The debate over holding whales and dolphins in captivity is heating up as the Vancouver Aquarium has released a new video to fight what it calls a campaign of misinformation by people clamouring for political gain.
“The animals here receive exceptional care. They are cared for by world class trainers, staff and biologists,” Martin Haulena, the aquarium’s chief veterinarian, explains in the video.
Whales and dolphins are the biggest attractions at the aquarium and the most controversial but the video argues the mammals currently in captivity help them monitor and compare with animals of the same species in the wild.
They are also useful from a publicity angle, bringing people to the aquarium where staff can teach the public about the marine environment, according to the video.
It comes after high level members of the park board and Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson publicly stated they want the practice of holding marine mammals in captivity to end.
“It is not right to have these amazing beautiful beasts caged up,” said park board Commissioner Constance Barnes.
But the aquarium is now firing back, claiming critics are spreading misinformation for political gain.
“Of course this year is an election year,” said Clint Wright, senior vice-president and general manager of the aquarium. “And so some people saw an opportunity to try and bring out some misinformation about these animals about the work we do here and make it a political issue.”
Robertson rejects that, insisting he only entered the debate because he was asked about it.
“I was asked directly about it a few weeks ago so I shared my personal opinion but it’s not up to me,” he said, pointing to the Vancouver Park Board as the group that could ultimately decide the fate of dolphins and whales at the Vancouver Aquarium.
But some don't want it to be. This week a motion will hit the floor at city hall on whether to give voters the final say through a plebiscite
“I think people have the intelligence to decide which way they want to see it go whether they want to see the aquarium expand increase the size of its pools bring in more whales or phase out,” said Councilor Adrienne Carr, who put forward the motion.
But phasing the whales out could hit the aquarium hard financially. It is already in the midst of a $100-million expansion to build larger pools and bring in even more whales.
“Clearly the belugas and the dolphins are an integral part of everything we do here we see a very long future for these animals here,” said Wright.
The question now is whether the park board does too.