Thank you to all our supporters who have sent over 13,000 letters regarding the Vancouver Park Board proposed bylaw that would ban all cetaceans (whales, dolphins, and porpoises) from Vancouver parks and, by extension, the Vancouver Aquarium. We wanted to share some of these letters with you.
Stephanie L. King, PhD and Research Fellow at the University of Western Australia and member of the Shark Bay Dolphin Research Alliance wrote this letter to the Park Board Comissioners on May 5.
I’m writing to express my significant concern regarding the Vancouver Park Board’s proposed ban on cetaceans at Vancouver Aquarium. I am a marine mammal scientist with over 12 years experience of conducting research on marine mammal behaviour and communication, both with wild populations and animals under human care. I am a senior researcher at one of the longest running dolphin field sites in the world in Shark Bay, Western Australia, and the success of my career is not reliant on access to marine mammal facilities. I therefore feel I can provide an objective and informed testimony on the importance of the marine mammal facility at Vancouver Aquarium.
I am becoming increasingly concerned with the global spread of misinformation, where people appear to base decisions on feeling rather than fact. This notion of releasing cetaceans, currently housed at marine mammal facilities, back into the wild is unrealistic and unfeasible. These animals are not able adapt to life back in the wild, they are not able meet their daily food intake requirements and they are very unlikely to reintegrate into their social group. As such, rescuing and caring for non-releasable whales, dolphins and porpoises is the humane thing to do. There is no evidence to support claims that animals under human care exhibit unhealthy or abnormal behaviour, instead animals have ample behavioural and social enrichment and excellent medical care. These animals also provide valuable contributions to science. I have personally worked at three different marine mammal facilities in North America, resulting in four international peer-reviewed publications, and in my experience the animal care at these accredited facilities is exceptional.
We should absolutely be supporting the work of the Vancouver Aquarium’s Marine Mammal Rescue Program, which is renowned for its support of injured, sick and orphaned marine mammals. The importance of their work cannot be emphasised enough. The proposed ban on cetaceans from the Aquarium would mean there would be little help available to vulnerable animals that need rehabilitation and/or life long care because they cannot survive on their own. Marine mammal facilities, particularly Vancouver Aquarium, also offer us the opportunity to educate people and to influence changes in behaviour. Most marine mammal injuries and fatalities are the direct result of human impact; Vancouver Aquarium offers us an opportunity to highlight these issues to help educate people and promote best practise when people encounter marine mammals in the wild.
Ultimately, the huge investment in time and money being spent on these types of discussions would be much better spent if directed towards the conservation and management of wild populations of cetaceans that are endangered and near extinction e.g. the Southern Resident Killer whales and the Vaquita. This should be our priority above all else, and the strong support offered by the Vancouver Aquarium for the conservation and research of wild marine mammals should be acknowledged.
I very much hope the Park Board reconsiders its position on this issue, because the impact of this ban will have a significant negative impact on the welfare of rescued animals and animals currently under human care.
Please help ensure we can continue to care for those animals that cannot care for themselves. Monday, May 15 the Park Board will meet for a final vote on the cetacean ban. This is a crucial decision for the future of some of the most vulnerable marine mammals, and we need to be there to ensure they make the right choice. Join us.