City approach does not take aquarium into account

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Misconceptions on cetacean confinement

By Cazzy Lewchuk, Opinions Editor

Keeping cetaceans (whales and dolphins) in captivity is wrong. Putting some of the smartest and largest animals on Earth into tiny tanks with constant exposure to humans is cruel and damaging for the animals. I think companies that deliberately mistreat whales—especially orcas—should be held accountable for animal abuse.

Recently, the Vancouver park board voted to ban cetacean captivity as soon as possible in city parks, specifically targeted towards the only such place that does so, the Vancouver Aquarium. The aquarium is currently home to three cetaceans, although none are originally from there. The aquarium also operates a marine mammal rescue centre out of view from visitors. Previously, they had already adapted initiatives to stop the breeding of cetaceans, and to not take animals from the wild. The park already had a plan to phase out cetaceans by 2029, formulated without city involvement. VanAqua is widely considered a world leader in marine animal research, operating with a team of respected scientists.

The cetaceans at the aquarium have nowhere else to go. They will presumably be transferred to other aquariums, which can cause significant stress to the animals, and potentially put them in worse conditions than they are in currently. They are rescue animals who are physically or mentally incapable of surviving in their natural habitat. It is unfortunate that they end up living shorter, worse lives due to these conditions. However, it is also beneficial for humanity to learn about these animals up close, and one of the only valid ways to do is to study the specimens we have.

The park also stands to lose significant revenue from this by-law, as cetaceans are the main attraction to the public. Although the idea of profiting from exploiting large animals isn’t very nice, most of the revenue goes towards research and conservation in marine biology. The aquarium does not just study cetaceans, it researches all marine biology. Much of that funding will be lost, and it will particularly (and ironically) be a setback for learning how to help cetaceans in the wild.

Rules about what is at the aquarium should be reserved for the respected and knowledgeable officials that run the place. City politicians pressured by a misguided public that doesn’t know all the facts should not interfere with a professional, world-class facility that has better knowledge on what actually goes on there. A gradual timeline was already in place to get whales and dolphins out of there. There is no reason to suddenly expedite the process.