The Vancouver Park Board voted in favour of a bylaw amendment that banned the aquarium from keeping sea mammals such as dolphins and porpoises in captivity.
The board voted six to one in favour of the amendment as protesters opposed to the ban gathered outside the park board meeting on Monday night.
The bylaw prevents the Vancouver Aquarium from bringing new cetaceans to its facility in Stanley Park, but three cetaceans currently housed there will be allowed to stay.
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The park board says recommended amendments allow the aquarium to care for and display the three cetaceans, but it cannot use the animals in any performance or show.
A previous version of the bylaw limited which cetaceans the aquarium could acquire to those injured or in need of rehabilitation that could not be released back into the wild after treatment.
The Vancouver Aquarium has said the new bylaw would amount to a death sentence for whales, dolphins and porpoises in need of rescue. The aquarium is concerned the Department of Fisheries and Oceans may not rescue injured cetaceans if there is no place for them to go.
Commissioner Stuart Mackinnon said the move simply means the cetaceans cannot be brought to the facility in Stanley Park, but the aquarium can still treat the animals at its rescue centre, which is not located on park board property.
“The choice of whether the marine mammal rescue centre continues to work with cetaceans is entirely their own,” he said.
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“It is a lie to say that the park board does not support the marine mammal rescue centre. It is a lie to say that members of this board favour euthanasia for other animals.”
Commissioner Catherine Evans agreed, saying the issue has been surrounded by “fear mongering.”
“It’s not only can you do this, but should you do this,” she said. “And so, I think, yes we can keep cetaceans in captivity … but I think we have reached the point now where we know that we shouldn’t where there are other options.”
Vice-chair Erin Shum was only board member to vote against the bylaw.
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“I remain concerned about potential legal and financial implications to taxpayers and residents,” she said. “The park board has not been presented with sufficient information to understand or mitigate those concerns for the long term.”
Aquarium president John Nightingale addressed supporters after the vote, saying the marine mammal rescue program will no longer be able to offer long-term shelter for rescued whales, dolphins and porpoises, leaving the Department of Fisheries and Oceans with little option but to euthanize those animals.
“Despite what they said at the board table, it does mean that rescued animals are much more likely to die at the beach because there is no home for them,” he said.
Nightingale said the aquarium is looking at all options to overturn the vote and that may include a lawsuit.
The new bylaw comes after two beluga whales died at the aquarium last November.
— With files Grace Ke, Yuliya Talmazan and The Canadian Press