Adriane Carr wants public to vote on Vancouver's captive dolphins and whales

Adriane Carr wants the people to weigh in on whales. A plebescite, she says, will direct the Park Board in its 2015 review of the Vancouver Aquarium's whale display practices.

Adriane Carr
Cllr. Adriane Carr (Screenshot from YouTube video by digitalmonkblog)

Once more unto the breach

Councillor Adriane Carr has added her voice to a growing chorus urging the Vancouver Aquarium to stop displaying captive whales and dolphins.

Cllr. Carr has submitted a notice of motion, calling on City Council to arrange a plebiscite question for the November election ballot on phasing out whale and dolphin exhibits in the Vancouver Aquarium. The plebiscite would only kick in if the Vancouver Park Board and the Vancouver Aquarium do not reach an agreement soon to phase out keeping cetaceans in captivity.


(Beluga whale at the Vancouver Aquarium. Photo by Tyler Ingram; CC license)

Time to mention 'Blackfish'

Carr, who represents the Green Party, said that the motion would allow for "the opportunity for the park board and the aquarium to resolve this as per the suggestion of the Mayor."

While Carr has not yet seen it, many of her constituents have mentioned "Blackfish" when discussing the issue of captive cetaceans with her.

The captive-orca documentary has had a profound effect on how captive whales are seen: the film compelled Pixar to rewrite "Finding Dory" the sequel to "Finding Nemo".

"Obviously there's the public discussion," said Carr. "If the public’s concerned, I’m concerned."

Cetacean cessation

Park Board commissioners Sarah Blyth and Constance Barnes have publicly called for the Vancouver Aquarium to give up displaying whales and dolphins; Barnes described the current situation as "deplorable".

Last week, Mayor Gregor Robertson also said that the Vancouver Aquarium should phase out the display of captive whales and dolphins. A referendum would not be necessary, though, he said; since phasing out the display of whales is something the Park Board can decide on its own during the 2015 review of the Parks Control by-law.

Carr heard Robertson's statement, but thought the issue required more action on the part of Council: “I thought, 'You know, that’s not good enough', because there’s a timeliness to this in two ways."

First, there's that 2015 Park Board review, which Carr argues requires action prior to the election: “In order to prepare better for that review, to gain information on what the public feels is important.”

The plebescite itself would be non-binding: voters would not be compelling the Vancouver Aquarium to Free Willy. However, it would both guide the Park Board and, depending on how the vote goes, give it the weight of public support should it recommend phasing out the display of cetaceans.

There exists some evidence for such public support: a Change.org petition calling for a referendum has over 14,000 signatures as of this writing.

Second, said Carr, the Vancouver Aquarium is expanding. Included in that expansion is the doubling of the whale and dolphin display capacity, and a corresponding increase the number of cetaceans in captivity.

Vancouver Aquarium defends whale display

For its part, the Vancouver Aquarium argues that captive whales are more than just cute faces behind oft-tapped glass, but are indeed vital to conservation efforts.

The aquarium issued an emailed response to Robertson's statement, which read in part:

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