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.

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