The Vancouver Park Board acted reasonably and within its authority when it banned the breeding of captive cetaceans at the city aquarium, it says in court documents.
In its response to a lawsuit filed by the aquarium in B.C. Supreme Court, the board says it made a reasonable decision with a valid municipal purpose. It calls the aquarium's suit premature, because the resolution and clauses that were passed have not been finalized.
"The terms of reference for the oversight committee have not yet been presented to the board, let alone approved. Similarly, with respect to [the breeding ban], a draft amendment has not yet been presented to the board, let alone enacted pursuant to the procedure by-law," says the court document, written by lawyer and constitutional expert Joe Arvay and filed last week.
The court document says the aquarium's assertion that public debate over captive cetaceans was spurred by comments from the mayor is incorrect.
It also says that while the aquarium often notes it became the first facility of its kind to agree not to accept cetaceans that had been captured from the wild, the facility only reached that 1996 decision "in response to pressure from the board."
The aquarium filed the lawsuit in late August, saying the elected park board's decision to ban cetacean breeding and establish an aquarium oversight committee should be overturned.
The latest round in Vancouver's decades-long aquarium debate began in April, when park board commissioners Constance Barnes and Sarah Blyth said keeping the cetaceans – beluga whales, dolphins and porpoises – in captivity was unacceptable. The commissioners said they were moved by the documentary Blackfish, which examined the captivity of killer whales at SeaWorld facilities in the United States.
Mayor Gregor Robertson, days after the commissioners made their announcement, said he, too, believed the aquarium should not keep cetaceans.
However, the mayor added that the decision ultimately fell under the park board's jurisdiction.
The board, which was established in 1890 and is the only elected body of its kind in Canada, has authority over the aquarium due to the facility's Stanley Park location.
The board voted for the breeding ban on July 31, opting not to phase out the captivity of cetaceans altogether.
But John Nightingale, the aquarium's president, took no solace in being able to keep the current cetaceans, calling the breeding ban "unnatural."
Mr. Nightingale also accused the board of putting the aquarium "in peril" by establishing an oversight committee that would shift control from scientific experts to politicians.
The board has, however, said the committee would be made up of qualified experts.
An independent report that was commissioned for the park board ahead of the vote found that the aquarium owns nine beluga whales in all, with five currently housed at SeaWorld and two at the Georgia Aquarium.
Mr. Nightingale, in a CBC radio interview last month, said his aquarium will house five or six belugas once its $100-million expansion is complete.
The aquarium, in its August court filing, said it has several purposes, including scientific research, public education and the development of conservation programs.
It said it operates the only marine mammal hospital of its kind in Canada, which rescues and rehabilitates marine mammals that have been found injured, ill or abandoned.
It accused the park board of violating a licence agreement, which gives the aquarium autonomy over both its operations and finances.