The future of whales in captivity at the Vancouver Aquarium has been among the city’s most divisive debates in recent years, a conversation brought into sharp relief by the recent death of two belugas.
Last month the Aquarium announced plans to proceed with an ambitious expansion that will see five new non-breeding belugas arrive by 2019.
The move is no popular with most animal groups… but the feeling isn’t unanimous.
LISTEN: The humane Association making a case for whales in captivity
Robin Ganzert is president and CEO of American Humane, the U.S.’s first national humane organization, and she takes a stance on beluga captivity you might not expect.
“For those of us that want to argue about whether a tank is inhumane, I think what we have to do is look at the entire world … we have taken over their natural habitat, we have degraded their food supply in the wild,” Ganzert says.
Ganzert argues with habitat destruction and climate change pushing belugas to the point of extinction, research and deep understanding of the species is needed if we hope to keep any of them alive.
“We are experiencing today the worst species die off since the loss of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. As we look in your own backyard, what you have is a mass die off in the wild of beluga whales. Actually, in the St. Laurence estuary you have a situation where belugas once were very, very prominent. And now they’re representing less than seven per cent of their population from 100 years ago.”
She says facilities like the Vancouver Aquarium, that are conducting research into the species offer a “lifeboat of hope” for their survival.
“It has really provided for the first ever baseline medical data on Belugas. It’s very hard to do research on belugas in the wild, it’s very hard to have a population from which researchers can develop an understanding of disease and certainly an understanding of factors that impact their ability to survive.”
Ganzert says her organization has spearheaded the creation of the “Humane Conservation” certification, the first independent, third-party audit to review the world’s zoos and aquariums to ensure the animals they house are treated humanely.
She says the Vancouver Aquarium is one of the first organizations to earn the group’s certification.
“They meet or exceed our standards for animals in human care,” she says.
“This will be one of the centres of research that will really, I believe, provide a path for keeping belugas alive in the world”