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.
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.
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.
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.