Vancouver Board Makes Irresponsible Decision for Whales and Dolphins

Two days ago, on March 9th, the Vancouver Aquarium’s role in conservation, rescue and rehabilitation, and research was forever altered after the Vancouver City Park’s board voted to prohibit the housing of cetacean species, which includes all whales, dolphins, and porpoises.

The Association of Zoos and Aquariums called the decision “troubling”. And, in a politically correct world they’re right. But, let’s not be politically correct for a second. Let’s be blunt. Let’s call a spade a spade. Let’s call this ultimatum what it really is: irresponsible.

The Vancouver Aquarium has been a major contributor to cetacean research and conservation for the last fifty years. Notable projects include data collection of killer whale vocalizations, the metabolic rates of pacific white-sided dolphins, communication patterns between beluga mothers and offspring, echolocation abilities of multiple species, and the rescue and rehabilitation of several whales, dolphins, and porpoises, three of which still call the Vancouver Aquarium home.

Currently, the Aquarium houses only three cetaceans, Helen (Pacific white-sided dolphin), Chester (false killer whale), and Daisy (harbor porpoise). ALL of which were RESCUED.

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Helen (foreground) and Chester interacting with members of their care team. (Image from vanaqua.org)

So, let’s walk through this step by step with Daisy as an example. Stranded for unknown reasons in 2008, Daisy was rescued as a one-month old calf suffering from severe dehydration, emaciation, and muscle loss. At first, she was so weak and malnourished, she did not have the ability to hold herself up in the water, let alone swim. After nearly a year of rehabilitation, during which time the Vancouver Aquarium’s animal care staff members gave her the best possible support through their knowledge and expertise, Daisy beat epically long odds and thrived. Deemed non-releasable due to the fact that she never learned to hunt and survive in the wild, the Vancouver Aquarium became her permanent home in 2009.

In the years that she’s lived at the Vancouver Aquarium since, Daisy’s story has touched hundreds of thousands of people. She’s helped educate the public about her species through presentations called “Porpoise Talks”, connected and interacted with guests as she displays her curious side, and participated in research studies that have helped reveal details about porpoises that are assisting researchers and conservationists in saving multiple cetacean species today.

Her journey also mattered when Levi, an adult male harbor porpoise stranded several years later in March of 2013. In the same way Daisy was not able to support herself in the water, neither was Levi, and in similar fashion to the previous situation, the experts at the Aquarium fashioned a custom-made raft and cared for him during his several months of rehabilitation. As he improved, Levi became a candidate for return to the wild. And, in September of 2013, six months after he was found stranded on the shore of Saanich Inlet, Levi was swimming in the ocean again.

But with the foolish decision made just two days ago, successful stories like Levi’s and Daisy’s, stories of survival and scientific progress, will become few and far between, if not completely nonexistent.

What happens next time? When an animal flounders, in need of help, who will be there to assist? Where will that animal go? Without the Vancouver Aquarium, which is one of Canada’s only teams with the expertise and availability  to save stranded cetaceans, the next time a porpoise, dolphin, or whale strands, that injured/ill animal will have to be transported several hours to the next rehabilitation center *IF* there is one available. And let’s hope there is, because the only other option is for the animal to be euthanized by drug or bolt gun.

There are repercussions for the actions set forth by this reckless decision. This vote, made for political reasons alone, in hopes to appease the, admittedly loud, but small, unqualified minority, is a setback in the scientific study of cetaceans and also jeopardizes the lives of future animals in distress.

Yet, while I am angry and distressed by those consequences, as all cetacean-lovers should be, I am not surprised that the board caved to aforementioned uninformed protestors.

We live in a blind society that values unscientific, short-sighted philosophies more than the wellbeing of individual animals and entire species.

We live in a society where documentary filmmakers attempt to damage and dismantle reputable zoological facilities with lies and twisted information without considering what that means for future distressed and stranded animals.

A society where the same soccer mom who condemns and vows to boycott world-renowned aquariums on Twitter also hypocritically demands “rescue the dolphin!”, not understanding how the same professional entities they choose to attack are needed in order to give that animal a future of any kind.

A society where PETA finds the money to brandish billboards with crass images and grossly tactless misinformation to slander the zoological community’s hard-working, well-educated animal care specialists who have dedicated their lives to reviving individual animals and researching whole species, and yet donates NOT A SINGLE DIME to cetacean rescue, research, or conservation.

Meanwhile, accredited organizations like the Vancouver Aquarium, are actively participating in research and conservation that directly benefits killer whales, belugas, harbor porpoises, and the most endangered marine mammal in the world: the vaquita.

In fact, some of the acoustic research conducted by researchers at the Vancouver Aquarium with the help of Daisy, is currently being used to help locate the remaining thirty individuals of the elusive vaquita species in hopes of bolstering the population and bringing them back from the very edge of extinction.

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Vancouver Aquarium’s rescue team at work. (Image from vanaqua.org)

Whales, dolphins, and porpoises are intriguing, charismatic animals, and as such, have garnered adoration and attention from many. Shutting down reputable zoos and aquariums, organizations that help research, conserve, and rescue animals is not helpful.

It’s harmful.

However, it is admirable to want to make a difference. Zoos and aquariums encourage and need your help, because when animals and species are in need, very rarely do the loudmouthed armchair-activists actually show up.

So, help.

Save the dolphins. Recycle discarded fishing line. Choose reusable bags instead of plastic when you go to the grocery store. Volunteer as part of a marine mammal rescue team.

Save the porpoises. Donate to VaquitaCPR. Refuse to participate in balloon releases. Organize a beach cleanup.

Save the whales. Eat sustainable seafood when you’re ordering fish at a restaurant. Visit a responsible zoo or aquarium involved in rescue, research, and conservation programs. And then, teach others how to care for them too.

We all have the power to make a difference for these animals, but it should be the right kind of difference. It should be one based on science. It should be one based on correct, factual information. It should be a responsible one full of action that benefits them now and in the future.

So, for the love of cetaceans, choose to make the right difference and pass it on.

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Daisy. (Image from vanaqua.org)

[Correction: This post originally identified the Vancouver Aquarium’s board as the entity that voted on the prohibition of cetaceans. This is incorrect as the decision was, in fact, made by the Vancouver City Park board which controls the property currently leased by the accredited aquarium and this post has been changed to reflect that fact.]

 

Make Conservation Your New Year’s Resolution

Conservation is at the core of the modern zoo and aquarium. They rehabilitate oiled penguins in South Africa, breed and release black-footed ferrets to the great plains of North America, and actively help researchers study wild populations of rhinoceroses in Southeast Asia, among SO MANY other amazing efforts that benefit wildlife.

Zoos also play an instrumental role in reminding those of us who are not avian, mustelid, or ungulate keepers that we still play a big part in conservation.

So, let’s start the New Year off right by making an impact at home!

Switch from Plastic Bags to Reusable Ones

According to the Earth Policy Institute, roughly two million single-use plastic bags are used per minute worldwide. Unfortunately, as many of these bags make their way to ocean shores and other waterways, animals ingest them or become entangled. Some estimate that nearly a million seabirds and one hundred thousand other marine animals like sea turtles, porpoises, and seals die every year from these discarded bags. In fact, members of more than 260 species have directly suffered as a result.

This year, when you’re asked at a grocery store, “Are plastic bags okay?” have reusable bags ready.

You can purchase these reusable bags fairly cheap and choose from a variety of styles from EcoBags or support small businesses and creativity by choosing Etsy. You can even create your own bags using photos of your kids, your favorite vacation spot, or, if you’re like me, your favorite animal using Walgreen’s Photo Center.

If the average American family consumes around sixty plastic bags after just four grocery trips, then in roughly one year, you’ll have saved nearly a thousand plastic bags!

Say “No” to Straws

Plastic straws are small enough to swallow and can become wedged in animals throats. Other times, they are fully ingested, but, once in the stomach, not digestible. And, as you can see in the video above, they can cause other injuries and discomfort by becoming lodged in other areas of an animal’s body.

An estimated five hundred million plastic straws are used in the United States every day. That means, every day, we could line up those straws end to end and circle earth two and a half times! That’s sixty two thousand two hundred fifty two and a half miles!

Because they’re a single-use plastic, each ends up being discarded at the end of the day. In fact, ninety percent of ocean pollution is made of plastic and straws rank in the top ten marine debris items.

So, while we expect straws to be delivered to us every time we order a drink, they’re not necessary. This year, politely tell your waiter or barista “No straw, please” when ordering. If you’re someone who really likes to have a straw while enjoying your peach smoothie (yum!), you can buy and use metal (my personal choice), bamboo, or paper straws. All of which are better for the environment than the plastic version.

Eat Sustainable Seafood

You know that phrase, “there are plenty of fish in the sea”? Well, it actually depends on the type of fish.

Nearly 70% of fish species are fully-fished or over-fished and some fish species struggle to repopulate in a way that keeps up with human demand. In other cases, humans consume the same fish that ocean predators like sea lions, sharks, or killer whales need in order to survive which leads to displaced and/or starving individuals.

Choosing to eat seafood from sustainable sources benefits the ocean ecosystem as a whole because sustainable fisheries provide fish from species that replenish their populations quickly and do their best to limit the impacts on wild species populations and ecosystems.

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Photo Credit: seafoodwatch.org

The best way to get in a habit of choosing sustainable seafood is by downloading the Monterey Bay Aquarium app called Seafood Watch which can give you easy access to information about good choices, best choices, and choices that you should avoid altogether.

As new information on the species’ populations become available, the app updates so that you’re always making decisions based on the most current information. When ordering at a restaurant or doing your own shopping, use the app to understand which choices are most beneficial for the oceans’ well-being.

Stick With It

Join zoos and aquariums in the fight to make the world a better place. There will be days that your impact will seem small, but it matter. Your commitment means one less bag floating on the sea, one less straw in a bird’s stomach, and one more chance to contribute to ocean health.

Don’t forget to share your success and dedication with others and encourage them to do the same because as Ryunosuke Satoro said, “Individually, we are one drop. Together, we are an ocean.”