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.

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17 Responses

  1. Dorte

    The Aquarium should be like a university, immune from this kind of interference and governed by research ethics alone. Science is under siege in this country!
    We would not have the love affair we have with whales and dolphins, or care as much for the other creatures of the sea, if not for the education this institution has offered through the years. (And that ‘we’ includes those who would see it all dismantled!)
    Good job Vancouver Aquarium! Rock on!

  2. Patricia Legge

    I was delighted to hear that a court challenge would be made and equally appalled by the responding comment of the chair of the Parks Board. It would seem that the perceived ‘power’ of the position has gone to his head! How sad to see this amazing, and science based institution used for political ends. The court has to find in favour of the Aquarium, surely. How sad though that you have to waste valuable time and money, both of which could be used to further the great work of the Aquarium.

  3. Joyce Bradley

    I think it shameful and insulting that the Aquarium should have to take legal steps to protect its work and commitment to wildlife, but I’m glad they are fighting back against the uninformed and uneducated. The Parks Board should be embarrassed.

  4. Krista C

    Along with the others, I support VanAqua in this step, although it is a bit scary and probably expensive and I know that nobody there wanted it to go to court. But at some point, in order to speak up for the animals, you have to take a stand. I agree that the Park Board is not covered by their actual mandate on this issue and I hope their political grandstanding is rebuked by the courts. I wish you wisdom, fortitude and many supporters in this action.

  5. Melanie

    Well done John and the VA staff and board. I am glad you are standing up go yourselves and the world class work you do. Best of luck. Tell us how we can help.

  6. Mary

    I`m very proud of the Aquarium and the action they have taken. They know what they are doing. If I was an injured dolphin or seal I would hope an Aquarium expert would find me not a Parks Board member!
    Last week as my grandson and I were watching the belugas the trainer asked where people watching were from. Canada and US but also Europe and Australia .
    Imagine what a great memory they would take home with them. They and their friends would want to come to this area again. And see a beautiful facility, with well cared for animals.

  7. Myra McCloy

    I am a total animal lover and prefer to see wildlife in it’s natural setting but the Aquarium is much more than a place where people go to see the creatures they may never see in the wild. The people who work with them are experts in their field and have a lot more knowledge of these cetaceans than any bandwagon jumpers and uneducated parks board officials. They have learned so much more than they could have if they hadn’t been in close contact with them, which in turn helps us take care of the ones in the wild.
    Leave the politics out of this, and let the wonderful people who work with these creatures, care for them with all their years of knowledge and love.
    I hope the judge in this court case uses his/her common sense in this matter and leaves the Aquarium to it’s experts.

    ups, but the care of the cetaceans at the Aquarium should be left to the experts who have spent many years studying these creatures not to welfare groups or our uneducated Parks Board members who obviously have not done their homework if they think they and the bandwagon jumpers know more than the experts who care for these creatures and educate the public with their knowledge as well as rescuing and rehabilitating many of our aquatic wildlife. Stop the politics and use your common sense.

  8. Barbara French

    Congratulations! I was very pleased to hear of the action taken by the Aquarium against the Parks Board. I recently moved from Vancouver and regret I do not now have a vote. The Parks Board seem to be pandering to an uneducated minority who anthropomorphize cetaceans at the aquarium. Time and again it has been proven that the only way to save endangered species is to study and breed in captivity in addition to the studies in the wild. Thank you for fighting back.

  9. Rae-Ann Pochinko

    So very glad that the Aquarium is fighting against The Parks Board’s misguided recommendations. the Aquarium must be able to continue on with its outstanding work!

  10. Joseph Connors

    Conscientious management of complex small ecosystems and, especially, the care of large organisms such as cetaceans within them is scientifically demanding and requires the practical, experience-based knowledge of the aquarium’s dedicated professional staff. Superimposing oversight by politically motivated amateurs is worse than folly. It will directly endanger the very creatures the aquarium is supposed to protect, both in the aquarium itself and in our surrounding oceans. Good for you for fighting this misguided silliness.

  11. Kevin Harman

    Would this be the same animal welfare groups that did such a great job overseeing to the care and regulation of sled dogs up in Whistler? Now how did that turn out again?
    Park Board must be another language for dim wits. Perhpas if they cannot make a decision based on scientific fact and available knowledge, it is they who should step back from overseeing the care of things. Just another useless level of bureacracy.

  12. Amy McFee

    I can not be behind you guys more. I hope that the Supreme Court sees how ridiculous the Park Board was in imposing their resumption. You guys do more for these animals than anyone else could. It’s a bunch of people jumping on a bandwagon after a movie came out. People should really learn what they are fighting against. I bet those same people are now dumping ice water on themselves. Thank you for everything you are doing, and have done. We are lucky enough to have a world class marine science centre right in our own backyard. Let’s not screw that up.

  13. Frank Townsley

    I too fully support John Nightingale’s stance on the wonderful work the Stanley Park Aquarium’s knowledgeable staff is doing in all facets of their work. I think the Aquarium is a gem in our wonderful city and would love for it to remain as is.

  14. Dane Peterson

    I’m glad to see you taking a legal stand against these ridiculious recommendations by the Parks board. They succumbed to pressure from the uninformed who know nothing about the great work you do. Good luck and keep up the good work

    • Ina McLay

      I am in full agreement with the Aquarium.

      The Park Board needs an education, shame on their ignorance.

  15. Jeff Talbott

    This is a fantastic letter. I’m happy the Aquarium is fighting this decision. A decision forced forced by bureaucrats to please public opinion shouldn’t be able to outweigh experts and scientists.

    Thank you for all that you do. The value of the educational and conservational content from the VA is world class!

  16. Maureen Fleming

    That is a great letter. I hope the parks boards bylaw is overturned.
    The Vancouver Aquarium does so much for the benefit of the marine life in our waters. Thank you.


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