VANCOUVER -- Roughly a dozen people held a protest outside Vancouver Aquarium Saturday afternoon to call for an end to federal funding for the Stanley Park facility.

The group, which calls itself "No More Dead Captives," says it is opposed to the practice of catching wild specimens for display in aquariums, as well as to breeding animals specifically for life in aquarium exhibits.

The protesters say they would prefer to see the aquarium operate only as a wildlife rescue and rehabilitation centre for local species.

Vancouver Aquarium struggled to pay its bills during a three-month closure caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The facility recently reopened to the public, but has been operating at 20 to 30 per cent capacity.

It also recently received $2 million in funding from the federal government, which No More Dead Captives says was a key reason for Saturday's demonstration.

"We were brought here today by the fact that they've received a government bailout, which we disagree with because it props up cruel practices," said David Isbister, one of the organizers of the protest.

"We want the aquarium to become what they say they are, to do exclusively rescue, to become a sanctuary for local ecology and stop importing exotic species that are bred in environmentally sensitive and destructive ways," Isbister said.

Asked for a response to Saturday's protest, Ocean Wise - the aquarium's non-profit parent company - provided a written statement saying it has been "overwhelmed by the outpouring of support" it has received from the public during its closure.

“Under normal circumstances, the not-for-profit Vancouver Aquarium is self-sustaining and we are humbled by how our community has shown up for us in our moment of need," the statement reads, in part. "Ocean Wise is deeply committed to educating our community on the crisis our oceans are facing and has been a leader in ocean conservation, education, rescue and research for over 64 years. We are grateful to those who share our mission to protect our oceans and we respect everyone’s right to engage in public discussion around these critical matters.”