We’re in the middle of an important chapter in the history of our interactions with our oceans. Humans are responsible for a long list of environmental impacts, and with most of us living in cities and preoccupied by technology, we’re less likely to care.

At Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre, we believe that seeing and carefully interacting with cetaceans and other marine animals is a vital key to engaging more and more people. We need to “grow the choir” and greatly expand the number of people who have a basic interest and curiosity about our oceans, and about what is happening to them. But while animals are often the key to initial engagement, we must always keep their welfare and conservation in mind.

On Sept. 30, Virgin Group founder Richard Branson announced the Virgin Pledge, a commitment by the company’s partner aquariums and marine parks around the world to no longer take whales and dolphins from the ocean.

In his statement Branson said: “effective protection and conservation of the oceans and its magnificent animals is an enormous task that will require collective action at all levels . . . We feel that the Virgin Pledge can be a force for good and have positive impact on current practices, especially if others in the industry join and support this effort.”

It’s a remarkable act of corporate leadership, one that parallels the commitment made by Vancouver Aquarium on September 16, 1996, when we became the first aquarium in the world to commit to no longer capturing whales and dolphins from the wild 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

Vancouver Aquarium participated in the stakeholder engagement process with Virgin Unite and Virgin Holidays. These workshops and meetings included scientists, activists and marine park operators. Throughout the discussions, the group and process remained clear, transparent, and focused on both animal welfare and human practices. After the formal consultation, the Virgin team held hundreds of meetings with interested people, organizations and businesses to understand the issues and ramifications of the pledge. The resulting pledge is a very positive and broad reaching step in the history of our interactions with the oceans and the animals living in them.

The Virgin Pledge is a positive start in ensuring the conservation of wild animals while continuing to foster a proven way of engaging millions more people worldwide. We pledge to continue working with the Virgin group of companies and Unite, and with those involved in animal conservation, with the goal of fostering public engagement.

Nature faces problems of human origin, and the solutions must also be of human origin — let’s grow this choir!

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