Fresh off the announcement that the Vancouver Aquarium would end its captive whale and dolphin breeding programs, new documents reveal disturbing practices at the facility, which contradict the CEO's claim that the aquarium does not participate in planned cetacean breeding programs.
It began last week, when the city's Park Board voted unanimously to prohibit the the breeding of whales and dolphins in captivity, after a widespread campaign by animal advocates. The move was applauded by conservationists around the world.
In response, the aquarium's CEO, John Nightingale, published an open letter on the facility's website. The letter argued that the aquarium had never participated in planned breeding programs for cetaceans in the first place.
The Park Board's use of the word breeding implies that we carry out some sort of planned, regulated or artificial reproduction program. We don't do that at the Vancouver Aquarium. Our animals do mate, just as they do in the wild, because we keep them in natural groupings – just as they live in nature.
But, according to new documents obtained by the Straight, this isn't entirely true. Not only did the aquarium assist with international planned breeding programs, it also participated in the effort to capture 18 wild belugas off the coast of Russia and import them to the U.S. along with several other aquariums, SeaWorld included.
Vancouver Aquarium provided assistance to Georgia Aquarium when it applied for a permit to import the 18 whales, and is listed on the permit application. Vancouver Aquarium's involvement is particularly egregious knowing that in 1996, the aquarium made a public pledge never to participate in wild whale captures, even declaring that it would ensure its activities did not result in other facilities capturing wild whales, either. The beluga permit was eventually denied by NOAA in August 2013.
These two incongruities -- the participation in breeding programs with other facilities and the participation in the planning of wild-caught whales -- are alarming for animal advocates, who say the flip-flopping and lack of transparency is a huge problem. But thanks to the new ruling by the Park Board, hopefully the days of shady cetacean business dealings are behind the Vancouver Aquarium.