Almost daily now there is a new news article coming out of Vancouver B.C. relating to the mounting pressure against the expansion of the Vancouver Aquarium and it’s intent to import more Whales and Dolphins into captivity. The tone has now shifted towards not only blocking the expansion, but also phasing out the continued captivity of it’s current stock of Cetaceans.
Animal Advocates are being heard
This is a remarkable paradigm shift from both public and governmental support to vocal opposition of the Aquarium. The national and local government has historically lavished the aquarium with praise, financial donations and indignant refusal to hear any public opposition formally, putting down three such efforts in the past 10 years. However Vancouver Park Board commissioner Sarah Blyth stated in a recent article “We’re getting letters every day about this,” and went on to say that “People have even approached me in the coffee shop and been like, “Are you Sarah Blyth? Oh, I wanted to talk with you about the whales.”
In just a few months a petition started by Marcie Callewaert, and directed to the Park Board has already reached more than 15,000 signatures, while protests in front of the Aquarium are taking place nearly every weekend attracting local camera crews and featuring families that are speaking out against captivity. The petition seeks a public referendum to allow voters to decide whether or not the Vancouver Aquarium should stop importing more whales and phase out performing Cetacean exhibits.
New Motion Filed
In the event that pleas to the park board do not result in a referendum, a motion was filed yesterday by councilor Adriane Carr calling for a City plebiscite on ending cetacean exhibits. This move would require a non-binding hearing by October 4th 2014 during which public testimony would be heard. As the parks board has legal jurisdiction of Stanley Park where the aquarium is located, they have the first opportunity to act on behalf of the opposition to continued captivity of cetaceans at Vancouver Aquarium.
Cooperation among advocate Groups
A meeting among several advocate groups was recently held to align strategy, messaging and actions into a singular coordinated effort, headed by Annelise Sorg, President of No Whales In Captivity. Since 1992 Sorg has been active in the fight against captivity at the aquarium and has joined forces with LifeForce, Sea Shepherd Vancouver, Whale Friends, Vancouver Animal Defense League and several other organizations and hundreds of advocates to demand change.
Their voices are being heard. What was once a single lame duck commissioner finally speaking her mind as she neared the end of her final term, has now become a popular opinion among influential government leaders. Based on the outreach of animal advocates, at least two park board commissioners and Vancouver’s Mayor have spoken in opposition to continued whale captivity. Said park commissioner Barnes, “One hundred years ago we thought slavery was okay too,” and “It’s time to phase out whales and dolphins in captivity.”
CEO John Nightingale has long been the public face of a huge consortium consisting of 40-50 board members of the Aquarium that have all profited from his enterprising and entrepreneurial endeavors. His presence on other boards insured his influence over votes, donations and governmental support, while the wealth managers, lawyers and investors hid behind shadowy corporations and ruled the aquarium’s executive board. When Nightingale was hired, focus shifted to a direction away from public education, and towards international commerce. With a presence in Las Vegas at the Mirage hotel to dealings in Asia, the business model has morphed into a series of barely legal for-profit subsidiaries.
Nightingale has served on the board of CAZA, insuring that both Van Aqua and Marineland, Ontario steer clear of any troubling inspection reports and served on the board of Oceans North who is doing Beluga studies in Hudson Bay. It is conceivable that the project wishes to establish a sustainability study to garner the acceptance of wild caught beluga near Manitoba. The recent hire of an ocean pollution scientist also suggests that Nightingale hopes to make a case that the conditions of the oceans demand the need to keep beluga in captivity to combat eventual extinction. One thing is for sure; the true agenda of Nightingale’s actions are seldom what they appear, and as long as business associates like Rudy North are able to buy $150,000 boats for personal use, yet show on the books as an aquarium ‘research’ vessel, powerful people will protect his actions.
Third option for change
The lease agreement for this public aquarium on public land and the Park Board will soon be up for review, and that process presents an opportunity for tightening up a city bylaw preventing Vancouver Aquarium to continue to import more captive cetaceans into city parks. This is the third in a series of opportunities grass roots activists will have to influence the future of the aquarium. Meanwhile the Aquarium is down to just two performing Pacific white-sided dolphins and two beluga whales. As described in this previous post, the death toll at Vancouver Aquarium is alarming including 8 Orca, 10 Dolphins and 10 Beluga whales. Yet despite the inability to keep Cetaceans alive, or successfully breed them, Nightingale continues to hawk the conditions of the aquarium using phrasing such as “Exceptional Care”. A phrase that undoubtedly he has heard many times in his years of dealing with SeaWorld.
Times, they are a-changin
Nightingale has had years to perfect his public persona starting in New York where he attended fundraising galas on behalf of the New York Aquarium. He said of his time there “You were the entertainment basically, the object of curiosity, Sometimes I would take a sea otter’s skin with me just to play the part. It was kind of surreal.”
It appears now that it is all catching up to Nightingale and as one park board commissioner said “Times change. The scientific pretense for keeping whales in captivity no longer holds water. Whales should be free, not profit centers.”
It is imperative that councilor Carr receives support for her notice of motion to hold a public referendum vote in the next civic elections. If you live in the Vancouver area, please sign up to speak at the April 29th, 2014 councilors meeting by phoning Vancouver City Hall at 604-873-7000 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. If you don’t live in the area, you can still e-mail the mayor and council your support for the proposed phase out of existing cetacean exhibits in the Vancouver Aquarium. And don’t forget to also send your comments and wishes to speak to the Vancouver Park Board at email@example.com
Join the Empty the Tanks demonstration Saturday, May 24th at 11:00a: Details Here
Vancouver Residents are urged to email park board members:
Mayor Robertson (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Constance Barnes (email@example.com)
Sarah Blyth (firstname.lastname@example.org)