The Whale Referendum

The City of Vancouver holds city-wide referendum votes every 3 years when a new mayor, 10 city councillors, 9 school board trustees and 7 park board commissioners are elected during the civic elections. A referendum is a way to judge public opinion on issues that matter to the residents of Vancouver, without having to pay for expensive polling. The referendum questions are simply printed in the back of all election ballots and the results of the referendum votes are non-binding. Referendums are just another tool for good governance, and newly elected politicians can choose to ignore or act on what the majority of Vancouverites have expressed through their votes.

The Vancouver Aquarium was built in the mid fifties with grants from 3 levels of government. The federal government through the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) handed $100,000, the province of BC and the city of Vancouver did the same making the grant a cool $300,000 and free land in Stanley Park to build live-animal displays. In the 1960’s the aquarium found itself in hot water when they went looking for more government grants to pay for the orca whale pools they wanted to build. The federal and provincial government approved each giving the aquarium $250,000 to build the whale tanks, but only if the city of Vancouver went along and forked out $250,000 as well. The issue of putting whales in captivity was so controversial in the 60s that the mayor decided to send the issue to a referendum vote. During the elections, a majority of Vancouver voters actually said NO to paying for new whale pools in Stanley Park, but the city clerk of the day, a staunch supporter of the aquarium, counted the spoiled ballots in favour of the aquarium, and that’s how Canadians ended paying the bill.

During the civic elections of 1990, the Vancouver Park Board Commissioners of the day, allowed Vancouverites to have a say on another highly controversial animal-issue in the city, the Stanley Park Zoo. Through a referendum vote, a majority of voters chose to close the zoo and phase out the animal exhibits. Thanks to this referendum vote, today there are no more polar bears, monkeys, or kangaroos kept in cages in Stanley Park. During the campaign to close the zoo, it became apparent to animal welfare groups in the city, that Vancouverites thought that they were voting to close the whale pools, too. In 1992, over a dozen animal protection groups in Vancouver got together to form The Coalition For No Whales In Captivity, to focus solely on the issue of keeping whales and dolphins in captivity. The mandate of the group was clear and did not include other marine mammals, fish, crustaceans or any other captive animals kept on display at the aquarium.

In 1993, these groups approached the park board and asked for a Whale Referendum. The park board, under great pressure from the Vancouver Aquarium and big business in the city, denied Vancouverites their democratic right to have a say on the issue of keeping whales in captivity in 1993, as well as in 1996, 1999, 2002 and 2005. The aquarium insists that a majority of Vancouverites would vote to keep trading and breeding whales and dolphins in Stanley Park. However, the aquarium will not take the chance and support the city hold a Whale Referendum.

Zoocheck Canada commissioned a whale poll in 2003 where a majority of Vancouverites voted in favour of stopping the importation of more whales and dolphins into Stanley Park. We have no doubt that if the Vancouver Park Commissioners ever agreed to hold a Whale Referendum, a majority of Vancouverites would also vote against keeping whales and dolphins in captivity in Stanley Park.

In a surprise move, on May 29, 2006, the Vancouver Park Board rescinded all motions passed by previous park boards regulating the Vancouver Aquarium to stay within its footprint and promising Vancouverites a plebiscite or referendum vote if the aquarium requested more land. The Whale Referendum, which would have taken place during the civic elections in 2008, and which would have given Vancouverites the opportunity to have a say on whether we want the Aquarium to continue importing whales and dolphins, is now deleted from the government's books. For more info, click on May 29, 2006 under the section on Park Board.


Will you help the whales today?



© Coalition For No Whales In Captivity 2006