The Vancouver Aquarium is located in Stanley Park, a beautiful green space named the world's number one park jutting out into the ocean in downtown Vancouver. As we wandered around the very busy aquarium, I was impressed at their efforts to maintain a positive image, given how difficult it is to fight constant rumors against animal rights activists and people who believe aquariums do more harm than good.
I have watched the documentary Blackfish, telling the story of the killer whale Tilikum at Seaworld. I firmly believe that in this case, Seaworld was in the wrong. The devastating tale of Tilikum's trainers hurts my heart to think of the resulting deaths. However, I also firmly believe that there are aquariums out there that are not like that at all.
Van Aqua is a brilliant example. It was the first aquarium in the world to publicly state they do not capture wild animals from the wild for display. They are first and foremost a centre for marine science and for animal rescue and care. It says on their website that the last whale (or dolphin) they collected was in 1990. That whale, Aurora, still lives at the aquarium and contributes to "knowledge of wild belugas, including ground breaking research, which investigates the impact of boat noise on beluga vocalizations and how it affects the ability of beluga moms and calves to call each other. This is especially important in light of the shrinking ice cover and impending increase in shipping traffic in the Arctic."
Although misinformation is constantly spread, Van Aqua does not support drive fisheries. Two Pacific white-sided dolphins live at the aquarium but they were not taken from a drive fishery, nor purchased, nor replaced. In fact, they were rescued off the coast of Japan from a tangled fishing net and were rehabilitated. Then, due to their severe injuries, they were deemed non-releasable so now live safely and healthily in the Vancouver Aquarium.
All animals at Van Aqua receive ongoing veterinary care and medical technologies (blood tests, body temperatures, ultrasounds, dental checks, eye exams, etc.) that help them to live as long as or longer than those in the wild. For example, Kavna (the original inspiration behind the song 'Baby Beluga') was a whale who died at the very old age of 46! Unfortunately, activists ignored her natural death from old-age cancer and tried to use it as propaganda.
Sadly, many people will continue to watch documentaries and one-sided news stories and will thus continue to believe the worst. I am an avid supporter of the good that the aquarium is doing, and I think it's worth doing further research and going to see the work for one's self before you can jump to conclusions.
If you get a chance to go, I highly recommend the Beluga feeding and the demonstration of the four rescued sea otters - the staff and volunteers are all very knowledgeable and there's a chance to get soaked by whale spray!