“We will build a sea pen, and the Aquarium is going to pay for it!”

Sea pens are being hailed as an alternative (as the only alternative by some) to keeping rescued and rehabilitated animals in pools. Animal rights activists have long been pushing that “solution”, and Park Board commissioners echoed them in their remarks and questions to speakers at the most recent public hearings at the Park Board. We found a reaction to these proposals worth sharing:

Sea pen structures do not provide any notable benefits for the animals at all. What you call a ‘sanctuary’ is nothing but yet another type of captive facility, not different from other coastal sea pens, such as those used by ‘swimming for dolphin’ programs. No such ‘sanctuaries’ exist in North America, nor are any projects set to move forward in the immediate future, putting the rescued and rehabilitated animals that already live at the Aquarium today in jeopardy as the proposed by-law comes into effect.
No detailed proposals exist, no final location has been identified, no funding has been secured, no permits have been issued – not even applications have been filed. The project initiated by Lori Marino and Naomi Rose is also not responding well to public scrutiny and is not very transparent at all about the inner workings of their Utah-based organization.
And there’s probably a reason for that. Apart from both well-documented and reasonably expected dangers that arise from sea pens for the environment, captive and wild animals (as described in detail by animal rights activist Dr. Naomi Rose before she flipped and started advocating for sea pens), a sea pen would not change how the animals live their lives. They would still charge admission to view the animals, which would still be on display. The animals would still be trained for physical and mental stimulation (which would look exactly as the behaviours they are taught to show now), they would still eat frozen fish and their lives would still be centered around people. This is nothing but a huge scam.

$20 million is a very conservative proposal for any such undertaking; and the Keiko release project has demonstrated how expensive the long-term care for just a single animal can be. And let’s not forget that their proposal is mainly for one species (killer whale), or species that can live together in social groups; it does not account for multiple, incompatible species or needs of an individual (e.g. water temperature for Chester, the false killer whale). The animals would be put at risk if funding dried up; and costs are to increase with every animal taken in. Naomi Rose was in charge of the failed Keiko release project in its final stages and knows just how it feels when funds disappear and mega-donors become frustrated and stop paying. The Aquarium’s expansion is financed largely by restricted government grants which could never be spent on a hypothetical sea pen ‘sanctuary’. Their operating budget does not leave room to build and maintain a separate facility in addition to the continued operation of the Vancouver Aquarium in Stanley Park. Your proposal is ridiculous and nothing short of phrasing it this way: “We are going to build a sea pen, and the Aquarium is going to pay for it!”

And when it comes to future rescued animals, you are wrong as well: The goal is to rescue and rehabilitate for release. If a rescue attempt is ordered by a Fisheries and Oceans Canada officer for animal welfare reasons alone, long-term care facilities need to be present. If they aren’t, the animal will be euthanized immediately. The same will be true for cases where it is not certain that a successful release would be possible; that would subsequently not even be attempted. On Canada’s east coast, whales are simply shot on the beach by DFO officers, which is considered the most humane method of euthanasia. In the United Kingdom, where no facilities for long-term care and rehabilitation exist, euthanasia happens by default if a refloat attempt fails, which is the case for almost all strandings.

To simply put forward vague proposals and present those as a certain alternative is dangerous. That kind of populism puts animals at risk, disregards animal welfare concerns and ultimately serves only an animal rights agenda that puts very little emphasis on the well-being of individuals.

If Park Board commissioner Stuart Mackinnon gets his will, the proposed by-law will have no exception for rescued and rehabilitated animals, neither those that already live there nor any future rescued animals. Rescue success stories such as those of harbour porpoise Levi will become a thing of the past. And if Commissioner Stewart Mackinnon’s proposal to dump the animals at the temporary structure of the rescue centre is taken seriously, the animals that already live in Vancouver will soon be no more.

Make no mistake: sea pens or ‘sanctuaries’ are not going to exist for a long time off our coast, and should one ever be build, it would have to prove itself first. There is no evidence that such facilities would have any benefits at all, as all we have is animal rights propaganda, which – not surprisingly – presents the idea through rosy fairy-tale glasses. To entrust animal rights activists without experience caring for cetaceans with the safety and well-being of these animals would be reckless and dangerous. The local politicians that promote their ideas are only serving themselves. Let’s not let them get away with murder! The rescued and rehabilitated animals at the Aquarium today need to stay where they are, where they can live out their lives in the company of animals and people they have grown up with.

Future rescued animals that Fisheries and Oceans Canada deems non-releasable must find a home in Vancouver, too. They deserve to live. Let’s not allow the Park Board to decide otherwise.