The Vancouver Park Board will decide Monday whether to recommend a public plebiscite on whether the city's aquarium should keep whales and cetaceans in captivity, with its author suggesting it will likely pass.
But other parks commissioners say it's too soon to say how things will play out when they gather to consider the proposal, a motion which calls for including a question on the issue on the ballot for the 2018 municipal election.
The motion from Sarah Kirby-Yung also proposes the 60-year-old Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre, located in Stanley Park, should not bring in any more cetaceans until after the results of the plebiscite are received.
Ms. Kirby-Yung said that if the motion passes, the board would ask the city to include the question on the election ballot. A spokesperson for Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson said Sunday that there would be no comment before the board decides how to proceed.
This week's discussion comes after the last two beluga whales at the aquarium died in November due to causes that remain under investigation by the facility. Necropsies on the 30-year-old mother, Aurora, and her 21-year-old calf, Qila, have failed to reveal any specific cause of death.
The facility has kept whales since the 1960s, when it acquired its first orca, and several have died in that time, but never two so close together.
The aquarium, which attracts more than 1.1 million visitors per year, has operated in Stanley Park since 1956, under a lease agreement with the Park Board. In the 1990s, the Park Board enacted a municipal bylaw that prevents the aquarium from catching cetaceans from the wild for display and set limits on obtaining cetaceans from other institutions.
Ms. Kirby-Yung said that the situation with the two belugas has prompted new questions about the aquarium keeping cetaceans, prompting her to table this new motion.
Her fellow NPA commissioner, John Coupar, said Ms. Kirby-Yung's motion is the "ultimate form of public consultation" on the issue and he always supports such consultation. He said he is leaning towards supporting the vote.
Commissioner Catherine Evans, a member of the Vision Vancouver party, said in an e-mailed statement that the aquarium should stop keeping whales and dolphins, but that she would like more information before deciding whether a referendum is the best approach.
Board chairman Michael Wiebe of the Green Party said things are less clear cut.
He said the board has been inundated with e-mails from the public supporting the motion. While Mr. Wiebe said his party supports cetaceans not being at the aquarium, he won't predict an outcome ahead of the vote.
"To say it's a slam dunk doesn't make sense because if you look at what we have done in the past, we always make changes [to motions]. There could be amendments or other things."
The seven-member Park Board consists of three members of the NPA, two members of the Green Party, a member of Vision Vancouver and one independent member.