Vancouver Aquarium could close in two months jeopardizing marine mammals on the coast

Vancouver Aquarium could close in two months jeopardizing marine mammals on the coast
WatchCanada's first public aquarium, the Vancouver Aquarium, could shut down permanently within several months. The facility will run out of money by the summer. But as Mary Griffin reports, it is the only "hospital" on the entire BC coast for injured or beached marine mammals.

The Vancouver Aquarium says it is facing bankruptcy and is asking for emergency government aid to keep operating.

The aquarium said it could be forced to close permanently if it can’t arrange emergency funding.

A statement from the facility says animal care and habitat costs for 70,000 animals exceed $1 million a month but revenues have dropped to almost zero since the COVID-19 outbreak forced it close last month.

Ocean Wise Conservation Association, which operates the aquarium, says 331 staff members or 60 per cent of the aquarium’s workforce, have already been laid off and the remainder are on reduced work weeks.

The Marine Mammal Rescue Centre, which rescues and rehabilitates injured or abandoned animals has been closed and many other projects have also been cancelled.

The statement says a closure of this length is “catastrophic” for the not-for-profit facility and it expects to face bankruptcy by early summer if emergency assistance is not provided.

Lasse Gustavsson, CEO of Ocean Wise, says the “worst case scenario is … permanent closure,” but even reopening by summer will set the facility back years in its ocean conservation, research and other goals.

Randy Pratt, chairman of the Ocean Wise board, called the situation “dire.”

“We can’t let this organization disappear,” he said in the statement.

“It brings so much to the community. From educational programs for youth, a much-loved volunteer program, not to mention a place for people to learn about the ocean and why it needs protecting.”

The Vancouver Aquarium has been operating in Stanley Park since 1956 and it has a 35-year lease at the site. The Marine Mammal Rescue Centre has been an important part of ocean research.

Back in 2008, a group of residents found a young harbour porpoise that was beached on Victoria’s Gonzales Bay.

Estimated to be just a few weeks old, the staff at the rescue centre were contacted.  They arrived and took the young porpoise, now called, Daisy, to the rescue centre.

Dr. Anna Hall, a zoologist with Sea ViewMarine Sciences, with more than 20 years experience on marine resources, studies in the cold waters of the eastern North Pacific. She said Daisy has helped with research.

“We learned so much about harbour porpoises, which are a very, very difficult species to study, because of Daisy’s time at the aquarium,” Hall said.

Daisy survived and thrived. She lived at the aquarium until her death in 2017.

“This is not a facility that the public can visit. This is a facility that is essentially a hospital.  And I have had the honour of visiting the Marine Mammal Rescue. And it is truly an amazing facility. The veterinarians and the staff that work there are absolutely the best in the world,” Hall said.

All injured or stranded marine animals found on Vancouver Island, or the rest of B.C.’s west coast, are taken to the aquarium’s rescue centre.

READ MORE: Rescued northern fur seal returns to the water off west Vancouver Island

“Marine mammal rescue at the Vancouver Aquarium is one of those shining stars. It is a real positive story with regard to human interaction with marine mammals,” Hall said.

The aquarium’s Dr. Martin Haulena waspart of an international effort to save a young female southern resident killer whale, known as J-50 in the summer and fall of 2018. She disappeared and is presumed dead. But the rescue centre is also part of the work to keep the endangered orcas alive.

“Without them, any injured marine mammals that would be found in British Columbia would simply not be able to be assisted with the level of care and expertise which is world-class in its marine mammal rescue,” Hall said.

With files from The Canadian Press

Mary GriffinMary Griffin

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