Animal Rescue, Daisy the Harbour Porpoise, and Saving the Vaquita In Her Name

Even before the sad news of 9-year old Daisy the Harbour Porpoise’s death, this couldn’t be stated enough: “Every animal matters.”

No, that isn’t the mantra of an animal rights group like PETA (who kill 97% of the animals taken into their “care”), but the oft-repeated sentiment of the Vancouver Aquarium and their supporters as the Park Board voted to ban all new cetaceans from entering the aquarium.

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Daisy (bottom) and Jack

This decision means that animals like porpoises Daisy and Jack, and false killer whale Chester, all of whom were found washed up on beaches at about 1 month of age, will now have to be “euthanised” on the spot instead of being taken to the Vancouver Aquarium’s Marine Mammal Rescue Centre and given a chance at life. The aquarium must be able to provide a long-term home to animals deemed non-releasable by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.  As the only facility of its kind in Canada, that ability has been lost.

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Baby Daisy. Credit: Vancouver Aquarium

Clearly, these animals do NOT matter to the Park Board, who have been asked countless times if the “experts” they claimed to consult included the DFO. Their silence could seen as an answer in itself. A so-called humane society was among the many who praised the ban while implying it doesn’t matter because (paraphrasing collective statements from them and others) “not that many cetaceans are treated at the MMRC anyway”. But the number is irrelevant: these animals matter. All of them.

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This figure ignores attempted rescues and all other strandings. Only those who survive long enough to enter long-term treatment are “counted.”

Daisy was an ambassador to her species in every sense of the word. What her caregivers learned from her directly contributed to the successful re-release of Levi. And then there are those she inspired: she stole the hearts of myself and countless others, and we love with the often-overlooked porpoise family as a direct result of interacting with her. Some of us are now taking action to save the critically endangered vaquita as part of that newfound love. Even Daisy contributed to vaquita conservation efforts.

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The day I fell in love with porpoises

Returning animals like Daisy to the wild is always the goal, but it isn’t always possible.  For those who call facilities like the Vancouver Aquarium home, while their lives may be different to that of their wild counterparts, that does not make them any less meaningful. Their trainers and tankmates are their friends and family. They have toys, affection, better medical care than many humans receive, and they never go hungry.  They even participate in research that can improve the lives of their increasingly imperiled wild counterparts, and increase the likelihood of successful rehabilitations.

The people at the Vancouver Aquarium are the true activists, knowing all the animals who have a chance at life deserve that life…and working to make it happen. Every one that needs to be shot on the beach because of this shortsighted law is one too many. Please, as the Vancouver Aquarium fights the ban in court, continue to let the Park Board know you oppose their decision.

And then, please help save the vaquita. For those Daisy touched, fighting to save the vaquita in her name is perhaps one of the best ways we can honour her memory.  For without her we might not care in the first place.

Rest in peace, sweet Daisy.  May your memory live on through those you inspired.

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Further reading:
Porpoise Conservation Society

Euthanasia, Humane Killing, and the Vancouver Aquarium

 

Euthanasia, Humane Killing, and the Vancouver Aquarium

Vancouver’s Park Board is looking to completely end the display of cetaceans at the Vancouver Aquarium. That includes rescued and rehabilitated animals like harbour porpoise Daisy and false killer whale Chester.  Both were found beached and near death as infants, and were taken into care at the Vancouver Aquarium’s Marine Mammal Rescue Centre (which, incidentally, is the only one of its kind in Canada).  The government later deemed them non-releasable.

Spontaneous leaping and play, outside of a show.

Chester leaping before a show

While animal rights activists celebrate, scientists warn bans like this could do more harm than good.   Among other things, if the Vancouver Aquarium is no longer able to provide a permanent home for cetaceans who are deemed non-releasable, “…the DFO would have to look at alternatives such as euthanasia,” according to Dr John Ford of the Department of Fisheries.

But is euthanasia the correct term?  In a research environment (where much of my training lies), the distinction between Euthanasia and something referred to as Humane Killing (or Culling) is roughly as follows: Euthanasia is undertaken for the animal’s benefit, usually to end explicit suffering.  Humane Killing is undertaken for our benefit and convenience, such as when an animal is no longer needed for breeding.  Both are conducted as fast and painlessly as possible — it is merely the motive that differs.

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Helen was found entangled in a fishing net off the coast of Japan, and was deemed non-releasable following a lengthy rehabilitation. Her pectoral fins had to be partially amputated.

But who benefits from stripping current animals of their home and leaving future ones to die? Politicians. In this case, the Vancouver Park Board.

As election time approached in 2014, Vision Vancouver-run Park Board Commissioner Constance Barnes infamously compared cetacean captivity to slavery before banning breeding.  Vision Vancouver lost the Park Board that election, and the Aquarium-supporting NPA immediately reversed Vision’s rulings, stating “I think it’s an emotional issue, and I think we recognize that the aquarium provides a lot of good in terms of research, conservation and education programs and we want to see that work continue.”  But election time is coming up again, and Commissioner Stuart Mackinnin used renewed outrage following the deaths of belugas Qila and Aurora to do a fast 180 and one-up scrapping the breeding program by moving to ban cetaceans entirely.  He even suggested he doesn’t care where the animals go so long as they’re off Park Board-controlled lands. Out of sight, out of mind…and into office.

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One has to wonder…

Activists claim the animals are suffering in captivity, but science says otherwise.  And there are tangible benefits to having cetaceans live in facilities such as the Vancouver Aquarium that directly benefit their wild counterparts.  Helen, for example, participates in research studies that could help prevent the approximately 1000 marine mammals from becoming entangled in fishing nets as bycatch every day.  Meanwhile, Daisy is helping save the critically endangered Vaquita. Not to mention, animals are given a chance at life who otherwise wouldn’t have one.  And if all cetaceans are “euthanised” on the spot to “save” the few who can’t be, success stories like Levi’s will be a thing of the past.  (see: This Dolphin Didn’t Have To Die)

The Vancouver Aquarium is asking people to send letters of support for the work they do.  And voice that support for them on social media, perhaps highlighting how they have inspired you.

To the politicians, this isn’t about the animals’ welfare.  It’s about notoriety and votes.  Don’t let them meddle in the lives of these animals purely for their own gain.  The future of cetacean conservation and rescue in Canada could depend on it.

Related:
Remembering Qila and Aurora Through Those They Inspired
Rest In Peace Jack, and May Your Legacy Live On

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Remembering Qila and Aurora Through Those They Inspired (Vancouver Aquarium)

November 26: 2016 Original blog post from 2 days ago has been amended to reflect updated events.

After the recent loss of Qila, a beluga whale at the Vancouver Aquarium (who in some ways I watched grow up alongside my evolving view of belugas from “boring” to “beautiful”), shortly followed by the news that her mother Aurora passed from the same illness following heroic efforts to save her, I was reminded of a Skytrain ride conversation I overheard in which someone had clearly been inspired by these two animals.

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A very young Qila with her mother, Aurora

On this commute a small child was gushing to his grandfather about beluga whales. How cool they are, how their home is melting, how pollution makes them “poisonous” (toxic), how he’s going to write about belugas for school and tell his classmates, and how he wants to raise money to help them. His grandfather smiled and asked if he knew the Vancouver Aquarium had beluga whales. “YEAH!!! Auntie took me! That’s how I know this!” and on and on he went.  If he paused to take a breath, I would be surprised.

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Qila breaching. Photo available here, here, and here.

Qila and Aurora played a direct role in inspiring the child above. Although many people do visit zoos and aquariums to be entertained, connecting with these animal ambassadors provides a tactile experience that can touch both mind and heart in ways books and television often can’t.

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And for those who aren’t inspired, the money they spend on admission, food, and souvenirs still helps fund conservation and research projects, of which the Vancouver Aquarium has many.

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Up close with Aurora

So like Jack the Harbour Porpoise, may Qila and Aurora live on through those they touched and inspired, and the wild belugas whose lives may be saved as a result.  They will without doubt be dearly missed by their dedicated carers, and aquarium visitors as well.

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On Being Pro-Captivity

Note: this post ran away on me, and there are still so many aspects not covered or elaborated on.  Hopefully this will provide a general idea of where the two sides stand on captivity, however.  Feedback is more than welcome!

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The world is not black and white, and yet the debate surrounding captivity seems to have been split into two extremes: “pro-cap” and “anti-cap” are two terms often used on social media. Far too many view the issue in black and white terms, but as someone once said, “the only thing black and white are the orcas”.  That said…

“Antis” tend to be against ALL zoos and aquariums – period– believing them to all be equal.  Many antis are against pet ownership and service animals as well, as they view ALL human-animal interactions as slavery (“don’t shop, adopt” and breeder-shaming are part of a larger plan to do away with domestic animals – see a collection of quotes here).  With that, it might be easy to assume that “pros” support rounding up all animals and throwing them in cages so we can mock them. This is simply not true, despite what the antis often claim.

Simplified, to be pro-captivity is to see the benefits of having animals in human care. We see the shades of grey and look at the big picture.  We acknowledge the powerful human-animal bond across a plethora of species, knowing that if it is removed, apathy will prevail in this increasingly disconnected world.

Contrary to anti-cap belief, pro-caps are hugely in favour of animal welfare, and know that not all zoological facilities are created equal.  While one may be exceptional, another just a few kilometers away may deserve to be shut down. While one may have the facilities and expertise needed to house a particular species, others don’t and should re-locate their animals to those who do (or build better habitats).  Some have amazing conservation initiatives, while others have none.  Many facilities even have rescue and rehabilitation programs in place, and what they learn from caring for captive animals helps them better care for sick and injured wildlife so that it can be re-released.

As Baba Dioum famously said, “In the end we will conserve only what we love, we will love only what we understand, and we will understand only what we are taught.” What we learn from captive members of a species can be applied towards saving wild populations, including through a newfound love of these creatures gleaned from seeing (and bonding with) individuals in a captive setting.  This is especially true in the case of children, who are the future of conservation.  It cannot be replicated through simply seeing animals on TV.  A great example of how captivity changed our view of a species can be found in the story of Moby Doll, the first captive orca to be displayed.

During a visit to the Adelaide Zoo, a fellow visitor mentioned how she was against captivity until witnessing first-hand the destruction of the orangutan’s natural habitat, and now knows zoos are necessary for the species’ survival.  During that same visit I overheard a father tell his son to take a good look at the orangutans, because if humanity doesn’t change its ways, the zoo will be the only place left to see them. Unfortunately, if the Animal Rights and anti-captivity movements are allowed to win, we won’t even have that… and it is the animals who will lose.

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Karta, a female Sumatran Orangutan at the Adelaide Zoo. Prints Available Here