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Taking the whales and dolphins out of the Vancouver Aquarium solves nothing



Vancouver Aquarium is being made to get rid of their dolphins and whales. Why? Because some well-intentioned, but utterly misinformed activists raised a big enough stink. It’s another case of the mob mentality thinking that caused mercury to be removed from vaccines. Because a simple idea sounded bad and scary to a small group of people who made a lot of noise, and no one paid any attention long enough to stop them.

The idea of keeping a cetacean like a dolphin in captivity sounds terrible, until you realize that we don’t catch dolphins, we wind up with them. Poor fishing practices lead to dolphins getting injured in fishing nets and other man-created tragedies that occur can cause these dolphins to end up in the aquarium. If a dolphin is being kept at the aquarium, it’s because they aren’t able to survive in the wild. In short, we all agree that keeping dolphins in captivity is suboptimal, but the alternative is to let them die.

I agree that there are issues in some aquariums with containment conditions for cetaceans, but those issues exist mainly within for-profit aquariums. So go and hate on Shamu, because that’s wrong, but don’t group nonprofits in with them nonprofit organizations exist to research and rehabilitate oceanic wildlife, not to make a buck. The Vancouver Aquarium exists as a nonprofit, and hasn’t ever even been credibly accused of mistreating animals. They keep their animals humanely.

Do you know what is happening now? They aren’t releasing their cetaceans, they are just transferring them to other facilities. Transfer of a large marine creature is harmful to it, and for one dolphin, Helen, transfer could lead to death. Currently, she is kept at the aquarium, but with all of the other dolphins transferred away, she’s being kept alone, which everyone can agree isn’t ideal. There’s an activism movement to get Helen put in a sanctuary, which isn’t feasible. To quote Vancouver Aquarium CEO Clint Wright, when he spoke to the Vancouver Sun, “It’s really a fantasy to think that these animals could just go off to a giant ocean playground.”

Even if we were to decide as a society that keeping cetaceans in cages is always terrible, and completely irredeemable — which we shouldn’t do; that’s an overly idealistic point of view — then this ban still doesn’t make any sense. Because zero cetaceans are being released. That’s right, zero. No one is winning here, all that is happening is that we’re traumatizing these creatures by placing them into restricting transport tanks, and removing them from their handlers, who they have been shown to develop relationships with. Activist groups are taking this atrocity of an outcome as a win. According to the Vancouver Sun, the animal rehabilitation program will continue to function the exact same way it did before, except now any animals in need of long-term care will be transferred to other facilities. No dolphins will be released as a result of this move.

If you’re passionate about the ocean, this is not where you should be putting your effort. Support a charity, clean up a beach, don’t fight battles that result in losses for everyone. Unfortunately, the Vancouver Aquarium is far from the only nonprofit aquarium targeted by these toxic activism groups. Unless there’s a fundamental change of point of view within the vocal public, Vancouver is just going to be one of many equally infuriating news stories of marine mammals being shuttled around, and disappearing from local nonprofit organizations.

Image: “Pellcan”/Flickr

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