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Qila, a Beluga at the Vancouver Aquarium is prepared for an ultrasound on April 14, 2014. The Ultrasounds are used in both animal care and research.John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail

Mayor Gregor Robertson has accused his Non-Partisan Association rival of playing politics with the fate of the venerable Vancouver Aquarium and praised the park board for finding a "balanced approach" on keeping whales and dolphins.

On Monday, Mr. Robertson told reporters the issue was controversial, but worthy of debate.

Of the criticism from Kirk LaPointe, he told reporters, "It's just cheap politicking."

Mr. Robertson, during an unrelated news conference, noted the parks board launched a review of the issue as part of a long-planned process that was bumped up due to public debate over the issue.

The parks board recently voted to ban the breeding of beluga whales and dolphins at the city aquarium unless a species is threatened. Although animal-rights advocates had called for the end of the aquarium holding belugas, harbour porpoises and Pacific white-sided dolphins in captivity, the board did not take that step.

Mr. Robertson called it a "balanced approach" in dealing with a controversial issue, and ensuring there is accountability on the file.

"I'm a huge supporter of the aquarium. I think a lot of this controversy around cetaceans has, unfortunately distracted all of us from support for our aquarium and the good work they do, but it's a controversial issue. People feel differently about that and we have to work through that.

"There's no easy fix here and nothing that happens overnight. It's more a process for the longer term to do what's best for everyone involved."

At the end of July, Mr. LaPointe said the mayor's musings that the aquarium should not keep whales and dolphins had fuelled expensive and pointless hearings that are damaging to a key B.C. institution.

"The mayor mused about this and triggered what amounted to a really costly process," Mr. LaPointe said. "The process he has created has disrupted what is one of the most central cultural and scientific organizations that we have, not only in this city, but in the country."

The 56-year-old journalist and publisher, who was formerly managing editor of The Vancouver Sun, said that, as mayor, he would leave the aquarium alone, noting the institution does not capture whales for exhibition. "That, to me, is an important principle," he said.

Four former Vancouver mayors have come out in support of the aquarium. Mike Harcourt wrote a letter and ex-mayors Philip Owen, Larry Campbell and Sam Sullivan signed their own letter.