Vancouver Aquarium Takes Parks Board to Supreme Court

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Vancouver Aquarium

Today, Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre filed a legal challenge in the B.C. Supreme Court with respect to Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation’s resolutions, dated July 31, 2014. The four resolutions included a proposed revision to the park-bylaw which sets out the conditions under which cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises) can be acquired and kept in Vancouver’s parks.

Vancouver Aquarium objects to the resolutions on the legal grounds that the resolutions serve no legitimate municipal purpose and are beyond the jurisdiction of the Park Board. As such, the Aquarium is exercising its legal right to challenge the validity of those resolutions in court.

“Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre was disappointed with the proposed resolutions put forward by the Vancouver Park Board and, as a result, is requesting a judicial review before the B.C. Supreme Court. The filing asks that the validity of the resolutions be reviewed in light of the Park Board’s legal authority as a municipal organization. The resolutions raise significant concerns given the risks and impractical nature of proposed changes to the park bylaw under which cetaceans can be acquired and kept in Vancouver’s parks,” says Dr. John Nightingale, Vancouver Aquarium president and CEO. “The issues in nature, specifically with our oceans, are increasingly problematic – overfishing, marine pollution and acidification are man-made issues that require human intervention. As Canada’s marine science centre, it is our mandate to help protect our oceans and the aquatic creatures that depend on it – this includes the whales, dolphins and porpoises that are in need of rescue due to stranding, illness or injury. Now is not the time to be doing less to protect and preserve our ocean environments. The resolutions put forth by the Park Board restrict the Aquarium’s ability to fully continue its mandate.”

It has been noted by the scientific community, professional animal care experts and the Park Board that Vancouver Aquarium is a world-leading aquarium for marine science, conservation and education, and plays a vital role in the rescue and rehabilitation of marine mammals. In fact, Vancouver Aquarium operates the only Marine Mammal Rescue Centre in Canada with a professional skilled team readily able to save stranded, sick or injured wild cetaceans.

In an independent report, commissioned by the Park Board, Dr. Joseph K. Gaydos of the Karen C. Drayer Wildlife Health Center and UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine notes that the Vancouver Aquarium has an active cetacean stranding and response program and states: “If the Vancouver Aquarium were to no longer house cetaceans they would have the option to continue both their research program and their stranding and response program, but the quality of those programs could be compromised. They would no longer be able to use captive cetaceans to learn information that could benefit the management and conservation of free-ranging cetaceans.”

Vancouver Aquarium has filed this court challenge because of the adverse impacts the Park Board resolutions will have. Some of those adverse impacts are:

  • As a renowned marine science centre that cares for cetaceans, many of which are rescued, rehabilitated and independently deemed non-releasable due to their inability to survive in the wild, Vancouver Aquarium’s Marine Mammal Rescue Centre program would be compromised by a ban on breeding cetaceans. Further, a ban on breeding cetaceans is both impractical and unwise from an animal care and animal welfare standpoint.
  • Vancouver Aquarium is accredited by Canada’s Accredited Zoos and Aquariums, The Association of Zoos and Aquariums (US) and the Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums (International). As an accredited member, Vancouver Aquarium is required to meet or exceed standards of animal care set out by these three independent accredited bodies, which it does. As part of those organizations, and as part of its practice of continuous improvement, the Aquarium already works with collaborating organizations around the world to improve care in any way possible. Should the Park Board wish to undertake a separate and detailed examination of cetacean care standards, the Aquarium should not be made to assume those costs. The Aquarium notes the detailed, extensive and likely costly nature of such a study, which would require collaboration by experts around the world, although it would be open to working with the Park Board and/or independent experts on such a study should they choose to undertake it.
  • Vancouver Aquarium is an independently operated, accredited marine science centre that is managed by professional experts with years of specific knowledge, experience and skills in planning and executing all aspects of care for cetaceans. Key staff includes a Board certified head veterinarian, biologists, management staff, curators, as well as collaborating scientists, and independent animal care experts. The Aquarium rejects the suggestion of an “Oversight Committee” composed of animal welfare organizations which would impose animal care and other decisions, thus removing  decision making from the Aquarium’s experts who have first-hand, professional experience in planning and executing care practices. The Aquarium’s guidepost has always been providing the very best animal care practices that are made in the best interests of its animals and founded on evidence-based science. Handing decision-making over to an external group without expertise in animal care would jeopardize the Aquarium’s standing in the marine science community as well as its formal accreditations. Accrediting bodies require professional experts to make the appropriate animal care decisions.

 

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