A battle over belugas is brewing at the Vancouver Aquarium, after a parks board decided Monday to ban new cetaceans – whales, dolphins and porpoises – at the popular Stanley Park facility.
The Vancouver Park Board’s decision came after two belugas died within two weeks of each other in November 2016, according to the Abbotsford News. While no definitive reason for their deaths was ever found, the aquarium said toxins in the water were likely to blame.
The aquarium will be allowed to keep the three whales that currently live there, but the decision means the belugas would no longer be used in shows or performances, and no new cetaceans can be kept in captivity.
Aquarium CEO John Nightingale said the agency would fight the ban because it would effectively shut down the aquarium’s Marine Mammal Rescue Centre. If rescued animals are deemed unfit to release, they may have to be euthanized, Nightingale said.
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“At a time when we need more empathy for animals in an increasingly destructive marine environment, often caused by humans, we have the responsibility to do right by helpless whales, dolphins and porpoises,” Nightingale wrote in a letter to parks commissioners.
The board has no jurisdiction over the marine rescue center, and pointed out that the vast majority of the 100-plus marine mammals, mostly harbor seals, saved annually are eventually released, according to CTV Vancouver.
The parks board has received more than 13,000 letters from aquarium supporters, and many stood in the rain Monday night to protest the decision.
The Vancouver Aquarium is the only aquarium in the Pacific Northwest to house the ghostly white belugas, which are native to the Arctic and sub-Arctic regions. The Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium in Tacoma has not had belugas in captivity since 2009, when its last remaining beluga was returned to Sea World in San Antonio following the death of another whale at the Tacoma aquarium.