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Vancouver Aquarium's Beluga Fundraiser Is Cruel!
Source: Vancouver Courier - December 30, 2001
By: Sandra Thomas, Staff writer


THE HOLIDAY BELUGA show at the Aquarium is exploitive and stressful to the adult female beluga, who is believed to be seven or eight months pregnant, says the head of a local marine-animal activist group.

The new show, which runs through January 6 and is a fundraiser for the Greater Vancouver Food Bank, features the belugas performing along-side fog machines and North Pole setting featuring Santa Claus and his elves.

Annelise Sorg, director of the Coalition for No Whales in Captivity, accused the Aquarium of exploiting the mammals for commercial purposes, rather than education and conservation, which is its mandate.

"The show is not only incredibly irresponsible and cruel, but unfortunately very much expected from the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Circus Centre," she said.

But Aquarium president John Nightingale said Sorg has no idea what she's talking about, especially since she hasn't seen the show. He said the beluga show is no different than the Aquarium's regular beluga show - the new interactive component is strictly between the naturalists, trainers and audience, and doesn't involve the belugas.

"There's more than one way to spark an interest in conservation," he said. "We've been working with an international group for more than two years on just that and (added interaction with the audience) is one of the ideas that's come from that."

Nightingale confirmed there's a "95 per cent presumption" that the female beluga Aurora is pregnant, although staff have not been able to see the calf via ultrasound yet. "When that happens there will be an official announcement."

If she is pregnant, Aurora is expected to give birth next summer. In the meantime, she is learning to lie on her side to have the ultrasound administered with the help of a team from St. Paul's Hospital.

Aurora previously gave birth to a calf called Quila, which remains at the Aquarium, in 1995. At that time, according to Sorg, Quila's father Nanuk had to be put in a separate tank for two and a half years because there wasn't room for him. Nanuk was later sold to SeaWorld, where he spent another eight months alone before joining the other whales.

Sorg is concerned the birth of yet another beluga at the aquarium means more overcrowding and the eventual sale of another whale. In October, Bjossa, the 25-year-old orca who spent much of her life in Vancouver, died after being sold to SeaWorld San Diego in April.

"I'm not sure because I can't get the Aquarium to confirm it, but I'm pretty sure they have five belugas in a pool made for three. Of course as far as (the coalition) is concerned, that pool was built for none. If this baby survives, it's likely one will be sold and the commercial trade starts again," Sorg said.

Sorg also voiced concerns that evening activities at the aquarium are adding to the belugas' stress. "There's a party there every night now. They have sleepovers, weddings, jazz festivals and live bands of all kinds. Not only are the belugas subject to screaming kids and public shows from nine to five every day, now it continues through the night."

Sorg said because people aren't allowed to smoke inside during parties, they stand outside next to the whale pool to indulge. During sleepovers, the whales are also subject to kids banging on the pool windows all night long. "Add the fact they're stuck in a small, chlorinated tank with pumps running 24 hours a day, overcrowding, a diet of dead fish and no natural social interaction and it's a wonder they survive at all."

But Nightingale said evening activities have been taking place at the aquarium since it opened in 1956, and have never been a problem to the orcas or belugas. "They are watched and cared for very carefully.

He added there's plenty of room for a sixth beluga at the facility, although, "We're a long way off from making any decisions on that."

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