animal welfare News/Blog

VHS presentations to Park Board on whale and dolphin captivity at Vancouver Aquarium



Below are two VHS presentations made at the Vancouver Park Board meeting on captive whales and dolphins at the Vancouver Aquarium on July 26, 2014.



Presentation by Leanne McConnachie, VHS Director, Farmed Animal Programs.

My name is Leanne McConnachie. I have a master of animal science degree from UBC’s Animal Welfare Graduate Program, I served on the BCSPCA’s Board of Directors, I am currently on the Vancouver Foundation’s Animal Welfare Committee and I’m on the Board of the Animal Welfare Foundation of Canada. Finally, for the past 7 years, I have been the Director of Vancouver Humane Society’s Farmed Animal Programs, and VHS is opposed to the keeping of cetaceans at the Vancouver Aquarium.


In my work with farm animal issues, the biggest moral and animal welfare concern today is the cruel confinement of animals in cages and crates for economic benefit. It is the consequences of confinement that is at the heart of the issue being discussed today. It is NOT about who is among the best of all the confinement facilities, as the Gaydos report concludes.


There are a multitude of scientific papers from some of the world’s leading animal welfare scientists that prove animals suffer when confined and denied their natural behaviors.


The Aquarium says they need more animals to conduct more research. Now yes, there is a place for science, and science has proven that cetaceans do not thrive in captivity. Furthermore, science and the Vancouver Aquarium have certainly proven they cannot be successfully bred in captivity, based on their abysmal baby cetacean death toll. (Note: At San Antonio Aquarium, they have had 13 beluga deaths since 1995, five under 5-years old, and three deaths at the Georgia Aquarium, and these are the aquariums to where they’ve loaned their other belugas).


So thank you, cetacean researchers, for teaching us that. Now let’s put the research findings into action and phase out the keeping of these animals in captivity.


Fortunately, public sensibilities are evolving. With farm animals, consumers and retailers are demanding an end to cages and crates, demonstrating it is not ok to confine farm animals in this way just to pleasure our palates. Similarly, it is not ok to confine cetaceans in small concrete tanks, for what we all know, is really just to entertain us.


And remember, no one here is saying close the aquarium or stop the great rescue and rehab work. We are saying stop the cetacean “shows”, and stop the breeding.


Now, those who support captivity will attempt to discredit the voices of the citizens and small organizations that oppose it. But there is a group that is not here today – the BC SPCA. They are the largest animal protection organization in Canada, with provincial statuatory powers protect animals, and they oppose it too.


They submitted a proposal to the Park Board suggesting 8 key changes to the Parks Control By-Law, including a phase out of the cetacean programs, and prohibiting the breeding and loaning of cetaceans.


VHS agrees with the BC SPCA’s recommendations, but we would also like to submit 2 amendments:

  1. prohibit the exchange of cetacean DNA for artificial insemination purposes; and
  2. appoint a voting representative from the BC SPCA to the committee that determines which animals are brought in, and for how long, and make these minutes public.


The BC SPCA’s recommendations, together with VHS’s proposed amendments, appear to be a workable compromise.


Thank you.




Presentation by Liberty Mulkani, President, VHS Board of Directors

Hi, I’m Liberty Mulkani and I’m here as a concerned resident of Vancouver and also as a humane educator. I hold a Masters of Education with a focus on humane education and I have been planning educational events across North America for the past 10 years.


The Vancouver Aquarium trumpets the importance of their educational programming, but on a recent visit I found the content to be unimpressive. I attended the beluga whale and dolphin shows —and they were clearly and rightly billed as “shows,” not educational talks—and the crowd watched as these highly intelligent animals performed tricks for their dinner. Making animals perform in public is incongruent with true rescue work.


Neither the show’s announcers nor trainers had any concrete suggestions for how the audience could help the wild populations of these marine mammals. At one point, for example, they put forward the flimsy idea that people could curb their personal oil use to help belugas.

Why did the aquarium not explain how people could oppose increased tanker traffic or the shipping of Enbridge’s oil through BC’s coastal waters? This seemed a bizarre omission until I read that the aquarium is working to raise funds from sources including possibly the oil and gas industry. And why was there no mention of reducing or eliminating our fish consumption? These were missed opportunities for meaningful education.


Trainers gushed about their relationships with the individual animals, but there was no consideration given to the complex social relationships these animals are denied in captivity, the calves that are stolen from their mothers through largely unsuccessful breeding programs, or the fraction of their natural lifespan they experience. Comprehensive studies such as the one conducted by the Sun Sentinel have illustrated the morbid rate of survival for captive marine mammals.


I also heard repeatedly about their three pillars of Rescue, Rehabilitation and Release, but the current Parks Control By-Law states that the aquarium may take in injured cetaceans “whether or not the intention is to release [them] back to [their] natural wild habitat.”

At the aquarium, these animals are forced to live their lives in incomprehensively small spaces and cetacean experts have explained that the sensory and social deprivation these acoustic animals endure in captivity is similar to putting a person in solitary confinement for their entire lives.

As “Blackfish” made crystal clear, this leads to psychological distress and permanent damage. Premier orca expert, Paul Spong, has said he’s disappointed that the aquarium continues to exhibit belugas and dolphins and thinks, “that it is a very inappropriate thing to do in this modern age.”


The first time I saw wild whales in Tofino I was 13. I had been to the Vancouver Aquarium and other Marine Parks as a child, but these shows certainly didn’t give me the sense of awe and wonder that seeing free whales did. Our curiosity about a species does not make it okay to hold them as captive slaves, deprived of their natural environments and behaviours. There is no excuse for this and we’re teaching people the wrong lessons about these intelligent, social and sensitive beings.

We live in one of the most beautiful places in the world, with wild marine mammals at our doorstep—it seems absurd that we should continue to hold them captive. True reverence comes when we see an animal in their natural habitat, where they belong.

Park Board Chairman and Commissioners; please work to end the captivity of cetaceans at the Vancouver Aquarium.





2 replies on “VHS presentations to Park Board on whale and dolphin captivity at Vancouver Aquarium”

Comments are closed.