The Vancouver Aquarium and its worldwide reputation as a leading marine science centre has been a source of pride for many Vancouverites since it opened in 1956.
With activists (many of whom don’t live in Vancouver or Canada) and local politicians attacking the organization, its staff and volunteers during an municipal election year, the Aquarium is not sitting back as misinformation about their commitments, practices and people are spread.
“Our 1500 staff and volunteers are the real conservationists – they are working hard every single day on complex ocean issues such as overfishing, marine debris, impacts of the changing climate,” said Dr. John Nightingale, Vancouver Aquarium President and CEO.
“The pressures facing our oceans, and indeed our entire earth, are complex. The Vancouver Aquarium, with its long history of research and conservation work, is committed to generating science and expanded public engagement to promote the long-term solutions. Almost all of the pressures in the ocean realm are of human origin, and it will have to be humans that bring forward the needed changes.”
“The attached video addresses some of these issues, and clearly conveys just how committed our team is, and how dedicated they are to the difficult work they do,” Nightingale added.
In 1996, Vancouver Aquarium became the first and only aquarium in the world to make a commitment to no longer capture cetaceans from the wild for display. They now only accept and care for whales, dolphins and porpoises (cetaceans) that were born in an aquarium or were rescued and deemed non-releasable by an appropriate government authority.
The last whale or dolphin collected by the Aquarium happened over 20 years ago, in 1990. That same whale, Aurora, contributes to their knowledge of wild belugas, including groundbreaking research, which investigates the impact of boat noise on beluga vocalizations and how it affects the ability of beluga moms and calves to call each other. This is especially important in light of the shrinking ice cover and impending increase in shipping traffic in the Arctic.
Vancouver Aquarium condemns the inhumane killing of dolphins in drive fisheries, as do all professionally accredited aquariums in North America. Their two Pacific white-sided dolphins, Helen and Hana, are not from a drive fishery or from Taiji, were not purchased and no additional animals were collected to replace them.
Helen and Hana were rescued from entanglement in fixed fishing nets on the opposite coast of Japan thousands of kilometres from Taiji—they were in very poor condition but were rehabilitated and then deemed non-releasable by government authorities because of their injuries. Neither could survive in the wild. Vancouver Aquarium offered them a safe and healthy long-term home.
In a rapidly changing world, marine science still contains many mysteries. Throughout their evolution, Vancouver Aquarium has worked with other professionally accredited aquariums to collaborate on research studies, share best practices and enhance staff expertise.
With an upcoming expansion planned for their habitats, the Aquarium relocated three of its belugas to professionally accredited facilities in North America that are also required to have the highest standards of care for their marine mammals.
The animals at the Aquarium receive the finest veterinary attention and benefit from state-of-the-art medical technologies developed for human health care.
Belugas in professionally accredited facilities live as long as, or longer than, those in the wild. Most of the belugas are now well into their twenties, receive exceptional care and are in excellent physical health. Unfortunately, animals do die during all parts of their life history as they would in the wild. They were deeply saddened with the passing of Kavna, who was at least 46 and considered an old beluga when she died.
They are dismayed that activists are using a photo of her, taken from a local news helicopter, after her death from age-related cancer as propaganda. It’s a cruel and heartless misuse of an animal that inspired the song, “Baby Beluga,” and was loved by millions of people including those who cared for her every day.
There is a misconception that the Vancouver Aquarium is a for-profit, private venture. However, like all registered Canadian non-profit organizations, the Vancouver Aquarium follows strict accounting regulations and undergoes an annual independent financial audit (see their 2013 Annual Report).
Gallery admissions, fundraising events and community donations fund operations and animal care, as do programs like their Marine Mammal Rescue Centre, Marine Mammal Research, Ocean Pollution Research, Ocean Wise and Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup among others.
Before 1964, when the Vancouver Aquarium caught its first killer whale, B.C.’s fisheries managers had mounted a Browning .50 calibre machine gun at Seymour Narrows to cull the killer whales they believed were vicious predators.
Today, killer whales are among the most adored species on earth due to the awareness the Aquarium has raised and their participation in the longest study of killer whales in the world.
Scientists have also proven that up-close encounters with live animals change perceptions, increase understanding and inspire action. Now, at a time when our oceans are in crisis from climate change, pollution, overfishing and acidification, we need more education and engagement than ever before.
Marine mammals at Vancouver Aquarium require a great deal of specialized care—this is especially true for belugas and dolphins that are wholly aquatic.
Training is a way for the Aquarium to communicate with the mammals and to build a trusting relationship. Training allows their professional team to convey simple messages that result in voluntary and cooperative body examinations, the taking of blood, body temperature, ultrasound, dental checks and eye exams.
Their interactions are customized for each animal and vary for health care, exercise, socialization, science, learning, education and play. It also enables scientists to conduct vital research, such as the echolocation (sound) study now underway to help understand how Pacific white-sided dolphins navigate underwater using sound and why they continue to get entangled in fishing nets.
The interactions happen regardless of public presence and are specifically, and most importantly, for the benefit of animal care.
As well as helping to inspire understanding and action in guests, the whales and dolphins at Vancouver Aquarium continue to play an important role in research for ocean conservation.
Some of the studies led by the Aquarium are conducted solely in the wild, though they use knowledge previously gained from animals at the Aquarium. Other studies are conducted only at Vancouver Aquarium. Many of them begin at the Aquarium, to establish baseline measurements and to broaden scientists’ understanding, and then continue in the wild. Expertise gained working with on-site animals also means Vancouver Aquarium is the only rescue facility in Canada with the skills and expertise to conduct rescues in the wild.
The Arctic is warming at a rate of almost twice the global average, and the sea ice that is a critical component of Arctic marine ecosystems is projected to disappear in the summer within a generation.
For beluga whales, the changing environment means fewer food sources and greater threats, including increased shipping traffic, novel diseases and infection by parasites previously only found in more southern animal species. Vancouver Aquarium researchers and research associates from universities around North America are working together to find solutions to these new challenges. The Aquarium belugas, Aurora and Qila, are helping.
Rescued cetaceans at Vancouver Aquarium have been deemed non-releasable by the appropriate government authorities, such as Fisheries and Oceans Canada.
To be deemed non-releasable, stranded marine mammals have either sustained injuries that would put them at a great disadvantage in the wild (as with Hana and Helen, the Pacific white-sided dolphins), or they lack the life skills needed to survive on their own because they were stranded at a very young age (the case with Jack and Daisy, the harbour porpoises).
With every rescue, the team at the Aquarium’s Marine Mammal Rescue Centre works around the clock to rehabilitate the animal with the goal of reintroducing it to the wild. Each year, they succeed in rescuing, rehabilitating and releasing roughly 100 marine mammals back into their natural environment.
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