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Vancouver Aquarium Declares Supreme Court Challenge, Refuses To Stop Breeding Belugas

<p>Flickr/Russiavia</p>

After a ruling by the Vancouver Park Board that ordered the Vancouver Aquarium to stop breeding its captive whales and dolphins, the facility announced Wednesday that it will bring a legal challenge against the decision to the Supreme Court.

John Nightingale, the aquarium's CEO, called a press conference to make the announcement, saying that he had not yet tried to negotiate with the Parks Board, but that he felt that the Board does not have the expertise to oversee the aquarium. He argued that the Board does not have jurisdiction over the aquarium either.

"We work with the park board every day, and we'll continue to do so," he said. "We have a legal agreement with the Park Board, valid until 2029."

"It's a technical legal question of: β€˜did the park board cross a line with these resolutions?'"

At a special meeting on July 31, he Board had voted unanimously to ban the aquarium from breeding its beluga whales and dolphins, while still allowing it to keep its cetaceans in captivity.

Nightingale said that it's not clear how long the legal challenge will take yet, noting that the process of judicial review can take about six months.

He also said that none of the beluga whales have been deliberately bred at the aquarium. While the park now has two female belugas, Nightingale said that it plans to bring back other whales, some of them male, from other aquariums where they are on loan. When the males are returned to the aquarium, they will be kept in the same tank with the females.

"If you keep males and females together, sometimes they mate," he said.

When asked what organizations provide oversight to the aquarium, Nightingale replied that the facility's board of directors, annual audits, an animal committee and an inspection by independent inspectors every five years are all forms oversight.

"In terms of the technical issues of animal care, there's terrific oversight," he said.

Many animal advocates have questioned the concept of keeping whales like belugas in captivity at all, because of their intelligence and their enormous ranges in the wild. The Oceanic Preservation Society recently pointed out that in the wild, belugas swim 59 to 79 km -- the equivalent of 750 to 1,000 laps for a beluga in a tank in Vancouver. And belugas are famously difficult to keep in captivity, the Vancouver Aquarium has had a series of juvenile beluga deaths in recent years and as a result, belugas often must be captured from the wild.

(Vanaquafacts)

An online petition calling for the end to the practice of keeping cetaceans at the attraction has gained over 17,000 signatures.