By John Nightingale, President and CEO of the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre
As the Park Board is not allowing anyone to speak tonight, I wanted to share my personal thoughts on the topic of rescuing whales, dolphins and porpoises.
As a long-time resident of Metro Vancouver, I have seen the changes occurring along our coastlines. Just two decades ago, our oceans were teeming with life, but growing urban development, overfishing, changing climate and ocean pollution have wreaked havoc on our once thriving marine environments. As a marine biologist and research scientist, I have dedicated my life to studying, sharing and safeguarding our delicate ecosystems.
I have had the unique honour of serving as president and CEO at Vancouver Aquarium for the past 24 years. Much has changed during this time. With the introduction of Moby Doll, the community’s love of killer whales is now unparalleled because we now know an incredible amount about the species and the need to protect them. This is what I would consider a success as I think about the legacy I hope to leave my grandchildren.
We were well on our way with other whales, dolphins and porpoises too. On my daily strolls through our galleries, I see it in the eyes of the young who come face to face with an animal they’ve only read about in books – that bright-eyed wonder is the spark that connects our youth to aquatic life, making it all the more real, awesome and emotional.
Over the past several weeks, we have seen an outpouring of love and support from more than 13,000 community members. Each of these citizens took the time to write to you with his or her heartfelt letter because, like me, he or she believes in saving our most vulnerable marine mammals that strand along our beaches. Whales, dolphins and porpoises that strand do so because they were either separated from their mothers, or they sustained an injury or became ill. These are our most helpless animals and they deserve a chance to live if we’re able to give it to them.
As you consider your vote tonight, I hope you will consider this: the debate of keeping cetaceans in human care should not be the core issue here. Rather, the core issue should be about doing what is right for whales, dolphins and porpoises that can no longer care for themselves. We should be proud of the incredible work our Marine Mammal Rescue Program leads – Vancouver is the only city in all of Canada that boasts a team of first responders who take on emergent cases around-the-clock. Paramedics of the sea, as I like to call them. This team who dedicates long nights and days to caring for our most vulnerable cases do it out of love, and nothing else.
At a time when we need more empathy for animals in an increasingly destructive marine environment, often caused by humans, we have the responsibility to do right by helpless whales, dolphins and porpoises.
In closing, I ask that you set aside whatever personal opinion you may have and think about the animals that wash up along the sandy shores of our waters and join the 95 per cent of residents in Metro Vancouver who believe whales, dolphins and porpoises should be saved and continue to thrive in a caring home we’re able to provide if they are unfit to survive on their own.
John Nightingale, PhD