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Aquarium ditching whales, dolphins

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VANCOUVER—Whales, dolphins, and porpoises no longer will be kept at Vancouver's aquarium—a move animal advocates say is a step toward the end of cetaceans in captivity.

The Vancouver Aquarium announced yesterday it is ending the display of cetaceans following a long and controversial battle with animal activists and the city's park board over the issue.

“We made [the decision] because the controversy, the distraction, the dialogue in the community had begun to limit our ability to pursue our ocean conservation mission,” said John Nightingale, the aquarium's CEO and president.

“Cetaceans were with us here for 50 years, so there's a variety of emotions, as you can imagine, among many of our staff and board members and supporters,” he noted.

“But the universal urge to get on with things is the driving force.”

Peter Fricker of the Vancouver Humane Society said the decision is a major victory for animal welfare.

“I think it's clear that keeping animals in captivity has lost public support, and we're hopeful that trend continues and that animal captivity will eventually become a thing of the past,” he remarked.

Camille Labchuk with Animal Justice said in a statement the move shows the “writing is on the wall for the whale and dolphin captivity industry.”

Marineland in Niagara Falls, Ont. is believed to be the only other Canadian facility with cetaceans.

The park has dolphins and what it says is the “largest collection of beluga whales in the world.”

Fricker said he hopes the Vancouver Aquarium's decision will encourage Marineland to phase out its whale and dolphin program, too.

“I certainly think that it's another nail in the coffin for cetacean captivity,” he noted.

Marineland said it continues to actively expand its park, adding that its beluga whales are well-cared for.

“Our whales are thriving, healthy, and active,” it said in a statement.

"The beluga whale program at Marineland is the finest in the world.

“Access to exhibits of Arctic animals at Marineland or the Vancouver Aquarium are a critical resource for educators, scientists, and families, and a part of our national heritage for all Canadians to view and appreciate,” it added.

Debate over the future of whales, dolphins, and porpoises at the Vancouver Aquarium has been simmering for several years, but heated up after the deaths of two belugas in November, 2016.

A young false killer whale and a harbour porpoise also have died at the aquarium in recent months.

The aquarium previously announced plans to phase out its cetacean program by 2029, but first wanted to bring in five new belugas.

Those plans were scuttled last May when the Vancouver Park Board approved a bylaw prohibiting the aquarium from bringing any new cetaceans to its facility in Stanley Park.

Staff argued the regulations would hinder research and efforts to save and rehabilitate injured and orphaned cetaceans.

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