I therefore where possible pick such items up for proper disposal. This is just one small influence your information has had. On my second visit I did see your “show” and found it more educational and informative than entertaining (though I must admit I did enjoy it), I also visited your MMR Open Day and adopted a rescue seal (Sirius) and followed her progress from rescue to release, this took around 4 months. As a non-profit making organisation and understanding the costs involved in caring for and releasing these remarkable creatures I fully support everything you do. In relation to the drive hunts please keep up the behind the scenes pressure and let other organisations deal with publicising the atrocities perpetrated. There is room for all pressure groups and I think it is best for each group to concentrate its pressure rather than spreading its influence too thinly. I think your organisation does great work both in rescue and education, keep up the good work

    1. Thank you for your thoughtful comments, Norma. Very glad to hear you enjoyed your visits and that our interpretative learning opportunities encouraged you to adopt some simple changes that can result in protecting our oceans.

  12. I would normally not get involved in debate such as this thread, but I just felt I needed to add my thoughts. I have been a member of the VA for at least 25 years. Following my stint with volunteering for the 2010 Olympics, I joined the volunteer ranks at the VA. After 4 years as a volunteer, I feel qualified to comment. The most destructive animal on earth is homo erectus (humans). Everyone who has commented is a member of this group. Sharks kill about 20 people per year, usually by accident. People kill about 200 million sharks. The VA is a conservation organization that is leading the fight to educate these killers and better understand their destructive effect on the natural environment. By the way, the VA is located in Stanley Park and it’s facilities are confined to a fixed footprint. The current revitalization is designed to provide a better, more environmentally sensitive facility (LEED certified) which will further it’s mission as a conservation organization.

  13. Who are the “accredited facilities”?

    What deems an animal unfit to return to the wild exactly?

    Why and how exactly does breeding benefit the animal?

    1. Hi Jen — If you visit the websites to the associations mentioned in the letter, you’ll find the full list there. Government authorities, such as Fisheries and Oceans Canada, are ultimately responsible for deciding which animals are fit for release back into the wild. As noted in the comments already, breeding is a natural behaviour and important in the health and welfare management of animals.

  14. I would really like to thank VA staff and commend them for letting this dialogue take place. I appreciate the opportunity for discussion about these matters. Open communication is great and hopefully having more opportunities for open communication can help many parties work together. Its apparent we all want whats best but its a heavy topic for everyone to agree about. Thanks

  15. Hats off to the VA for making such an effort to respond to so many posts. Your patience is incredible!

    This issue with the VA, like so many other in our 3D world, is not cut and dry. A lot of the points raised against the VA would hold more weight in an ideal world where the realities of the world outside of Vancouver didn’t exist. This obviously isn’t the case. This aquarium is a piece of the puzzle in the fight for our oceans, even if someday it would be great if there was no need for them.

  16. VA is an exceptional institution that provides education, public awareness, rescue resources and an interactive environment for both visitor and animal alike. A lack of free roaming space is unfortunate but realistic and is likely offset very well with the exceptional care provided to these creatures. Thanks for playing.

    [Note: Edited to remove inappropriate comments]

  17. My son and I love to visit the VA as much as possible! What a great facility with wonderful staff. His experiences at the VA have helped him to grow into a caring, compassionate and inquisitive little boy. He will be kind and contentious with regards to the environment, animals and humanity because of these great experiences.

  18. First of all I’d like to commend the VA for the patience they have in answering so many attacks from people that don’t seem to understand conservation practices as well as what the VA is trying to accomplish. I also wanted to point out that:

    1. the rescue animals educate A LARGE amount of visitors. Their role is very important
    2. I wonder how many of the people that have commented negatively on the VA do REAL things to protect our animals. For example, why don’t you all stop eating canned tuna and instead eat canned sardines? (they taste just as nice, and they are way lower in the food chain. Tunas are an engendered species, nearly all of of them).
    3. How many people ONLY eat line caught fish and do not eat or for example don’t eat King prawns that are often grown in delicate ecosystem in fish farms? (fish farms are VERY bed for the local ecosystem where they are located).

    Anyway to the VA, good work and keep your heads up!

    1. I’m a vegetarian actually and I do many things to promote animal welfare and environmental convservation. Dont write me off because I express my views. Im here because i care deeply about the animals and we may disagree on what is best for them but dont mistake me for somebody who likes to cause a stir up but is too hypocritical to stand by my ethical believes. Im here advocating for the animals because I care about them. That is my bottom line. We arent just ignorant people because we care. I would like to work together to better the lives on their animals even if it involves them staying in captivity. We can learn from each other because we all here care about the animals. Why else.

  19. Thank you for your letter. I am currently a member and have been waffling on the fence about renewing my membership. I was concerned when I watched a very recent news clip of VA CEO John Nightingale, when asked if the VA would be bringing in more cetaceans his reply was “Likely” He did not clarify if the cetaceans would be returning belugas that have been on loan to other facilities. Could you clear up that question? Would the likelihood of more cetaceans be returning belugas?

    I do not believe these animals are forced to ‘perform’ against their will. They are rewarded for their actions not punished. The actions are all natural behaviours one can see from nature shows and not forced actions at our VA. Our VA should NOT be compared to other Aquariums. The money raised from attendance is used to care for the animals there and in the rehabilitation program and in the wild. I understand and respect that. It is my greatest hope that with the current renovations and expansions the current animals will have more space.

    1. Hi Shauna – Ahead of our expansion and revitalization, some of our belugas were moved out on loan to other accredited facilities in North America. They will not be considered for return until the completion of our revitalization. It is possible that we might be called upon to provide a long-term home to stranded cetaceans before that but it is not something that can be planned. In all cases where we respond to stranded cetaceans our ultimate goal is the successful release of that animal back into the wild, such as Levi the harbour porpoise who was released last year. Other than returning or rescued animals we have no plans to obtain more cetaceans.

      You may be interested in to know that belugas at the Aquarium participate in ongoing research to help us better understand wild populations and contribute to their conservation. For instance, the skills we have developed working with our belugas at Vancouver Aquarium have been transferred to research teams in the Arctic who are now better able to carefully handle wild cetaceans. This includes the testing of non-invasive equipment, which is now being used in wild beluga research. Decades of baseline medical data, including exposure to disease, on our cetaceans is used as a comparative for animal health in wild populations. This is extremely important right now with the changing climate in the Arctic and the potential exposure of wild animals to novel diseases.

  20. I had no idea there was this much anger surrounding two dolphins and two belugas in captivity. Imagine if we put that anger towards saving all the other animals in the ocean that are being killed by humanity.

    1. Haha I agree. I am a member and I have always known about the fine line aquariums walk but that they are very necessary. Especially this one in Vancouver which is a world leader in the way it manages it’s facility. This one is similar to a very vital aquarium rescue lab in San Pedro California where I grew up which also does a lot of rescue work. There is so much to be strived towards for cetacean welfare and starting by attacking the Vancouver aquarium is a misinformed way to go about it to say the least.

    2. There is actually much anger widespread in the world and a lot of people are working on helping those animals too. We dont just pick the giant group of animals and forget that all individuals matter too. Everyone needs a voice and these animals are lucky to have so many voices — on both sides to help them get whats best, whatever it may be.

  21. Kimberley, I am glad you don’t buy your membership to watch the dolphins and belugas perform but to say the majority of visitors don’t go there for that reason is being naive. Let’s see how much revenue is generated via membership vs. one off entrance fees.

    I fully support the work VA does but can’t condone the public performances or the breeding program. And until these two activities stop I have refused to visit or buy a membership. I am more than willing to put my tax dollars towards their research and rehab programs to make up for lost revenue due to cessation of said activities.

  22. I am a member and have been a member of the aquarium for many years. I enjoy taking my children there and feel comfortable doing so because I know most of the animals are rescued. My issue is:

    Why does the VA need to BREED more belugas into CAPTIVITY?

    I think anyone who has visited the aquarium can clearly see that the tanks are too small for the cetaceans. Even with the expansion, the tanks will still be tanks. These animals travel hundreds of kilometres in the wild. It seems unfair to breed animals into a less than ideal environment.

    The VA has done some wonderful and important work rescuing and teaching the public about sea life. I hope I can still continue to bring my family there in the years to come. But I will CANCEL my membership if the VA goes ahead with it’s breeding program. I don’t take my children to zoos and I won’t take them to a place that normalizes having perfectly healthy animals in captivity.

    Thank you for taking the time read this.

    1. Hi Alanna — Breeding is a natural behaviour and important in the health and welfare management of animals. In 1996, Vancouver Aquarium became the first aquarium in the world to make a commitment to no longer capture cetaceans from the wild. Responsible breeding among accredited facilities also reduces the need for other facilities to capture from the wild. Behavioural and medical evaluations indicate that animals in facilities like ours successfully breed, form social groupings, eat well and exhibit the same behaviours as they do in the wild. All husbandry staff members are trained biologists and the health and well-being of our animals are our utmost priority.

  23. After seeing the documentary ‘Blackfish’ I felt concern that the VA may have been doing the same thing as Sea World. I do feel reassured that this is not the case in terms of the capture of the animals. I do, however, find the training of the animals for entertainment purposes distasteful. We visit the VA regularly and are members but will not allow our kids to watch any of the shows that involve making the animals perform tricks. This is not natural behaviour for the animals. While I support the conservation work the VA performs, I believe for the sake of its own integrity, the VA should phase out these performances.

    1. Hi Danni — As noted previously, animals at the Vancouver Aquarium are never “forced to perform”. All of our marine mammals are trained to varying levels to allow us to take care of them. The animals are trained for a variety of outcomes – health procedures, exercise, social activity, research, play. Every interaction is individualized for each animal and each session is carefully planned and enriched so that the animals enjoy the sessions. The animals also get their own time to rest, play and socialize as they choose. Training sessions are for the animals and go on regardless of public presence.

    2. Training is an important part of keeping the animals healthy. They are intelligent, inquisitive beings and need the challenge of learning new behaviours. That is something that comes naturally to them and keeps them from getting bored. Think of the stories of wild dolphins teaching each other new behaviours.
      I am convinced that the behaviours the dolphins and beluga whales exhibit during shows at the Vancouver Aquarium are not degrading in any way – they are natural behaviours, not unlike what you would see them do in the wild. They do not perform in circus-like shows that you might expect from some marine parks.

  24. Although breeding is a natural behaviour, this is an artificial environment that the captive industry imposed on these animals. I understand why many of these animals may have to live out their lives in captivity but to say breeding is natural, important for them is irresponsible and doesnt address the deficient envirionment. How about stopping all breeding programs and instead of expanding to be able to add more belugas, use that expansion to create an enriched and more spatious environment for existing animals to live out their lives. I do not support the expansion but I would if its purpose was to better the lives of existing animals and not to increase the population or support captive breeding. But belugas are money, I realize that. But visitors will still come and pay to see retired belugas in the most enriched environment captivity can provide.

  25. Hi There,
    Did the 2 pacific white sided dolphins come from an aquarium in japan? I understad that they were rescued, from where?

    1. As noted previously, the two Pacific white-sided dolphins are not from the Taiji drive fisheries. They were rescued as badly injured animals from fixed fishing nets on the opposite coast of Japan (East Coast). You can learn more about them here.

  26. Good God man this is not the venue for your plight. I believe animals get the raw end of the deal in countless ways for the sake of “human progress”. It is something we should be ashamed of as a species, but the Aquarium is a celebration of the animals of the ocean. I take my kid there and she doesn’t need to see that. There are better venues for your plight.

    While we are at it yes the animals perform for entertainment. That is partly how the aquarium generates revenue. Without such revenue they would not be able to do all the good work carried out by the aquarium. The animals are treated rather well all things considered and the money is used for animal welfare. Remember it is a non profit.

    Like all Zealots you are not happy unless everyone does what you think they should. Reason is irrelevant to you and you are always at war for the cause. The only difference between people like you the perpetrators of the Spanish inquisition, the IRA, and Al Qaeda are your cause. You want to fight someone go fight the people perpetrating the drive hunt. Don’t want to man up for that task and hit the real enemy? Try educating the public with a little diplomacy and tact or you are just another zealot group bashing the general public for the actions of a few.

  27. Thank you for your open letter. That is precisely why my husband and I chose to become Vancouver Aquarium members this past year. I believe that we all, VA supporters and activists alike, share a common concern for the welfare of all marine life. There is more than one way to advance a cause and I personally favor education and diplomacy over certain other, more confrontational, methods. I support anyone’s right to have contrary beliefs, but to knowingly disseminate information that is false or misleading is despicable. Simple as that…

    1. This is the height of this debate is to realise that we all love the oceans and their creatures but we disagree on the way to go about protecting them. The people who are here arguing that these animals should be released believe they are fighting for the good of these individual animals, which I have to admit is true to a certain point. But the supporters of VA point to the fact that VA does not capture, they conduct vital research, they inspire people (youth) to care about the oceans and we believe this is important for protecting a larger population of animals which this small sample represents. Much love to both ‘sides’.

  28. Thank you for your post. I have admired your organizations work for many years and will continue to support it despite the criticism surrounding animal captivity and the use of animals to educate public. Of course I believe that using animals to generate any type of personal or monetary gain is inhumane and unjust. And there is definitely a fine line between keeping animals for their well-being or for our own ambitions. Therefore it is understandable that many people will be skeptical on any activities of similar nature. However I do truly believe VA is a non-profit organization that is dedicate to conservation and promoting animal awareness in the public. As such, I commend your continued efforts to step in the forefront of change and address how animals in the wild and aquariums are treated all around the world.

    Nevertheless, I do feel that this may be a perfect time to question and alter the “business as usual” mentality in regards to the role of cetaceans and pinnipeds in public education and engagement. The main reason the aforementioned “shows” that take place in many aquariums around the world is that it attracts many visitors. Similarly being to breed so called “wild animals” have a similar effect. At least this is how it has always been. I believe however a change is happening in the public perception that this is no acceptable and any organization that partake in such activities are viewed as “inhumane” regardless of what their resume is like. Therefore, the question that we (as the public and scientist) and you (as the educator and conservationist) have to ask is “Are these ‘name of activities’ necessary?” I understand certain activities such as training (allows care-takers to provide care for the animal), playing with trainers (to reduce boredom), and non-released animals (to ensure these animal survive) are justifiable and probably the best option available. But other activities are certainly questionable and it may be best to at least to ask the industry, public and academia such questions. The questions that are asked and the methods used may be different depending on the audience, but who knows, sometimes asking the right question may lead to the right answer. I only hope that your organization we take this opportunity to not just address the problem but to change the world as you have done-so so many times before.

    As fellow wild-life lovers, we all only want the best for these magnificent beauties of the natural world. If we are able to at least acknowledge that much, then we should be able find the best solutions to these questions. Thank you again for all your work these many years in educating the public and inspiring youths to pursue a career in science and biology (including me).

  29. I would just like to comment on some of the posts about the Vancouver Aquarium. Having been an aquarium member and a diving instructor for many years, I do not understand some of the negative statements that are made.
    To state that a wild animal is not a natural performer is ridiculous. I have witnessed many wild animals “perform” in order to get something or just to entertain itself and have fun. I have had sea lions bring sea stars over to my self or students and drop them in front on them. Almost like a dog with a ball. I have had octopus take gloves, snorkels and whatever else they could “borrow” from a diver to the extent that they will even search your BCD pocket. You only need to watch a few nature shows on TV to see that animals easily learn and adapt natural behaviours to get something they want without being forced or trained to do it. They are not just “stupid animals.” Do we not put our own elderly or injured into homes sometimes in order to ensure they get the right care and level of stimulation that they require and we as an individual cannot always supply. To let them sit in a room without any contact or stimulation would be a shame. The aquarium has made it quite clear over the years as to what each of the exercises that they are conducting is for and how it is used in the care of the animal – taking blood tests, oral exams, stimulation, etc.
    People can go out on a boat to see whales, dolphins, sea lions, etc. But I would ask to what extent these tours support the rehabilitation of injured animals financially or otherwise. Many people cannot afford several hundred dollars to take their family out on these tours also.
    As for the aquarium pressuring the Japanese government to stop the Kaiji dolphin drive, there has been millions of dollars spent and what has been achieved? The movie “The Cove” brought the dolphin drive into the full sight of the world in a very dramatic fashion, and it did not phase the Japanese. The aquarium has stated it’s view on the hunt and should not be expected to “attack” the occurrence with signs or displays at their facility. Greenpeace also spends millions every year to combat the whale hunt, and with very controversial and dangerous means have been able to lessen the harvest that the Japanese whaling fleet takes. Do we really think that a sign will do anything when ramming their whaling ships with another vessel or physically harassing them for weeks on end only moves them away for a short period. It is not aquariums initiate or responsibility to get involved in such a confrontation.
    The aquarium’s purpose is for research, rehabilitation and public education. I think they personally do a good job. Many individuals would never get to see what the oceans have to offer if not for the aquarium.

  30. A few points to address your comments, Paul.

    1. I applaud you for your concerns about the Taiiji atrocity done to cetaceans. However, that is not the only important marine issue that VA is addressing with their many programs and activities. To hold VA singularly responsible for raising awareness of this problem baffles me. If you are so compelled, why don’t you raise some funds to help VA make this possible?? Why hold your support and try to sway others to hold their support because of one issue? What about all the other good things VA is doing to educate the public and raising awareness of other important marine issues?

    2. From your comments, it sounds like you want public outrage over the display, which means graphic photos. How much blood would the display need to show to satisfy the likes of you?? Think of the audience that is coming to VA. Children as young as infants come visit on a regular basis, and I hardly think a display about “the outrageous carnage” at Taiiji is audience-appropriate.

    I suppose it is always easier to spend other people’s money. The entitlement and self-righteousness of your comments also speak volumes about you. VA has addressed your suggestions, just not in the way you want (which apparently can only be satisfied as an information centre displaying outrageous carnage and slaughter of dolphins). VA has a lot more to consider in what or how they choose to put in their programs than your guarded pessimism.

    VA, you are doing excellent work here in Vancouver and in the world. We will continue to support the work you do.

    1. “E”

      1. At no point have I held the VA “singularly responsible” for raising awareness of the problem. I recognise they are merely one of a number of information channels that could be utilised.

      2. Yes, I do support graphic displays in the hope they DO cause public outrage…that is the whole point.

      3. Those that know me, know that I spend a good deal of my time raising money for ocean conservation. My daily activities are virtually exclusive in this area. But then you wouldn’t know about that. You’d rather make personal ‘self righteous’ comments, a frankly unnecessary slur.

  31. As a former staff member and now mom, I really feel the VA has a responsibility to keep the public informed of the amazing work that hapens behind the scenes. So often I am am in the situation of defending the Aquarium and telling people about all the other projects and current valuable research that happens there. Would you conciser having a section of the new expansion dedicated to interprative information about the current research/environmental projects that happen under the Aquuarium umbrella but are not that well advertized. Not everyone gets the Marine Mammal news letter, or know that there are off site research facilities not to mention all the cooperation projects you do with Universities and other Non-profit societies. It could be as simple as having a researcher of the week and having a rotating digital information kiosk, or go big and have an entire exhibit dedicated to showcasing these ventures!
    I don’t think you’ll ever silence the haters, but it would give the public a better understanding of how complex the activities in the Aquarium really are, it’s not a big show, its cutting edge science happening right in our city that has direct positive effects around the world , we should feel privileged to have such a facility in Vancouver.

    1. Hi Christine — As much as possible, we try to share our conservation stories in our exhibits, including our Ocean Wise and Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup direct action programs. We talk about our research, such as our B.C. Cetacean Sightings Network which engages citizens in science and fosters an ethic of environmental stewardship throughout coastal B.C. and our efforts in helping to preserve areas of cloud sponge reefs – this species is only found in B.C. (nowhere else in the world do they exist). Our expansion and revitalization will certainly provide greater opportunities to tell our stories of conservation, research and education–in fact, it is one of the reasons we are expanding.

  32. I for one applaud the conservation and rehabilitation efforts put forth from the Vancouver Aquarium. The scientific research being done by the staff at the Vancouver Aquarium is incredibly encouraging to see. The ocean needs to be protected and more importantly understood.

    I am not surprised by the outcry of ignorance on behalf of the public. The public outrage about recent events in Taiiji only brings to light the general publics complete lack of knowledge and ignorance about the VA’s rehabilitation program and scientific programs. The people screaming hypocrisy at the Vancouver Aquarium need to understand what conservation, scientific research, and rehabilitation is before they make accusations. All they need to do is look at Wally, Jack, or Daisy.

    As the emotionally charged general public throws out un-educated accusations, it’s important for the VA to take a stand and help educate the public. As a long time Vancouver Aquarium member who understands how the VA works, It would be nice to see the VA partner with an advocacy group to help further it’s message of conservation.

    As a non-advocacy based organization I understand the neutrality, even though I disagree with it. A strong partnership with a local or global advocacy group might be a good direction to head in the future. Such as the Ocean Wise initiative which I see on nearly every seafood menu in Vancouver. In my opinion, sometimes science needs to take a stand.

    Keep up the good work.

  33. If your so worried about what the VA do to the animals then volunteer and see what an amazing group of people who your are disrespecting are. Otherwise you have no idea what your talking about and certainly don’t have the credibility to be an expert or judge.

    My family has been involved with the VA for the last 38 something years. Our family loves animals period. We visit the VA on average at least once a week. I am currently using the VA to educate my 2.5 year old daughter on our oceans. As a avid angler and ocean lover I feel it’s my duty to educate her on the oceans.

    I have never seen an animal being mistreated at the VA in my life. The shows are in place to showcase the intelligence and skill of these animals which is why thousands of people stand in awe as they perform. The VA is not like the aquarium “free willy” where they are out to kill the animals for an insurance claim. Without a place for people to go and see the animals big or small and the results of what happens when people mistreat our oceans and seas the average person will never understand the impact of what they are doing; or give any thought to what their actions do inadvertently. Many people just see the surface of the ocean and do not realize the amazing diversity of life just under the surface. Its a place to get an education. If you think that its wrong to capture animals to study and feel they should be free. Perhaps you should take into account that without conservation efforts and education, our oceans will possibly be all but completely obliterated within the next few generations.

    [Note: Edited to remove inappropriate comments]

  34. Animals should be put down when their quality of life is so altered that they can no longer live in their natural environment. As an example, most people recognize there comes a time when their beloved pets must be put down as the most ethical and humane course of treatment. (And for domesticated animals their natural environment is in a home or farm situation and not the wild).

    I do not applaud the reasons for putting down the young giraffe (in Europe) nor the way it was carried out. However, if this young Giraffe was going to be placed in a small pen for the rest of his life than putting him down was the most humane decision to be made. Sometimes “life” at all costs is not the best solution.

    In the same way, I can understand we have become attached to our marine mammals here at the Aquarium, but this is not a natural environment for them. If they cannot be released into the wild nor placed in an environment that will meet a very close approximation of their natural home than they should be put down as the most humane outcome possible. It is a tough decision but it always is when you have to make such a decision about a beloved animal.

    I truly love the Aquarium and I am a member but reading about the Giraffe being put down has made me re-think my position on this issue.

    1. The animals I have observed at the Vancouver Aquarium appear to exhibit many of their natural behaviours: they ‘play’, they interact with each other socially, they are inquisitive and they seem to enjoy exploring new things, and especially the marine mammals seem to have a very strong relationship with their caretakers. Many of them are rescued animals, some of them were essentially brought up by humans. I cannot see any indication that their quality of life is suffering. Naturally, we cannot give them the ocean in a captive environment — but killing them, seriously? I have no idea what these animals are feeling or thinking, or whether they are capable of thinking at all, and we cannot ask them either – and for that reason alone I would never be able to make that decision, nor support it.
      We euthanize pets that are sick, to relieve them of a life in pain, usually at the end of their lives anyway. That does not compare to a situation where we have a rescued animal that, after long rehabilitation, still has its whole life to live out. If we cannot release them back into the wild, captivity must be the more humane solution. A setting as the Aquarium provides it may not be ideal – but I honestly believe that these animals deserve to be given a chance. They serve as ambassadors for their species and enable organizations like the Vancouver Aquarium to reach out to people with conservation messages that would otherwise never reach them.
      We have to keep in mind that many marine mammal species, and cetaceans in particular, are threatened by our own actions. If we continue to pollute and destroy their natural habitats, as we do, motivated by greed or sheer ignorance, any attempt at educating the public to turn that situation around should be applauded, not condemned. And how can you development a deep connection with something you have never even seen or experienced? That is something that the Aquarium makes possible.
      Only a tiny fraction of marine mammals live in captivity — but countless animals die every year, not of natural causes, but because their natural habitats become uninhabitable as a result of development, exploitation for all kinds of reaons, or pollution; we fish our oceans empty, dump our waste into sensitive environments or invade habitats previously left undisturbed. Those are much more pressing concerns and challenges and I believe that the Vancouver Aquarium as a non-profit is actively trying to be part of the solution, by educating the public, by funding research and by setting up projects like OceanWise and the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup. And the animals they have on display play a vital role in showing people what it is that they should be endeavouring to preserve for their children.
      As a member you are helping them do all this – and why should you not feel good about that?

    2. I do not support euthanasia simply because they’re living their lives in an inadequate environment and may be suffering due to same. Maybe I’m put in prison and I expect it to be for the rest of my life but do I chose to die? I can’t answer that for other people because we are all complex intelligent emotional beings as are cetaceans. It is unfortunate their right to chose has been taken away and I know some commit suicide in captivity but who am I to end their life. Instead we all need to focus on bettering the rest of their lives, whether they can be released, retired to sea pens or remain in captivity. Their lives are worth fighting for even if that means doing the best we can, the best current technology can, to improve their current lives in a captive environment or sea pen.
      BC coast, what a wonderful location VA is! They can be the forefront, the leaders of a new age in cetacean display, education, research and conservation by transitioning their animals to sea pens on the coast near the existing location! VA boats can provide travel from the aquarium to coastal areas and provide learning opportunities in so many ways. Think about it.

  35. I also wanted to note that I support the VA (my whole family has memberships!)! Great work. I’ve also seen dolphins and whales in the wild in many occasions and you see them doing the same “tricks” that they do in the aquarium. Jumping and performing is fun for the animals and it’s part of their natural behavior!
    Great work VA, you have the support of millions of visitor… but I would agree, that it would be useful to inform the public of the other side of the coin and see what bad fishery can do to the animals in the wild.

  36. I have many ongoing concerns despite this open letter. Two things that make me increasingly skeptical of VA are that you continue breeding cetaceans and that you plan to expand to increase the amount of cetaceans you keep. Those do not seem to align with your do-good asertions. If keeping cetaceans is necessary to provide a long term stable caring home then why do you breed them? It seems morally reprehensible to do so even if in the name of science. Science should not be an excuse for cruelty to any living being. Expanding your habitats is along the same lines. You are only propagating cetacean captivity when it is known that no captive environment is humane for them.
    I do not deny that VA does much good work, I have Adopted A Killer Whale in past, I used to visit and I am proud you phased out killer whales. But please stop and recognize what all this means for cetaceans, what it meant/means to Bjossa, Finna, Aurora, Kavna, Qila, White Wings and more. If you cannot release then dont propagate it more.

    1. The VA is informative and creates ocean AWARENESS for the masses. For the average person, it may open their eyes, plus it gives over a million visitors a year a tidbit of information on what truly IS going on in our oceans.

      If you want to go after someone then go after the the countries that continue to allow the wide scale, ocean floor sweeping nets. There is enough proof that the oceans are dying, because of extremely irresponsible, over fishing practices.

      Take action to stop the companies that are only thinking of short term profits.

      Dolphins are still slaughtered by the hundreds… true.

      Many shark, whale and other species are in grave danger of extinction… maybe a better idea is to wake up to the bigger picture and see what we can all do to save our children’s oceans… fact not fiction.

      The VA is simply one of many much needed organizations that truly do care for this planet. Let us support them and actually do something… yes each one of us can make a difference.

      Many organizations are doing good things… is helping the oceans, planet and humanity on many levels… maybe rally behind them and other organizations that ARE doing positive things for our only planet. Let us all realize that individually and collectively, we will make a difference.

      So let us stop looking at little perceived hiccups, while the VA and others need our support :0)

      Thank YOU

  37. The dolphins and belugas are not performers at all. If you think the VA is open to entertain you by forcing a dolphin to jump out of the water, then that’s just plain ignorance. The VA has found a way to make public the necessary animal-in-captivity care so that people can learn about animals. It is also ignorant to keep stating over and over again that the non-releasable animals would be ok back in the wild. It’s our fault they get injured in the first place. If you see all the intense work that goes on at MMR, you would get that. 3 day old seal cubs are rescued every year because they have lost their mothers due to human activity. They have to be fed fish formula and then the ones that make it are released. The VA does everything possible to make up for what humans do to the ocean and the animals that live in it, and the dolphin shows are there to raise money for these rescue projects. We need to learn how we are hurting the animals. It’s all our fault they are there, since the VA hasn’t captured any animals in years like the letter says.

    1. The VA still “buys” dolphins from Japan Aquariums that support the drive hunt. It’s better not to bring them here at all. There are loop holes in their agreement with the Parks Board which allow them to buy more dolphins. I say they still buy dolphins because they won’t agree not not buy any in the future. Until they do The vancouver Aquarium support the taiji hunt.

    2. Hi Dawn — The Aquarium does not support the Taiji drive fisheries in any manner and it certainly does not purchase dolphins. Our two Pacific white-sided dolphins were rescued, rehabilitated and deemed non-releasable by the appropriate government authorities.

  38. So the pacific white sided dolphins who were so sick, yet they had to endure a flight from japan? Did you have the support of The Park Board? In the reading I have done it was not supported. Create as large a sanctuary as possible for them and let them be. Don’t make them perform for the public.In my mind every time you “purchase a dolphin” from ome of the aquariums who continur to rely on the drive hunt in taiji, you are making room for them to purchase more? The Enoshima Aquarium in japan send their trainers to Taiji to select the “prettiest” dolphins. Also why won’t the Vancouver Aquarium agree not to purcahse any more dolphins? In my view you have directly supported the drive hunt in Taiji.

    1. As noted in our letter, there has been and continues to be a great deal of misinformation being circulated about where the animals from the drive fisheries end up. It is completely false that any of these animals are being exported to North America. There is not a single dolphin from the drive fisheries in any aquarium that is accredited by Canada’s Accredited Zoos and Aquariums, The Association of Zoos and Aquariums (US) or the Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums (International). Our Pacific white-sided dolphins did not come from Japanese drive fisheries. They were rescued as badly injured animals from fixed fishing nets on the opposite coast of Japan (East Coast). Those same dolphins are now being provided with a safe and healthy, long-term home at the Aquarium and helping Vancouver Aquarium researchers understand how dolphins perceive nets—a study we hope will lead to the development of dolphin safe nets, ultimately protecting other wild dolphins from a similar fate.

    2. Dawn I’m curious if you actually read the open letter or have any understanding of how a non-for-profit actually works.

      Please educate yourself further before allowing this false public opinion and outrage make your decision for you.

      It’s well known that the VA rescues and rehabilitates it’s animals. They clearly outline how the do not purchase or capture wild cetaceans. It’s apparent by even going to the VA and speaking with the biologists and trainers on staff.

    1. I would disagree with this as a viable alternative or solution. Whale and sea life ecotrips can be intrusive to local habitats. As much as it interferes with the life of celebrities, hoards of paparazzi swarming around their homes to and daily life activities is disruptive. You could also look into the kind of carbon footprint you have in just “hopping” on a plane to go to the ocean and “zip around” in a boat to look for dolphins and other sea animals. I agree viewing them in the natural setting is best, but not everyone has the privilege or means to make a special trip to the coast to see experience marine life like this (I mean further than the Vancouver harbour).

    2. I believe that your suggestion is very short-sighted. If we all went on whale watching trips to see dolphins, whales and porpoises in their natural habitat we would contribute to noise pollution, which already is an issue for many cetaceans. Noise pollution, to which boat traffic contributes, can deafen or even kill animals when their ability to echo-locate and to communicate is inhibited. Scientists believe that some whales for instance then need to call louder. That kind of ‘shouting’ requires more energy expenditure, which weakens the animals and may interfere which their natural behaviours, like mating and feeding.
      Noise pollution also interferes with cetaceans’ echolocation. Hundreds of thousands of whales, porpoises and dolphins get entangled in fixed fishing nets every year, and among the things that researchers suggest may be contributing to that is noise pollution.

  39. Thank you for your reply. However, all I am seeing from you is more ‘spin’, not unlike that of that other inhumane organization Seaworld.

    Your reply does nothing to sway my guarded pessimism about your activities. The fact that you failed to address my suggestions about setting up an information centre concerning the Taiiji slaughter speaks volumes to me. If you truly had compassion about what is going on, you would accept the responsibility of helping those of us who are trying to tell the world about the outrageous carnage being played out by the Japanese.

    1. As noted previously, Paul, we are doing our part. Our approach in raising awareness with Japanese organizations and varying levels of government is having a direct impact. There are different ways to communicate–we may not agree on the same approach but we do agree on the point that drive fisheries are an inhumane practice.

    2. I agree with Paul and Sanne. You have not demonstrated a true attempt to change anything. Drive fisheries are an inhumane practice but keeping these animals in captivity and having them perform is also inhumane. I am sorry but if you are using the logic that the Pacific White sided dolphins were deemed non-releasable to the wild, based on what the Japanese and/or Canadian government determined, I would love to know the criteria they used to make this determination.
      I believe a great portion of what you do is wonderful work and I whole heartedly support it, however having a controlled breeding program of these wild animals, holding them captive in miniscule water habitats (compared to where they should be, the ocean) and “training” them to do tricks under the guise of providing exercise is NOT good work.
      The ones deemed non-releasable should be neutered to prevent breeding (if necessary) and live out their lives in peace in an ocean based sanctuary, not a concrete pond. I get that you are trying to help them but perhaps it is the way you help that needs to be changed.
      Selective breeding and displaying them will just perpetuate this horrible cycle of captivity of such intelligent beings and in reality is no different than slavery which was abolished in 1st world countries decades ago.

    3. So your “approach with Japanese organizations and varying levels of government” is having a “direct impact” is it? Please tell me exactly how that is. I would like to see the evidence that is the basis for that statement because I don’t see any sign of the carnage slowing down at all.

    4. Paul & Susan if you go to the Vancouver Aquarium, you will hear the Biologists and Trainers explain how by training them to perform, it allows them to act in the same manner in which they do in the wild. Having seen many wild animals play in the wild, it’s perfectly understandable why they would want these dolphins to act as they would in the wild. These dolphins were deemed unfit to be re-released in to the wild. Simply look at the picture above to see the scars and severely damaged pectoral fins. Again, by going and looking at these dolphins in person, you would see the physical scars. Being released in to the wild would surely mean death.

    5. Why do you attempt to hold the Vancouver Aquarium responsible for something that they publicly condemn and do not support at all? They have picked many important issues and are trying to find solutions through research and by raising public awareness. They cannot join every battle.

      Many, many more dolphins are killed when they drown in fixed fishing nets – 300,000 cetaceans anually as estimated by Greenpeace -, and the two Pacific white-sided dolphins at the Aquarium almost made it into that statistic. The Aquarium’s OceanWise program is attempting to raise awareness with consumers to make sure that ‘by-catch’, and that is what dolphins and porpoises end up as in their thousands – is minimized by promoting sustainable fishing methods. Echolocation research at the Vancouver Aquarium with the dolphins in their care is also aimed at finding ways to minimize entanglement in fixed fishing nets. If these campaigns are successful, countless animals could be saved.

  40. Research shows time and time again animals and mammals are not natural performers. Yet, you somehow justify this?? True rehabilitators would find other means. Rescue and sending the animals back to their original habitat is the only right answer. There are various other mean of making money….

    1. The animals at the Vancouver Aquarium are never “forced to perform”. All of our marine mammals are trained to varying levels to allow us to take care of them. The animals are trained for a variety of outcomes – health procedures, exercise, social activity, research, play. Every interaction is individualized for each animal and each session is carefully planned and enriched so that the animals enjoy the sessions. The animals also get their own time to rest, play and socialize as they choose. Training sessions are for the animals and go on regardless of public presence.

      We’ve been operating our Marine Mammal Rescue Centre for over 50 years. Our Rescue Centre is the only hospital of its kind in Canada and rescues, rehabilitates and releases up to 100 animals a year that are found stranded and/or severely injured, including harbour seals, sea lions and harbour porpoises. Rescued animals come to the Centre to be treated with the goal of successfully releasing them back into the wild.

      The rescue and eventual release of a rehabilitated animal is carefully regulated by government jurisdictions to protect wild populations from issues, such as disease, and to protect rescued animals to ensure they are only released back into the wild when they are able to successfully survive on their own.

    2. I agree with Arlene. If what you are doing is truly caring for these intelligent beings you would not put them on display performing tricks. How would you like being caged up daily and your only form of exercise was performing for food. Release them once they are healed.

    3. Our Pacific white-sided dolphins were deemed non-releasable, meaning they would not be able to survive on their own in the wild. We’ve provided them with a long-term, caring home. The behaviours they display are behaviours animals execute naturally in the wild and they help to enhance visitors’ learning and understanding.

    4. I can only assume that the people in this thread don’t believe that the animals are not able to be released back into the wild, otherwise they would realise they are condemning the animals to certain death.

      It’s common knowledge that many animals, once they come into contact with humans, are very difficult to re-release. Given the work that the Vancouver Aquarium does I have every belief that they only keep animals who cannot survive out in the wild. Since humans are the ones who caused the problem in the first place it’s only right that we now look after them.

      I know that Blackfish has made people turn a rightfully skeptical eye on the industry but we have to acknowledge the truth that we ruin some animals for any integration in the wild.

  41. I appreciate you posing this open letter. My main question is and always will be, “Why do your cetaceans have to do performances to entertain the public ??? I find there is no good reason for these shows to be taking place in this day and age. Do they perform these shows to increase your revenue ??? You speak about your cetaceans being happy and fulfilled. I do not see how these cetaceans doing performances for the public has anything to do with their real life and habits in the oceans. I feel the best way to learn about these magnificent animals is to study them in the wild. Your cetaceans are confined in chlorine filled water, swimming aimlessly in concrete tanks. No matter how large and deep the tank is, it is nowhere close to duplicating their ocean homes. Breeding your cetaceans is another thing I do not agree with. I feel that if there are cetaceans that cannot be released into the open ocean, they should be retired into seapens, where they can live our the remainder of their lives. The studying of them can also be carried out in a seapen setting. no animal should ever be held captive, no matter if they were born in a concrete tank or not. i also would like to pose one other question. My question is, “Does your aquarium plan on obtaining more cetaceans once the aquarium is renovated ???” Thank you for your time.

    1. The animals at the Vancouver Aquarium are never “forced to perform”. All of our marine mammals are trained to varying levels to allow us to take care of them. The animals are trained for a variety of outcomes – health procedures, exercise, social activity, research, play. Every interaction is individualized for each animal and each session is carefully planned and enriched so that the animals enjoy the sessions. The animals also get their own time to rest, play and socialize as they choose. Training sessions are for the animals and go on regardless of public presence. I understand that you personally may not like watching these sessions however the vast majority of the million guests who visit the Aquarium every year do and benefit from a first-hand connection with our animals and the messaging that leads to positive behavioral changes—changes that will ensure the continued health of our oceans.

    2. I go regularly to the Vancouver Aquarium. The dolphins and belugas do not “perform” for the public. The Aquarium has more than explained what goes on with their beloved cetaceans. It’s like you have not read what the Aquarium has to say here nor have you been there to see for yourself.

  42. You say AZA does not support drive fisheries, which is true. But they are all affiliated with JAZA. Futhermore, you do not capture cetaceans from the wild, yet you import their offspring? You say your beluga’s are part of a larger breeding programme, but the breeding programme applied to IMPORT 18 wild caught animals, I am sure their genes would end up in your care. You need wild caught animals to boost your genetic diversity. If not now then in a few generations… This is a fact.
    Secondly, how many animals caught in nets have been suited for release according to the Japanese government? Not so much… Aquiring animals from this country really does not support the message you want to get out there…

    Then, you say you do not want to take away from the natural behavior so you breed them so they can care for their young. Yet you keep your belugas in a really small pool, feed them dead fish and make the animals beach themselves during shows…
    That is also not very natural, is it.

    Although I do think Vancouver aquarium is one of the most honest and conservation based aquaria out there, I wish you would not embrace cetacean captivity. They are inherently badly suited for it. I was in Vancouver last year and did not enter solely because you keep cetaceans.

    I hope you could reconsider, and teach our children that the animals should not be restrained, solely for our amusement or even education (there are no studies that indicate that people actually learn things in zoos…) It gives the message that we have many animals to spare. You guys should be an example for our children, and keeping these animals out of their environment is not something I want to teach my children.

    1. Hi Jane — As the first (and only) aquarium in the world to publicly state that we would no longer capture cetaceans from the wild from the display, this demonstrates our leadership in this area. Our commitment (noted in the letter) clearly speaks to our leadership role in this area. It is important to note that marine animals and ecosystems are imperiled by human action and that is something we all can do something about. The increasing public interest and participation in national programs such as our Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup and our Ocean Wise sustainable seafood program is testimony to people wanting to help. It’s up to institutions such as the Vancouver Aquarium to help make these connections—the dolphins in our care help us get that connection started.

  43. I’m curious why you believe the number of marine mammals who require homes is expected to rise. Also, where are the new belugas the Aquarium is supposedly receiving coming from? Russia recently captured around 16 individuals from the wild, and the Georgia Aquarium has made a pretty public attempt to reverse the NOAA’s decision to prevent these wild whales from being imported for captivity in the United States. SeaWorld in the US is also apparently a party to this.

    Will any of these wild individuals be coming to Canada? And through Canada, can we expect SeaWorld and the Georgia Aquarium to have access to them?

    I think that as aquariums strive to foster this sense of “connection” with the creatures of the ocean, they will eventually have to realize that this generation of humans who have experienced aquariums will come to understand that performing tricks is not where cetaceans are meant to be. While I do applaud the actual research that the Vancouver Aquarium does, I hope to see the Aquarium shift away from circus tricks, or “interpretive shows.” We should instead focus on genuinely protecting wild populations, and providing lives as close to natural as we can for those who can not return to their wild lives.

    1. Hi Pam — While it is impossible to predict how many rescued and non-releasable marine mammals will require long-term care in the future, we do know that there is a need and we’re one of the only facilities in Canada that is able to fulfill that need. As noted in previous comments our animals display natural behaviours in their habitats.

  44. Great work! i heard about people commenting on your work and me being for keeping animals in captivity for educational purposes and in good living conditions and not from drive fisheries! it seems like the Vancouver Aquarium fits into all of these requirements!!! i find it funny when “activists” say that you guys do no good the oceans of the world but i fail to see what they do standing outside an Aquarium door…keep up the good work!

  45. I’m very grateful for this letter. A week ago, after reading about the giraffe in the Copenhagen zoo, I was wondering about the VA and the whales in captivity. This answered all of my questions, and now I feel like I can go back to the VA and visit the belugas.

  46. First of all, I commend you for at least addressing the current wave of discontent that many of us share with respect to the captivity of cetaceans. Many would simply choose to ignore such discontent. However, I would frankly need to learn more about your representations before making judgement on the value of your claims.

    In the meantime, perhaps you may wish to consider allocating an area within your facility to show the ‘other side of the coin’, namely the brutal slaughter of dolphins that the Japanese are inflicting upon their dolphins. You have the perfect opportunity to educate those members of the public who visit your facility and may be largely unaware of the atrocities that take place every year in Taiiji. An educational display that illustrates that brutality would go a long way to underscore the care and compassion that you claim to have.

    I accept that you are playing a role in educating the public, as well as undertaking research that may ultimately serve a good purpose in the conservation area. To extend that role to publicly voice your opposition to the Taiiji brutality may go a long way to providing credibility to your institution and it’s activities. If you have a voice in the awareness and importance of ocean conservation, then let it also be heard in the condemnation of the inhumane dolphin slaughter in Japan.

    Let us also not forget the illegal whaling activity that takes place each year in the Southern Ocean, also inflicted by Japan. I would applaud the Vancouver Aquarium should it choose to make a stand about that ocean outrage as well. At this time, only the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society stands between Japanese harpoons and helpless whales living in a ‘sanctuary’.

    I repeat, let your voice be heard, you have a responsibility.

    1. Hi Paul,

      You can learn more about some of our conservation, research and education efforts on our website. As stated in our letter, our Pacific white-sided dolphins did not come from Japanese drive fisheries or from Taiji. We are proud to be professionally accredited by Canada’s Accredited Zoos and Aquariums (CAZA), the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), and the international Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums (AMMPA)–we have joined all of these organizations in condemning the inhumane slaughter of dolphins in the drive fisheries. It should also be noted that there is not a single dolphin from the drive fisheries in any aquarium accredited by these organizations.

      The Vancouver Aquarium is a non-advocacy based organization—as much as possible, we aim to provide science-based information for public discourse. We have publicly stated our position on the drive fisheries in Taiji, as noted above. We are also putting in our effort with different levels of Japanese governments and groups to help raise awareness about why the drive fisheries practice is not supported by accredited institutions. As you know, this is not an easy task and we all have our own approaches to effecting change.

  47. Thank you posting this letter. What is your stance on creating a large coastal sanctuary for cetacean retirement/rehabilitation where the needs of the animals are first and foremost and those of the viewing public are secondary?

    1. Hi Nick — At the Aquarium, we do already provide a caring, long-term home for all the animals that reside at the Aquarium. Vancouver Aquarium is recognized worldwide for its very high standards of animal care and, in particular, our expertise in caring for marine mammals. Dolphins at the Aquarium, like those in almost all aquariums, play a direct and vital role in engaging people and helping them connect to the broad range of issues affecting animals living in our oceans. Climate change, overfishing, pollution and marine debris are all are very real and large threats to dolphins, and to other ocean dwelling animals that occupy our amazingly rich oceans surrounding Canada.

  48. Thank you for this letter. I am a marine researcher at UBC and have been battling about whether or not to support the Vancouver Aquarium since cetaceans are bred and housed there. My major concern is regarding your “responsible breeding program…[which] enables us to maintain a population of marine mammals at the Aquarium”. Why do you need to breed captive animals? I think the rescue program is excellent and I fully support that practice. Since you anticipate more injured animals in the future, can’t you focus your time, energy and funds into furthering that initiative rather than breeding programs?

    1. Hi Katy,

      Breeding is a natural behaviour and important in the health and welfare management of animals. As noted in our letter, we became the first aquarium in the world to make a commitment to no longer capture cetaceans from the wild. Responsible breeding among accredited facilities also reduces the need for other facilities to capture from the wild.

      Behavioural and medical evaluations indicate that animals in facilities like ours successfully breed, form social groupings, eat well and exhibit the same behaviours as they do in the wild. All husbandry staff members are trained biologists and the health and well-being of our animals are our utmost priority. The information that our veterinarians gain from these successful births may well help endangered population of cetaceans and stranded animals in the future.

  49. Ok, I am going to buy an annual membership this year. You have convinced me that the Vancouver aquarium is different than many other aquariums out there. Keep up the good work. Please stay true to what you have stated in your open letter.

  50. While I applaud your rehabilation program, the reason you use for having dolphins and belugas perform for the public is in my opinion not true. Today’s HD IMAX 3D technology nullifies that excuse. So let’s be real there is really only one reason these animals are forced to perform and that is money. These dolphins and belugas are what keep you in business. They are the main reason why people pay the admission price to visit the aquarium. Is their sacrifice justified for the good things you can do or are there better ways to raise the money required? I don’t know but I think that is what the true discussion should be about.

    1. We deeply care about our animals and they receive exceptional care. During our interpretive shows, we highlight the special traits and behaviours that our animals execute naturally in the wild for our visitors’ learning and understanding.

      Ours is a non-profit society and our proceeds directly support conservation programs such as our nationwide sustainable seafood Ocean Wise program and our Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup which mobilizes 58,000 Canadians to keep our shorelines clean each year. We also lead groundbreaking research. Our Cetacean Research Lab, led by Dr. Lance Barrett-Lennard, is a key player in a killer whale research project that is one of the longest-running and most comprehensive study of any non-human mammal in the world.

      Our visitors leave with a greater sense of connection to our oceans and the aquatic life within them. Many are inspired to do their part to conserve our natural world, which includes participating in our conservation programs or others like it.

    2. I don’t pay for my annual pass just to see the dolphins or belugas. I enjoy the frog gallery, the amazon gallery, the tanks that show different marine areas throughout the province of BC. Stop generalizing about the people who visit the aquarium, it makes you look stupid.

  51. TV/movies/videos do *NOT* allow for the connection that the real animal creates. That connection is what makes most of us care. That caring connection helps make decisions in our lives that impact the natural world.
    About two decades ago I was fortunate to journey to Churchill and scuba dive with the beluga wale population (thousands of animals) that come to the mouth of the Churchill river to calf their young. This is a difficult and costly undertaking and the year we went it had been almost a decade since another person had been there to dive with the wales. It was a magical encounter. When I returned from that trip and told friends and acquaintances… I would see a sparkle of love as they told me what they knew about beluga whales and THEIR encounter at the Vancouver Aquarium. If they hadn’t met belugas themselves they really wouldn’t have connected with my experience at all. Please, keep up the good work, it has made a difference over the years and will continue to do so. thank you 🙂

    1. Thank you for sharing your experience with us, Elaine. These are exactly the connections we hope to create when visitors engage with our aquatic life. It inspires us to conserve our oceans and do our part.

  52. A well written, thoughtful open letter. I was largely unaware of the aquarium’s policies before, and it rejuvenates my hope to hear of them. Thank you.

  53. Well said! Thank you for all that the Vancouver Aquarium does for conservation, and for educating the public on protecting our oceans and aquatic life. Keep up the wonderful work.

  54. “Speaking of misleading, how about leaving out the single drive hunt animal in the research lab in Hawaii. Oh, I guess North America doesn’t cover the island.

    1. No intention to mislead, but a good point. We were specifically referring to Pacific white-sided dolphins and to accredited facilities. There is the whale that you mention at the University in Hawaii and one facility in Mexico that has a different species of dolphin that we are aware of. Neither of these facilities is professionally accredited. We have amended the post to reflect this.
      Clint Wright, Vancouver Aquarium general manager and senior vice president of animal operations