The following is an Open Letter from Dr. John Nightingale, Vancouver Aquarium President and CEO.
We’ve spent the last four weeks studying the resolutions passed by the Park Board on July 31st which set out new conditions under which cetaceans can be acquired and managed at Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre.
We have concluded that the resolutions put forth by the Park Board restrict the Vancouver Aquarium’s ability to fully continue its mission and mandate. The resolutions raise significant concerns given the risks and impractical nature of the proposed changes.
This morning, the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre filed a legal challenge in B.C. Supreme Court with respect to Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation’s resolutions.
Vancouver Aquarium objects to the resolutions on the legal grounds that this is a purely political issue and the resolutions serve no legitimate municipal purpose and go beyond the jurisdiction of the Park Board.
As such, the Aquarium is exercising its legal right to challenge the validity of those resolutions in court. In short, we believe caring for animals in the Aquarium must be left to the experts.
The issues in nature, specifically with our oceans, are increasingly problematic – overfishing, marine pollution and ocean acidification are man-made issues that require human intervention.
The Government of Canada made us Canada’s Pacific National Aquarium. As Canada’s largest marine science centre, Canadians expect us to help protect our oceans and the aquatic creatures that depend on it – this includes the whales, dolphins and porpoises that are in need of rescue due to stranding, illness or injury.
We may be located in Stanley Park, but we have a nationwide scope and the work we do belongs to all Canadians.
For 58 years we have been educating Canadians about marine conservation, and the issues are more pressing than ever before. Now is not the time to be doing less to protect and preserve our ocean environments whether it is the B.C. coast or Canada’s Arctic. And, frankly, we resent being turned into a political football.
It has been noted by the scientific community, professional animal care experts and the Park Board that Vancouver Aquarium is a world-leading aquarium for marine science, research, conservation and education, and plays a vital role in the rescue and rehabilitation of marine mammals.
In fact, the Vancouver Aquarium operates the only Marine Mammal Rescue Centre in Canada with a professional, skilled team, readily able to save stranded, sick or injured wild cetaceans.
Today, as we speak, Clint Wright, the Aquarium’s general manager is in the high Arctic as part of a federal government research team working to conserve Canada’s narwhals. Clint is there because of the practical experience gained first hand working with cetaceans at the Vancouver Aquarium. That practical experience is at the heart of our ability to help cetaceans in the wild.
The new Park Board resolutions put that ability to help save Canada’s belugas and other cetaceans species at risk. As a result, the Vancouver Aquarium has filed this court challenge.
As a renowned marine science centre that cares for cetaceans, many of which are rescued, rehabilitated and independently deemed non-releasable due to their inability to survive in the wild, Vancouver Aquarium’s Marine Mammal Rescue Centre program would be compromised by a ban on breeding cetaceans.
Further, a ban on breeding cetaceans is both impractical and unwise from an animal care and animal welfare standpoint.
The Vancouver Aquarium is accredited by Canada’s Accredited Zoos and Aquariums, The Association of Zoos and Aquariums (US) and the Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums (International). As an accredited member, Vancouver Aquarium is required to meet or exceed standards of animal care set out by these three independent accrediting bodies, which we do.
As part of those organizations, and as part of its practice of continuous improvement, the Aquarium already works with collaborating organizations around the world to improve care in any way possible.
For 58 years, the Vancouver Aquarium has been an independently operated, accredited marine science centre that is managed by professional experts with years of specific knowledge, experience and skills in planning and executing all aspects of care for cetaceans. By any measure, the Vancouver Aquarium is a world leader.
Our staff have years of technical experience working in the marine environment and with marine mammals including cetaceans. Areas of care such as food, medical treatment, training, behavioral enrichment – just to name a few – must be left in the hands of experts. There are lots of opinions floating around but as renowned scientist and former Minister, Dr. Pat McGeer noted in last Tuesday’s Vancouver Sun: “wise decisions regarding the care and future of cetaceans in captivity, or in the wild, must come from the real experts who comprise the management and staff of the Aquarium.”
For this reason, the Aquarium rejects the suggestion of an “oversight committee” composed of animal welfare organizations which would impose animal care and other decisions, thus removing decision making from the Aquarium’s experts who have first-hand, professional experience in planning and executing care practices.
The Aquarium’s guidepost has always been about providing the very best animal care practices that are made in the best interests of its animals and founded on evidence-based science.
Handing decision-making over to an external group without expertise in animal care would jeopardize the Aquarium’s standing in the marine science community as well as our formal accreditations. Professional accrediting bodies require professional experts to make appropriate animal care decisions.
We are Canada’s Pacific marine science centre and the only marine mammal rescue centre with a team of professionally trained and experienced staff able to save stranded, injured and ill cetaceans.
Our world’s oceans are in danger. Now is not the time to be doing less to protect and preserve our ocean environments.
We have no intention of giving up our mission of saving Canada’s belugas and Canada’s oceans. And, we look forward to making our case in British Columbia’s Supreme Court.
Learn more about our commitment to cetacean care.