Vancouver Aquarium sues city, park board over lost revenue from cetacean ban
The fight over the banning of whales and dolphins at the Vancouver Aquarium is headed back to court.
The aquarium has filed a lawsuit against the City of Vancouver and the Vancouver Park Board, claiming the board’s 2017 bylaw banning cetaceans led to millions of dollars in financial losses and was a breach of contract.
The notice of civil claim was filed by the aquarium’s parent company Ocean Wise in B.C. Supreme Court on May 14, nearly two years after the ban was imposed.
WATCH: (Aired Jan. 18, 2018) Vancouver Aquarium announces it will no longer display whales or dolphins
The suit claims the aquarium has seen a 13 per cent decline in attendance in 2017 and 2018, which the suit says equaled a loss of almost $4 million in revenue in each of those years, based on 2016 admission rates.
Under the current licence agreement with the park board to allow the aquarium’s operation in Stanley Park, the aquarium pays both a fixed annual fee of $150,000 which increases by $25,000 every five years, and a monthly fee based on a percentage of food and beverage sales.
The ban also scuttled plans for a $100-million expansion of the aquarium’s marine science centre, which would have included a “substantially renovated and expanded facilities for cetaceans, including larger pools,” the suit claims.
After the ban was imposed, the suit claims the aquarium was forced to write off $2.2 million in design and consulting costs for the planned “Canada’s Arctic” habitat, and lost a $7.5-million private donation towards the expansion.
Ocean Wise claims the expansion had been approved by the park board through an amendment of their licence agreement with the aquarium in 2009, and an additional amendment in 2011.
The most recent version of that licence agreement came into effect in 1999 and was set to expire on Dec. 31, 2029. The suit says the agreement and its amendments were signed while cetaceans were at the aquarium.
Ocean Wise argues the park board’s 2017 ban, which came after the deaths of two beluga whales, sparked outrage from animal rights activists and interfered with the aquarium’s “ability to carry out the day-to-day administration of the Marine Science Centre without interference from the Park Board.”
WATCH: (Aired Jan. 19, 2018) Vancouver Aquarium plans for future without whales or dolphins
The suit quotes a section of the agreement that says the park board will “not interfere with the day-to-day administration of the Aquarium unless such interference is permitted or required by this agreement.”
Ocean Wise is seeking an unspecified amount in damages for breach of contract, as well as legal costs and any “further and other relief” the court may find fit.
In a statement Friday, the park board said it is “reviewing the claim with legal counsel and considering its options going forward,” adding it has no further comment as “the matter is before the courts.”
The park board voted 6-1 in May 2017 to ban the import of new cetaceans to city parks along with public performances.
The aquarium launched a legal challenge a month later, but announced in January 2018 it would no longer keep cetaceans on display.
In February of that year, a B.C. Supreme Court judge found the park board ban conflicted with its licence agreement.
The park board successfully appealed the decision in the B.C. Court of Appeal this past February, ruling the B.C. Supreme Court judge had posed a challenge to the legal power of the board.
There are currently no whales on display at the aquarium, although one dolphin remains. A false killer whale, Chester, died in 2017.
The aquarium still owns several belugas that are housed at parks in the U.S. and internationally, including two that were recently shipped to a Spanish marine park partially operated by Ocean Wise.
Global News has reached out to the Vancouver Aquarium for further comment.
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