Captive whales and dolphins will no longer be bred at the Vancouver Aquarium unless they are in danger of extinction.
The Vancouver park board voted unanimously Thursday to introduce a bylaw to ban the breeding of captive cetaceans unless a committee decides breeding is necessary for a threatened species to survive.
The park board also voted to undertake a study to determine whether cetacean well being is possible within the confines of the aquarium and to establish an oversight committee that will prepare a bi-annual report on the well being of the cetaceans in captivity.
The board will also look for alternatives to cetacean exhibits at the aquarium.
The vote is a culmination of a debate about captivity that heated up in April when two park board commissioners said keeping whales and dolphins in captivity was cruelty that amounted to torture.
The Vancouver Aquarium countered that it has not captured a wild whale since 1996. It has conducted groundbreaking research and is renowned worldwide for its studies on cetaceans and its rehabilitation programs.
British Columbians have mixed views about whales and dolphins in captivity, according to an Insights West poll of 769 residents in May.
Nearly two thirds believe animals in captivity help research and that aquariums are still needed, but about 40 per cent believe animals in captivity suffer, whale programs should be phased out and that the captive breeding of whales should stop.
But a clear line has been drawn on the issue between Vancouver’s two dominant civic parties in advance of the Nov. 15 municipal election.
Vision Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson, who is seeking a third term, believes the aquarium should phase out holding whales and dolphins in captivity.
Kirk LaPointe, the mayoral candidate for the top rival party the Non-Partisan Association, strongly disagrees.
“I fully support the Vancouver Aquarium’s existing policies of conservation and research around cetaceans,” LaPointe wrote in a statement Thursday. “I also deplore the mayor’s position that cetaceans should be phased out of this renowned cultural and scientific institution.”
LaPointe’s statement accused Robertson of triggering an expensive process and interfering with the aquarium’s ongoing research and expansion plans.
Four former Vancouver mayors agree with LaPointe, according to a letter they signed in support of the aquarium.
The Vancouver Board of Trade also supports the aquarium, estimating it’s responsible for $43 million in direct and indirect annual economic output.