Protesters gather at Vancouver Aquarium with call to ’empty the tanks’

Protesters staged a demonstration outside of the Vancouver Aquarium on Saturday under the banner "empty the tanks.".
Protesters staged a demonstration outside of the Vancouver Aquarium on Saturday under the banner "empty the tanks.". THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Protesters opposed to the captivity of whales and dolphins are staging a demonstration outside the Vancouver Aquarium Saturday.

It’s part of a day of action in 60 cities calling for similar facilities to “empty the tanks.”

LISTEN: ‘Empty the tanks’ protesters stage demonstration at Vancouver Aquarium

Speaking on CKNW’s The Jill Bennett Show, organizer Jeff Matthews said he’s heartened to see the Vancouver Aquarium phasing out the display of captive cetaceans, but said there’s work to do worldwide.
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READ MORE: Vancouver Aquarium will no longer house whales and dolphins

Matthews pointed to facilities like SeaWorld that he said have only taken cosmetic steps by ending spectacular trainer shows, but are keeping the animals in so-called natural displays.

“They’ve just changed the name. I guess in one way you could say the Vancouver Aquarium has been leaders in this. They were the first to change all this language and make shows not shows anymore.”

Several Vancouver Aquarium beluga whales remain at SeaWorld facilities on breeding loan.

WATCH: Vancouver Aquarium plans for future without whales or dolphins

Click to play video: 'Vancouver Aquarium plans for future without whales or dolphins'
Vancouver Aquarium plans for future without whales or dolphins

READ MORE: Vancouver Aquarium CEO John Nightingale calling it quits after 25 years

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While the Vancouver Aquarium pledged in January to eliminate its cetacean program, it did say that such animals recovered through its Marine Mammal Rescue program could be temporarily housed in its off-site rescue facility.

Matthews said he’s also concerned those animals could end up on display at the Aquarium’s Stanley Park facility.

“These are wild animals that are fresh from the wild, and [to] subject them to crowds and the noise and the gawkers, it’s just really cruel and unusual punishment for them.”

READ MORE: Chester the false killer whale dies at the Vancouver Aquarium

That’s an assertion the aquarium vigorously denies.

“In January we announced our plans to phase out the display of cetaceans. That commitment is firm; there are no plans to build a new exhibit for rescued cetaceans,” the aquarium stated in an emailed statement.

WATCH: Coverage of the Vancouver Aquarium on

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It says as the “only Marine Mammal Rescue Centre in Canada with veterinarians trained to help whales, dolphins and porpoises,” assisting such animals is its duty.

Just one cetacean, Helen the Pacific white-sided dolphin, remains at the Vancouver Aquarium.

Last year, the Vancouver Park Board passed a bylaw banning cetaceans in the aquarium’s Stanley Park facility. However, in February, the BC Supreme Court ruled the aquarium exempt from the regulations, pointing to a pre-existing contract between the facility and the board, which runs until 2029.

The aquarium is moving ahead with its Canada’s Arctic exhibit, which will feature species including cold water coral and Arctic pinnipeds such as seals and walruses.

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