By the time this piece is posted news will have circulated about the vote to ban future cetacean captivity at the Vancouver Aquarium. The Aquarium has housed Orcas and Beluga Whales in the past and is currently home to a lone False Killer Whale, a Harbor Porpoise, and a Pacific White Sided Dolphin. The False Killer Whale is Chester, the stranded neonate that was found in Tofino, B.C. and deemed unfit for release.
The vote comes after the last two Belugas at the Aquarium passed away, leaving a void in the Belugas on display. The Aquarium still owns Belugas at Sea World facilities in the United States.
While many celebrate the passing of the ban the relevant articles that have been published leave many questions unanswered. Here are five of them.
1. What will happen to the cetaceans currently at the Vancouver Aquarium?
While it would be improper of me to make assumptions, it would seem likely that the animals still on display at the aquarium would be grandfathered in and live the remainder of their lives there. There would be no breeding and the future of the cetacean facilities afterward would change dramatically. Chester in particular makes this a very important question because the lifespan of a False Killer Whale is potentially quite long and it is unknown how captivity will impact him given that he was found as a newborn freshly abandoned with little to no upbringing from his pod.
2. What will happen to the loaned Belugas?
The Beluga whales the aquarium owns that are currently in American Sea World facilities could potentially be repatriated but undoubtedly there would be legal hurdles, even in the best of circumstances. The myriad of laws that would become involved plus the stress of transportation may keep the aquarium's Belugas permanent residents of the US.
3. What will happen If a cetacean is discovered and can potentially be rehabilitated back to the wild?
There is also no question that the Vancouver Aquarium is one of very few places in the Pacific Northwest that has the facilities to treat and potentially release stranded cetaceans. The future upkeep of those facilities at a post-captivity aquarium may be in doubt.
There is a track release of success for rehabilitating cetaceans such as "Springer", a member of the Northern Resident Orcas. However, if the aquarium chooses not to maintain these facilities after their display animals are gone then they may choose to no longer accept the cost. The loss of these facilities could be the difference between a stranded cetacean's life and death.
4. What will happen if a cetacean is discovered and unreleasable?
Life in captivity or a certain demise? Its a very difficult decision for anyone.
In the case of Chester, his tropical species is an infrequent visitor and reuniting with his specific pod or even his species would be prohibitively difficult. His only other option was euthanasia.
There is also the debate of whether or not it would be more ethical to place an unreleasable animal into captivity or perform euthanasia. It becomes even more debatable when the idea is presented that an "unreleasable" decision could potentially be exploited as a loophole to maintaining cetacean captivity despite the prohibition
Recent discussions suggest that animals that cannot go back into the wild will likely be euthanized, which undoubtedly will upset some people. It will be interesting to see how that will impact any decision made by the Park Board.
5. Will people still go?
This is a question I feel qualified to answer and the answer is undoubtedly YES!
Many aquariums started off or have transitioned to being Cetacean-free and maintain great attendance. Regionally, the Seattle Aquarium provides a great example of a facility that switched over the last several tears from keeping Orcas towards being cetacean free and the Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium eliminated its Beluga program in favor of using the habitat for Walrus. The Minnesota Zoo ended a Bottlenose Dolphin program in favor of a breeding program intended to bolster the endangered Hawaiian Monk Seal.