This article first appeared on Vice Canada.
A Vancouver aquarium that had its last two beluga whales die off in November will no longer be able to import or keep whales in captivity. The city's park board unanimously voted to ban the display of all cetaceans on Thursday night.
The park board chair Michael Wiebe called the vote "historic."
Though the better choice for celebration music would arguably have been Michael Jackson's "Will You Be There (Free Willy)," the crowd opted for the more on-the-nose Raffi hit "Baby Beluga."
The bylaw amendment comes into force "no sooner than" May 15. This blocks the aquarium's plans to bring five belugas currently on loan in the US back to Vancouver. Those whales were slated to live in new Arctic pools set to open in 2019.
Malcom Bromley, the park board's general manager, told CBC they'll consider removing the three cetaceans still living on site. That includes a false killer whale (yes, a real thing) named Chester, a Pacific white-sided dolphin named Helen, and Daisy, a harbour porpoise.
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Vancouver Aquarium's CEO released a statement defending the aquarium's research and conservation efforts. "I know our team will continue to fight for nature long after this conversation has ended, and I'm immensely proud to be a part of a team that reminds me daily of why people around the world look to Vancouver Aquarium as a beacon for world conservation," John Nightingale wrote.
Five aquarium-owned cetaceans died in the last two years, according to a park board statement. Earlier this year, the aquarium had pledged to phase out its research program and discontinue beluga display in 12 years.
Supporters of the aquarium lamented the loss of marine mammal research opportunity Friday. The parks board, meanwhile, committed to working with the fish prison. "We applaud the valuable work by the Aquarium in public education and conservation and look forward to continuing our strong partnership into the future," Wiebe said.
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