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Perspective From Speaking at the Vancouver Parks Board Meeting on Issue of Keeping Captive Cetaceans


July 30, 2014 ( newswire), a global news source covering leading sectors issues an editorial on the recently held Vancouver Parks Board meetings held on Saturday July 26th and Monday July 28th, 2014. The special meeting addressed the issue of keeping captive cetaceans (whales and dolphins, etc.) at the Vancouver Aquarium, located in Stanley Park.

The meeting was to address expansion plans to add to the Aquariums two harbour porpoises, two Pacific white-sided dolphins, and two belugas. The Aquarium also owns other belugas currently on loan to SeaWorld and an aquarium in Georgia. editor and founder Dawn Van Zant attended as a speaker, not as media and shares first-hand perspective and insight on the two-day experience while waiting to speak for three minutes.


We were told to arrive on Saturday morning at 8:30 to register and to receive our assigned numbers to speak and the proceedings would begin at 9:00 am. In the email that confirmed we were registered, we were told we would have up to five minutes to speak, so most participants prepared accordingly for a five minute speaking opportunity.

We were notified just as we were attending that our time was now cut off to three minutes.

As Saturday morning dragged by and no speakers had been allowed in yet, I asked if I could leave and come back. I was told that was not a good idea and that if my number was called and I was not present I would not be able to speak.

I did in fact leave for a few hours since I had things to do and came back just after the noon break.

Testimony was presented over and over again on behalf of the aquarium and a frustrated group of speakers felt they were being edged out of the day's proceedings. Several left and did not come back.

A lot of us sitting there, myself included, felt they wanted us to leave.

The general media has reported that the proceedings went into Monday because there were so many speakers. That is not really the case. Out of 133 registered speakers some did not show up, several left but most significantly , the first speaker did not get to speak until well after 3:00 PM and the meeting was closed at 5:00 with speaker #48.

After waiting a full day, the truly committed felt they had to return Monday evening.

Most of the speakers both on Saturday and on Monday evening speaking in support of the Aquarium were paid staff. Many in opposition felt this was a conflict of interest, in that there was an assumption their livelihood was directly at risk.

Opposition brought up points that world respected names like Jane Goodall, 'The Cove' star and dolphin activist Ric O' Barry and 'The Cove' director Louie Psihoyos, had all sent their opinions to the Vancouver Parks Board for phasing out and ending the captive and breeding programs.

Speaker number 48, the last speaker on Saturday, presented the SPCA point-by-point plan to phase out the captive cetacean and breeding program and made specific reference to no longer releasing DNA of the cetaceans to other institutions. The SPCA said the current program does not meet their standards for animal care and needs.

Apparently, the Vancouver Aquarium has rejected this proposal.

It was pointed out by more than one speaker that big money is behind the Vancouver Aquarium with funding coming from Teck Mining, BMO, RBC and some oil and gas companies, (which was a major point of contention for those in opposition), who noted the aquarium should be promoting ocean friendly and environmental practices.

It was also stated by more than one, that Vancouver Aquarium CEO John Nightingale has a $300,000 annual salary at stake .

On Monday evening as I waited for my number to be called, I randomly sat beside Annelise Sorg, founder of non-profit group 'No Whales in Captivity'. She reassuringly patted me on the shoulder as she saw my nerves and frustration build.

One of the speakers, Daylon Payne, presented her online petition with 16,500 signatures against the practice of keeping captive cetaceans.

Again many of the pro-aquarium speakers were paid staff.

Hats off to Parks Board Vice-Chair, Constance Barnes, for asking some very directed questions on the issue. She asked one of the speakers if there was ever a request for the rehab and rescue efforts to be viewed by the public versus the current entertainment programs offered. It was very clear by her ongoing questions that she really wanted to get to the heart and the truth of the matter.

Head Commissioner Aaron Jasper brought up a critical point in the panel session prior to mine that an article of the by-laws (Article O) went missing in 1999 and no one has any idea why or how. Ironically this article speaks to the matter of the debate currently being addressed. I would hope that there is some follow-up and clarification to this point. Newswire Parks Board Vice-Chair Constance Barnes

Finally it was my number next and I sat there anxiously waiting for my three minutes as I heard testimony ahead of me from the Aquarium's head of Arctic Research and one of their staff interpreters.

Park Board Commissioner Sarah Blyth sat scrolling through her smartphone while I was sitting at the panel table.

Trevor Loke was very quiet on Monday's session with little participation or questions for the speakers versus a very active questioning on the Saturday session when experts spoke on behalf of the aquarium.

Speaker number 84 presentation:

My name is Dawn Van Zant and I am here as an individual and am representing my two adult children, and indirectly, a generation of parents like me that did in fact bring their children to this aquarium and to SeaWorld to see whales and dolphins. I am here to first of all publicly apologize to my children and to the whales and dolphins that were held captive at the time of each visit.

I told my children when they were young that if they did something wrong it was not enough to just say you were sorry. You must apologize, admit you were wrong and never do it again. So I am sorry, I was wrong and I will never do it again.

I am not here to throw shame or guilt on anyone as I believe that toxic negative emotions freeze and paralyze us. Instead, I invite everyone on the Parks Board and the aquarium to follow a higher road and set a precedent here in Vancouver, by stopping the captivity and breeding programs.

We as individuals and as a society know better and now we have to do better.

I sat on Saturday and heard testimony by others on how the aquarium is necessary to provide ongoing joy and education for children and that if the whales were to be removed that they would be out of sight and out of mind and forgotten. I have heard people state that if we don't get to see a real whale up close and in person, we just won't care as much.

Those statements are as outdated as the practice of keeping them in captivity. Have any of those individuals heard of a little thing called YouTube or social media?

We live in a digital age, a time where technology is evolving faster than we are.

Social media has changed our world and how we view it globally. Did we not care about the revolutions in the Middle East as we witnessed them on social media?

Do we not care about what is happening in Gaza right now? I don't have to be there personally to care.

And I think that social media has made this generation more socially aware and responsive than the last. I see my daughter sharing articles about animal welfare issues all the time.

To cite some statistics about YouTube views of whale sightings and contact in the wild and the sensation they created:

Whale watching from canoe: 1,426,782 views

Kayaking with Redondo Beach Blue Whales, with underwater footage and Lunge feeding GoPro: 1,652,119 views

And closer to home - Kayaking with Orca, or Killer Whales off Sooke, BC on Vancouver Island: 1,169,603 views

And the list goes on and on.

I think it was stated the aquarium gets one million visitors a year, if I remember correctly - YouTube outnumbers this by far and not one whale was in captivity to create these global sensations.

No one is asking the aquarium to close down - just change this practice of breeding and capture and replace it with technology - an interactive educational program that can stimulate and incite more care and passion for these beautiful beings in their natural habitat.

It's time for the aquarium and this city to admit it is sorry, it is wrong and it will never do it again.

On a closing note - I heard on the radio yesterday that one of the board members had said on Saturday that they were not sure if this board would vote and act on this and it may get held off until the election and the new board would decide and make use of this information gathering - I think everyone in this room would hope that is not the case and you as members find the courage to be leaders and act on this as soon as possible.

It is very rare that we have the opportunity as individuals to impact real change. You have that right now.

Please don't miss this moment in your life and in ours to show Vancouver is an evolving city and a world leader on this issue. Newswire

Comments can be sent to the Vancouver Park Board at

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