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.
Kelly Jaakkola, PhD, Director of Research, Dolphin Research Center and Chair of the Scientific Advisory Committee, Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums wrote this letter to the Park Board Comissioners.
I am an internationally published marine mammal scientist and cognitive psychologist with a PhD from MIT, who has been researching dolphin behavior, cognition, and welfare for nearly 20 years. I give you this background so you will understand that I am a well-trained, highly educated scientist with many years of directly relevant experience, who takes education, welfare, and the importance of factual data very seriously. As such, I am writing to express my significant concern and alarm regarding the Park Board’s proposed ban on cetaceans at the Vancouver Aquarium.
While it is clear that many people are concerned with the well-being of dolphins, belugas, and other cetaceans, it is unfortunate that much of the information about these animals in the media and social media comes from sources that are not scientifically current, objective, and/or accurate. At the level of legislation, however, the accuracy of such information has real-world consequences. Therefore, it is crucial that any information used to make legislative decisions (including this bylaw) be based on actual science.
Marine mammal facilities like the Vancouver Aquarium contribute to the conservation of wild cetaceans and their ecosystems by the research and education they perform. Many questions that ultimately benefit conservation and our understanding of cetaceans in the wild can only be addressed through the participation of animals in zoological settings. (Please see the Scientist Statement supporting the importance of research in marine mammal facilities, signed by myself and 83 other scientists worldwide.
For conservation purposes, the importance of finding ways to connect people with animals cannot be overstated. We are currently in the middle of the Sixth Extinction, where animal species are disappearing at an alarming rate due to human impacts on the environment. At the same time, children are becoming less and less connected to the very nature that we need to protect. Displaying cetaceans to the public in places like the Vancouver Aquarium allows us to positively affect that connection. Peer-reviewed scientific studies have shown that: (a) experiencing live animals creates emotional connections; (b) such emotional connections increase conservation mindedness; and (c) experiences with live animals at zoos and aquariums positively impact visitors’ conservation-related attitudes, knowledge, and behaviour.
To be sure, the welfare of these animals is of utmost importance. Here again, science can inform our decisions. There are no scientific studies suggesting that cetaceans in marine mammal facilities are more stressed, or any more prone to disease, than cetaceans in the wild. On the contrary, studies have shown: (a) that cortisol levels (i.e., the “stress hormone”) of dolphins in marine mammal facilities are either very similar to, or lower than, cortisol levels of wild dolphins; and (b) that the immune systems of wild dolphins are much more challenged than the immune systems of dolphins in human care. This is not surprising, considering that the animals at top-notch accredited facilities receive exceptional care, including both social and behavioral enrichment, and excellent medical care.
Finally, the Vancouver Aquarium’s Marine Mammal Rescue Program is renowned for its support of injured, sick and orphaned marine mammals. It should go without saying that such rescue and care of non-releasable whales, dolphins and porpoises is the humane thing to do. Please understand that if this proposed ban is enacted, it will mean certain death for stranded animals that otherwise would not have to die. I know this sounds dramatic, but that’s only because the consequences of this ban are, in fact, dramatic. For the sake of these animals, and for the scientific, conservation, and education benefits that they could provide, I urge you to reconsider.
Kelly Jaakkola, Ph.D.
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.