In early November 2016, Riverside Science teacher Ms. Bree Mireau took her grade 11 class to the Vancouver Aquarium to get some hands-on experience with the marine life that they have been studying in class.
Each year Mrs. Mireau takes her class to the Vancouver Aquarium to take a closer look at all of the marine life. “It’s a really cool opportunity for students to get some hands-on experience with the organisms we are studying in class,” said Mireau. It also just so happens that the day the class went to the aquarium was also the day that the mother of the calf that had died two weeks prior, due to a mysterious toxin, also died, seemingly to the same unknown cause. Both had similar symptoms leading up to their deaths.
Animals often die under mysterious conditions in zoos/aquariums causing many to question the ethical aspect of keeping animals in captivity. Another example of this is the seven penguins that drowned December 8 at the Calgary zoo, something that rarely ever happens to penguins in their natural environment. One side of the debate is that keeping animals in captivity is cruel. Another anti-captivity point regarding whales is the limited space. Even though belugas aren’t the fastest swimmers, they can travel dozens of miles in a single day and can dive up to 2,860 feet in the wild. In tanks, they’re confined to small areas that are only a few times their size. Generally, a lot of people compare it to a human living in a bathtub.
The other side of the debate that some people would argue is that keeping animals in captivity is necessary or worth it because of all the many scientific advancements made because of them. One grade 12 student, Kristin Linkletter, decided to not go on the field trip due to her views on the subject of animal captivity. “I feel like I could learn a lot of what they [classmates] were learning without having to help benefit something I don’t believe in,” said Linkletter. “It’s the same thing with dissections. When I opted out of doing them, I watched a video where it had already been done. I don’t have to be part of repeating the procedure.”
Principal Anthony Ciolfitto understands both sides of the debate, but as someone who used to work at the Vancouver Aquarium, he understands the benefits of keeping animals in captivity. “The intent of captivity was to captivate humans on these animals that were once seen as scary creatures to be killed and/or harvested,” said Ciolfitto. “Now they are typically respected and protected as a result of humans getting up close and personal.”
It is unclear whether the deaths of the two belugas at the Vancouver Aquarium will create any change for marine life around the globe or locally. But for now, scientists are just trying to figure out what caused these two tragic deaths.