17 May 2017


A thoughtful piece I found on Facebook.

Let me tell you about a dolphin. Spinnaker (or "Spin" as he was sometimes known) was a dolphin that was kept at Vancouver Aquarium during the 90's.

But the story actually doesn't start with Spin, it starts with Whitewings. Many decades earlier, Whitewings was captured in Baha, Mexico by people working for Marineland of the Pacific.

Soon after she was transferred to the Vancouver Aquarium. Whitewings spent many years alone in Vancouver, with no other dolphins to socialize with. As we learned more about cetaceans, modern animal care standards were updated to require that aquariums house cetaceans with conspecifics (other animals of the same species).

And that's where dolphin Spinnaker comes in. Spinnaker was acquired from Kaiyukan Aquarium in Osaka, Japan. (Japan is infamous for the drive hunt, more on that later.) Spinnaker was brought to Vancouver to keep company for lonely dolphin Whitewings. Unfortunately, Whitewings was old and she died just one year after Spinnaker's arrival.

So now VanAqua had the same problem: another lonely dolphin. This time they brought in THREE new dolphins: Helen, Hana, and Laverne. Helen and Hana were purchased from Enoshima Aquarium in Japan. (Enoshima Aquarium is an ardent supporter of the dolphin drive hunt. Not sure what that means? Watch "The Cove" documentary. The drive hunt is brutal to dolphins.) In fact, Helen and Hana were actually imported illegally, in contravention of the aquarium's agreement with the Park Board.

But then Laverne died in 2009, Spinnaker died in 2012, and Hana died in 2015. And now we're back to having one lonely dolphin: Helen. And Helen wasn't even rescued on the BC coast.

This is the trouble with "rescuing" cetaceans. There are two rescues at the Aquarium right now: Daisy the harbour porpoise and Chester the false killer whale. But they aren't of the same species, or even the same family. Chester and Helen sort of get along because a false killer whale is a kind of dolphin, but Daisy has no other porpoises to socialize with.

So what happens now? What happens when one of those three cetaceans dies? Maybe they live out the rest of their lonely lives in this aquarium. Maybe they get transferred to another aquarium where they can live with conspecifics. Or maybe Vancouver Aquarium begins to collaborate with marine biologists and vets who support development of a large seaside sanctuary that would be an ideal home for retired and rescued cetaceans.

What should we do with rescued cetaceans who can't survive in the wild? If we're going to intervene with nature to rescue them, we owe them an appropriate habitat with room to swim in a straight line, with conspecifics that they can form social bonds with, and without being made to do shows three times a day. That's the obligation we take on when we decide to perform a rescue operation.

16 May 2017

Park Board approves amendments to Park Control Bylaw governing cetaceans

May 16 2017  Vancouver.ca

“The Park Board voted last night to amend the Park Control Bylaw after extensive public input, many discussions with Aquarium staff, and a thorough review of best practices in aquariums around the world,” said Park Board Chair Michael Wiebe.

The Vancouver Park Board has approved and enacted amendments to the bylaw PDF file (140 KB) governing importation and display of live cetaceans at the Vancouver Aquarium in Stanley Park, effective immediately. The amendments provide for the continuing care and display of the three existing cetaceans at Vancouver Aquarium, but prohibit any performance or show.

The amendments reflect the Board’s direction to no longer allow cetaceans in Vancouver parks, but will provide for the continuing care of three cetaceans currently living at the Aquarium. False killer whale Chester, harbor porpoise Daisy and Pacific white-sided dolphin Helen will be permitted to remain in Stanley Park.

Cetaceans under review since January

The Board has been reviewing the practice of keeping cetaceans in Stanley Park since January after the death of two belugas. The bylaw amendments were approved last night after Commissioners received thousands of community submissions on the issue, heard from more than 60 speakers on multiple nights of special public meetings in early March.

“The Park Board voted last night to amend the Park Control Bylaw after extensive public input, many discussions with Aquarium staff, and a thorough review of best practices in aquariums around the world,” said Park Board Chair Michael Wiebe.

“We continue to support the excellent work by Aquarium staff and volunteers in the Marine Mammal Rescue Centre outside of Stanley Park.”

Park Control Bylaw amendments

  1. That an expanded definition for “cetacean” be added to the definitions in section 1.
  2. That “no person shall bring a cetacean into a park”. The current bylaw included this provision however it contained exceptions that allowed for importation under certain circumstances. This amendment will not allow any cetacean importation into Vancouver parks, no exceptions.
  3. That “no person shall keep a cetacean in a park” except for “cetaceans already in a park” as of the date of enactment. This change considers the three existing cetaceans at the Vancouver Aquarium and will not require their removal.
  4. That “no person shall produce or present in a park a show, performance, or other form of entertainment which includes one or more cetaceans”. This new clause is in consideration of the three cetaceans at the Vancouver Aquarium and the limited options currently available for housing them, while supporting the Board’s intent regarding display. The three cetaceans can remain on display. They cannot be included in shows or performances of any kind.

Marine rescues mostly seals, not cetaceans

The bylaw amendments are expected to minimally impact the Aquarium’s rescue and rehabilitation program as most rescues are harbour seals. As confirmed by the Aquarium, cetaceans represent a tiny percentage of all marine mammals rescued since the program began.

The Park Board points out that the Aquarium voluntarily decided to end the display of orcas at the Aquarium in 1996. We anticipate that the Aquarium will manage all future cetacean rescues in the same manner they handle the rescue of orcas.

Park Board regulates Aquarium activities

Park Board staff will work with the Aquarium to ensure compliance with the new Parks Control Bylaw.

The Board, along with applicable provincial and federal laws pertaining to cetaceans, permits and regulates Aquarium activities in Stanley Park.

The Board has a long-term lease with the 60-year-old Vancouver Aquarium to operate within Stanley Park. The Aquarium has operated under a legal agreement with the Park Board since 1956. The current lease runs to 2029.

Stanley Park is owned by the Government of Canada and leased in perpetuity to the City as a park. City Council has designated Stanley Park as a permanent public park under the Vancouver Charter. The Park Board has exclusive jurisdiction and control over Stanley Park.

BC SPCA applauds Parks Board decision on cetacean ban at Vancouver Aquarium

May 16, 2017
The BC SPCA is applauding the Parks Board decision to ban the display of cetaceans at the Vancouver Aquarium as a significant move forward for animal welfare.

“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 Dr. Sara Dubois, chief scientific officer for the BC SPCA.

“As humans we know that confinement and social isolation in small indoor spaces without any control over our environment is emotionally damaging for our well-being.

We now have evidence that for cetaceans appropriate social interaction and having enough diverse space are very basic requirements for their psychological well-being as well.”

Dubois says the BC SPCA has always been extremely supportive of the Vancouver Aquarium’s marine mammal rescue work and doesn’t believe a decision to ban the display of cetaceans would have impacted these efforts.

“The mammal rescue work is done offsite and is a small fraction of the aquarium’s $60-million budget,” she says.

The three non-releasable animals in the marine mammal rescue program do not need to be on display to meet their welfare needs, she adds, noting that other B.C. wild animal rescue centres, including the BC SPCA’s Wildlife Animal Rehabilitation Centre in Metchosin, do not put rescued wild animals on public display.

“The Parks Board has made a significant decision for the welfare of animals in our city and has demonstrated leadership internationally. If the aquarium believes their rescue program – which mainly treats non-cetaceans like harbour seals – is in jeopardy without cetaceans on display, the BC SPCA is more than willing to work with them to find a long-term solution for this important work.”

The British Columbia Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals is a not-for-profit organization reliant on public donations. Our mission is to protect and enhance the quality of life for domestic, farm and wild animals in B.C.

No More Captive Cetaceans

Here is a Facebook posting from David Isbister, one of the community leaders on this initiative.  David is a Vancouver born and raised small business owner, activist, musician, and speaker who has worked in Support (Addiction, Autism, Eating Disorders) and makes plant-based specialty foods in East Vancouver. He has kindly allowed me to reprint it here on Betterparks for Vancouver.

This one is for fellow activists.

First of all, I woke up today feeling honoured and humbled to know all of you. I usually do of course but today it was a succinct feeling of accomplishment. 

Together, we focussed on one incredible action. We seized the opportunity to do some positive work for Qila and Aurora also in the name of a long, sorrowful stream of other Cetaceans who didn't want to die. We were patient and resolute in the face of so many lies and manipulation, and we didn't take the bait to step outside our goals and do damage to our own campaign. 

We have all known that a dedicated group of individuals can take action and make a difference but it can be hard to believe when we see what kind of power and money we were up against. I'm so happy for us.

To my tenacious, intelligent, brave, happily odd, caring, altruistic friends and acquaintances in activism: thank you for all you do, all you did, all you will do. 

Let's not forget we also inspired tons of other action and protest- even aquarium attendees and employees got in on the action and used lots of our skills and framework they observed to run their own single action last night for the first time. They might not have the right cause but it was great to see people inspired by our actions mobilize. :) This was because the only way to overcome our steady perseverance was to employ the same energy. It was great to see that outside there last night. 

Friends: thank you from the bottom of my cynical not always totally trusting and somewhat sarcastic heart. You all make me believe and I hope I can contribute to your future campaigns and goals the way you so kindly contributed to this action. Thanks for wearing the shirt

Another huge thank you has to go to 6 of 7 Park Board Commissioners who stayed the course and FINALLY expended some political currency and did what is right. This I am sure was not easy and I bet was also annoying and exhausting. Which for us initially was the point but we saw the caring human side of politicians. Pardon my initial cynicism. I apologize. 

This is likely not over. And animal abuse at the Aquarium or in Stanley Park isn't over. We'll need to build on this to end captivity. Horse Carriages, modified Sting Rays in a touch pool, and so much more needs addressing. And outside the city, we have a poorly run dilapidated old zoo that needs to change for the better in huge steps or close all together. We can also use our unique insights to even help humans as well. Please, let's continue to grow this movement as it is a good time for humans and animals to benefit from reality being observed and acted upon. 

I met some incredible people through this and strengthened my friendships with others. I'll be adding tagged comments throughout the day to individually thank people as well. 

To everyone who wore the shirt, turned up in the freezing rain, went and leafleted, promoted other activist projects and helped add support in any and every way, my deepest most sincere thanks. Overwhelmed with joy to speak some of our voice, but truly honoured to have a chance to take on a huge issue in our city together and get it done. 

I love you. I thank you. I appreciate you. I see you. I won't forget you. We are strong together because of us as individuals plain and simple. Thank you for making an incredible set of historic moments. 

No more dead cetaceans.

David added this further comment: 

Stuart Mackinnon you stunned me with your speech and bold stance on all of this. I appreciate you for how long you have been at this and how much we learned about the political process through your gentle instruction. I was truly incredibly moved- we all were - by your sensitivity and deep understanding of this issue. Thank you so very much

08 May 2017

A Pivotal Election in British Columbia

To all my friends in British Columbia. Tomorrow is election day:

1. If you haven’t already, please vote. This is a democratic right denied to many. Not to participate is to be complicit in their oppression.

2. Vote for the candidate of your choice—not someone else’s. A vote cannot be split; a vote cannot be wasted—unless you don’t vote.

3. In my riding of Fraserview, I am voting for the New Democratic candidate George Chow. George is an honest and decent man and he has the best chance of defeating the Attorney General Suzanne Anton. It was the AG who had to sign off on the Supreme Court appeal on contract stripping—an appeal that resulted in a bench decision upholding that contract stripping is illegal. This alone makes her unfit to serve.

4. My politics are still green, but in this riding (Fraserview) and this election I have to make a choice: to allow the re-election of the Liberal incumbent, or vote for her defeat—I’m just lucky that I also have someone who I can vote for: George Chow.

5. We can’t afford 4 more years of lies and sleaze and the same old/same old. That’s why I am voting for change. Please vote your conscience—but above all PLEASE VOTE.

28 April 2017

In support of the Parks Board position Re: Vancouver Aquarium

Dear Commissioners,

My field of expertise is animal behaviour; especially, cetaceans. For 10 years I worked closely with killer whales at an aquarium. For nine of those years I was the head trainer and oversaw the operations of the facility’s marine animal rescue centre. During that time, I was a regular guest speaker to animal behaviour classes at the University of Victoria and to psychology classes at Camosun College. During my days working with captive marine mammals I was well acquainted with the Vancouver Aquarium and we shared information and resources when Gil and Stephanie Hewlett were heading the facility. Currently, I am an advisor to the Whale Sanctuary Project. 

I once defended the holding of whales and dolphins in captivity, citing the value of research, education and the importance of the public being able to form a connection to the animal through their personal encounter. Over the span of years; through my daily interactions with cetaceans, along with research and discussions with experts in the field of animal behaviour, I gained an understanding of the depth and breadth of their intelligence and emotional capabilities. 

The realization of the intricacies of their intelligence and behaviour was one that took time for me to accept and integrate because it placed my actions in conflict with my understanding and empathy. I had learned that whales and dolphins are complex communicators, highly social, cognitive thinkers with long term memory and express a wide range of emotions.  They exhibit enjoyment, affection, loyalty and they even display compassion and altruistic behaviour, are self-aware and have distinct and unique… personalities.

These are traits that humans hold in high regard and how we define ourselves as the apex species on the planet. But, if whales and dolphins share these same psychological and behavioural traits, why are we not willing to extend the right to self-determination to another species simply because they look, live and communicate differently from our own.

British psychologist, Richard D. Ryder termed the attitude and belief of human supremacy and dominion over all other animals as; “speciesism” and equated it to racism or sexism. I would like to think that as compassionate, caring Canadians, we would place the welfare of an intelligent, sensitive and social species before our own wants and desires. 

As you are likely aware, the Standing Senate Committee on Fisheries and Oceans is currently discussing an amendment to Bill S-203; Ending the Captivity of Whales and Dolphins Act. An Act to amend the Criminal Code and other Acts (ending the captivity of whales and dolphins)

Those witnesses speaking on behalf of the Vancouver Aquarium and Marineland of Ontario, who have spoken against the amendment, have touted the value of education, research and the personal connection that visitors experience when seeing the animals in captivity.

Whales and dolphins have been in captivity for over fifty years and have been observed by millions upon millions of people. If the claims that this “up close and personal” encounter educates and motivates humans to develop a connection and respect for these animals, why is it that the ocean environments in which they live are in such desperate condition? Where are the millions of voices crying out to save the St. Lawrence Belugas? What of the Southern Resident Killer Whales who are starving for chinook salmon, harassed by boaters; their bodies saturated with toxins.

There is a subtle and subliminal disconnect that our children learn from visiting whales, dolphins and other animals in captivity; that humans have the right to do whatever they choose with the animals. We can use them for entertainment, we can use them for experimentation and we can hold them in captivity under the guise of education. In essence, children are learning that animals have no right to self-determination and that we alone determine if and how they exist. Therefore, animals are expendable and hold a lessor status in our world.

The debate around the ethics of holding animals in captivity has never been more pronounced and especially in regard to whales and dolphins. This is likely because they are not a terrestrial animal and in captivity, live in a highly artificial environment that cannot possibly replicate conditions in the wild. Physical exercise in captivity is incomparable to their life in the wild where they travel widely and experience the exertion of hunting and capturing food. In captivity, their social behaviour is altered, in-breeding may occur, natural communications are affected due to environmental constraints. 

Successive generations of animals born into captivity will be further weakened by a limited gene pool, an aseptic environment, a diet supplemented with vitamins and medications to maintain their health, and a stagnant, unchallenging lifestyle. The physiological and behavioural constraints of captivity have stripped them of the challenges of life that strengthened them as a species and ensured their survival and ability to thrive. Future animals that are born into captivity will become mere charlatans of their wild counterparts.

For the most part, research being done with captive cetaceans at the Vancouver Aquarium has been ineffectual to the conservation of wild cetaceans and more often is a rationalization for, or purely beneficial to, their continued captivity. New technologies have made research in the field more effective and less costly.

Throughout the developed world, efforts to discontinue the practice of keeping whales and dolphins in captivity continue to grow. Ten countries in the world have either banned the keeping of dolphins or whales in captivity, or have imposed standards of care that exceed the viability of establishing a facility in the country; such as the United Kingdom.

Currently, the only expanding markets are in Russia and China. Even so, within those countries there is an increasing voice of dissent against holding whales and dolphins captive.

The Vancouver Aquarium is a well accredited and widely respected organization. Their Marine Mammal Rescue Centre is an asset and its education programs are world class. 

It is disappointing that even though John Nightingale has stated publicly that the Vancouver Aquarium will survive without its cetacean displays, he continues to resist change. Mr. Nightingale’s statement that they will have no other choice than to kill whales and dolphins if they can’t keep them at the aquarium, is an alarming denial of the other options available
The inflammatory statement made by Randy Pratt, incoming Board Chair of the aquarium, that: “The proposed ban jeopardizes Canada’s only marine mammal rescue program and eliminates our ability to save the most vulnerable of animals — those that cannot care for themselves,” Is such an obvious falsehood, it’s embarrassing. I find it very concerning that Mr. Pratt, Mr. Nightingale and Dr. Haulena are so desperate as to use exaggerated threats and veiled lies in order to manipulative public opinion.

It’s time that the Vancouver Aquarium put aside its intransigence. If they truly want to put the welfare of the animals as a priority, they would allow the belugas that were loaned to SeaWorld and the Georgia Aquarium, to stay where they are and not subject the whales to the highly stressful and life-threatening experience of being relocated
If permitted to continue maintaining “rescued” cetaceans at the aquarium, I can’t help but wonder how far they would go in order to qualify an animal as unable to be released, in order to maintain their attraction at the aquarium.

Throughout the world there has been a paradigm shift in public attitude about animal welfare. In Canada, consumers have supported the phasing out of constrictive battery cages for hens and the use of gestation crates for pigs. Intolerance of animal abuse has never been more pronounced. Industrial livestock production is under intense scrutiny and in the U.S., animal abuse is a felony offence in an expanding number of states
What we are witnessing is a new epoch in human understanding and an evolving increase of empathy as science continues to offer new insights into animal behaviour. Public opinion is not going to reverse itself and within Canada, the demands for an end to captivity for cetaceans, will only grow louder.
Thank for taking the time to read this lengthy observation/opinion.  I welcome your questions or comments.

Steve Huxter
Victoria, British Columbia