New lease means aquarium can stay in Stanley Park another 35 years
Published Tuesday, June 25, 2019 10:01AM PDT
Last Updated Wednesday, June 26, 2019 6:11AM PDT
The association behind the Vancouver Aquarium has signed a new lease with the Vancouver Park Board that will let the facility remain in Stanley Park for another 35 years.
As part of the agreement, Ocean Wise also reaffirmed its commitment not to display whales or other cetaceans – and dropped its lawsuit against the board over the 2017 vote that banned captive cetaceans in the park.
"I came here to Canada from Spain and I didn't come here to make enemies. I came here to make friends," Ocean Wise CEO Lasse Gustavsson told CTV News Vancouver.
Gustavsson, who started the role in February, said one of the first things he did was try to make peace with the park board.
"Of course we're going to follow Canadian law, of course we're going to follow bylaws. You can run a world-class aquarium without cetaceans and that's what we're going to do."
He said the new lease agreement marks the start of a new chapter in Ocean Wise's evolution, which will be continued in its five-year strategic plan.
That plan is being launched in January 2020, and Ocean Wise said it will feature a "renewed focus" on conservation, public education and enhancing visitor experience at the aquarium.
Those long-running efforts, along with the aquarium's regular animal rescues, were overshadowed for years amid vocal criticism of its captivity program.
Outrage grew after the release of the 2013 documentary "Blackfish," which highlighted some of its history with captive killer whales, and after a number of cetaceans – some of which had been previously rescued and deemed unfit for release – died in the aquarium's care.
Gustavsson said he's looking forward to bringing the public's attention back to the health and conservation of the world's oceans.
"There are many threats to the ocean, but the greatest threat is that many believe someone else is going to save it," Gustavsson said. "Ocean Wise has an important role to bring the ocean to the people and the people to the ocean, and the Vancouver Aquarium is one of the best tools we have to do that."
The aquarium has a long history in Stanley Park that dates back to 1956 and has, for the most part, been celebrated by the visiting public. Attendance suffered during the captivity controversy, however.
Ocean Wise's lawsuit against the Vancouver Park Board blamed the cetacean ban for a $4 million loss of revenue in 2017 and 2018 alone. It also upended plans for what would have been a massive expansion of the facility.
But earlier this month, the federal government followed suit by approving a Canada-wide ban on keeping whales and dolphins in captivity. It's unclear what impact the vote, which grandfathered in the aquarium's one remaining dolphin, might have had on the lawsuit.
With files from CTV News Vancouver's Angela Jung