Sunday, February 16, 2014

letter to Vancouver Aquarium

Dear Vancouver Aquarium,
Just thought I would drop a line and say hello and if I may be permitted, to speak a few words about the nature of your business. While I do appreciate free enterprise and I applaud people for finding a niche and exploiting it for profit, I prefer that they try to do it ethically. That is the reason for this correspondence.

Two things happened yesterday that ignited the fire beneath me, enough to actually sit down and write this to you. I saw the piece in the Georgia Straight and I saw an advertisement, featuring whales in captivity, at Coquitlam Centre. People always say that writing letters is a waste of time and that it is old fashioned and most of all, it doesn't make a difference. I beg to differ. I think that communication between parties that are at variance with one another can only be positive. And if not, at least you expressed yourself. You will never know how the public feels about what you are doing unless they tell you.
I know that you have a large audience because the place is full of people, enjoying the fruits of the animal labour that you enjoy the profit from. I have to admit, it is a pretty sweetheart business deal you have made with those animals, albeit without their consent.

You are in the same category as a circus, a zoo or horse carriage tours, all profiting off the labour and suffering of animals, while claiming to be educational or traditional or whatever other banner you are choosing to hide behind.
Vancouver is a very activist and progressive city and as you sit on Vancouver Parks land and ponder this, the matter of your proposed expansion may very well fall upon a public referendum and that could spell disaster for your business. We both know that there is much opposition to your very existence, forget about an expansion and the possibility of you acquiring more cetaceans.

The advertisement in the mall made me wonder if you are, like Enbridge, just going to steam ahead with a campaign of misinformation and propaganda, regardless of public opinion. When I look at the oil company ads and compare them to yours, I can say one thing for sure; you are both using whales to make money. Smart.
At least you aren't Japan, where the government subsidises an illegal whale hunt in the Southern Ocean or a dolphin slaughter/capture in Taiji. At least you are using the whales for profit for years, instead of just turning them into sushi.
I am sure right now that you are offended I would even mention your use of cetaceans versus theirs. But is it that different, considering the captured dolphins (many of them young) will find their way to Cetacean and Dolphin amusement parks just like yours?
When you promote the exploitation of these beautiful, sentient beings here, you promote it everywhere.

I wouldn't doubt that Vancouver Aquarium is one of the best facilities in the world and that your staff and trainers genuinely care about the animals. But the industry itself is in question here, the very act of keeping whales and dolphins captive is inhumane and cruel. This is not where these beings should be living out their lives.
This is why the mortality rate for births amongst captive whales is so high. And not only for births but life expectancy is drastically reduced for captive mammals. (Sun Sentinel, 2004)

This is not new information to you so I need not waste your time re-hashing it. It is interesting to note that every other zoo and animal exploitation business in Canada have eliminated dolphins and whales from their programs entirely. And your company is set to expand. I give you full points for audacity and perseverance. Your goal is to succeed and damn the torpedoes, you say.
It is also interesting that your director of communications and your scientists wouldn't speak to the Straight for the article that was written.
You would think that if you stood behind what you do, you would publicly defend it, no matter the occasion. You probably thought that the Straight article would  be biased and it probably is but it still looks bad on you for not even bothering to show up and defend your point of view or even to participate in the discussion. I guess you feel you are saying all you need to say through your advertising campaign at malls and on buses, where it shows a happy little group of Belugas and nary a glass cage to be seen anywhere. It appears that the whales enjoy their captivity. Many biologists and former trainers can assure you, they don't enjoy it. (see Blackfish, 2013)

Regardless of your slick as oil campaign, let's hope for the future of whales, that your expansion goes to a referendum and you lose. And, ultimately, the whales win.
In the meantime, ever consider converting those whale tanks into swimming pools? That would be a lot more fun for everyone.

Tony Durke


  1. Wow!! I really liked the depth of your letter and your title! We all should learn the depth of letter writing these days. I have taken interest in this and according to Straight article: Canada Revenue Agency in 2012 disclosed that one staff member @ aquarium ( John Nightingale) was paid between $250,000 to $299,000 that year. Seven other full-time employees were paid between $120,000 and $199,000. All these people salaries depend on not understanding captivity. The reason the aquarium keeps whales in captivity is for profit. These views on captivity are antiquated and self-serving. As a mother of 2 & previous dedicated volunteer: I can say there is a great divide between staff who get paid working wages and executives. This does not include all the volunteers who give free labour & time, many unpaid "lucky" university internships further contributing to debt, youth poverty and unemployment issues. The volunteers / workers essentially keep the place running publicly while the executives upstairs get paid and off the backs of free labour & time. If the upper management were truly committed to making the VA efficient, they would lower their salaries and put that money into their own extremely hard working staff and trainers as well. This is first world exploitation at its finest.

    The aquarium brings in more than $22 million a year in revenues, and that’s just for the “non-profit” society. The “for-profit” businesses names: The Vancouver Aquarium Ltd., Vancouver Aquarium Marketing Ltd., Vancouver Aquarium Consulting Ltd, etc. However, Vancouver Aquarium is largely marketed as a "non-profit” society to society. This is legal but ethical?

    We live in a democracy where Vancouver is allows this to happen on public land in our beloved Stanley Park. We elect these members of parks parks board to serve us. These large expansions take place with no public consultations / referendums or anything to ask of the the public. The Vancouver aquarium is looking no better than Sea World in this aspect. A corporate business model based hiding behind non-profit do good status. Sure, that's great that they save some seals for good publicity because they desperately need it but there is a bigger issue here. I'm ashamed that Vancouver is allowing this.

    1. Thanks for writing. It made me re-read what I had written and it actually got me all pissed off and fired up again. It does seem kind of crazy that this is happening right in Vancouver. This town doesn't seem like it would stand for this kind of crap. I really appreciate your information on the inner financial workings of the Aquarium and their 'non-profit' society. Of course they are a fucking non-profit society! Good God, what next? Meanwhile, Sea Shepherd Society, an organization that actually protects cetaceans (whether you agree with their tactics or not) are completely denied charitable organization status within Canada. This is one of the reasons why, even though they are a Canadian born society, they are headquartered in the U.S.

      You have the unique position of being a former volunteer, you should exploit that for good. There will be a growing movement within this city against the aquarium and its proposed expansion and you have information on the inner workings of the machine of the aquarium.

      When you say that you are ashamed that Vancouver is allowing this, you are absolutely correct. We should all be ashamed of this and we should take action immediately.
      By the way, the aquarium has not responded in any way, to my letter.

  2. I really enjoyed your letter. Have you considered sending it to Georgia Straight and/or Van Sun or other publications? There's a new article in Straight today which prompted me to write to you. I think it would be timely!