Friends of the Vancouver Aquarium on tonight’s pending vote at the Park Board regarding cetaceans at the Vancouver Aquarium


Friends of the Vancouver Aquarium on tonight’s pending vote at the Park Board regarding cetaceans at the Vancouver Aquarium

VANCOUVER, B.C., May 15, 2017

Our changing ecosystems present unique challenges to all life on Earth, particularly for animals that live in our warming oceans, and many animals need our support to survive. In Vancouver, it is the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Mammal Rescue Centre lending a hand to injured or sick marine mammals. Many of them need rescue because of man-made actions in the first place. We strongly believe that any wild animal, cetacean or otherwise, deserves a chance to live, and that rescuing them is a means of mitigating these man-made threats. Animals that cannot be released must be given a home, and that home, for marine mammals in Canada, is the Vancouver Aquarium. It is the only facility in the country that can rescue, rehabilitate and release marine mammals and give sanctuary to those that cannot go back into the wild. That ability must not be compromised.

When the Park Board requested input from the public back in March 2017, they did so under the pretense that their goal was to ask Vancouverites for their ideas about a potential referendum on keeping cetaceans at the Vancouver Aquarium. Some objected, but many agreed that asking the public for its opinion during the 2018 election might not be the worst idea. Other options presented to the Park Board seemed far-fetched, and nobody assumed that the commissioners would ever move to enact a by-law amendment that would ban even non-releasable animals from given sanctuary at the Aquarium.

Many supporters therefore never even followed the Park Board’s invitation and did not speak at the hearings at all. And even to those that did speak or attend the hearings in the audience, the result was a surprise. For weeks, Park Board chair Wiebe declined to comment on the decision and its implications, asking people to wait it out until the staff report was released. And when he finally did comment, it was obvious that he had no idea what he would be voting on, or what the actual implications of the ban might be. The issue of future rescued but non-releasable animals did not come up at the Park Board at all, nor did the commissioners ask staff to investigate it. It was completely ignored.

When supporters requested that the Park Board refer the issue to a special meeting for discussion, they were shut down with immediate rejection. And Park Board chair Wiebe indicated that all was decided, and that they would vote on the by-law amendment on Monday (tonight).
A recent survey commissioned by the Vancouver Aquarium showed strong support for the Aqarium as a sanctuary for future non-releasable animals, with a fast majority of Vancouverites and BC residents supporting that idea. As Friends of the Vancouver Aquarium, we also asked our supporters to call us and leave messages in support of that vital program. Within a week, we had received more than 70 messages on our voice mailbox, from people asking us to forward their messages to the Park Board commissioners. The 40+ minutes of recorded audio present the testimoniy of citizens that the Park Board did not want to hear. We are releasing the recordings to the public for review and hope that commissioners will take notice.

Link to audio:

Tonight we will be joining the Vancouver Aquarium on its Rally for Rescue in Vancouver. We sincerely hope the Park Board commissioners will step back and reconsider their rushed decision. If their goal is the welfare of wild animals, then their decision does not correspond to that, and we urge them to make an exception for those rescued animals that cannot return to the wild.


Friends of the Vancouver Aquarium is a group of supporters of the Vancouver Aquarium. We are members of the public as well as Vancouver Aquarium members and volunteers who support Canada’s national aquarium and marine science centre. While we do not represent nor speak for the Vancouver Aquarium, we support the Vancouver Aquarium’s mission, to conserve aquatic life.

Media Contact:
Marcus Wernicke
Phone (mailbox): (778) 819-8486

Why the Vancouver Aquarium deserves your support

Vancouver wants rescue, rehabilitation and release ─ and a home for those that cannot go back

I am just sick of the hate-fueled animal rights campaign of lies against the Vancouver Aquarium, especially when it comes to the marine mammal rescue & rehabilitation program and keeping non-releasable animals in human care. While the vast majority of the Vancouver public fully support the Aquarium’s efforts and don’t want animals euthanized or needlessly moved to other facilities, there are some, like animal rights activist and ex-marine mammal trainer Steve Huxter, who don’t see eye to eye with the Aquarium’s leaders.  He published an open letter on Park Board commissioner Stuart Mackinnon’s blog, in which he promotes himself as an “advisor to the Whale Sanctuary Project” and goes on a tirade against the Aquarium, accusing its CEO as well as rescue and rehabilitation veteran Dr. Martin Haulena of “exaggerated threats and veiled lies in order to manipulative (sic) public opinion”, without specifying what those might be.
So Steve is an “advisor to the Whale Sanctuary Project” ─ a project which needs animals to fill its yet-to-be financed, yet-to-be-approved and yet-to-be-built sea pens, obviously. And perhaps Steve will find a job there, too? They will need animal trainers like him to care for the cetaceans since the daily routine of those animals would be exactly the same as it is at, say, the Vancouver Aquarium today. The animals would still be fed frozen fish, they would still learn the exact same behaviours (“tricks”) that they learn at the Aquarium, because in the absence of a need to forage, travel or avoid predators, none of those whales and dolphins would move a flipper unless encouraged to do so. That’s in their nature as every activity burns energy which all their instincts tell them is something to avoid. The environment animals would be housed in, a sea pen enclosure, could pose harm to wild populations and might become a death trap for the animals inside if exposed to severe weather ─ and thanks to climate change, the Pacific Northwest has seen quite a lot of that lately. And yes, they would charge admission for people to see the animals in those sea pens.
What the Whale Sanctuary Project is proposing is a tremendous waste of money, if they ever find financial backing for it. It would divert funds, staff & volunteer resources and public attention away from the challenges our changing ocean ecosystems are facing ─ and the millions of animals that are dying from made-made climate change, pollution, over-fishing and mismanagement of wild populations. This would be nothing but a dangerous experiment of the kind that killed Keiko the killer whale, who, curiously, was under the care of people like Naomi Rose, who is now also serving on the board of the Utah-based “Whale Sanctuary Project” ─ the same project that Huxter is lobbying for.
Just look at the rescued and rehabilitated animals that already live at the Vancouver Aquarium today. The proposed sea pen would not accommodate multiple species with varying environmental needs. There are no environmental controls in the Pacific Ocean that Chester needs to be comfortable, for instance. There is no way to flush the ocean floor if waste from multiple animals accumulates and is not washed out by the tides (which is likely to happen as strong tides would tear the sea pen apart). Veterinary care would be challenging at best, even for well-trained animals. And a sea pen of the size proposed would not just be difficult and very expensive to build, it would also be hard to keep intact and eat much more money than a traditional aquarium habitat made from concrete.
The animal rights agenda that Steve Huxter is trying to promote here wants to end all ownership and any and all use of all animals: whether it is farm animals, animals on display in zoos and aquariums or even pets. That is something the public opinion has very mixed views on. But animal rights should never be confused with animal welfare, which Huxter is confusingly throwing into the mix. Animal welfare promotes proper care and management of animals, to keep them from harm and ensure their well-being. If that is the goal, then a sea pen facility won’t do the job any better than an aquarium does today.
All the Vancouver Aquarium is asking the Park Board to do right now is to provide them with the means to continue their marine mammal rescue and rehabilitation efforts and to enable the Aquarium to give whales, porpoises and dolphins that Fisheries and Oceans Canada deems non-releasable a home. That would be animals that are either too young at the time of their stranding to have acquired essential survival skills (foraging, predator detection and avoidance, social skills) or those too injured (impaired hearing, injuries preventing them from feeding on their own or impairing their movement) to make it in the wild.
Fisheries and Oceans Canada would never order the rescue and rehabilitation attempt of animals that it knew the Aquarium could not provide for; those animals would be euthanized, like Daisy, whose fate of a life in human care was sealed when she stranded as a fully-dependent neonate, or Chester, who was also still dependent on his mother and peers for survival, once his group could not be located despite an extensive search.
Euthanasia of animals that could otherwise survive, if they went through intensive care and rehabilitation, is something that is the norm in some of the countries Huxter listed as having banned cetaceans in human care, or where keeping cetaceans is so cumbersome due to regulations that it is not economically viable. The United Kingdom is one such example, where harbour porpoise like Daisy or dolphins strand very frequently and are routinely euthanized following a re-float attempt because no facilities for long-term treatment and care exist. In the Netherlands, the only facility that provided this kind of care, SOS Dolfijn, recently gave up its facility belonging to an aquarium next door ─ and while they are struggling to find a replacement, harbour porpoise like Jack, Daisy and Levi are being euthanized because there are no options for long-term intensive care.
As the Aquarium’s veterinarian Dr. Martin Haulena keeps pointing out, the Marine Mammal Rescue Centre is an acute intensive care facility, not a long-term rehab facility and not a home for animals. Chester could not be treated at the rescue centre at some point as he outgrew the small cetacean pool the rescue centre operates on leased land provided by Port Metro Vancouver. They also lacked environmental controls to keep him comfortable, so he had to be moved to the Vancouver Aquarium for the remainder of his rehabilitation. That option will soon be gone, but then again, DFO would have ordered him euthanized on the beach anyway had the Aquarium not been able to vouch for the best possible care in all scenarios the DFO officers on site anticipated.
The Vancouver public needs to ask itself one question: Does it want cetaceans that live-strand on our coast rescued, cared for and rehabilitated for release, even if they require intensive 24/7 care with people in the water around the clock to keep them alive and help them to recovery, or does it want to see those animals killed on the beach (gunshot to the brain or lethal injection are the two methods used, depending on the size of the animal) instead? And does it want animals that cannot be released to be euthanized or kept in human care?
My answer to those questions follows a simple rationale: Live strandings of cetaceans are on the rise around the world, and even on our coast. Whales, dolphins and porpoises will end up on our beaches, and many of them will have to be taken in for rehabilitation if we want them to survive. Some will have lost their mothers, perhaps in a boat collision, or due to entanglement in a fishing net. Others may have gotten injured or their immune systems, weakened from decades of industrial pollution, may have failed, which may have led to a life-threatening infection. Even others will have been too weak from starvation as depleted fish stocks continue to decline or competition becomes too harsh ─ with their high metabolism, not finding food for a few days can kill a small cetacean like a harbour porpoise very quickly. My point is, many of the animals that strand may do so not because it is the course of nature, but because as mankind we have ruined their homes to the point where they end up on our ocean doorsteps in need of help. And I believe that we have the obligation to intervene, to try our very best to get them up to strength and ready for release, and to provide them a home if that is not an option. Letting them die on the beach, or killing them to satisfy an animal rights agenda that does not want to see them housed under human care? For me, that’s unthinkable.
Marcus Wernicke is a conservationist and environmental activist. He also volunteers at the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Mammal Rescue Centre. 

“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.

The Park Board made a mistake. Let’s correct that.

The Park Board made a mistake yesterday: They ordered staff to draft a by-law amendment that would ban cetaceans at the Aquarium for good. They did not ask them to add exceptions. It is not too late to do so! You must make your voices heard and demand that rescued and rehabilitated animals that cannot be released can still find a home in Vancouver. If such exception is not added, animals like Daisy (rescued in 2008) will have to be killed if they cannot be released. That is already happening in the United Kingdom, where no rehabilitation or long-term care facilities exist. We must not let this happen. Animal rights activists believe that “dead is better than fed” — let’s show them that this is not how Vancouver thinks. We are compassionate, these animals deserve a chance. Let’s deliver this message to the Park Board before it is too late! Let your voices be heard! Share this message, be vocal, write to the commissioners & comment here!

Direct email addresses for each Park Board commissioner:

Qila and Aurora ─ What You Should Know About Animal in Care of Vancouver Aquarium

Aurora arrived at the Vancouver Aquarium in 1990, and her daughter Qila was born there in 1995. Together, these two beluga whales have inspired millions and millions of people, most of which had never seen a beluga whale before. Many have grown up with the beluga whales at the Aquarium, and to the animal care and veterinary staff, Qila and Aurora were family. Their deaths have devastated members, staff and volunteers. It’s for the first time in 49 years that there are no belugas at the Vancouver Aquarium.



Not surprisingly, animal rights activists opposing animals in captivity have seized this opportunity to advance their cause. They have renewed their calls for the Aquarium to abandon its whale and dolphin exhibits. As the press often focuses on the voices of the animal rights activists, as a group supporting the Aquarium, we would like to share a Q & A on the questions most often raised by Aquarium opponents:

How old were Aurora and Qila, and did they die younger than their wild counterparts?

Qila was 21 years old and Aurora was about 30 years old. Between beluga populations, there are differences in diet, lifestyle etc. — and that also affects the average lifespan. Aurora originated from the Western Hudson Bay population of beluga whales. According to Fisheries and Oceans Canada, based on the COSEWIC report for that species, this population has an average lifespan of 15 years. Some individuals live longer, others die younger.

Activists like to quote different lifespans. They usually refer to the maximum lifespan for the global population and do not take into account individual populations. When they provide averages, activists often quote from statistics that do not account for newborn (neonatal) mortality, dramatically raising the average reported. For comparison, the maximum reported lifespan for humans is 122.

Do the whales really swim in dirty water?

Animal rights activists love to say that the whales are “swimming in their own faeces”, calling the water dirty and pointing to algae visible in the habitat. They also like to allege that it contains high levels of chlorine. There is very little truth to either of theses claims. The water is being pumped into the marine mammal habitats from Burrard Inlet, filtered and fully replaced multiple times per day. The amount of chlorine in that water is lower than what’s in your drinking water. Chlorine is mainly used to disinfect an empty, drained tank after cleaning it.

Do beluga whales really travel ‘hundreds of miles’ per day?

Beluga whales may be able to travel long distances, but they do not do so “for fun”. Like all marine mammals, beluga whales travel where that is necessary for their survival, to follow prey movements, or to find a mate or give birth. Marine mammals do not expend energy for travel unless there is a significant advantage to it. The same applies for diving to great depths.

There are no specific studies of the average distance travelled by beluga whales in the Western Hudson Bay where Aurora originated from. However, a study of beluga whales in Cook Inlet, Alaska, found that the animals observed only travelled 11 to 30 km per day. Another study examined beluga whales in the Canadian High Arctic, finding that they travelled between 26 and 38 km per day. There are likely groups that travel more, and some that travel even less, depending on prey availability and likely many other factors.

Does the Vancouver Aquarium capture whales or dolphins from the wild?

It is no secret that the Vancouver Aquarium did once capture whales and dolphins from the wild. Beluga whale Aurora was one of the last, captured in 1990. Shortly after, in 1996, the Vancouver Aquarium made a commitment and declared publicly that they would no longer capture whales or dolphins from the wild. They have stuck to that promise ever since. Other aquariums in North America have followed their lead, and whales and dolphins are not longer captured for aquariums in North America.

Today, every whale, porpoise or dolphin at the Vancouver Aquarium is an animal that has been rescued and rehabilitated but deemed non-releasable by a government agency.

How did the rescued animals come to the Vancouver Aquarium?

For any marine mammal in need of rescue, the Aquarium first needs permission from a government authority remove it from its natural habitat for rehabilitation. That is especially true for whales and dolphins. Only when no alternative can be found that promises success is that permission granted by a government officer, usually following examination and consultation with other experts. In Canada, the agency in charge of rescue and rehabilitation of marine mammals is Fisheries and Oceans Canada (NOAA and NMFS are their counterparts in the US).

Wild animals must be returned to the wild, and that always happens, whenever there is a realistic chance an animal can make it on its own. Fisheries and Oceans monitors the rehabilitation process and makes a final decision. Experts are consulted to give an opinion on the likelihood that a release could be successful, and the entire medical history is considered. Whenever an animal is deemed non-releasable, i.e. the assessment is that the animal would not survive in the wild, Fisheries and Oceans Canada also decides where the animal should be moved to.

All rescued animals at the Vancouver Aquarium were deemed non-releasable by a government authority.

What factors decide whether a rescued animal can be released or not?

A rescued animal that has undergone successful rehabilitation must be able to survive on its own. That means that it must be healthy, show normal behaviours, be able to feed itself and avoid predators. It must also not be habituated to humans to make a successful release possible.

In the case of Chester, Fisheries and Oceans decided to publish a press release due to the significant public interest, outlining the reason for his being deemed non-releasable.

Does the Vancouver Aquarium operate for profit?

The Vancouver Aquarium is a registered charity in Canada. As such, they must not operate for profit – and they don’t. They have up to 1,000 volunteers (more than paid staff) and spent 57% of their budget on charitable programs in 2015.

There are ridiculous rumours that the Aquarium operates for-profit corporations. Those claims have been debunked as lies. None of these corporations exists.