This beluga, injured during capture by VanAqua's team, was thrown back, because it was injured and no longer a good candidate for captivity

1. VanAqua’s belugas were captured from the wild

Although it's common belief that all the Aquarium's cetaceans were rescued, VanAqua captured belugas from the wild near Churchill Manitoba in 19900. Beluga captures were so violent that the Canadian government soon after outlawed the practice. The beluga shown on the left suffered serious injuries from the ropes used during capture, and so being unwanted for public display, was simply released to fend for itself7. [Photo: LifeForce Fdn.]

VanAqua supported Georgia Aquarium's application to import 18 wild-caught belugas from Russia.

2. VanAqua still supports wild capture

VanAqua likes to claim it was the first aquarium to agree to not capture cetaceans (whales, dolphins, porpoises,etc) from the wild. The truth is that this policy is a city bylaw that they agreed to only when faced with the threat of an all-out ban on cetacean captivity. However, this hasn't stopped them from supporting others that still take animals from the wild. Blockbuster revelations in the Georgia Straight revealed that VanAqua supported the Georgia Aquarium's application to import 18 wild-caught belugas from Russia.103. VanAqua is now preparing to manage the L'Oceanografic marine park in Valencia, Spain, which has one of the largest collections of wild-caught dolphins in Europe.178[Photo: David Doubilet, National Geographic]

Drive hunts, like that in Taiji, Japan, only survive because of the high prices paid by marine parks and aquariums.

3. The Connection to 'The Cove'

All visitors to the aquarium are told that their two dolphins, Hana and (Note: Hana died in 2015 at the age of ~21) Helen were rescued from fishermen’s nets and are unsuitable for release. However, they neglect to say that the pair were purchased from Enoshima Aquarium1, which is notorious for its involvement in dolphin drive hunts like those featured in the film “The Cove”2. Because the practice of 'dolphin laundering' is common among marine parks, we may never know the truth of how they were captured179. But by purchasing Hana and Helen, Enoshima had room to bring in more wild dolphins from the drive hunt, so VanAqua's import indirectly supported this despicable slaughter. [Photo: David Doubilet, National Geographic]

Yup, that's Justin Bieber with Allua, one of VanAquas prized belugas, who has been on loan to SeaWorlds SanDiego marine park since 2005.

4. SeaWorld is a 'trusted' partner of VanAqua

We often hear that animals are fortunate to be part of VanAqua's collection, rather than at another marine park like SeaWorld. But clearly their care standards are similar -- SeaWorld currently holds more of VanAqua's belugas then VanAqua does! Imaq is at SeaWorld Florida; Nanuq lived at SeaWorld San Diego and San Antonio from 1997 until his recent death; Allua at SeaWorld San Diego since 200534. As you will see below, their relationship goes much further than simple beluga-sitting. [Photo: SeaWorldSA]

5. A massive, multinational breeding program

In July's Park Board hearings, CEO John Nightingale said that VanAqua NEEDS to breed belugas in order to have them on display 80 YEARS FROM NOW101. Their international breeding partnership with SeaWorld and others is a matter of public record. A recent article in the Huffington Post detailed the massive artificial insemination program involving these two VanAqua belugas.102. Yet, VanAqua still maintains publicly that they have 'no formal breeding program'.

Kavna died in 2012 in front of a horrified crowd at Vancouver Aquarium.

6. Thirty-nine deaths... and counting

VanAqua’s claims of the 'exceptional care' their cetaceans receive are not supported by the numbers. In all, 39 captive whales and dolphins have died in their care77. Almost all died before their time; many of them were babies or juveniles. Nala, the 1-year old bred in captivity who passed in 2011, died afer a coin that was tossed into her pool became lodged in her airway5. Of the 9 dolphins VanAqua has had under their "exceptional care," 7 of them are dead66.

Vancouver Aquarium was instrumental in building Manalay Bay's entertainment-focused Shark Reef attraction.

7. A not-for-profit that makes a lot of it

There aren’t many charities that can afford a $100 million + capital expansion8. Their CEO, John Nightingale, is rumoured to make on the order of $1,000,000 a year from various aquarium-related business, while about 8 directors make ~$200,000 per year9. Animals for entertainment is big business! So big that a for-profit arm of the Vancouver Aquarium designed/built marine parks in Las Vegas, notably at Mandalay Bay Hotel10. Of course, all that 'non-profit' profit didn’t stop them from receiving $25 million in taxpayer dollars for their expansion11, nor does it bother them that they pay extraordinarily low rent in Vancouver's most celebrated public park..

Hey buddy, want to buy a ticket for a dolphin show, er, I mean, nature appreciation event?

8. Putting the 'CON' in "Conservation?"

Zoos and marine parks around the world claim that first-hand experience with captive animals is essential to build a respect for nature. Scientific studies say otherwise, of course12 - people show the same appreciation for nature whether going to marine park or documentary film. And, hey - no large rorqual whales (like fin, blue and humpback whales) have ever been held in captivity. Yet their numbers are now rebounding in the wild after being hunted close to extinction. Turns out, the best conservation strategy is the kindest and cheapest --  all we had to do was stop killing them.

One of Vancouver Aquarium's performing seals. They only perform for you if have the money though.

9. The Barnum & Beluga Show

There’s little difference between today’s whale and dolphin shows and the performing seal acts of turn-of-the-century circuses. Of course, VanAqua has those too (that's one of theirs in the photo), but they’ll cost you extra13. With several beluga and dolphin shows per day, and their animals being used as backdrops for group sleepovers, morning yoga classes, wedding photos, $300-a-plate fundraising dinner dances, birthday parties, scavenger hunts, wine tastings and expensive private tours, who has time to think about conservation?

You know there's something wrong when the gift shop is bigger than the beluga pool.

10. Aquariums survive without whale and dolphin shows

You don’t have to look very far to find aquariums that are massive tourist attractions without keeping marine mammals captive. Check out the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California16. Like VanAqua, they've been established as a not-for-profit entity. They are a world famous, must-see attraction on the coast of Northern California and do a TON of marine mammal rescue and research as well - all without that bad aftertaste of captive whales and dolphins.

A dolphin at Vancouver Aquarium wears eye cups for a research study.

11. Research in captivity benefits captive animals

VanAqua justifies its captive belugas by telling us that "with the rapid environmental changes in the arctic where belugas live, continued research, much of which must be done in marine science centres like the Vancouver Aquarium, is critical to their future.22” However, this whale-saving research program seems to exist only in press releases (it is absent from their website)23, nor have they published a single peer reviewed study on the subject18. The truth is that the vast majority of VanAqua's published research involves animals in the WILD, not the ones in their tanks24. Next time you're there, ask them why, after 50 years of captive research on belugas, not ONE wild beluga has been helped by this research.

The people that claim animals are unsuitable for release are almost always the ones that are making money from keeping them in captivity.

12. Captive animals can be returned to the wild

Not surprisingly, the people who claim that captive marine mammals are unsuitable for reintroduction into the wild are almost always the ones who are profiting from their captivity. Go figure. No one is suggesting just plopping captive belugas in the ocean and waving good-bye. There are established rehabilitation procedures, beginning with sea pens that slowly get them ready for release. It's already being done and it can even work after long periods of captivity17.[Photo: P. Connelly]

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and help end captivity at the Vancouver Aquarium.


Sign the parliamentary petition here

  • The Vancouver Aquarium cetacean breeding program... is no longer defensible by science.

    Dr. Jane Goodall, Celebrated Primatologist and Ethologist
  • The Vancouver Aquarium should begin to phase out the holding of whales and dolphins in captivity.

    Vancouver Mayor, Gregor Robertson
  • “It’s a tired old argument from the captive industry. To be quite blunt, what it really teaches children is that it’s OK to mistreat these animals.

    Dr. Paul Spong, OrcaLab Founder
  • It’s not that everything about the Vancouver Aquarium is bad, it’s just that this one thing is terrible.

    Alexandra Morton, Biologist, VanAqua Murray Newman Award Winner
  • The science is clear; whales and cetaceans are thinking beings. It’s beyond me to understand any rationale why they should be in captivity.”

    Adriane Carr, Vancouver City Councillor
  • I’d like to see whales and dolphins out of our park. Phased out, not brought out ever again. Period.

    Constance Barnes, Vancouver Park Board Commissioner
  • A lot of information you see in Blackfish about how they have large brains and are very emotional animals… the more information we see, we see that they need to be in the wild.

    Sarah Blyth, Vancouver Park Board Commissioner
  • Today, anyone with an HDTV and the Discovery Channel is more likely to expose themselves and their kids to marine biology, with better visuals than anything offered by fish-tossing whale trainers.

    Geoff Olson, Vancouver Courier
  1. Source:
    Ceta-base: Database of Vancouver Aquarium belugas
  2. Source:
    Vancouver aquarium purchased Hana and Helen shortly after the drive hunt in Futo described here
  3. Source:
    Ceta-base: Vancouver Aquarium Inventory
  4. Source:
    Wikipedia index of Vancouver Aquarium belugas
  5. Note:
    Although VA suggested here that they may fill their expanded pools with belugas they have 'loaned' out, there is general agreement that in order to maintain adequate genetic diversity among captive belugas, at least a dozen more must be captured from the wild.
  6. Source:
    CTV News: Baby beluga whale Nala dies at Vancouver Aquarium
  7. Source:
    Ceta-baseHistorical listing of dolphins at Vancouver Aquarium
  8. Photo:
    Peter Hamilton LifeForce Foundation
  9. Source:
    Georgia Straight: Vancouver Aquarium bucks national trend by keeping whales and dolphins
  10. Source:
    Canada Revenue Agency: Charity Information Site
  11. Source:
    Mandalay Bay News Release: Shark Reef Aquarium Offers Tropical Ocean Amidst the Desert Sands
  12. Source:
    MetroNews Vancouver: Van Aquarium gets a green light for revitalization project
  13. Source:Reinhard, B. and Killian, A. 2004. The Blue Classroom: Teaching the young. Presented at the European Cetacean Society 2004 Conference, Kolmarden, Sweden
    Do zoos and aquariums really educate public?
  14. Source:
    Vancouver Aquarium Animal Encounters
  15. Source:
    Monterey Bay Aquarium Website
  16. Source:
    Sampal The Dolphin Escapes Pen, Reunites With Pod Family After Four Years In Captivity

    Don't believe the Seaworld hype: Once captive dolphins can thrive in the wild
  17. Source:
    VanAqua Cetacean Research Program Publications List
  18. Source:
    Vancouver Sun: The Vancouver Aquarium: Thar she blows! Up!
  19. Source:
    Google search results
  20. Source:
    VanAqua Cetacean Research Program Publications List
  21. Source:
    39 Reasons to Boycott the Vancouver Aquarium - LifeForce Foundation
  22. Source:
    John Nightingale claims breeding a necessity
  23. Source:
    Vancouver Aquarium's SeaWorld connection
  24. Source:
    VanAqua supports Georgia Aquarium beluga application
  25. Source:
    Critic questions aquarium motive to manage European marine park
  26. Source:
    Bogus 'rescue' behind cruel dolphin circuses