The Vancouver Park Board voted unanimously Thursday night to end cetacean captivity at Vancouver Aquarium.
After two nights of debate, seven Park Board councillors voted to “bring forward for enactment by the Board an amendment to the Parks Control bylaw to prohibit the importation and display of live cetaceans in Vancouver parks.” Cetaceans include whales, dolphins and porpoises.
Staff were directed to bring back the amendment for enactment by May 15, 2017.
The crowd present at the meeting was overwhelmingly supportive of the vote and burst out in a rendition of Raffi’s song Baby Beluga following the decision.
Vancouver Aquarium CEO Dr. John Nightingale was present at the meeting but left shortly before the vote. In a statement, Nightingale commended the aquarium’s 60-year history of saving marine mammals.
“I know our team will continue to fight for nature long after this conversation has ended, and I’m immensely proud to be part of a team that reminds me daily of why people around the world look to Vancouver Aquarium as a beacon for world conservation,” Nightingale wrote.
Critics of the aquarium were present at the meeting and took to the mic to voice their concerns.
“I don’t doubt that they love them, I don’t doubt that they do good work at the aquarium, but what I doubt is their ethics,” one critic told the councillors.
The Park Board was set to decide on one of several options during Thursday’s meeting. The other options included a possible plebiscite on the issue in 2018, accepting Vancouver Aquarium’s announced plans to end cetacean captivity by 2029 or maintaining the status quo.
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The motion was brought up shortly after the aquarium’s two remaining belugas died suddenly in November.
Since their death, the Park Board said ongoing protests were being held at board meetings and at the Vancouver Aquarium. Multiple online petitions against captivity and email campaigns targeting elected Park Board and City officials also surfaced.
Last month, Nightingale promised to phase out the research program and discontinue the display of beluga whales in 12 years. He also announced plans to bring back some of their loaned belugas by 2019 and go ahead with the construction of two expanded whale pools.
Currently, only three cetaceans remain at the aquarium — including a harbour porpoise, a Pacific white-sided dolphin and a false killer whale.
–With files from Yuliya Talmazan