He says that's a combination of loss of dollars the cetacean program brings in to support the marine mammal rescue program, and the Aquarium's role in providing a physical home for animals that can't be fully rehabilitated.
The CEO of the Vancouver Aquarium vowed he and his supporters would "not give up" in the face of a decision at the park board May 15 to not only uphold a ban against the importation of new cetaceans to city parks but also strengthen that ban by prohibiting performances. The aquarium also isn't ruling out a legal challenge.
But although the aquarium has not housed any belugas since its residents died of an unknown toxin, it does own five belugas now on loan to other facilities. They died slowly from a toxin. The Centre although not on Vancouver Park land has a close association with the Aquarium. Tanks for the new exhibit were also created to be adaptable for other animals, so they could be used once the whale program was phased out.
The concerns Shum voiced are similar to Nightingale's, who said he fears the decision will be a death sentence for rescues who are not suitable for re-release.
"Animals like the false killer whale Chester would have been left to die on Chesterman Beach or the DFO (Fisheries and Oceans Canada) would have had to put a bullet in him", said aquarium CEO John Nightingale.
The aquarium has said it plans to phase out its cetacean program by 2029, but meant to bring in more belugas for its Canada Arctic exhibit that is now being developed. "It has done a disservice to the Marine Mammal Rescue Centre, to the aquarium and to this board to suggest otherwise". The decision only affects the Vancouver Aquarium, which is nestled in Stanley Park on a 60-year lease from the city.
"It is a lie to say the park board does not support the Marine Mammal Rescue Centre", said Stuart Mackinnon, a Green commissioner who has stood against cetacean captivity for decades and tabled such a motion in his first term more than five years ago.
"We've had backlash for the last few weeks, but the main goal is I think that we're hoping that when this settles down that the decision made by the Park Board was seen as the right decision", said Michael Wiebe, chair of the Vancouver Park Board.
But the ban will seriously hamper the aquarium's cetacean rescue and rehabilitation programs, said Nightingale in an interview on CKNW. He said the aquarium is "not going to go away", but staff are still considering the impact of the decision and how to deal with it.
"In the past 30 years, new research has emerged on the complexity of cetaceans and their ability to communicate, to create social bonds and to demonstrate cognitive abilities such as self-awareness, recognition of individuals and memory", says Chief Scientific Officer for the BC SPCA Dr. Sara Dubois.
The amendment changed an earlier rule that prevented any cetaceans taken from the wild from being kept in captivity unless they were captured before September 1996, were part of an endangered species, or were injured or in distress. It was the fifth year in a row the "Empty the Tanks" rally was held.
Although there are now no captive beluga whales in Vancouver, the Aquarium recently announced its intention to bring five belugas on loan in the United States back to B.C. upon completion of the new Arctic pools in 2019.