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Vancouver Aquarium and SeaWorld joined at the hip

Investigation reveals that SeaWorld Entertainment Inc's beluga breeding and artificial insemination program is wholly dependent on support provided by the Vancouver Aquarium and its belugas on breeding loan.

Flickr Creative Commons photo of beluga at Vancouver Aquarium by Jenny Spadafora

With the controversy over whales in captivity brewing, the city's recent park board decision to halt breeding of cetaceans raised ire from both sides of the debate. 

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

But 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 and SeaWorld sitting in a tree

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

It turns out that Vancouver Aquarium owns nine belugas, but only two actually live here. Seven others either live or were born at SeaWorld, a self-described theme park and entertainment corporation. Two of those seven have since been moved to a third aquarium in Atlanta.

Here they all are:

  • Aurora (F)
  • Qila (F)
Georgia (fathered at SeaWorld by Vancouver's Nanuq)
  • Grayson (M)
  • Qinu (F)
SeaWorld (San Diego, San Antonio, Orlando)
  • Nanuq (M)
  • 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.

But most of all, Vancouver Aquarium whales form the backbone of SeaWorld's beluga breeding program. According to Ceta-base, a credible (though volunteer-run so not infallible) cetacean tracking site, two Vancouver belugas Nanuq and Imaq are the only successfully breeding males in all SeaWorld's North American facilities. They've apparently sired every living beluga born at any SeaWorld on this continent since August 2000.

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

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