Park board fears whale of a bat­tle

If the Vancouver Aquar­ium goes to court over de­ci­sion ‘that’s go­ing to make it tough’

The Province - - NEWS - RANDY SHORE rshore@post­media.com

Vancouver park board com­mis­sion­ers are wor­ried their re­la­tion­ship with the Vancouver Aquar­ium could suf­fer if their cetacean ban bat­tle ends up in court.

“If it goes to court, that’s go­ing to make things tough. (The re­la­tion­ship) soured a bit in 2014 when they took le­gal ac­tion on our ju­ris­dic­tion on a (cetacean) breed­ing ban,” said park board chair­man Michael Wiebe. “But we have a (lease) with them un­til 2029 and they will con­tinue to be a world leader in ma­rine science.”

On Mon­day even­ing, the park board voted six-to-one in favour of a ban on cetaceans at the Vancouver Aquar­ium. Three res­i­dent cetaceans — false killer whale Ch­ester, He­len the white-sided dol­phin, and Daisy the por­poise — will be al­lowed to live out their lives at the aquar­ium.

Erin Shum — the lone com­mis­sioner who op­posed the ban — said the by­law puts “mil­lions of tax­payer and res­i­dent dol­lars on the line” should the aquar­ium de­cide to fight back.

“The le­gal and fi­nan­cial im­pli­ca­tions of this de­ci­sion have not been ad­e­quately ad­dressed,” said Shum.

Aquar­ium pres­i­dent and CEO John Nightin­gale has not ruled out le­gal ac­tion to over­turn the ban. If he turned to the courts it would not be the first time.

In 2014, the Vancouver Aquar­ium be­gan a le­gal chal­lenge to a park board ban on breed­ing whales, dol­phins and por­poises. The board shelved the by­law and the ju­di­cial re­view is on hold, but not ter­mi­nated.

“That cer­tainly chilled the re­la­tion­ship,” said com­mis­sioner Stu­art MacKin­non. “But Dr. Nightin­gale and our gen­eral man­ager still spoke on a reg­u­lar ba­sis, and I ex­pect that to con­tinue.”

How­ever, of­fers by the park board to col­lab­o­rate with the aquar­ium on the word­ing of the by­law passed this week went unan­swered.

MacKin­non main­tains the cetacean ban will have lit­tle ef­fect on the op­er­a­tions of the aquar­ium.

“The aquar­ium can be ex­actly what it is right now, the by­law doesn’t change that,” he said.

For­mer Green party park com­mis­sioner Roslyn Cas­sells called the cetacean ban a “break­through” and a “nail in the cof­fin of a dy­ing in­dus­try.”

De­spite sup­port­ing the ban, Wiebe re­mains an en­thu­si­as­tic fan of the aquar­ium and is con­vinced that it will re­main fi­nan­cially vi­able with­out cetacean dis­plays.

“We had some good con­ver­sa­tions with their gen­eral man­ager and lead bi­ol­o­gist about what the aquar­ium would look like in the fu­ture with­out cetaceans,” he said. “We talked about the fi­nances and they did see a dip for a cou­ple of years when they moved away from hav­ing or­cas on dis­play, but now they are at record high at­ten­dance.”

In op­pos­ing the ban, Shum ex­pressed con­cerns about the ef­fect on the aquar­ium’s an­i­mal res­cue op­er­a­tions.

“I can­not sup­port an ap­proach that in­creases the like­li­hood of in­jured an­i­mals dy­ing in the wild with­out treat­ment or with­out the prospect of a long-term home,” she said.

LES BAZSO/PNG FILES

The Vancouver Aquar­ium is pon­der­ing le­gal ac­tion af­ter the park board voted Mon­day to ban cetaceans at the fa­cil­ity ex­cept for three res­i­dent crea­tures liv­ing at the aquar­ium.

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