Vancouver Aquarium: End your breeding partnership with SeaWorld today

OPINION: Another baby beluga has died at SeaWorld--the seventh death of an infant sired by Vancouver Aquarium males since 2006. With a 50% survival rate, SeaWorld's aggressive beluga reproduction program is a mess, and the Vancouver Aquarium could end it.

beluga baby, SeaWorld San Diego. Still from promotional video
The baby beluga pictured here died Monday, the seventh infant death at SeaWorld since 2006. All SeaWorld's beluga conceptions are sired through their breeding partnership with the Vancouver Aquarium.
On Tuesday The Guardian reported compelling evidence that a SeaWorld employee infiltrated the animal rights group PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), adding to pressure on the marine entertainment theme park's battered reputation following the wide distribution of the documentary Blackfish.
 
The Guardian's bombshell arrived on the heels of SeaWorld’s announcement Monday of the death of a three-week old baby beluga fathered by the Vancouver Aquarium whale, Imaq. After the death of Vancouver’s Nanuq, following a confrontation with another male at SeaWorld Orlando in February, some big questions are long overdue.
 
What the heck are we doing sending our belugas on breeding loan to SeaWorld, anyway? 
 

50% mortality

According to the respected cetacean-tracking site Ceta-base, this latest baby beluga death is SeaWorld’s seventh (including two stillbirths) in nine years — a mortality rate of 50 per cent. And all of them, like the seven survivors, were fathered by Vancouver Aquarium whales. 
 
Let's put this partnership out of its misery. 
 
SeaWorld is a publicly-traded theme park behemoth whose breeding standards are driven for profit, but Vancouver can and should do better than to subject our own animals and their offspring to their care.
 
Below is SeaWorld's promotional birth announcement encouraging customers to visit its new arrival, a non-thriving premature infant that died at age three weeks on Monday. 
 

 

Puppy mill breeding and artificial insemination: Two moms lose five babies in six years 

According to this pretty amazing research, SeaWorld conducts an intensive beluga artificial insemination breeding program with Vancouver whales that includes manual stimulation and semen collection from the male. Females are subjected to hormonal dosing, then sedated and removed from the water for invasive and stressful impregnation procedures. 
 
The most prolific females are bred with puppy-mill regularity, sometimes artificially inseminated or bred less than a year after giving birth. For instance, according to Ceta-base, five of the seven infant deaths were born to just two females, Whisper and Ruby.
 
Whisper was impregnated by artificial insemination with sperm from Vancouver’s Nanuq just a year after delivering a stillborn baby. She then delivered a set of twins (one stillborn) that both died. Ruby delivered three infants in four years, including one by artificial insemination. Two of the three died.
 
No wonder PETA’s mad as a hornet, and no wonder SeaWorld’s out to infiltrate and stop them. These breeding practices are unconscionable.
 
A California bill to ban them in captive Orca whales is supported by a wide array of the world's foremost cetacean scientists. Wilfred Moore, a Canadian senator from Nova Scotia, seeks to ban all captive cetacean breeding in Canada.
 

Vancouver's in this up to our necks

And Vancouver’s in this up to our necks, because none of SeaWorld's beluga breeding could happen without us. Our males Nanuq and Imaq have been SeaWorld's only successful breeders in all their North American operations for the last 15 years. Dr. Jane Goodall has singled Vancouver's breeding partnership with SeaWorld as indefensible by science.
 
Our belugas at SeaWorld perform in shows, do celebrity promotion, are subjected to close in-tank contact with members of the public, are transported by air at the whim of management, and participate in one of the planet's most advanced animal reproduction programs. All to benefit SeaWorld’s multi-billion dollar bottom line.
 
There’s no transparency of the Vancouver Aquarium's end of this deal. The organization denies financial compensation, although a lucrative zoo and aquarium economy exists in the barter of animals
 
Amazingly, Vancouver could put a stop to SeaWorld’s beluga breeding right now, today, just by withdrawing the one remaining breeding male from the program. At a minimum, this would set SeaWorld back years. 
 
The Vancouver Aquarium has been breaking good news lately, bringing commentary and video on some of Nature’s greatest triumphs, such as the re-uniting of a young Orca with its mother. This is the kind of terrific work Vancouverites love. This is what we want to see our Aquarium doing—contributing to science, educating the public and advocating for our natural environment. 
 
And it's the direction of North America's most popular modern aquariums, such as the Monterey Bay Aquarium or the US National Aquarium, neither of which breed cetaceans. We should aspire to that standard, not a marine circus that still does dolphin tricks.
 
Vancouver Aquarium should get this right, and strike a blow for the humane treatment of cetaceans in captivity.
 
Let's end our cetacean breeding relationship with SeaWorld today. 

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