Life in the information age is both exhilarating and challenging. We’re more plugged into technology and instant info than at any time in our history … but we’re also far less connected to our natural world.
The understanding and inspiration fostered in the galleries, exhibits and habitats at Vancouver Aquarium has never been more important; and our role as an interpreter of the natural world never as critical.
Despite independent polling, year over year, that clearly shows overwhelming support for our cetacean program, we have made the difficult decision to no longer display cetaceans at Vancouver Aquarium, with the exception of doing what is best for Helen and any need to use the Aquarium for the temporary accommodation of a rescued cetacean. Moving forward, we will focus on raising awareness of the many ocean issues impacting other vulnerable marine animals.
The ongoing discussions about whales and dolphins in our care have been a distraction from real threats to the ocean and have sidelined the critical work we lead. We aim to inspire people in every corner of the planet to participate in creating healthy oceans, and it’s time to get on with it.
The launch of Ocean Wise in 2017 as the parent global ocean conservation organization marked the start of a new era for Vancouver Aquarium. From raising awareness about ocean issues and inspiring the global community to join our efforts, Ocean Wise also includes expanded research, education and direct-action programs. Today’s step forward will allow us to focus on protecting and restoring our world’s oceans.
We’ve heard from many in our community and around the world over the past year: messages of support and thoughts about our future. We listened, and we came to this decision after much discussion and consideration.
This fall, the Aquarium will begin construction on the Canada’s Arctic exhibit that has been planned for more than a decade: a transformed habitat and display that will engage visitors about the challenges facing Canada’s fragile North. An array of species will be featured, from coldwater corals to Arctic pinnipeds, such as seals and walruses. An important ecosystem that sustains rich biodiversity, the Arctic is under tremendous pressure from a changing climate. With field research, partnerships, and outreach, Ocean Wise has placed a priority on protecting Canada’s Arctic, and the exhibit will be a key element of that work. The transformed Canada’s Arctic exhibit is scheduled to open in 2019.
As always, the welfare and wellbeing of animals in our care, and in the wild, remain a top priority for the Aquarium. As part of the transition, the animal care team is working thoughtfully on the best possible arrangements for Helen, the Pacific white-sided dolphin who is the only cetacean currently living at the Aquarium. Believed to be in her early 30s, Helen is considered a senior-aged dolphin. She arrived at the Aquarium in 2005 after her rescue and rehabilitation from entanglement in a fishing net in Japan. After many years in professional care and with only partial flippers, Helen is not a candidate for release. However, dolphins are a social species so finding companionship for her is paramount. Unfortunately, decisions about her future are complicated, with options limited at this time by her age, Vancouver Park Board legislation, the outcome of court challenges and the long processes of obtaining international permits.
Also core to our mission of protecting aquatic life, the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Mammal Rescue Centre — the only marine mammal hospital of its kind in Canada — will continue to rescue and rehabilitate animals in need, including whales or dolphins. The authorization to save a stranded, sick or injured marine animal is provided by Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) in advance of any rescue effort. Rescued animals are transferred to the Marine Mammal Rescue Centre – located outside Stanley Park – for critical, short-term care, with the aim to rehabilitate and release back to the wild. Should a rescued cetacean need ongoing care, the animal care team will identify an appropriate long-term facility and work to arrange for a transfer of the patient. When necessary, on a temporary basis, we may need to house a rescued cetacean at our unique facility until an appropriate receiving facility has been identified. The Aquarium’s intention is to continue to provide temporary care to rescued cetaceans as requested by professional veterinarians and DFO.
Today’s announcement marks a shift for the Aquarium, but it’s a move that is in line with our commitment to our community, country, and to the world’s oceans.
The Vancouver Aquarium was the original environmental organization in Vancouver. We put conservation into action every day. It’s what we do, it’s who we are, and we will keep doing it long into the future.