Vancouver Aquarium

The Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre is a public aquarium located in Stanley Park in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. In addition to being a major tourist attraction for Vancouver, the aquarium is a centre for marine research, conservation and marine animal rehabilitation.

The Vancouver Aquarium was one of the first facilities to incorporate professional naturalists into the galleries to interpret animal behaviours. Prior to this, at the London Zoo Fish House, naturalists James S. Bowerbank, Dr. E Lankester, Mr D. Mitchell and Philip Henry Gosse (the creator of the word aquarium) had regularly held "open house" events, but the Vancouver Aquarium was the first to employ educational naturalists on a full-time basis.

Aquarium research projects extend worldwide, and include marine mammal rescue and rehabilitation.

The aquarium is run by a self-supporting non-profit organization. The operation of the aquarium receives no government funding. The property is owned by the City of Vancouver and rented to the Aquarium for $40,000 a year since 1991 (prior to which it was $1 per year).

In October 2009 the Vancouver Aquarium was designated as a Coastal America Learning Center by the US Environmental Protection Agency. As the first Learning Center in Canada, this designation is intended to strengthen the Canadian/U.S. partnership for protecting and restoring shared ocean resources.

Aquarium history

The Vancouver Public Aquarium Association was formed in 1950 by UBC fisheries and oceanography professors Murray Newman, Carl Lietze and Wilbert Clemens. It opened on June 15, 1956 after receiving the help of timber baron H.R. MacMillan, alderman and businessman George Cunningham and $100,000 from each of the three levels of government. (City of Vancouver, Province of British Columbia, Federal Government of Canada.)

Officially Canada's first public Aquarium, the Vancouver Aquarium has become the largest in Canada and one of the five largest in North America. The Vancouver Aquarium was the first aquarium in the world to capture and display an orca. Other whales and dolphins on display included belugas, narwhals and dolphins.

In 1975, the Vancouver Aquarium was the first aquarium accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). The Aquarium is also accredited by the Canadian Association of Zoos and Aquariums (CAZA) and in 1987 was designated Canada's Pacific National Aquarium by the Canadian Federal Government.

On July 23, 1995, a beluga whale named Qila was born. She was the first beluga to be both conceived and born in a Canadian aquarium. A second calf, Tuvaq, was born on July 30, 2002, but died unexpectedly with no previous sign of illness on July 17, 2005.

In 1996, as part of an agreement with the Vancouver Parks Board, the Vancouver Aquarium decided to never again capture cetaceans from the wild for display purposes, and only obtain cetaceans from other facilities if they were born in captivity, captured before 1996 or were rescued and deemed un-releasable after this date.

On June 15, 2006 Canada Post issued a 51 cent domestic rate stamp to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Aquarium.

For many years, the primary attraction for visitors was the orca show. Indeed, the Aquarium was responsible for the first orca ever held alive in captivity, Moby Doll, for 3 months in 1964. Since then, it was home to Skana, Hyak II, Finna, Bjossa, and three of Bjossa's calves. When Finna died and Bjossa was left without other orca companions, the Aquarium attempted to acquire one or more female orcas from other marine parks. However, no suitable companions were found, and Bjossa was moved to SeaWorld, San Diego, in April 2001 where she later died due to a chronic repiratory illness. The Aquarium has since moved to emphasize the educational aspects of the displays rather than the public spectacle of the shows. They have also tried to highlight the research and rehabilitation efforts of the staff.

The aquarium has played a significant role in the ground-breaking wild killer whale research in BC. John Ford, a respected researcher who focuses on orca vocalizations, worked there for many years and they still fund a lot of the study. The Wild Killer Whale Adoption Program, which funds research, is also run out of the aquarium.

After considerable public discussion and some opposition from an animal rights group, the Vancouver Park Board voted in favour of a proposal to expand the Aquarium at a cost of $80 million, funded by the Aquarium, private donors, and infrastructure grants. A public consultation process showed 89% of local residents were in favour of the expansion. The proposal will increase the size of the Aquarium by 1.5 acres (6,100 m2) and extend its lease by 20 years. Construction was expected to begin in the fall of 2007.

Aquarium facility

The aquarium covers approximately 9,000 square metres (97,000 sq ft) and has a total 9,500,000 litres (2,090,000 imp gal; 2,510,000 US gal) of water in 166 aquatic displays. There are a number of different galleries, several of which were built at different times throughout the aquarium's history.

Pacific Canada Pavilion

This central indoor exhibit consists of a 260,000 litre tank directly adjacent to the entrance. Fishes and invertebrates from the Strait of Georgia are displayed in the exhibit.

Arctic Canada

Originally this gallery included the Beluga whales along with several non-living displays. In October 2009, a new exhibit opened here displaying several other arctic species, including fishes and invertebrates, along with expanded non-living exhibits.

The Wild Coast

This is an outdoor gallery that includes several pools. Three Pacific White-sided Dolphins, three sea otters, and a harbour porpoise are permanently on display here, along with several "touchpools" where visitors are able to touch British Columbian invertebrates. Several other species (harbour seals, Steller's Sea Lions, and northern fur seals) are rotated in to display in this area. When not on display they live in habitats behind the scenes that are not accessible to visitors.

Treasures of the BC Coast

This gallery is a series of separate exhibits that simulate the various aquatic environments on the BC coast. Octopi, Rockfish, sea stars, sea urchins, and anemones are among the animals here.

Tropic Zone

This gallery contains a large display of tropical fish and other animals, including blacktip reef sharks and a green sea turtle named Schoona.

Amazon Rainforest

A number of fresh water fish, snakes, caimans, sloths, birds, and other creatures from the Amazon inhabit this gallery.

Frogs Forever? Gallery

This gallery is an exhibit focused on the plight of the world's frog population which endeavors to show how people can help protect frogs and other amphibians. It contains 26 species of amphibians from around the world.

Canaccord Exploration Gallery

This gallery is home to jellies, fishes, and other animals. The 4D Theatre and the children's play area known as "Clownfish Cove" are here, along with multiple classrooms for school groups, including the wet lab education room, which contains both conventional teaching methods such as computers, tables, and chairs, along with live animals and various artefacts.

Animals at the Aquarium

The Vancouver Aquarium currently houses around 300 species of fish, almost 30,000 invertebrates, and 56 species of amphibians and reptiles. They also have around 60 mammals and birds.

Currently, the Aquarium houses three Pacific White-Sided Dolphins:

  • Spinnaker is a 21 year old dolphin, and the only male dolphin at the Vancouver Aquarium. He was rescued off the shores of Japan in 1991 after becoming entangled in a fishing net. Deemed unreleasable due to the extent of his injuries, Spinnaker arrived at the Vancouver Aquarium in 2001 . He has a mostly white dorsal fin.
  • Hana is a 14 year old female dolphin at the Aquarium. She miscarried on June 8, 2006 and again on May 22, 2007. She came to the Aquarium with Helen from the Enoshima Aquarium in Japan in 2005 after being rescued from entanglement in a fishing net. She is identified through the fact that her dorsal fin is the most triangular of all the dolphins at the Aquarium.
  • Helen is a 21 year old female dolphin at the Aquarium. She came to the Aquarium with Hana from the Enoshima Aquarium, and was also rescued from entanglement in a fishing net. Helen was part of a multi-year and multi-facility research project focusing on metabolic studies while she was at the Enoshima Aquarium, and is part of a pilot project to understand whale echolocation abilities to prevent whales in the future from becoming entangled in fishing nets. She is distinguishable by the fact that her pectoral flippers are partially amputated due to damage from her entanglement, and that her dorsal fin is the most hook shaped of the three.

The Aquarium also houses five beluga whales:

  • Kavna is the oldest beluga at the Aquarium; she is estimated to be around 40 years of age. She is distinguishable from the other belugas by the fact that she is the whitest, due to her age. She has given birth at Vancouver Aquarium to a male calf named "Tuaq" however he died around 4 weeks later.
  • Aurora is a female beluga and is around 21 years of age. She gave birth first to Qila, Tuvaq (who died in 2005) and recently Nala, who died on June 21st at around 10:15 pm due to coins and foreign matter found in her respiratory tract. "Aurora" is named after the famous northern light Aurora borealis.
  • Qila is a female beluga born at the aquarium to mother Aurora and father Nanuq on July 23, 1995. She is the first beluga to be conceived and born in a Canadian aquarium, and is also the first beluga conceived and born in a Canadian aquarium to give birth to a calf. "Qila" means "beluga" in Inuktitut.
  • Tiqa is a 3 year old female beluga, the daughter of Qila and Imaq. She was born on June 10, 2008. Tiqa has a very interesting personality, she likes to play with birds. Tiqa is the youngest beluga. "Tiqa"s name stands for T- Tuesday (the day she was born), I- Imaq (the father), Q-Qila (the mother), A-Aurora (the grandmother).

On breeding loan to SeaWorld are the following:

  • Nanuq, a male beluga who is around 24 years old. Nanuq is Qila's father and is on breeding loan to SeaWorld since July 1997.
  • Allua, a female beluga is around 24 years of age. She was moved to SeaWorld San Diego on a breeding loan in 2005.
  • Imaq, a male beluga who is around 21 years of age. He is on breeding loan to SeaWorld San Antonio for around 5 years due to the aquarium's renovation. Imaq fathered "Tuvaq", "Tiqa", and "Nala"

The Aquarium also houses three sea otters:

  • Milo is a 9 year old male and is on loan from the Lisbon Oceanarium.
  • Tanu is a 4 year old female who was abandoned as a pup, rescued by the Alaska SeaLife Center and later moved to the Aquarium.
  • Elfin is a 7 year old male who was abandoned as a pup, was rescued by the Alaska SeaLife Center and later moved to the Aquarium.

While the Aquarium rescues and releases many seals, those that are deemed to be unreleasable may end up at the Aquarium. The Aquarium is home to three such harbour seals at this time, all of which are male (Apollo, DaVinci, and Hermes).

The Aquarium also houses 6 Northern Fur Seals (Meechi, Tikva, Tuku, Kyoo, Aya, and Ani), and eight female Steller sea lions (Eden, Tasu, Yasha, Willo, Ashby, Mara, Rogue, and Izzy). The sea lions actually belong to the University of British Columbia, and are part of a research program aimed at studying the causes for the collapse of the Steller sea lion population in Alaska.

At an off-site research facility, an additional 3 Steller sea lions are kept as part of an open-water research program. They are Hazy, Sitka, and Boni.

On July 1, 2008, Tag, a 15 year old male sea lion, died due to oral cancer, despite receiving laser surgery and chemotherapy. Tag was a 15 year old male sea lion who arrived at the Aquarium as a 2 week old pup.

On July 29, 2009, another such animal was transferred from their Marine Mammal Rescue Centre. Daisy, a harbour porpoise, after receiving almost a year of veterinary care and being deemed unreleasable, now inhabits the Aquarium's B.C. Sugar pool as the only harbour porpoise currently in captivity in North America.

Conservation and Research Programs

The Vancouver Aquarium has created and operates a number of conservation and research programs aimed at understanding and preserving animal species in the wild.

Ocean Wise

The Vancouver Aquarium has a program called Ocean Wise, which is aimed at promoting sustainable seafood in restaurants, markets, and other food service facilities. Its main thrust is to avoid species whose fishing typically causes large bycatches, species from areas where the habitat will degrade if overfished, and species which themselves are overfished. Ocean Wise works directly with food service companies to select sustainable seafood and actively promote them to the general public. The options are highlighted on participating restaurant menus and display cases with the Ocean Wise symbol, to help consumers make environmentally friendly seafood choices. Today, well over 300 restaurants in Canada are participants in the Ocean Wise program.

Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup

The Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup is a program that was initiated by the Vancouver Aquarium by a small group of staff members and volunteers in 1994. These employees had heard about the International Coastal Cleanup and decided to participate in it by picking up garbage at a local beach and submitting the information. The Ocean Conservancy's International Coastal Cleanup is an annual international initiative aimed to engage people to remove trash and debris from the world's beaches and waterways, identify the sources of debris, and change the behaviors that cause marine debris in the first place.

Volunteers and sponsors collect and catalogue debris which is then collected for analysis on sources of garbage that enter the ocean. For example, in 2007, 1,240 beach sites with a collective length of 1,772 km were cleaned by 52,263 volunteers bringing in almost 87.5 metric tons of garbage.

Marine Mammal Rescue and Rehabilitation Program

The Vancouver Aquarium operates a Marine Mammal Rescue program which is aimed at rescuing and rehabilitating marine mammals that are found injured, ill, or abandoned, until they can be re-released into their natural habitats. On average, the Rescue Centre admits approximately 100 distressed marine mammals per year. The vast majority of these are harbour seals, but patients can include sea otters, elephant seals, Steller sea lions, harbour porpoises, and common dolphins. The program notably helped rescue Springer, an orphaned killer whale successfully released and reunited with her family pod. Other high-profile rescues include the successful returning of a beached gray whale back to the water in 2005 and the rescue of Schoona, a lost green sea turtle near Prince Rupert, BC.

B.C. Cetacean Sightings Network

The B.C. Cetacean Sightings Network is a collaborative conservation and research program between the Vancouver Aquarium and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada aimed at collecting reports and sightings of whales and sea turtles in the wild. The Sightings Network is a network of over 1,800 observers across British Columbia, including whale watching operators, lighthouse keepers, charter boat operators, tugboat captains, BC Ferries personnel, researchers, government employees, recreational boaters and coastal residents. The program aims to solicit reports through the program's website, a toll-free hotline, email, or through the logbook program.

In popular culture

The Vancouver Aquarium was featured frequently in the 1980s Canadian series, Danger Bay, which followed the day to day exploits of the Roberts family, led by Grant "Doc" Roberts, a marine veterinarian and his two children, Nicole and Jonah.

A YouTube video featuring two sea otters "holding hands" was recorded at the Vancouver Aquarium. The two sea otters are Nyac and Milo. Nyac died on September 23, 2008. She was one of the last surviving sea otters of the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill. The video has been viewed almost 15 million times on YouTube. As a result, the Vancouver Aquarium created a live Sea Otter Cam on their website. The YouTube video was originally recorded by Cynthia Holmes.

The Vancouver Aquarium was also featured in the movie Good Luck Chuck as Cam's workplace.

Hayden Panettiere appeared on the September 5, 2008 Letterman Show and talked about her visit with the rescue dolphins at the Vancouver Aquarium.

The song Baby Beluga by Raffi was inspired by a baby beluga that he saw while visiting the Vancouver Aquarium.

The Vancouver Aquarium was also featured in the movie The Suite Life Movie as the Research Firm where Cody Martin interns.

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