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Vancouver Aquarium worries referendum would threaten conservation efforts

VANCOUVER (NEWS1130) – Vancouver city council will be hearing a motion tomorrow morning on whether to include a referendum question in this fall’s municipal election over keeping whales and dolphins in captivity.

The Vancouver Aquarium warns getting rid of the mammals will hurt conservation efforts for wild ocean life.

Senior Vice President Clint Wright claims there’s a lot of misinformation circulating on how whales and dolphins at the aquarium are treated. He maintains the aquarium’s work isn’t just for entertainment; there are hundreds of people at the facility researching and caring for the whales, which have a good life.

According to Wright, the animals housed at the Aquarium are absolutely vital for protecting their wild counterparts.

“Changes that are happening in the arctic are just so fundamental. We have no idea what’s going to happen to the population of belugas in the wild and for a few well-cared-for animals at the Aquarium. It’s absolutely essential, otherwise we’re just saying ‘good luck, you’re on your own and hope everything turns out okay,’ and I don’t think that’s appropriate.”

Wright admits keeping mammals in captivity is not the same as the wild, but insists it’s not cruel either.

“The habitats that we have for our animals are designed specifically for them. Each habitat is very different. They have shallows, areas that we know the animals enjoy. They’re designed for the things we know the animals have loved that we’ve learned over the years.”

Wright says whales and dolphins are absolutely essential to their mission to educate the public and learn how best to preserve ocean environments.

According to Wright, public outcry following the documentary “Blackfish” is uncalled for.

“Blackfish” told the story of Tillicum, a killer whale once housed at Sealand of the Pacific near Victoria, and the impact of captivity on his psyche. Tilikum has been involved in the deaths of three people, including one trainer on Vancouver Island. Wright calls the documentary biased, saying Vancouver Aquarium is nothing like Sealand.

Wright adds over the last 57 years, the Aquarium has worked with people from around the world to establish three generations of some of the most environmental people in BC, people he says genuinely care about the animals in the Aquarium.