6 min read

Vancouver Aquarium Ignores Best Interest Of Animals

Captive marine mammals continue to languish in unnatural conditions

There is a debate going on in Vancouver over whale breeding policies for the Vancouver Aquarium. The park's board recently decided to allow the facility to keep belugas, also called white whales, but dictated that it can't breed them "unless they are a threatened species." There are critically threatened species of cetacean (the collective term for whales, porpoises, and dolphins) in many parts of the world, but breeding them in captivity won't save them.

Dr. Andrew Trites, Director of the University of British Columbia's Marine Mammal Research Unit, lists his research interests as biology of marine mammals, their population dynamics, bioenergetics, fisheries, and data analysis. He opposes the decision.

He reportedly said, "Can you imagine signing a lease where your landlord gets to put in a clause about how often you can have sex and whether you can have it?" Huh? Apparently, he continued, "It almost has an element of Big Brother." No, it doesn't. It has "an element" of making the inadequate best of an unconscionable situation.

He then drags out the trope that when captive animals have sex, it is "...a sign that they're enjoying themselves." And, John Nightingale, the aquarium's President, is quoted as saying, "For the park board to stop whales and dolphins from doing what comes naturally is like telling park board commissioners not to have sex, ever. It's unnatural."

Unnatural? Good grief. Tearing these animals from their families and natural habitats and putting them in tanks is about as far from "natural" as one can imagine. If he's concerned about animals in "unnatural" situations, he should get out of the aquarium business. I've seen belugas in the wild, forming in vast numbers in open sea water; that is about as remote from anything experienced at an aquarium as your life or mine is from that of a prisoner, held for life in a high security federal penitentiary.

I just don't understand how these guys think. Personally, I find it horrifying to think that they are, in any way, in charge of sentient beings.

Whales and dolphins did not evolve to swim in circles in concrete tanks. They are not "tenants." They did not choose this life, and they did nothing to any human to deserve to be deprived of the level of freedom inherent to what is actually "natural" for them.

Those animals shouldn't be there in the first place. Being there means that perhaps simply releasing them is also not in their better interests, since they are a social species, and these animals were taken from (or, if captive-bred, never knew) the society in which they should have lived. It would be like dropping you into the middle of the Congo forest and expecting you to survive. The aquarium board understands that, and was trying to make the best decision in a situation that is ethically and morally wrong in the first place. Breeding a second generation-one to grow up forever deprived of freedom-is wrong. It's all wrong. Let these unfortunate animals be the last to suffer such a fate.