Park board fears whale of a battle
If the Vancouver Aquarium goes to court over decision ‘that’s going to make it tough’
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.
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.