Vancouver Aquarium, Vancouver, BC, Canada | CruiseBe
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Vancouver Aquarium

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The Vancouver Aquarium (officially the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre) is a public aquarium located in Stanley Park in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. In addition to being a major tourist attraction for Vancouver, the aquarium is a centre for marine research, conservation and marine animal rehabilitation.

The Vancouver Aquarium was one of the first facilities to incorporate professional naturalists into the galleries to interpret animal behaviours. Prior to this, at the London Zoo Fish House, naturalists James S. Bowerbank, Ray Lankester, David W. Mitchell and Philip H. Gosse (the creator of the word aquarium) had regularly held "open house" events, but the Vancouver Aquarium was the first to employ educational naturalists on a full-time basis. Aquarium research projects extend worldwide, and include marine mammal rescue and rehabilitation.

On August 9, 2010 Prime Minister Stephen Harper and B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell announced capital funding of up to $15 million. The province would donate $10 million in funding over the next three years to help pay for a planned expansion of the 54-year-old facility, Premier Gordon Campbell said. Harper added that Ottawa would hand over up to $5 million to the aquarium for infrastructure upgrades. The aquarium, however, remains a nonprofit organization. The property is owned by the City of Vancouver and rented to the Aquarium for $40,000 a year since 1991 (prior to which it was $1 per year).

In October 2009 the Vancouver Aquarium was designated as a Coastal America Learning Center by the US Environmental Protection Agency. As the first Learning Center in Canada, this designation is intended to strengthen the Canadian/U.S. partnership for protecting and restoring shared ocean resources.


Aquarium history

The Vancouver Public Aquarium Association was formed in 1950 by UBC fisheries and oceanography professors Murray Newman, Carl Lietze and Wilbert Clemens. After receiving the help of timber baron H.R. MacMillan, alderman and businessman George Cunningham and $100,000 from each of the three levels of government. (City of Vancouver, Province of British Columbia, Federal Government of Canada), it opened on June 15, 1956 with the ribbon being cut by federal Minister of Fisheries James Sinclair. Sinclair's daughter 7-year-old Margaret was also present at the ribbon cutting ceremony (she would later married Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau and give birth to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau).

Officially Canada's first public Aquarium, the Vancouver Aquarium has become the largest in Canada and one of the five largest in North America. The Vancouver Aquarium was the first aquarium in the world to capture and display an orca. Other whales and dolphins on display included belugas, narwhals and dolphins.

In 1975, the Vancouver Aquarium was the first aquarium accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). The Aquarium is also accredited by the Canadian Association of Zoos and Aquariums (CAZA) and in 1987 was designated Canada's Pacific National Aquarium by the Canadian Federal Government.

On July 23, 1995, a beluga whale named Qila was born. She was the first beluga to be both conceived and born in a Canadian aquarium. A second calf, Tuvaq, was born on July 30, 2002, but died unexpectedly with no previous sign of illness on July 17, 2005.

In 1996, the Vancouver Park Board instituted a municipal bylaw that prevents the Vancouver Aquarium from capturing cetaceans from the wild for display purposes, and only obtain cetaceans from other facilities if they were born in captivity, captured before 1996 or were rescued and deemed un-releasable after this date.

On June 15, 2006 Canada Post issued a 51 cent domestic rate stamp to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Aquarium.

For many years, the primary attraction for visitors was the orca show. The Aquarium was the first to capture and display a killer whale, Moby Doll, in a pen at Burrard Drydocks, for 3 months in 1964. Since then, it was home to Skana, Hyak II, Finna, Bjossa, and three of Bjossa's calves. When Finna died and Bjossa was left without other orca companions, the Aquarium attempted to acquire one or more female orcas from other marine parks. However, no suitable companions were found, and Bjossa was moved to SeaWorld, San Diego, in April 2001 where she later died due to a chronic respiratory illness. The Aquarium has since moved to emphasize the educational aspects of the displays rather than the public spectacle of the shows. They have also highlighted their research, rescue and rehabilitation efforts.

The aquarium has played a significant role in the research of wild orcas in BC. John Ford, a respected researcher who focuses on orca vocalizations, worked there for many years and they still fund a lot of the study. The Wild Killer Whale Adoption Program, which funds research, is also run out of the aquarium.

After considerable public discussion and some opposition from an animal rights group, the Vancouver Park Board voted in favour of a proposal to expand the Aquarium at a cost of $100 million, funded by the Aquarium, private donors, and infrastructure grants. A public consultation process, led by the aquarium and their own consultants, showed 89% of local residents were in favour of the expansion. The proposal will increase the size of the Aquarium by 1.5 acres (6,100 m2) and extend its lease by 20 years. Construction was expected to begin in the fall of 2007.

Vancouver Aquarium has not kept any orcas in captivity since 2001 and has pledged not to capture wild animals, but to instead rely on captive animals for breeding.

Aquarium facility

The aquarium covers approximately 9,000 square metres (97,000 sq ft) and has a total 9,500,000 litres (2,100,000 imp gal; 2,500,000 US gal) of water in 166 aquatic displays. There are a number of different galleries, several of which were built at different times throughout the aquarium's history.

Pacific Canada Pavilion

This central indoor exhibit consists of a 260,000 litre tank directly adjacent to the entrance. Fish and invertebrates from the Strait of Georgia are displayed in the exhibit.

Canada's Arctic

Originally this gallery included the Beluga whales along with several non-living displays. In October 2009, a new exhibit opened here displaying several other arctic species, including fishes and invertebrates, along with expanded non-living exhibits. In 2016, the 2 rescued Harbour Porpoises from the BC Sugar Pool next door, moved to the Canada's Arctic Gallery.

Penguin Point

Inspired by Boulders Beach, this exhibit features African penguins bred by the Species Survival Plan.

The Wild Coast

This is an outdoor gallery that includes several pools, home to Pacific white-sided dolphins, sea otters, and harbour porpoises that are permanently on display here, along with several "touchpools" where visitors are able to touch British Columbian invertebrates. Several other species (harbour seals, Steller's sea lions, and northern fur seals) are rotated in to display in this area. When not on display they live in habitats behind the scenes that are not accessible to visitors.

Treasures of the BC Coast

This gallery is a series of separate exhibits that simulate the various aquatic environments on the BC coast. Octopuses, Rockfish, sea stars, sea urchins, and anemones are among the animals here.

Tropic Zone

This gallery contains a large display of tropical fish and other animals, including blacktip reef sharks and a green sea turtle named Schoona.

Amazon Rainforest

A number of fresh water fish, snakes, caimans, sloths, birds, and other creatures from the Amazon inhabit this gallery.

Frogs Forever? Gallery

This gallery is an exhibit focused on the plight of the world's frog population which endeavors to show how people can help protect frogs and other amphibians. It contains 26 species of amphibians from around the world.

Canaccord Exploration Gallery

This gallery is home to jellies, fish, and other animals. The 4D Theatre and the children's play area known as "Clownfish Cove" are here, along with multiple classrooms for school groups, including the wet lab education room, which contains both conventional teaching methods such as computers, tables, and chairs, along with live animals and various artifacts.

Animals at the Aquarium

The Vancouver Aquarium currently houses around 300 species of fish, almost 30,000 invertebrates, and 56 species of amphibians and reptiles. They also have around 60 mammals and birds.

Currently, the Aquarium houses one Pacific white-sided dolphin:

  • Helen is an approximately 24-year-old female dolphin at the Aquarium. She came to the Aquarium from the Enoshima Aquarium in Japan, and is also claimed to have been rescued from entanglement in a fishing net. Helen was part of a multi-year and multi-facility research project focusing on metabolic studies while she was at the Enoshima Aquarium, and is part of a pilot project to understand whale echolocation abilities to prevent whales in the future from becoming entangled in fishing nets. She is distinguishable by the fact that her pectoral flippers are partially amputated due to damage from her entanglement. Helen's tankmate Chester the False Killer Whale joined her at the Wild Coast on Thursday, June 24, 2015.

Past Pacific White-Sided Dolphins:

  • Laverne came to Vancouver from SeaWorld San Antonio. She died in 2009 due to a twisted intestine.
  • Spinnaker came to Vancouver in 2001 from Japan after getting caught in a fishing net. He died in 2012 due to a stroke.
  • Hana came to Vancouver with Helen in 2005 from the Enoshima Aquarium in Japan after getting caught in a fixed fishing net. She died in 2015 from gastro-intestinal torsion and septicemia following a last attempt to save her life with a "breakthrough" surgery.

The aquarium also houses a False Killer Whale:

  • Chester is a young False Killer Whale that was rescued by the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Mammal Rescue Centre on Chesterman Beach on Vancouver Island in July 2014. In May 2015, Chester was deemed non-releasable by Fisheries and Oceans Canada which based their decision "on the animal’s age at stranding, his lack of social contact and foraging skills in the wild, and his extensive contact with humans". Chester is at the Wild Coast habitat along with Helen the Pacific White-Sided Dolphin.

The Aquarium also houses two beluga whales. Qila was born in captivity, whereas Aurora was captured from the wild in waters near Churchill, Manitoba in 1990.

  • Aurora is a female beluga and is around 30 years of age. She gave birth first to Qila, Tuvaq (who died in 2005) and recently Nala, who died on June 21 at around 10:15 pm due to coins and foreign matter found in her respiratory tract. "Aurora" is named after the famous northern light Aurora borealis.
  • Qila is a female beluga born at the aquarium to mother Aurora and father Nanuq on July 23, 1995 (20 years old). She is the first beluga to be conceived and born in a Canadian aquarium, and is also the first beluga conceived and born in a Canadian aquarium to give birth to a calf. "Qila" means "beluga" in Inuktitut. She gave birth to her first calf Tiqa, who died of heart failure and pneumonia on September 16, 2011. Tiqa's name stands for T-Tuesday, I-Imaq, Q-Qila and A-aurora.

Both Belugas live in the Canada's Arctic enclosure.

On breeding loan to SeaWorld, Shedd Aquarium & Georgia Aquarium are the following:

  • Allua, a female beluga is around 24 years of age. She was moved to SeaWorld San Diego on a breeding loan in 2005.
  • Imaq, a male beluga who is around 21 years of age. He is on breeding loan to SeaWorld San Antonio for around 5 years due to the aquarium's renovation.
  • Grayson, a male beluga who is 8 years old living at the Shedd Aquarium. He was born at SeaWorld San Antonio in 2007 but since he was born to Nanuq who was owned by the aquarium and also fathered Qila. Until Early 2016, Grayson was living at the Georgia Aquarium since 2010 with his half-sister Qinu. Grayson is also owned by the aquarium.
  • Qinu, a female beluga who is 7 years of age living at the Georgia Aquarium with Grayson. She was also born at SeaWorld Texas and like Grayson she was born to Nanuq

Past Belugas:

  • Kavna was estimated to be around 46 years of age at the time of her death on August 6, 2012. Cancerous lesions found on her reproductive tract may have contributed to her death. She was distinguishable from the other belugas by the fact that she was the whitest, due to her age.
  • Nanuq, a male beluga who was around 31 years old. Nanuq was Qila's father and was on breeding loan to SeaWorld since July 1997 until 2015 when he died of a jaw infection.
  • Tuaq was born to Kavna and an unknown wild beluga in 1977 but sadly died 4 months later due to malnutrition and a bacterial infection.
  • Tuvaq was born to Aurora and Imaq in 2002 but died unexpectedly in 2005.
  • Nala was also born to Aurora and Imaq in 2009 but died a year after due to foreign objects found inside her respiratory tract.
  • Tiqa was born in 2008 to Qila and Imaq and was the first 3rd generation beluga to be born at the aquarium. She died in 2011 due to pneumonia and heart failure.

The Vancouver Aquarium is also home to two Pacific harbour porpoises rescued by the Aquarium's Marine Mammal Rescue Centre.

  • Daisy was rescued from Gonzolez Beach, B.C. in 2008, and after receiving almost a year of veterinary care and being deemed nonreleasable, was transferred to the Vancouver Aquarium on July 29, 2009.
  • Jack, was rescued from Horseshoe Bay, B.C. in September 2011 and transferred to the Aquarium on March 15, 2012.

Jack and Daisy are the only Harbour Porpoises in North America that live in captivity. The Porpoises share their enclosure with the Belugas in the Canada's Arctic.

The Aquarium is home to four sea otters:

  • Tanu is an adult female who was abandoned as a pup, rescued by the Alaska SeaLife Center and later moved to the Aquarium.
  • Elfin is an adult male sea otter who was abandoned as a pup, was rescued by the Alaska SeaLife Center and later moved to the Aquarium.
  • Katmai is a young female sea otter recently rescued near Homer, Alaska by the Alaska SeaLife Center on October 17, 2012 when she was only a few weeks old. Shortly thereafter, the Alaska SeaLife Center invited a rotating team of Vancouver Aquarium specialists to help provide intensive 24-hour care and rehabilitation for the pup over the next 17 weeks. After being deemed non-releasable by the U.S. Fisheries and Wildlife Service, she arrived at the Vancouver Aquarium on March 21, 2013. After an online naming contest, on April 2, 2013 the Aquarium announced that the pup would be named Katmai after a national park in Alaska.
  • Walter/Wally was found as an injured adult sea otter in Tofino, on the West Coast of Vancouver Island. He had been shot by a shotgun and suffered extensive injuries as a result. After receiving critical care at the Marine Mammal Rescue Centre he is now a healthy sea otter who would not survive in the ocean and has therefore been moved to the Aquarium. He was estimated to be over 10 years old at the time of his rescue.

The Aquarium is also home to two harbour seals at this time, all of which are male (DaVinci, and Hermes).

The Aquarium also houses 6 northern fur seals (Meechi, Tikva, Tuku, Kyoo, Aya, and Ani), and four female Steller sea lions (Willo, Ashby, Rogue, and Izzy). The sea lions actually belong to the University of British Columbia, and are part of a research program aimed at studying the causes for the collapse of the Steller sea lion population in Alaska.

At an off-site research facility, an additional 4 Steller sea lions are kept as part of an open-water research program. They are Hazy, Sitka, Boni, and Yasha.

On July 1, 2008, Tag, a 15-year-old male sea lion, died due to oral cancer, despite receiving laser surgery and chemotherapy. Tag was a 15-year-old male sea lion who arrived at the Aquarium as a 2-week-old pup.

Conservation and Research Programs

The Vancouver Aquarium has created and operates a number of conservation and research programs aimed at understanding and preserving animal species in the wild.

Ocean Wise

The Vancouver Aquarium has a program called Ocean Wise, which is aimed at promoting sustainable seafood in restaurants, markets, and other food service facilities. Its main thrust is to avoid species whose fishing typically causes large bycatches, species from areas where the habitat will degrade if overfished, and species which themselves are overfished. Ocean Wise works directly with food service companies to select sustainable seafood and actively promote them to the general public. The options are highlighted on participating restaurant menus and display cases with the Ocean Wise symbol, to help consumers make environmentally friendly seafood choices. Today, well over 300 restaurants in Canada are participants in the Ocean Wise program.

Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup

The Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup is a program that was initiated by the Vancouver Aquarium by a small group of staff members and volunteers in 1994. These employees had heard about the International Coastal Cleanup and decided to participate in it by picking up garbage at a local beach and submitting the information. The Ocean Conservancy's International Coastal Cleanup is an annual international initiative aimed to engage people to remove trash and debris from the world's beaches and waterways, identify the sources of debris, and change the behaviors that cause marine debris in the first place.

Volunteers and sponsors collect and catalogue debris which is then collected for analysis on sources of garbage that enter the ocean. For example, in 2007, 1,240 beach sites with a collective length of 1,772 km were cleaned by 52,263 volunteers bringing in almost 87.5 metric tons of garbage.

Marine Mammal Rescue and Rehabilitation Program

The Vancouver Aquarium operates a Marine Mammal Rescue program which is aimed at rescuing and rehabilitating marine mammals that are found injured, ill, or abandoned, until they can be re-released into their natural habitats. On average, the Rescue Centre admits approximately 100 distressed marine mammals per year. The vast majority of these are harbour seals, but patients can include sea otters, elephant seals, Steller sea lions, harbour porpoises, and common dolphins. The program notably helped rescue Springer, an orphaned killer whale successfully released and reunited with her family pod. Other high-profile rescues include the successful returning of a beached gray whale back to the water in 2005 and the rescue of Schoona, a lost green sea turtle near Prince Rupert, BC. In October 2013, rescued harbour porpoise Levi became the first cetacean to be rehabilitated at the Marine Marine Mammal Rescue Centre and released back into the wild.

B.C. Cetacean Sightings Network

The B.C. Cetacean Sightings Network is a collaborative conservation and research program between the Vancouver Aquarium and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada aimed at collecting reports and sightings of whales and sea turtles in the wild. The Sightings Network is a network of over 1,800 observers across British Columbia, including whale watching operators, lighthouse keepers, charter boat operators, tugboat captains, BC Ferries personnel, researchers, government employees, recreational boaters and coastal residents. The program aims to solicit reports through the program's website, a toll-free hotline, email, or through the logbook program.


In 2014, the Vancouver Aquarium's practice of keeping whales, dolphins and porpoises in captivity and its beluga whale breeding program sparked controversy.

In March 2014, two Park Board Commissioners, Sarah Blyth and Constance Barnes, publicly spoke out against the practice of keeping whales and dolphins in captivity at the aquarium. Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson, in an emailed letter to The Georgia Straight, expressed his personal belief that "the Vancouver Aquarium should begin to phase out the holding of whales and dolphins in captivity". Primatologist and ethologist Jane Goodall called for the Park Board to follow through with the proposed "phase out" of cetaceans and end the Vancouver Aquarium's captive breeding program.

The Vancouver Aquarium responded to criticism with an open letter in which they explained that it was their policy not to capture cetaceans from the wild and that the aquarium played a role as a home for rescued cetaceans that cannot be returned to the wild.

The Park Board proceeded to commission an independent report from US wildlife veterinarian and scientist Dr. Joseph Gaydos in which he examined the aquarium's animal care standards, accreditation and research and compared it to similar facilities in North America. In his report he found that the Vancouver Aquarium "either meets or exceeds North American industry standards". He also concluded that the aquarium had "an active research department that seems to make good use of studying captive cetaceans, not only for being able to provide better care and understanding of captive animals, but to a greater extent ... to benefit our understanding and conservation of cetaceans in the wild." Dr Gaydos also made two recommendations. He recommended that the Park Board conduct "a large-scale scientific study on the welfare of captive housed cetaceans" as a way of assessing "the complex societal issue of captive cetaceans". He also suggested that the Park Board require the aquarium to release an annual report on the state of its cetaceans.

In the media, the Gaydos report was widely received as a positive review of the aquarium's practices and the Vancouver Aquarium also received support from prominent philanthropists and politicians, as well as four former Vancouver mayors. The Monterey Bay Aquarium and the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach, California also spoke out in favour of the Vancouver Aquarium's cetacean program, citing its importance for scientific research.

After a long public debate that ended with the presentation of the Gaydos report and two days of public hearings, the Vancouver Park Board announced in August 2014 that it intended to enact a by-law to ban breeding of cetaceans at the Vancouver Aquarium, and it tasked its staff with drafting an amendment to the existing by-law regulating cetaceans at the aquarium. Vancouver Aquarium CEO Dr. John Nightingale criticized the decision in a public letter, stating that the decision "was not based on the facts or science presented" and that it did not take into consideration "testimony from dozens of the world’s scientific community, including experts in animal welfare and animal cognition.".

Following a defeat in the elections to Park Board as part of the 2014 civic elections, a majority of the Park Board commissioners, in their last session, voted against enacting an amendment to the by-law.

In popular culture

The Vancouver Aquarium was featured frequently in the 1980s Canadian series, Danger Bay, which followed the day to day exploits of the Roberts family, led by Grant "Doc" Roberts, a marine veterinarian and his two children, Nicole and Jonah.

A YouTube video featuring two sea otters "holding hands" was recorded at the Vancouver Aquarium. The two sea otters are Nyac and Milo. Nyac died on September 23, 2008. She was one of the last surviving sea otters of the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill. The video has been viewed over 19 million times on YouTube. As a result, the Vancouver Aquarium created a live sea otter cam on their website. The YouTube video was originally recorded by Cynthia Holmes. Milo died on January 12, 2012.

The Vancouver Aquarium was also featured in the family film Andre (1994), and romantic comedy Good Luck Chuck (2007), as Cam's workplace. Television movie The Suite Life Movie (2011) used the Aquarium as the research firm where Cody Martin interns.

On September 5, 2008, Hayden Panettiere appeared on the Late Show with David Letterman and talked about her visit with the rescue dolphins at the Vancouver Aquarium.

The song "Baby Beluga" by Raffi was inspired by Kavna, a beluga that he saw while visiting the Vancouver Aquarium.

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