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Updated: Fri, 01 Aug 2014 01:03:33 GMT | By CBC News, cbc.ca

Vancouver Aquarium whale, dolphin breeding program to end

Questions around whether Vancouver Aquarium should be allowed to keep beluga whales and other cetaceans are being reviewed by the Park Board. CBC

Questions around whether Vancouver Aquarium should be allowed to keep beluga whales and other cetaceans are being reviewed by the Park Board. CBC

The Vancouver Park Board voted unanimously to allow the aquarium to keep cetaceans in captivity at a special meeting Thursday night, but ordered an end to the breeding of most whales and dolphins.

The board has directed its staff to bring forward an amendment to the park bylaw that would prohibit the breeding of cetaceans in Vancouver parks unless they are a threatened species.

Vancouver park board chair Aaron Jasper says it wasn't an easy decision.

"Every time we came back to the breeding program, we just felt that's a program that might serve other purposes, but we were not convinced that it served the purpose of conservation, rescue rehabilitation or research. So that's where we drew the line in the sand," he said.

Live blog is now closed, but scroll through for a chronology of the meeting.

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The board has also ordered the establishment of an oversight committee consisting of animal welfare experts to ensure the safety and well being of cetaceans in captivity.

But it stopped short of demanding the aquarium phase out its whale and dolphin program. However it did ask aquarium and park staff to investigate alternatives to the exhibition of cetaceans.

Animal cruelty?

Vancouver Aquarium's John Nightingale says he's disappointed at the political interference. He says the facility does not run a formal breeding program.

"Healthy animals sometimes mate. so keeping them apart or using artificial contraceptives or whatever method the park board is going to mandate is not natural, so it's actually kind of animal cruelty," he said.

The park board is also calling on the aquarium to undertake a study "using all available scientific data" to determine if cetacean well-being is possible in the aquarium's whale pools.

More than a hundred speakers voiced their thoughts on the Vancouver Aquarium's controversial program over the course of three park board meetings.

Many of the speakers called for a phasing out of the aquarium program that permits whales and dolphins to be kept in captivity. But Jasper says the board decided against it because it did not want to jeopardize the aquarium's success.

Scientists split

CBC News found mixed opinions to the research benefits of captive cetaceans among scientists with some speaking in favour and many speaking against confining whales and dolphins in aquarium pools.

In May, renowned conservationist Jane Goodall weighed in on the controversy, penning a letter to the aquarium saying on-site cetacean breeding is "no longer defensible by science."

The aquarium is licensed by the park board. Current policy is not to capture mammals for captivity, but to breed cetaceans that are already in the aquarium's care.

Rescued marine mammals considered unfit to be released back into the wild are also kept at the aquarium.

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