Media Release

Vancouver Aquarium should end cetacean captivity now

Media release

February 20, 2017

Vancouver Aquarium should end cetacean captivity now

Vancouver – The Vancouver Humane Society (VHS) says the Vancouver Aquarium should end cetacean captivity now and not import more beluga whales to the facility. VHS says the aquarium’s announcement that it will import several belugas and put them on display until 2029 appears to be a tactic to pre-empt a potential decision by the Vancouver Park Board to end cetacean captivity much sooner. VHS spokesperson Peter Fricker said the aquarium should not waste its resources on expanding its captive cetacean facility. “The tanks should stay empty and the money should instead be used to work with the Whale Sanctuary Project.” The Whale Sanctuary Project is a non-profit group of scientists and other professionals working on the development of a seaside sanctuary for whales and dolphins who might be retired from entertainment facilities or rescued from injury or sickness in the wild. VHS is also concerned that the aquarium may use its rescue program as a loophole to acquire cetaceans for its new facility. “We worry that rather than aim for genuine rescue and release, the aquarium will aim for rescue and retain. They haven’t promised to end captivity, only the display of belugas.” VHS is skeptical about the aquarium’s claims to use the imported belugas for research. A report published by VHS and Zoocheck found that the value of the aquarium’s captive cetacean research to date is questionable.


Media Release

Report challenges claims that keeping whales and dolphins captive is justifiable

Media Release

For Immediate Release

December 14, 2016


The recent deaths of beluga whales Qila and Aurora have thrust the issue of captive display of cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises) in Vancouver back into the spotlight. The Vancouver Humane Society and Zoocheck Canada are holding a media conference to discuss captive cetacean issues and release a new report, A Crumbling Case for Cetacean Captivity? that specifically examines the kind of cetacean information provided to the general public and the impact of captive cetacean-associated research, and challenges some of the industry’s claims.

“Whale advocates, experts and members of the public have long been skeptical of the industry’s publicly-stated reasons for keeping cetaceans captive,” states Debra Probert, Executive Director of the Vancouver Humane Society. “Many of those arguments are now being vigorously challenged. We decided to look into a couple of key aspects of education and research at two captive cetacean facilities to see if they are really making a difference in the lives of wild cetaceans.”

“Given that the biological and behavioural needs of whales and dolphins cannot be met in an aquarium and there is little, if any, value in the education or conservation programs associated with keeping cetaceans on exhibition, it is time to empty the tanks,” said Zoocheck Campaigns Director Julie Woodyer.

According to marine mammal scientist Dr. Naomi Rose, “Society’s attitude toward whale and dolphin captivity is changing rapidly. Recently, Ontario banned the possession of orcas, the National Aquarium announced plans to retire its dolphins to a seaside sanctuary, SeaWorld pledged to end the breeding of its captive orcas, the State of California codified this corporate policy in law, the Whale Sanctuary Project was formed to establish the first cold water cetacean sanctuary in the world and the US government designated the Sakhalin-Amur population of belugas in Russia’s Sea of Okhotsk as depleted, meaning the import of these animals is prohibited. The times they are a’changin’ and Vancouver needs to evolve and change as well.”

Speakers include Debra Probert, Executive Director, Vancouver Humane Society; Julie Woodyer, Campaigns Director, Zoocheck Inc.; Dr. Rebecca Ledger, animal behaviourist; Dr. Sara Dubois, Chief Science Officer, British Columbia SPCA, and; Dr. Naomi Rose, Marine Mammal Scientist, Animal Welfare Institute.

When: Wednesday, December 14, 2016, 11:00 AM

Where: 1430 Segal Centre, SFU Harbour Centre, 515 West Hastings St.,Vancouver

Contact: Julie Woodyer, Zoocheck, 416-451-5976 Debra Probert, Vancouver Humane Society, 778-994-9744

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SeaWorld’s historic decision is lost on Vancouver Aquarium

beluga whales iStock_000005049794MediumLast week, SeaWorld announced that, effective immediately, it is ending its orca breeding program and will be phasing out its theatrical shows involving orcas.

While this is certainly welcome news for the future generations of these whales who would have been born into a life of captivity, sadly, it amounts to little for the existing generation in SeaWorld parks, who will remain captive “for as long as they live.” Nor does it extend the same compassion to SeaWorld’s other captive cetaceans, including belugas and dolphins, who can continue to be bred in captivity and perform for audiences.

What does it mean for cetaceans in captivity at the Vancouver Aquarium? “It doesn’t change anything,” according to the aquarium’s general manager, who commented on SeaWorld’s announcement while in Spain, where the Vancouver aquarium has taken over operations of the L’Oceanografic aquarium. The marine park is the largest in Europe and has 13 bottlenose dolphins, 10 of which were caught in the wild. It also has a pair of belugas caught in Russian waters.

Despite growing criticism and a recent documentary on the subject, the Vancouver Aquarium defends its breeding programs and the keeping of cetaceans in captivity. Even Dr. Jane Goodall has voiced her opposition, calling captive breeding “no longer defensible by science.” She went on to argue that “the idea that certain cetaceans ‘do better’ in captivity than others is also misleading, as belugas, dolphins and porpoises are highly social animals which can travel in large pods and migrate long distances.”

Goodall is not alone in her opposition to the breeding and keeping of cetaceans in captivity. Senator Wilfred Moore has introduced a federal bill that, if passed, would prohibit the acquisition and captive breeding of cetaceans in Canada. We encourage you to sign and help circulate this potentially historic bill.

There is still much work to do in order to afford other animals the same freedom from exploitation, but we must recognize the SeaWorld announcement for the historical moment that it is. It serves as a testament to the power of compassionate people over corporations. Together, we can build on this momentum and work toward the inevitable day when the captivity industry is a thing of the past. Join the annual Empty the Tanks worldwide rally, taking place at the Vancouver Aquarium on Saturday, May 7th, 11am and voice your opposition to the captivity industry.

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Please support the bill to end cetacean captivity

Senator Wilfred Moore is urging Canadians to sign a petition supporting a bill he introduced in the Senate to end the captivity of whales and dolphins in Canada.

The Senator will present all the petitions together with his Bill to “End The Captivity Of Whales And Dolphins In Canada” to the Senate on January 25th. The bill would end the live capture, breeding, and acquisition of cetaceans in Canada.

Unfortunately, the Senate does not accept any reproductions, so the
petition has to be hand-signed and mailed. No internet petitions accepted.

This petition ended January 14, 2016. Read the latest updates on captivity in aquariums.

Thank you.

More information on the bill.

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‘Vancouver Aquarium Uncovered’ Documentary

Local filmmaker Gary Charbonneau delivers a controversial documentary on the Vancouver Aquarium’s rescue and captivity program. There will be a screening of the film, “Vancouver Aquarium Uncovered” on Sunday, Sept.13th, 7:30pm at the Vancouver Public library.

VHS opposes the keeping of wild animals for public display, as it deprives them of the ability to freely engage in instinctual behaviours in their natural environment. Even when bred in captivity, exotic animals retain the behavioural and biological needs that they would have in the wild. They cannot be considered domesticated and they can suffer if they are confined in unnatural environments. Here’s our Q&A with Gary:

VHS: Was there a defining moment or a catalyst that inspired you to get involved in the issue of cetaceans in captivity?

Gary: While attending a public hearing on cetacean captivity I became suspicious and concerned with the remarks and comments being made by the Vancouver Aquarium and their associates.

VHS: What do you want to be the biggest take away for those who see the film?

Gary: A better understanding of conservation, rescue and rehabilitation and a demand for greater transparency. A conservation centre such as the Vancouver Aquarium cannot have a higher infant death rate than in the wild nor should they have a breeding program that, in my opinion, has not aided wild cetaceans in their 50 year existence. This is completely contrary to conservation itself. As a city we need to define what this term stands for and further our understanding of the programs at the aquarium.

VHS: What has the response been like to the film, following its first screening?

Gary: Incredible. People learned a great deal on this issue. Their eyes were opened to the complicit association, fund allocation, misinformation and most importantly the true facts of the rescue and breeding programs. As one person said to me “Is this what I’ve been supporting all these years?”

VHS: What do you think has spurred the change in public sentiment over the captivity of whales and dolphins?

Gary: The film Blackfish really exposed the lengths aquariums go to in deceiving the public for profit. In my research I’ve also realized the connections that go far beyond the inner circle of North American aquariums. I have professors, researchers and biologists still contacting me today providing facts, data and personal experience on this lucrative captive business. Even more disheartening is most have asked me not to mention their names because they fear the power this industry has. I’ve also noticed this with news media as well. I’ll ask everyone right now, has anyone heard anything of this film on TV, radio or newspaper? The answer is no because they won’t touch this. Thus far all have turned down mentioning my film. One reporter told me I’m going to have a hard time because they’re interconnected to the aquarium whether through business or advertising. It’s quite sad actually because it’s the whales and dolphins who are suffering.

VHS: What do you suggest the public can do to help with this issue?

Gary: The public doesn’t realize they are the answer. Around the world these aquatic circuses are not only ending, they’re being banned. This is due to public pressure. Vancouverites need to have their voices heard and force the aquarium to update its model.

VHS: Theres been talk recently that Vancouver might be the ideal site for the worlds first sea sanctuary – a place for captive cetaceans to go if released from marine parks but unable to survive in the wild. What are your thoughts on that idea?

Gary: Sea sanctuaries are the future for rehabilitation and release. They will also provide increased space, depth and a more natural environment for those cetaceans who cannot survive in the wild. There are people who oppose the idea of sea pens or ocean sanctuaries but let’s not forget, there was a time when there were no elephant, primate or big cat sanctuaries and look at their success today. Furthermore, all of these were also thought to be impossible, with strong opposition.

VHS: In your research for the film, what did you find most disturbing about the captivity issue? What did you find most inspiring?

Gary: The infant death rate! Absolutely unbelievable, this literally stunned me and everyone who’s seen the film. It is completely unconscionable for the Vancouver Aquarium to call itself a conservation centre when its infant death rate is astronomically higher than in the wild, this makes no sense.

The most inspiring is the proof that aquariums who have moved away from captivity are doing better financially, provide higher levels of education through technology and interactivity and have demonstrated true conservation efforts. Aquariums such as Monterey Bay in California, Ripley’s Aquarium in Toronto, Shaw Ocean Discovery Centre in B.C. are a few examples.

VHS: What was the most challenging part of making the documentary?

Gary: Containing my emotions. During the repetitive process of editing you are continually reminded of the deaths, short lifespans and the psychological stress on these poor creatures. It is exceptionally difficult to stay focused.

VHS: Did you have a strong opinion on the issue of captivity prior to doing research for this film? Has making the film changed your opinion on other animal protection issues?

Gary: I’m not a proponent of animals performing tricks even for rescue or rehabilitation because duplicitous organizations will use conservation as a guise for exploitation. However, I was open to learn whether the Vancouver Aquarium was genuinely learning about and aiding whales and dolphins.

Completing this film has unquestionably affirmed that genuine rescue and rehabilitation shouldn’t require animals to perform. Any institution or non-profit organization who states it’s necessary to sell tickets in order to protect or preserve a species is either mismanaged or deceitful.

VHS: How can people see the documentary? 

Gary: A screening is being held on Sept 13th at the Vancouver Public Library. Sometime after this date the film will be released online at I feel it’s important to note, this is a non-profit film and will be released for free. I want everyone to learn the truth and help the aquarium improve and move into a superior direction.

VHS: What specific actions would you like to see the Vancouver Aquarium take moving forward, in regards to whales and dolphins in captivity?

Gary: The goal of my film is to enhance the Vancouver Aquarium and make it the most advanced and educational marine centre in the world. The aquarium is about to spend millions of dollars expanding their tanks when that money should be used towards technology, innovation and expanding their much needed Marine Mammal Rescue Centre.

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