Jane Goodall urges Vancouver Aquarium to end cetacean captivity
A world-renowned animal expert is jumping into a heated debate over whether the Vancouver Aquarium should keep whales and dolphins in captivity.
Dr. Jane Goodall, one of the world’s leading primate experts, has sent a letter to the Vancouver Park Board calling for the popular attraction to phase out its practice of keeping and breeding cetaceans at the Stanley Park facility.
“Belugas, dolphins and porpoises are highly social animals which can travel in large pods and migrate long distances,” reads the May 13 letter. “In captivity, these highly vocal and complex communicators are forced to live in a low-sensory environment, which is unable to fully meet the needs of their physical and emotional worlds.”
Aquarium president and CEO Dr. John Nightingale said he was surprised to hear about the letter, and that he disagrees with Goodall.
“I'll argue with Dr. Goodall about chimpanzees any day of the week," he told the Vancouver Board of Trade Tuesday. “She’s clearly operating under information provided by the activist community.”
The calls for the aquarium to free the cetaceans have been growing, with even the city’s mayor throwing his support behind the anti-captivity movement.
“My personal view is that I would like to see a phasing out, but it’s not up to me, it’s up to the Park Board and aquarium to work that out,” Mayor Gregor Robertson said earlier this month.
The aquarium’s stance is that an estimated one-million visitors each year are gaining a better understanding of the marine mammals by being able to see them and learn about them, and the organization also has a good track record when it comes to research and conservation efforts.
News of Goodall’s letter came the day the aquarium announced a new research institute meant to better monitor ocean health.
The Coastal Ocean Research Institute will be the first in Canada to create indices to monitor the ocean, according to Nightingale. The aquarium calls it a “multidisciplinary, collaboration-based agency that will integrate data for big ocean picture.”
Nightingale said the institute will represent a 50-year commitment on behalf of the aquarium.
The organization said it plans to reach out to Goodall to discuss the matter further.
With a report from CTV Vancouver's Nafeesa Karim.
Dr. Jane Goodall's entire letter to the Vancouver Park Board:
Dear Park Board Chairman and Commissioners,
The capture, breeding and keeping of cetaceans world-wide has come under increasing public scrutiny due to recent high-profile stories being released from industry insiders. The scientific community is also responding to the captivity of these highly social and intelligent species as we now know more than ever, about the complex environments such species require to thrive and achieve good welfare. Those of us who have had the fortunate opportunity to study wild animals in their natural settings where family, community structure and communication form a foundation for these animals’ existence, know the implications of captivity on such species.
I understand the Vancouver Park Board and the Vancouver Aquarium became industry leaders in 1996, when an agreement was made to not allow the keeping of cetaceans caught from the wild after September 16th of that year (with the exception of endangered species or rehabilitation animals that could not be released). However, the current permission of Vancouver Aquarium cetacean breeding programs on-site, and at SeaWorld with belugas on loan, is no longer defensible by science. This is demonstrated by the high mortality rates evident in these breeding programs and by the ongoing use of these animals in interactive shows as entertainment.
The idea that certain cetaceans “do better” in captivity than others is also misleading, as belugas, dolphins and porpoises are highly social animals which can travel in large pods and migrate long distances. In captivity, these highly vocal and complex communicators are forced to live in a low-sensory environment, which is unable to fully meet the needs of their physical and emotional worlds.
As society at large and the scientific community now reflect on the keeping of highly cognitive species like primates, elephants, and cetaceans in entertainment and research, I ask the Vancouver Park Board and the Vancouver Aquarium to do the same. The phasing out of such cetacean programs is the natural progression of human-kind’s evolving view of our non-human animal kin. I hope the Vancouver Park Board and the Vancouver Aquarium will be a leader in compassionate conservation on this issue, as you have done before.
Jane Goodall, Ph.D., DBE
Founder, the Jane Goodall Institute &
UN Messenger of Peace