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Vancouver Aquarium
Vancouver Aquarium Logo.svg
Date opened June 15, 1956 [1]
Location Vancouver, British Columbia, CAN
Land area 2.1 acres (9,000 ) [1]
Coordinates 49°18′02″N 123°07′52″W / 49.300586°N 123.131053°W / 49.300586; -123.131053
Number of animals 70,000[2]
Number of species 6,000[2]
Memberships AZA, CAZA, AMMPA

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.[3] 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[4]) 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 world-wide, 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 $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. [5]


Aquarium history

Orca statue, Chief of the Undersea World, in front of the aquarium, designed by Bill Reid.

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[6] 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 and various animal rights groups, the Vancouver Aquarium decided to never again capture cetaceans from the wild for display purposes, and only obtain cetaceans from other facilities if they too were captured before 1996 or were injured, 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.

Spinnaker does a high-jump during dolphin show.

After considerable public discussion and some opposition from animal rights groups, 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.[7]

Aquarium facility

The aquarium covers approximately 9000 m² (100,000 ft²) and has a total 9.5 million litres (2.5 million gallons) 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 is compriseed 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 openned here[8] 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.

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.[9]

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

Sea otters at the Vancouver Aquarium

The Vancouver Aquarium is currently home to 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 .[10] He is identifiable through the fact that he has the most white on the dorsal fin.
  • Hana is a 14 year old female dolphin at the Aquarium. She suffered a miscarriage 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.[2] 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.[2] 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 four.

Laverne was a 31 year old female dolphin at the Aquarium on loan from SeaWorld in San Antonio, Texas in exchange for Allua, a female beluga whale. Her large size in comparison with the other dolphins, especially her dorsal fin, helped identify her. She died Wednesday, May 20, 2009 at the Aquarium from a volvulus, or twisting of the bowels.[11]

Aurora and her calf Nala, at approximately four weeks old.

The Aquarium also houses six 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.
  • Imaq is the only male beluga and is around 21 years of age. He is distinguishable by the fact that he is the largest beluga at the Aquarium.
  • Aurora is a female beluga and is around 21 years of age.
  • Nala (short for Nalautsaagaq in the Inuit language of Inuktitut, meaning "surprise gift") [12] is Aurora's female calf. She was born June 7, 2009.
  • Qila is a female beluga and is around 13 years old. She was 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.
  • Tiqa is a female beluga calf, the daughter of Qila and Imaq. She was born on June 10, 2008.[13]

Note that at this time, Imaq and Kavna are being kept in a research pool which is unaccessible to the public. In the wild, it would be natural for Imaq to be away from his daughters. The move also allows the calves to bond more strongly with their mothers.

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.

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.[14]
  • 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.[15]

Nyac, survivor of the Exxon Valdez oil spill, died on September 23, 2008, due to leukemia.[16]

The Aquarium also houses eight female Steller sea lions.

  • Eden
  • Tasu
  • Yasha
  • Willo
  • Ashby
  • Mara
  • Rogue
  • Izzy

Note that none of these sea lions actually belong to the Vancouver Aquarium, but instead belong to the University of British Columbia as they are part of a research program aimed at studying causes into 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, the 15 year old male sea lion died due to oral cancer, for which he has had laser surgery and chemotherapy for.[17] Tag was a 15 year old male sea lion who arrived at the Aquarium as a 2 week old pup.[18]

While the Aquarium does rescue and release many seals, those that are deemed to be unreleasable may end up at the Aquarium. The Aquarium houses 3 such harbour seals, all males:

  • Apollo
  • DaVinci
  • Hermes

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. [19]

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.[20] 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.[21]

TD Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup

The TD Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup is a program that was initiated by the Vancouver Aquarium by a handful of staff members 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.[22] 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.[23] 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.[24]

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.[25] The vast majority of these are harbour seals, but patients can include sea otters, elephant seals, Steller sea lions, harbour porpoises, and common dolphins.[26] The program notably helped rescue Springer, an orphaned killer whale successfully released and reunited with her family pod.[27] 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.[28]

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.[29] The two sea otters are Nyac and Milo. Nyac died on September 23, 2008.[16] She was one of the last surviving sea otters of the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill.[30] The video has been viewed over 12 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 in 2002 by Cynthia Holmes.[31]

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.


  1. ^ a b Vancouver Aquarium - Online
  2. ^ a b c d [1]
  3. ^ "History of the Aquarium". Vancouver Aquarium. Retrieved 2008-06-03. "...was the first facility to incorporate professional naturalists/interpretive specialists into galleries to explain animal behaviors."  
  4. ^ Philip Henry Gosse (British naturalist)
  5. ^ Vancouver, B.C. Aquarium Nets National Recognition as Outstanding Ocean Learning Center
  6. ^ Narwhal (Monodon monoceros)
  7. ^ Thomas, Sandra (29 November 2006). "Show us a bit more money De Genova tells aquarium". Vancouver Courier. Retrieved 2006-12-28.  
  8. ^
  9. ^
  10. ^ Summary of cetaceans imported into the Vancouver Aquarium since 1996
  11. ^ [2]
  12. ^ Vancouver Aquarium announces Nala is new name for baby beluga, Vancouver Province, 2 December 2009
  13. ^ Vancouver Sun - Baby beluga's name is Tiqa
  14. ^ Ocean Currents - The Marine Mammals of the Vancouver Aquarium
  15. ^ Ocean Currents - The Marine Mammals of the Vancouver Aquarium
  16. ^ a b Vancouver Aquarium Press Release - Vancouver Aquarium’s Oldest Sea Otter, Nyac, Passes
  19. ^
  20. ^ About Ocean Wise
  21. ^ Perfect prawns are Ocean Wise
  22. ^ TD Canada Trust Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup - Who We Are
  23. ^ TD Canada Trust Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup - What We Do
  24. ^ TD Canada Trust Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup - Item Collection Highlights from 2007
  25. ^ Vancouver Aquarium Marine Mammal Rescue - History
  26. ^ Vancouver Aquarium Marine Mammal Rescue - Species & Range
  27. ^ KOMO News - Dramatic New Rescue Plans for Whale
  28. ^ About Wild Whales
  29. ^ Vancouver Aquarium - The YouTube Sea Otters
  30. ^ YouTube starring Vancouver Aquarium sea otter dies
  31. ^ YouTube - Otters holding hands


  • Newman, Murray A; Nightingale, John (2005). People, Fish and Whales: The Vancouver Aquarium Story. Madeira Park, BC: Harbour Publishing. ISBN 1550173820.   This is a history of the aquarium as told by the founding and current presidents of the aquarium.
  • Waters is a magazine published by Canada Wide Media Limited for the official members of the Vancouver Aquarium. It is published three times a year.

External links

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