Protesting the Vancouver Aquarium is hinged upon a misguided whale tale

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Beluga Whale Vancouver Aquarium / Shutterstock

I saw a cute little boy holding up a sign saying “Free The Whales” outside of the Vancouver Aquarium. It seems there is no age limit to what has become a major epidemic in Vancouver… the protester.

Vancouver has become the epicentre in Canada for “protest everything.” Don’t get me wrong, there are some causes out there worth standing up for, but in this city, it’s the norm to protest cars, bikes, boats, oil, coal, revitalization, dogs, trees, transit, HST, marijuana, development, the list goes on and you can include the Canucks in there somewhere.

We all loved the amazing documentary Blackfish. If you haven’t seen it, the movie focused on Sea World where Orcas were hunted and taken out of the wild and put into captivity to entertain the masses. A monster Orca named Killagain…er… Tilikum, that actually came from the old and shameful aquarium Sealand in Victoria, was the focus of the documentary as he had some serious anger issues and was involved in the death of three trainers.

Although the film has been broiled in controversy, like the director lying to the people who were being interviewed along with some misleading and creative edits, the basic message was Orcas should not be allowed to be hunted and put into captivity for the purposes of entertaining people.

Sea World was the target and it was rightly justified to go after the juggernaut of aquariums because their track record in how they treat their staff, whales and other creatures has been abysmal. Not to mention there are other international aquariums that go a step even further by only using and abusing the Cetaceans for profit only – and the facilities they maintain are often far from the acceptable international standard.

It’s no wonder after watching the documentary that many in the Vancouver area immediately ran out to Staples for poster paper and grabbed their children’s smelly markers to make protest signs. It was time to protest the Vancouver Aquarium! Why? Because it’s easy. All these protesters see are Beluga Whales and Dolphins in captivity and their view is free the Cetaceans! But the sharks can stay, the Aquarium can keep those.

Yet lost in all of this, is the fact that although the word “Aquarium” has now become a dirty word thanks to Blackfish, the Vancouver Aquarium (formally known as the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre) is not even close to being anything that remotely resembles Sea World or any other Aquarium out there.

The Vancouver Aquarium’s purpose, for nearly two decades, has always been marine mammal rescue and revitalization, along with conservation and education. In fact they are one of the leading not-for-profit organizations in the world at protecting our oceans and studying marine life.

The Aquarium is used to educate the masses, not entertain. There is a big difference. Yet it hasn’t stopped the campaign of misinformation by protest groups which is now being used by Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson and City Councillors for political gain. Yes it is an election year and good ol’ Gregor has always ran to the nearest hot environmental issue of the day to get votes.

There is growing pressure to hold a referendum to allow the people of Vancouver (not the rest of the Lower Mainland) to decide the fate of Cetaceans being a part of the Aquarium in the future. Protest groups and local government want the program to be phased out while the Aquarium wants to build bigger tanks and continue to use the creatures, that would have died in the wild, for educational purposes.

Before you fall for the sentimental whale tale being spewed by the mislead, here are some hard facts about the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre that you may have not known:

  1. In October 2009, the Vancouver Aquarium was designated as a Coastal America Learning Center by the US Environmental Protection Agency. As the first Learning Center in Canada, this designation is intended to strengthen the Canadian/U.S. partnership for protecting and restoring shared ocean resources.
  2. In June 2007, the Vancouver Park Board voted in favour of a proposal to expand the Aquarium at a cost of $100 million, funded by the Aquarium, private donors, and government infrastructure grants. A public consultation process, led by the Aquarium and their own consultants, showed 89 per cent of local residents were in favour of the expansion.
  3. The Vancouver Aquarium was the first to employ educational naturalists on a full-time basis.
  4. Since 1996, the Aquarium does not capture cetaceans from the wild for display purposes. In fact the Aquarium only obtains cetaceans from other facilities if they were born in captivity, captured before 1996 or were rescued. The aquarium is the only facility in Canada that can rescue, rehabilitate and provide a long-term home to marine animals that are deemed non-releasable by appropriate government authorities.
  5. The Aquarium has been a major player in the ground-breaking wild killer whale research in British Columbia.
  6. The Vancouver Aquarium has created and operates a number of conservation and research programs like: Ocean Wise, Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup, Marine Mammal Rescue and Rehabilitation Program, and B.C. Cetacean Sightings Network.

The Belugas and the Dolphins are a critical part of how the Aquarium makes its money so that it can fund all of the great and necessary conservation and research programs that they are directly involved with.

Do you see trainers riding the whale’s noses and being flung into the air? Do you see the trainers juggling while skiing across the water on two dolphins? Let’s not get carried away here people. The whale and dolphin shows are more about the creature’s activities, capabilities, habitat and how they are an integral part of our oceans and should be protected.

Not only that, they use these magnificent creatures to remind us that they are at great risk of being wiped out in the wild unless we start pointing our protest signs at the real problems facing these mammals.

It’s a nice thing to see people take action but most of the time in Vancouver it’s “protest first and ask questions later”. People are driven by emotion and the ‘documentary’ Blackfish, and even the film Free Willy caused an uproar when it was released in the 1990s. But the problem is that the angry are yelling at the wrong organization.

All of the great work this local Aquarium does in our oceans and all of the education they provide to the general public is at great risk. A motion to call a referendum on the Vancouver Aquarium’s use of Cetaceans has been brought to Vancouver City Council. The proposal states that unless a decision is made six weeks before the November municipal election, the Council will add a referendum question on phasing whales and dolphins out of the Vancouver Aquarium to the fall ballot.

Currently, the Vancouver Park Board, which did originally approve the Vancouver Aquarium’s expansion proposal less than seven years ago, is now back in talks with the Aquarium about the future of the whales and dolphins.

Let’s call a spade a spade here, Vancouver’s reputation of going out to vote is less than stellar. Mayor Gregor Robertson continues to drive his own personal views and the agenda of special interest groups upon the public and into policy. Why? Because nobody ever stands in his way.

His current stance on the Vancouver Aquarium is concerning. How can change happen if only a small percentage of people, mostly made up of Robertson disciples, vote? This is not a column to urge you to vote against Mayor “Moonbeam”, it is a call to action to save the Vancouver Aquarium.

Propaganda and rhetoric are being spewed by protesters and City Council and it’s a shame that they can’t take all of that energy and time and direct it at the bigger issues like: pollution in our oceans, overfishing, the slaughter of whales and dolphins, and global warming which are of greater importance and the same issues that the Vancouver Aquarium is trying to combat.

Can you see the irony in all of this?

 

Featured Image: Beluga via Shutterstock

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Trevor Dueck Lover of film. I rate them with cute little raindrops. I'm also always on the lookout for interesting stories and experiences. Lover of talk radio and podcasting and occasionally host them. I do like writing about many other devious things. Favourite films of 2015 so far are "Ex Machina" and "Mad Max: Fury Road."
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