Is it really marine mammal rescue if the best possible result is a lifetime in captivity?
This is one of the difficult questions we in Vancouver must ask following the stranding of a false killer whale or "FKW" (which is actually a member of the dolphin family) off the west coast of Vancouver Island. The young, still-nursing male is currently at Vancouver Aquarium's Marine Mammal Rescue Unit, where staff have mobilized every possible resource in an effort to save the life of the animal. But the way they see it, it's not just this poor dolphin's livelihood that's at stake; it's their own.
If you work for the Vancouver Aquarium, the timing of this stranding couldn't be better from a PR standpoint. On July 26, the Vancouver Park Board will hold public hearings on cetacean captivity at the Stanley Park attraction and is expected to rule on the issue within a month. The aquarium clearly views their marine mammal rescue program as its ticket to maintaining the status quo. But with their admission that there is only a slim (ten percent) chance this dolphin will survive, and VanAqua statements making it seem more and more likely that release has not even been considered as an option from the start, hard questions lie ahead.
The most obvious question that cuts to the heart of the captivity debate is, is a life in captivity really a life at all?
In Vancouver, if you're talking about an orca, the answer to this question is a resounding "no." The voluntary exclusion of orcas from Stanley Park tanks is a source of pride for VanAqua. The aquarium, in fact, participated in the rescue of an orphaned orca in 2002. Springer (or A73) was rehabilitated in a sea pen and returned to his pod near the north of Vancouver Island in a dramatic example of rescue done right. But what if the FKW that washed up on the beach near Tofino, BC was instead a real killer whale? Would the population of Vancouver be supportive of an orca being deemed "unreleasable" and then forced to live a life doing tricks in a pool in Stanley Park? Of course not; we in Vancouver have moved on and view orca captivity as a relic of the past, relegated to 'for-profit' places like SeaWorld. But orcas and false killer whales are closely related members of the dolphin family (delphinidae). So how could we condemn captivity for one and not the other?
But other questions also arise. Consider that there are currently no false killer whales in captive facilities in North America. If the poor little guy survives and is placed on display in Stanley Park, what will be the impact upon his species? The aquarium will certainly argue that he will be an ambassador for his kind, and will inspire millions to care and conserve this single mislabeled species of dolphin. Of course, the link between captivity and conservation has always been, at best, dubious. More likely, Vancouver's unique little dolphin will be noticed by aquariums and marine parks across the continent – and VanAqua has already stated publicly that marine parks and aquariums from around the world were calling before the poor dolphin had even left the beach. There is little doubt that public display of an FKW in Stanley Park will only fuel a growing marine park demand for this unique species, a species that in 2011 was added to the quota list of the fishermen/killers of Taiji, Japan.
The Vancouver Aquarium and other marine parks will tell you that they are against the killing of dolphins in drive hunts. But we do not hear them say that they are against the capture of dolphins in drive hunts. On one hand they condemn the practice that sees hundreds of dolphins murdered in pools of blood as their family members look on, yet on the other, they not only fail to denounce, but actively fuel the captive trade that is the sole reason this insane slaughter continues.
For this poor FKW, we hope and pray that he grows stronger and healthier as the days progress, and that one day he will be returned to his ocean home.
In the meantime, we must not forget: every captive dolphin has a connection to "The Cove."
----------------- WE NEED YOUR HELP:
On July 26, the Vancouver Park Board will hold hearings on the future of cetacean captivity at Vancouver Aquarium.
Tell the Mayor and Commissioners that cetacean captivity is not acceptable in the "Greenest City on Earth."
Tweet: @MayorGregor @ParkBoard #vanpoli
Email: CLICK HERE to send a form email to Vancouver's Mayor and Park Board