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Vancouver Aquarium will no longer display cetaceans

The Vancouver Aquarium Thursday morning announced its decision to stop displaying cetaceans.
A recent Angus Reid poll found that more than half of Canadians agree that cetaceans should not be kept in captivity. Photo Dan Toulgoet

The Vancouver Aquarium Thursday morning announced its decision to stop displaying cetaceans.

“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,” president and CEO John Nightingale said in a statement.

Helen, a Pacific white-sided dolphin, is the only cetacean left living at the aquarium. Chester, a false killer whale that had been at the facility since being rescued in 2014, died in November.

“As always, the welfare and wellbeing of animals in our care, and in the wild, remain a top priority for the Aquarium,” Nightingale said. “As part of the transition, the animal care team is working thoughtfully on the best possible arrangements for Helen.”

Helen is considered a senior has been at the aquarium since 2005. Nightingale said the dolphin is not a candidate for release after so many years in care and only partial flippers. He added that making decisions about her future are complicated as her age and other factors, such as the park board’s cetacean ban and the aquarium’s legal challenge, as well as the lengthy process of obtaining international permits.

Last spring Vancouver Park Board voted to ban the importation of new cetaceans to city parks as well as prohibiting performances. The aquarium launched legal proceedings in an effort to overturn the ban. The matter is still being considered by B.C. Supreme Court.

The aquarium’s Marine Mammal Rescue Centre, the only of its kind in Canada, will continue to rescue and rehabilitate animals, including whales and dolphins. The centre is located outside Stanley Park and provides critical, short-term care with the aim of rehabilitating and releasing injured animals. In the case a rescued cetacean needs ongoing care, staff will identify an appropriate long-term facility and work to arrange a transfer.

“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 the world’s oceans,” Nightingale said.

Vancouver's park board released a statement later Thursday applauding the move.

"We are pleased that the Aquarium, with this decision, has acknowledged and recognized what we as Commissioners observed in passionate public debates in this issue over the last years," board chair Stuart Mackinnon said in a press release.

"The public told us they believed the continuing importation and display of these intelligent and sociable mammals was unethical and incompatible with evolving public opinion and we amended our by-laws accordingly," Mackinnon said. "We look forward to working with the VAncouver Aquarium as it intensifies its focus on Ocean Wise research and conservation."