OPINION: Vancouver Aquarium's SeaWorld connection

Vancouver Aquarium's Nanuq was by far the most successful beluga breeding male in SeaWorld, with seven living offspring. Six other offspring did not survive birth or early infancy.

Belugas in captivity. Wikimedia commons photo

Earlier this month Senator Wilfred Moore of Nova Scotia tabled a bill to phase out captivity of cetaceans in Canadian marine parks. The proposed legislation would ban captive breeding, imports, exports and live captures of all whales, dolphins and porpoises in Canada, while allowing for the rescue of injured creatures.

Canadian Press reports that Dr. John Nightingale of the Vancouver Aquarium takes issue with the bill, saying that captivity of cetaceans is necessary for scientific research that will protect them from climate change and pollution.  However, considerable scientific opinion on the subject has shifted, as demonstrated by this scientist statement supporting a California ban on captivity, breeding, artificial insemination and transport of orcas. The California ban is supported by a number of eminent Canadian scientists, including Drs. Hal Whitehead and Lindy Weilgart of Dalhousie, Dr. David Duffus of UVic's Whale Research Lab, and Dr. Paul Spong of OrcaLab in B.C.

The following is an updated reprint of my op-ed from August 2014 that appeared in the Huffington Post:

Vancouverites have a love affair with the Vancouver Aquarium beyond anything we feel for other local institutions, so it's not so surprising that the city's park board decision to halt breeding of cetaceans inflamed emotions on both sides. 

Add some overheated rhetoric, a prematurely uncorked civic election campaign and Jane Goodall, and we managed to whip this thing to peak hostility virtually overnight.

Both sides should dial this way back. The Vancouver Aquarium is a scientific and research institution of the first order, and clearly its highly professional scientists, academics, volunteers and staff care profoundly and personally about the animals in their care.

It should also go without question that the public is widely, fairly and increasingly concerned about the welfare of captive cetaceans. As are many scientists.

Yet Dr. Goodall's letter to the Vancouver Park Board deserves a much closer reading than it's had thus far, because she's raised a key issue. Goodall focused on the scientific ethics of Vancouver Aquarium's loan of belugas to SeaWorld's breeding program.

Vancouver's too close connection with SeaWorld

And just what is Vancouver Aquarium's relationship to SeaWorld's beluga program? Funny you should ask.

It turns out that Vancouver Aquarium owns eight belugas but only two actually live here. Six others — it was seven until Nanuq died in February — either live or were born at SeaWorld, a self-described theme park and entertainment corporation. Two of those six have since been moved to a third aquarium in Atlanta.

Here they all are:

Vancouver

  • Aurora (F)
  • Qila (F)

Georgia (fathered at SeaWorld by Vancouver's Nanuq, now deceased)

  • Grayson (M)
  • Qinu (F)

SeaWorld (San Diego, San Antonio, Orlando)

  • Allua (F)
  • Imaq (M)
  • Atla (F)
  • Stella (F)

Vancouver Aquarium belugas routinely perform in shows at SeaWorld, participate in celebrity promotion for SeaWorld, and are made available for in-tank interactions with the public.

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