Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre is a conservation organization that Canadians look to for science and facts on important issues. Every now and then we feel the need to clarify inaccurate messages being shared about our conservation efforts and this is one of those times.

Some of you may have seen a local video created and circulated by an anti-conservation detractor. This video is not a documentary, as it’s not grounded in truth. Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre invests millions of dollars each year on its conservation, research, rescue and education programs. Egregious claims that state otherwise in a video made by detractors are clearly untrue.

When the producer approached us last year, we invited him to visit the Aquarium, to speak to our team and to learn about our many conservation and research efforts. Our mission is to conserve aquatic life and we do that by raising awareness, connecting visitors to nature and encouraging people to take action. He decided not to use the facts we provided and, instead, has deliberately created an inaccurate movie that misleads the viewer. We want to correct several points where he has manipulated the truth.

Vancouver Aquarium Cetacean Research

Kristi and Brian take pulmonary readings of Aurora.

Beluga Whales Receive Exceptional Care
The small group of animals in professional care receive daily veterinary care, enrichment activities, healthy diets and routine check-ups – these animals are well cared for and are not the ones in trouble. Animals that are under grave threat are the depleting numbers of wild cetaceans that are being directly impacted by human activities every day, such as overfishing, dumping of contaminants, more and more plastics and increasing noise associated with shipping. As humans continue to damage our natural world, institutions like Vancouver Aquarium are the ones conducting research to save wild species, activating community groups in conservation programs to protect our oceans and encouraging conservation practices to slow down the degradation of nature.

No Wild Capture Commitment
In 1996, Vancouver Aquarium became the first aquarium in the world to commit to no longer capturing cetaceans (whales and dolphins) from the wild. We made that commitment believing we could sustain our cetacean population — and the critical research and rescue work we do — through collaboration, with the addition of calves born to our accredited collaborating institutions, and by providing a home to rescued animals. None of the beluga whales at the Vancouver aquarium, or currently living in other facilities, can live in the wild.

Vancouver Aquarium was not included in the Georgia Aquarium permit application to import wild belugas from Russia. The addendum references a meeting that took place in August 2012 where Vancouver Aquarium was invited to hear about the plans to import the belugas so that it would be fully informed. At the meeting, Vancouver Aquarium made it very clear that, due to its commitment to no wild cetacean capture, it would not be participating in any aspect of the import of belugas nor providing resources to assist in the placement of animals. It is also noted on the permit that none of those beluga whales would be brought to Canada.

The Aquarium's Marine Mammal Rescue Team work to disentangle debris from a sea lion.

The Aquarium’s Marine Mammal Rescue Centre Team disentangles debris from a sea lion.

Canada’s Only Marine Mammal Rescue Centre
Vancouver Aquarium founded and manages the only Marine Mammal Rescue Centre in Canada with a skilled team able to rescue stranded marine mammals including whales and dolphins. This is entirely due to our direct experience in providing daily care to cetaceans at Vancouver Aquarium. The Aquarium has been saving marine mammals along B.C.’s coast for over 50 years. Our Rescue Centre now rescues, rehabilitates and releases 100 or more marine animals a year. These are wild animals that are reported as stranded and/or severely injured and are rescued under government permits.

Rescued animals come to the Aquarium’s Rescue 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. Successful rescue and releases in the last decade include killer whales, a grey whale, harbor porpoise, sea lion, northern fur seals, northern elephant seals and thousands of harbour seals, among others.

The average annual cost of managing the Aquarium’s Rescue Centre is $350,000, which can increase significantly in any one year with the intake of a stranded cetacean. In 2014, when the false killer whale Chester was rescued and rehabilitated, the operating cost of the Rescue Centre increased to nearly $600,000 for around-the-clock care. The bulk of the required funds come from Aquarium operations with some funding from donations and partnership/sponsorships. The Aquarium’s Rescue Centre is located on a temporary site on the waterfront, a site that will eventually be developed, which will require the Rescue Centre to be moved. When a permanent home is determined, even more substantial fundraising will be required to enable construction of the new facilities.

The Aquarium is currently fundraising for its capital campaign to revitalize its infrastructure and expand its facility in Stanley Park. The first phase has been completed and it is entering its second phase of revitalization which includes the expansion of cetacean habitats. In total, Vancouver Aquarium has raised $55 million as part of its capital campaign to support its much-needed infrastructure revitalization.

Debris from around the world washes up on our shorelines.

Debris from around the world washes up on our shorelines.

Commitment to Conservation Programs
As a non-profit marine science centre, Vancouver Aquarium is committed to aquatic conservation. In the past 10 years, the Aquarium’s financial commitment to conservation, research and education has grown by 87 per cent.

During 2000 to 2010, Vancouver Aquarium housed a finite, 10-year “big ocean” research project, the Pacific Ocean Shelf Tracking Program. This program was one of 17 projects that made up the global Census of Marine Life. During this decade-long census more than 2,000 scientists from over 80 countries worked together to identify and describe as many animals as possible living in the world’s vast ocean.

The 10-year project was externally funded, with an annual budget of approximately $2 million and three full-time scientists who were housed at the Aquarium. Those external funds were accounted for within the Aquarium’s financials during this 10-year period, which resulted in inflated Aquarium revenues between 2000 and 2010. When the Census came to an end, the funding source for the program also ended, which is also reflected in the Aquarium’s 2013 financials.

Professional Associations
Professional industry associations, including esteemed organizations like the College of Physicians and Surgeons, Chartered Professional Accountants and the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, are self-regulating bodies comprising members who adhere to strict ethical principles, rules of conduct and professional guidelines. Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre is a member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, Canada’s Accredited Zoos and Aquariums and the Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums. Each of these organizations operates a rigorous, inspection-based, organizational and facility accreditation program. The Aquarium is accredited by all three.

Harbour porpoise, Levi, was rescued, rehabilitated and released in 2013.

Harbour porpoise, Levi, was rescued, rehabilitated and released in 2013.

Cetacean Mating
Mating is a natural behaviour that occurs between healthy animals. We collaborate with accredited peer facilities to manage the genetic diversity of beluga whales in professional care. Under a cooperative philosophy, each facility manages its own animals and each provides exceptional care. Animals are sometimes moved between facilities to ensure appropriate genetic diversity, to manage population levels and for other reasons such as managing the impacts of construction. No money is exchanged as part of these loans or transfers.

Studies of cetacean reproduction and calf development have provided important scientific advances that have assisted captive and rescued animals, and prepares biologists and other scientists as they work to protect endangered populations. Raising calves in aquariums also provides the scientific knowledge and practical hands-on skills to rescue stranded cetaceans, like Levi, the harbour porpoise who was rehabilitated and released in 2013, and Chester, the false killer whale currently in our care.

Professionally and appropriately managed, the small number of well cared for and content belugas living at Vancouver Aquarium and other accredited facilities provide a unique and important opportunity to contribute to our greater understanding of these magnificent animals, and to the protection of their wild counterparts.

Beluga Calves
In 1995, Aurora gave birth to Qila at the Vancouver Aquarium. She was the first beluga to be conceived and born in a Canadian aquarium, and one of the first worldwide. It was a significant milestone in the study of beluga reproductive biology. Over the past 39 years, four beluga calves have passed away at the Aquarium and each due to unrelated and unpreventable causes. In the wild, beluga calves are weaned in their second year of life and female belugas become sexually mature at approximately five years of age.

The Arctic is warming at twice the rate of the global average, with profound impacts for animals and humans.

The Arctic is warming at twice the rate of the global average, with profound impacts for animals and humans.

Cetacean Research
Vancouver Aquarium is a leader in cetacean research only because it is able to care for cetaceans at its marine science centre. Pioneering research led by scientists, such as Dr. Valeria Vergara’s ongoing study of beluga acoustic communications, applies knowledge garnered during on-site studies at the Aquarium. Studying some behavioural aspects of beluga whales in the wild is often extremely difficult, if not impossible. Dr. Vergara now applies that same research to wild beluga whales in Canada’s Arctic and the St. Lawrence Estuary.

Belugas in our care have contributed to the training of field researchers, assisted in the development of mark and recapture bands to help estimate the population size of wild belugas, and provided baseline data for both vocalization research and healthy lung function to help future rescues of stranded whales. Vancouver Aquarium’s veterinarians, scientists, trainers and professional staff have decades of experience in cetacean care, research and rescue efforts. Learn more about cetacean research and read some of its publications.

Pacific White-sided Dolphins
In 2005, Pacific white-sided dolphins, Helen and Hana, arrived in Vancouver after they were rescued and rehabilitated in Japan. Both were rescued as a badly injured animals from fixed fishing nets off the East coast of Japan and deemed non-releasable by the Japanese government. They did not come from the Japanese drive fisheries. Vancouver Aquarium does not support, fund or acquire animals from drive fisheries. In fact, Vancouver Aquarium, like all accredited aquariums in North America, condemns the inhumane killing of dolphins and other cetaceans in the Japanese drive fisheries. Further, all members of the Japanese Association of Zoos and Aquariums have also committed to not taking animals captured as part of the drive fishery.

Beluga whales connect people, young and old, to real issues happening in nature.

Beluga whales connect people, young and old, to issues happening in nature.

Beluga Whales as an Engagement Point
Beluga whales at Vancouver Aquarium play a critical role in conservation research and help us explain the impacts of climate change to more than one million visitors a year. As part of its rich 60-year history as Canada’s marine science centre, Vancouver Aquarium has connected over 40 million visitors to the critical issues facing the oceans and its inhabitants through a visit that is often the first exposure visitors have to majestic marine mammals, such as beluga whales. The emotional connection people experience through a visit at the Aquarium serves as an important point of engagement, which is a critical step in fostering the interest needed for visitors to care and take action to protect our imperiled oceans.

As a registered not-for-profit organization, Vancouver Aquarium publicly shares its conservation efforts in our 2014 Annual Report. You may also watch our Cetaceans in Our Care video. On behalf of our 1,500+ staff and volunteers, we would like thank the many supporters who believe in the conservation work we lead. We look forward to sharing our continued conservation efforts with you.


15 Responses

  1. Rose

    The CAZA is run by the same people that want aquariums/zoos. This is not an unbiased source.

    It’s not that belugas cannot be bred in captivity, they are going through the same growing pains as orcas did. The only difference is everyone has their eyes on you. You cannot just magically replace a beluga with a wild one, which they did plenty of times at SeaWorld with orcas. Why do you think they call them all ‘shamu.’

    When I attended shows when I was younger, guess what I wanted to be? A dolphin trainer. I didn’t care about preserving them in the wild…no, I wanted them to be captive so /I/ could benefit.

    You should save yourselves while you still can. Retire them to seapens.

    • Vancouver Aquarium

      Hi Rose — Yes, we do believe in the preservation of aquariums and zoos as accredited institutions invest in more than $160 million annually toward field conservation to help save wild animals.

    • Rose

      I didn’t ask you if you believed in that.

      I didn’t really ask you anything.

      But now that I have you, let me ask you :

      1) CAZA has the same people running it. Do you think this is an unbiased source?

      2) How do you intend to keep your breeding program going WHILE not bring in new genetics from the wild? Be careful here. If you state partnership with other aquariums, how will you guarantee they do not steal from the wild?

      • Vancouver Aquarium

        We’ve addressed your first question in the blog post. Consistent with how animals are managed within accredited zoological facilities, great care is taken to ensure the animals are cared for in social groups that are appropriate for the individual animals. This collaborative management effort maximizes genetic diversity and the breeding potential of the entire population. Vancouver Aquarium made a commitment to no longer collect cetaceans from the wild. Through proper management, our cetaceans would not breed with other cetaceans that were collected post-1996.

  2. Nancy

    Thank you for this. Correcting misinformation is very important. As a scientist, teacher, and long-time supporter of the Aquarium, I applaud your efforts and am glad you have spoken out.

  3. Robert

    The aquarium is something I grew up with, going on school, family, or daycare expeditions almost annually. Friends of mine often did the overnight programs, and while I personally haven’t had the opportunity to volunteer, friends of mine who have say it’s one of the most enjoyable and rewarding experiences in Vancouver. I was gifted an annual membership this year when I returned home for the holiday break from university, and it is a membership that I fully intend to renew indefinitely.

    The transparent, in depth and rapid response that you’ve made here to such a… disappointing film (to say the least) is yet another reason to support your research and institution. I’m sure it has to be an incredibly stressful situation for all your passionate staff and volunteers to be falsely accused of lying and cruelty. And I hope they know that there are people out there – all over BC and the world – who support them.

    Here’s to another record breaking year of attendance in 2016, may the misinformed ‘documentaries’ only serve to bring more supporters to the aquarium’s site in solidarity.

    • Vancouver Aquarium

      Hi Robert — Thank you for sharing your message and for your support. We’re glad to hear that you’re a member and we look forward to seeing you in our galleries and at one of our conservation events.

  4. James Lamothe

    Breeding captive whales and dolphins is unethical and not sufficiently justified by the aquarium’s research and education goals. I admire its rescue and rehabilitation work. However, I would prefer that the aquarium get government support for rescue and rehabilitation rather than pay for it with money from their ethically questionable programs. Thank you.

    • Joe

      The Aquarium does not force any of the animals to mate and breed. As stated in their response, mating is a natural occurrence, and sometimes this happens without anyone realizing it. They are very social animals, so it would be unethical to completely isolate the one male from the rest of the pod. And I cannot imagine you would want them to perform unnecessary surgery to ensure they never reproduce again. I’m sure there are things that could be done, such as temporarily separating the male from the females during mating season, but even then, you cannot guarantee that one of them will not get pregnant.

      And growing up as well as during my years as a volunteer, I have never heard of any dolphins getting pregnant at the Aquarium. If pregnancy occurs, it is most definitely not because the staff are trying to breed the animals, but simply because it is a part of their natural life cycle.

  5. Brandon

    As someone who is passionate about the Vancouver Aquarium, and has volunteered multiple times on different occasions, I feel that the “documentary” made is disrespectful to those that work/support this place.

    People that work at this facility genuinely care about their jobs, and as I have seen firsthand the trainers and staff that directly deal with the animals are the most genuine of all. You can tell that these animals are their friends and not just a means.

    This documentary vilifies those that work/support this facility which is not fair.

    There will always be those that want to bring you down. It’s impossible to please everyone.

    Go Vanaqua!

    • Vancouver Aquarium

      Thanks, Brandon. We appreciate your support as a volunteer (so important!) and your ongoing interest in conservation. Those who work closely with us in our efforts know best the work we lead as a marine science centre.

  6. JoAnn

    I was devastated to see the video that has been distributed via the internet, however, knew that the information in it was ridiculous!

    I am so happy that the Vancouver Aquarium has taken a stand against the horrible rumour mongering from the video and I hope are also prepared to take legal action, if necessary.

    Thank you for all you do.

    Take care.


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