News / Vancouver

Supporters wail against whale captivity at Vancouver Aquarium

Ten-year-old Kaija Wyness was practicing her three-minute speech to the Vancouver Park Board outside its special meeting Saturday morning. She planned to ask the commissioners to end the captivity of cetaceans—marine mammals like dolphins, whales and porpoises.

After the park board called the meeting to address the Vancouver Aquarium’s cetacean program, more than 130 speakers signed up to address the board.

“I am a child who will most likely see the complete collapse of the ocean in her lifetime, and you want me to believe that rather than fix the wrongs we have made, that we have done to the ocean, it’s better to buy a ticket to see whales and dolphins in their pretend pool of an ocean while we ignore what is happening in real life?” she asked.

“I refuse to do that.”

Wyness was waiting to speak to the board as the tag around her neck said she was speaker 61.

“I want to tell them that it isn’t right to have dolphins and whales in captivity,” she told Metro. “They deserve to live freely in the ocean.”

Wyness had the help of her aunt, Sarah Hambley (speaker 60), to write the speech prepared for the occasion. Hambley worked at an aquarium in the United States for a year, and didn’t question why she was putting stress pills in the dolphin’s food until it was too late. She’s since been an advocate for cetaceans' release from captivity.

“A lot of the arguments the aquarium uses, they just don’t cut it,” she said. “It’s a lot of euphemisms to say that they make a lot of money. Whales and dolphins are profitable.”

Dozens lined the halls outside the board room, waiting for their three minutes each to speak following presentations made by Dr. Joseph Gaydos and Vancouver Aquarium representatives.

Gaydos, a practicing wildlife veterinarian and University of California Davis Wildlife Health Center’s SeaDoc Society program chief scientist, presented his report that was released earlier this week. Although it did not address the ethics or morals around holding cetaceans in captivity, it called for a report addressing that to be done and for the aquarium to release an annual report on the state of cetaceans to the public.

The debate over housing cetaceans has picked up in recent months, especially when Vancouver mayor Gregor Robertson and world conservationist Jane Goodall called for an end to whale captivity.

Aside from the speakers who signed up for the meeting, there were also many letters sent in to the parks board on both sides of the fence. A former minister of environment and minister of fisheries and oceans wrote in to support the Vancouver Aquarium.

“I am a life-long conservationist,” John Fraser, who served in the House of Commons from 1972 to 1993, wrote in his letter. “I have visited all corners of this country and some other countries and have learned much about the importance of the conservation of our natural world. There are few organizations that are as well regarded and have had such an important impact on the conservation of our natural world as the Vancouver Aquarium.”

Dr. Shawn Noren, a research scientist at the University of California, Santa Cruz, also wrote in his support, noting that facilities such as the Vancouver Aquarium’s Marine Mammal Rescue Centre relies on ticket sales to drive funding.

“The costs associated with building a facility large enough to house marine mammals, and providing for daily maintenance and care of the facility and animals are extreme and beyond the budget of any grant,” he states in his letter. “Only aquaria, through ticket sales to the public, have the financial support to sustain these costs.”

The meeting today is expected to wrap up at 5 pm., but will most likely resume at another meeting Monday night due to the number of speakers.

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