Response to the Vancouver Aquarium


In a recent article in the Vancouver Sun, Vancouver Aquarium veterinarian Martin Haulena and former SeaWorld trainer Mark Simmons claim that a concrete tank at an aquarium is a safer and better environment for whales than a seaside sanctuary. This is ironic in that the Vancouver Aquarium has just suffered the loss of two young beluga whales, a loss that Dr. Haulena and his colleagues have yet to be able to explain.

Dr. Haulena’s comments are all made in reference to sanctuaries as “sea pens.” But, as he knows very well, the Whale Sanctuary Project is not planning to build sea pens, which are small enclosures entirely unsuited to the long-term care of whales and dolphins. A seaside sanctuary, by comparison, is a large, deep habitat, created by netting off an entire cove or bay, using well-established engineering methods. It does not, in any way, resemble a sea pen.

Regarding the other claims made by the aquarium:

Dr. Haulena: “You have no environmental control. You cannot control for harmful algal blooms.”

Variation in environmental factors, including changes in water temperature, oil spills and algal blooms, are factors that are being fully taken into account by our expert team of veterinarians, marine mammal scientists, ocean scientists and animal welfare professionals as we consider the many possible sites for a seaside sanctuary.

Dr. Haulena: “Nets are a threat themselves to wild species and ecosystems.”

Not so. The kind of engineering with netting we plan is used by the U.S. Navy and by many marine parks and aquariums without problems.

Dr. Haulena: Human contact and socialization is limited … At the same time, caring for a sick or injured animal is almost impossible.

Our animal care staff will nurture close relationships with each resident and will interact with them on a regular basis. We will be conducting the same veterinary care procedures (e.g., taking blood, checking dentition, assaying hormones, etc.) that are done at the Vancouver Aquarium and other facilities that house cetaceans. We will employ training to ensure that there is communication between each resident and the care staff, and we will have round-the-clock observational data on each resident every day of the year to ensure their health and safety.

Nor will socialization with other whales be limited. Quite the opposite. Residents will have the opportunity to see and hear other residents, and, where possible, swim together. They will also be interacting with fish and other sea life occupying their ocean space.

Mr. Simmons: Life in a netted cove would be one of “isolation and deprivation.”

Mark Simmons claims that netted-off coves and bays for dolphins and whales would deprive the residents of stimulation. The opposite is, of course, the case. The cetaceans at Vancouver Aquarium and other marine parks currently live in shallow, barren concrete tanks with little social stimulation and no contact with the natural environment they evolved to thrive in. In an authentic seaside sanctuary, the residents will have orders of magnitude more space to swim and, importantly, dive to depths not possible in concrete tanks but vital to their well-being. They will experience the natural rhythms of a dynamic and rich ocean environment.

Dr. Haulena: “It would become SeaWorld by another name.”

Again, the opposite is the case. In an aquarium or marine park, the wellbeing of the animals is never the priority since these facilities have to concern themselves with “visitor experiences” and “ticket sales.” In a sanctuary, the wellbeing of the animal residents is the top priority and the entire enterprise is focused on that goal.

The very purpose of a sanctuary is to restore as much as possible of what has been taken from these animals in entertainment facilities.

Note: The post has been updated to reflect a correction: The statement “It would become SeaWorld by another name” was  made by Mark Simmons, not Martin Haulena.

13 Comments On “Response to the Vancouver Aquarium”

  1. Good lord. Everything coming out of any representative of SeaWorld leaves my jaw open in awe. They’re almost like some kind of weird cult. You know, the world would have infinitely more respect for them as an organisation if they just held their hands up and wholeheartedly got behind The Whale Sanctuary Project. People just don’t want to see some[one] in a wetsuit surfing on the back of a whale any more. Jesus, WAKE UP SeaWorld!

  2. Hi Lori:

    You said, “We did not have an opportunity to refute these claims in the Vancouver Sun…” The e-mail address for VS Letters to the Editor is That said, both the VS and The Province are very Vancouver Aquarium-friendly. My point simply being that IF they’re going to publish anything about this at all, it’s much more likely that they’d publish something FROM YOU, rather than any of us local “radicals”.

    What’s up with Mark $immon$? Virtually every time I read, “former $eaWorld [or any other marine mammal abusement park] trainer”, it’s followed by “-turned anti-captivity [or animal rights] activist. $eaWorld must be paying him way more $$$ as one of their puppets/mouthpieces than he ever got as a trainer. That said, who knows…maybe one day he’ll get a conscience and become a whistleblower too.


  3. You have my full support. Ive been waiting for someone to try this again since Keiko’s passing. #EmptyTheTanks #DontBuyATicket #CaptivityKills #Blackfish #WhaleSanctuaryProject

  4. No surprise that an ex sea world trainer is against a sea sanctuary especially if he still has links with seaworld! Maybe the ex trainers from blackfish need to chat to him to see why his opion is so vastly different to theirs!

    • I do believe Mark Simmons is a dolphin broker, so that explains that. Don’t hold your breath on Mr. Simmons ever being a whistleblower his livelihood depends on whales in jails.

  5. A netted cove would bring isolation and deprivation…… Is this man for real, or does he think a small concrete, barren tank is so much better. A sanctuary in the ocean is the best thing for these animals, I am sure they would agree if we could ask them.

    • Susan MCGRAW Keber

      From the beginning you have had our full support. There’s only one reason there was a problem and that is Vancouver aquarium needs to make a profit just like sea world and they’re not interested in the care of the dolphins and belugas an orca’s but rather how much money they can make for their investors and themselves. Everything always comes down to money profit over people in this case it’s profit over innocent animals. Forge on don’t give up you’re doing the right thing for the right reason.

  6. An excellent response, Lori. It’s frustrating that the general public is not able to discern the self-serving intent of detractors such as Dr. Haulena and Mark Simmons.

    If I might offer a small correction.

    The statement: “It would become SeaWorld by another name.” was made by Mark Simmons, rather than Dr. Haulena.

    • Is Mark Simmons still a dolphin broker? His livelihood therefore depends on captive cetaceans.

  7. I agree the Vancouver media are onside with aquarium, city politics, and as a result people not getting right information. If this has not been done, an Op-Ed to Vancouver Sun and if not accepted, The Globe and Mail, is a suggestion. The majority of general public do support concept of sanctuary versus aquarium, as do more thoughtful progressive journalists. But when questions raised, and not answered in mainstream media, no doubt some people pause.

  8. It is clear that no misrepresentation is off-limits to the pro-cetacean captivity forces. I would hope Canada will go captive cetacean free with the measure in parliament being adopted at some point. What causes problems is when one marine park can do something in a country while another one can’t. The solution is a national law in Canada where there are no new captive cetaceans either through wild capture, breeding or importation, and then the discussion about sending cetaceans to a sanctuary soon to be built can begin.

  9. Thanks, Whale Sanctuary Project, for your excellent response to the nonsense of the Vancouver Aquarium. They are parroting the words of SeaWorld and the captivity industry, desperately trying to protect their captivity program that has killed so many cetaceans. — Mark J. Palmer, Associate Director, International Marine Mammal Project, Earth Island Institute

    • Christina Belize

      The Vancouver Sun and The province are in business with the Vancouver Aqaurium, as they make money by doing the advertising for The Vancouver Aqaurium…Again, we are back to business making profits, instead of reporting both sides of the research written and submitted by experts in the field of Cetaceans. Our papers can do better ,and by not publishing ,and ignoring the facts of other experts, are doing the pubic a great disservice. In the end, the Sun and the Province will have pie on their face, that resembles the pie of all those who blindly ignore anything from other expert studies and accumulated knowledge from world reknown and respected scientists and experts on Cetaceans.

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