Vancouverites are proud of their Aquarium and its worldwide reputation as a leading marine science centre. Our members and supporters have asked us not to stand idle as some continue to actively disperse misinformation about our commitments, our practices and our people.

Below is a video that shares the real story of our conservation, research and education commitments, as well as information that we hope will help to clarify the misinformation circulating about the Aquarium.


1. Vancouver Aquarium Does Not Capture Cetaceans From The Wild

In 1996, Vancouver Aquarium became the first and only aquarium in the world to make a commitment to no longer capture cetaceans from the wild for display. We now only accept and care for whales, dolphins and porpoises (cetaceans) that were born in an aquarium or were rescued and deemed non-releasable by an appropriate government authority.

The last whale or dolphin collected by the Aquarium happened over 20 years ago, in 1990. That same whale, Aurora, contributes to our knowledge of wild belugas, including ground breaking research, which investigates the impact of boat noise on beluga vocalizations and how it affects the ability of beluga moms and calves to call each other. This is especially important in light of the shrinking ice cover and impending increase in shipping traffic in the Arctic.

2. Vancouver Aquarium Condemns Practice Of Drive Fisheries

Vancouver Aquarium condemns the inhumane killing of dolphins in drive fisheries, as do all professionally accredited aquariums in North America. Our two Pacific white-sided dolphins, Helen and Hana, are not from a drive fishery or from Taiji, we did not purchase them, and no additional animals were collected to replace them.

Helen and Hana were rescued from entanglement in fixed fishing nets on the opposite coast of Japan thousands of kilometres from Taiji—they were in very poor condition but were rehabilitated and then deemed non-releasable by government authorities because of their injuries. Neither could survive in the wild. Vancouver Aquarium offered them a safe and healthy long-term home.

3. Vancouver Aquarium Works With Accredited Facilities To Advance Science

In a rapidly changing world, marine science still contains many mysteries. Throughout our evolution, Vancouver Aquarium has worked with other professionally accredited aquariums to collaborate on research studies, share best practices and enhance staff expertise.

With an upcoming expansion planned for our habitats, the Aquarium relocated three of its belugas to professionally accredited facilities in North America that are also required to have the highest standards of care for their marine mammals. When our expansion is complete, we intend to bring some of the belugas we have on loan back to Vancouver. Since construction on that phase of our revitalization is not yet complete, the timing of their move has not been finalized.

4. Animal Life Cycles

Vancouver Aquarium is a well-respected marine science centre renowned for its exceptional marine mammal care. The animals receive the finest veterinary attention and benefit from state-of-the-art medical technologies developed for human health care. Belugas in professionally accredited facilities live as long as, or longer than, those in the wild. Most of the belugas are now well into their twenties, receive exceptional care and are in excellent physical health.

Unfortunately, animals do die during all parts of their life history as they would in the wild. We were deeply saddened with the passing of Kavna, who we know was at least 46 and considered an old beluga when she died. We are dismayed that activists are using a photo of her, taken from a local news helicopter, after her death from age-related cancer as propaganda. It’s a cruel and heartless misuse of an animal that inspired the song, “Baby Beluga”, and was loved by millions of people including those who cared for her every day.

5. Vancouver Aquarium Is A Non-Profit Conservation Organization

Like all Canadian non-profit organizations, Vancouver Aquarium follows strict accounting regulations and undergoes an annual independent financial audit. Our 2013 Annual Report can be found here.

Gallery admissions, fundraising events and community donations fund operations and animal care, as do programs such as our Marine Mammal Rescue Centre, Marine Mammal Research, Ocean Pollution Research, Ocean Wise™, Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup™ among others. Our staff and volunteers who dedicate their time to protecting the world’s oceans are deeply committed to the cause and encourage you to do your part by joining one of our direct action programs.

6. Our Team Is Deeply Committed To Protecting Our Oceans

Before 1964, when the Vancouver Aquarium caught its first killer whale, B.C.’s fisheries managers had mounted a Browning .50 calibre machine gun at Seymour Narrows to cull the killer whales they believed were vicious predators. Today, killer whales are among the most adored species on earth due to the awareness we’ve raised and our participation in the longest study of killer whales in the world. Further, scientists have proven that up-close encounters with live animals change perceptions, increase understanding and inspire action.* Now, at a time when our oceans are in crisis from climate change, pollution, overfishing and acidification, we need more education and engagement than ever before.

* Briseno-Garzon, A. et al (2007). Adult Learning Experiences from an Aquarium visit: The Role of Social Interactions in Family Groups.

* Skibins, J.C. & Powell, R.B. (2013). Conservation Caring: Measuring the Influence of Zoo Visitors’ Connection to Wildlife on Pro-Conservation Behaviors.

7. Taking Care Of Marine Mammals

Marine mammals at Vancouver Aquarium require a great deal of specialized care—this is especially true for belugas and dolphins that are wholly aquatic. Training is a way for us to communicate with them and to build a trusting relationship. Training allows our professional team to convey simple messages that result in voluntary and cooperative body examinations, the taking of blood, body temperature, ultrasound, dental checks and eye exams.

Our interactions are customized for each animal and vary for health care, exercise, socialization, science, learning, education and play. It also enables scientists to conduct vital research, such as the echolocation (sound) study now underway to help us understand how Pacific white-sided dolphins navigate underwater using sound and why they continue to get entangled in fishing nets.

The interactions happen regardless of public presence and are specifically, and most importantly, for the benefit of animal care. Our guests enjoy watching the interactions and marvel at the relationships the animals have with their expert caregivers. These interactions, or shows, offer important opportunities to engage our guests in ocean issues, particularly direct action programs in which our guests are encouraged to take part.

8. Whales And Dolphins Play A Vital Role

As well as helping to inspire understanding and action in our guests, the whales and dolphins at Vancouver Aquarium continue to play an important role in research for ocean conservation. Some of the studies led by Vancouver Aquarium are conducted solely in the wild, though they use knowledge previously gained from animals at the Aquarium.

Other studies are conducted only at Vancouver Aquarium. Many of them begin at the Aquarium, to establish baseline measurements and to broaden scientists’ understanding, and then continue in the wild. Find just a few of the published and peer-reviewed studies funded and conducted by Vancouver Aquarium listed here.

Expertise gained working with on-site animals also means Vancouver Aquarium is the only rescue facility in Canada with the skills and expertise to conduct rescues in the wild, like reuniting orphaned killer whale Springer with her pod in 2002, rescuing stranded killer whale Sam in 2013, rescuing and rehabilitating harbour porpoise Levi in 2013, and conducting ongoing disentanglement efforts with sea lions on B.C.’s coast.

9. Research For The North

The Arctic is warming at a rate of almost twice the global average, and the sea ice that is a critical component of Arctic marine ecosystems is projected to disappear in the summer within a generation.

For beluga whales, the changing environment means fewer food sources and greater threats, including increased shipping traffic, novel diseases and infection by parasites previously only found in more southern animal species. Vancouver Aquarium researchers and research associates from universities around North America are working together to find solutions to these new challenges. Vancouver Aquarium belugas, Aurora and Qila, are helping. A list of peer-reviewed studies is listed on this page. It does not include research currently underway.

10. Providing A Home For Rescued Animals

Rescued cetaceans at Vancouver Aquarium have been deemed non-releasable by the appropriate government authorities, such as Fisheries and Oceans Canada. To be deemed non-releasable, stranded marine mammals have either sustained injuries that would put them at a great disadvantage in the wild (as with Hana and Helen, the Pacific white-sided dolphins), or they lack the life skills needed to survive on their own because they stranded at a very young age (the case with Jack and Daisy, the harbour porpoises).

With every rescue, the team at Vancouver Aquarium’s Marine Mammal Rescue Centre works around the clock to rehabilitate the animal with the goal of reintroducing it to the wild. Each year, we succeed in rescuing, rehabilitating and releasing roughly 100 marine mammals back into their natural environment. Learn more about our Marine Mammal Rescue Centre.

For more information about our commitments, read our Open Letter.



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8 Responses

  1. Sean Smith

    Thanks very much for this information! I’ve been hoping to hear some intelligent rebuttals to all the political hype in recent weeks. I think it’s shameless the way politicians try to use this issue as a tool to gain a few votes from people who don’t know the facts every time an election comes up.

    Seeing these animals up close and personal is the best way to connect with them and become concerned about issues about their environment and the survival of the species. Especially for the kids. Without that experience, they would not get the coverage they deserve, and their issues would be relegated to the back pages and forgotten about. The animals at the Aquarium serve as the “ambassadors” of their species to us humans.

  2. Michelle Nelson

    Keeping marine mammals in captivity is unethical. It is not essential to marine conservation nor is it essential for education. Most Canadian cities have already moved away from it, and as a citizen of Vancouver and as a conservation biologist, I strongly feel we should do the same.

    • Vancouver Aquarium

      Hi Michelle — Marine mammals at the Vancouver Aquarium contribute to a vast number of research programs and play a key role in our education programs. As the only marine science centre in Canada that cares for cetaceans, we’re also the only Marine Mammal Rescue Centre in the nation with the professional team readily available to mobilize in the event of an emergent cetacean stranding. It is only because of our team’s hands-on skills working with cetaceans in our care are we able to rescue, rehabilitate and release about 100 marine mammals a year.

    • Michelle Barkwill

      So, Michelle, do you think it would be more ethical to euthanise animals like Hana and Helen who have been permanantly disabled because of human stupidity, or would you rather chuck them back into the ocean where they’ll slowly starve to death or get torn to shreds by predators?

  3. Kelly

    Why does the Vancouver Aquarium boast about being the first aquarium in the world to end the practice of capturing wild cetaceans? It was the Park Board who created a bylaw which forbade you from continuing this practice. So it’s disingenuous of the VA to take credit for that.

  4. Steph

    Great to see you are putting the facts straight. Too many anti-captivity people are putting false info out there with no proof or documentation to back them up. Keep up the great work 🙂

    • Vancouver Aquarium

      Thanks for your support, Steph. We feel strongly that the right information needs to be shared as we are very proud of our staff and volunteers and the hard work they do every day to help conserve our ailing oceans.


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