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Vancouver Aquarium touts 'groundbreaking' research

Jeremy Nuttall

By Jeremy Nuttall, 24 hours Vancouver

The Vancouver Aquarium calls its beluga whale research 'groundbreaking.'

The Vancouver Aquarium calls its beluga whale research 'groundbreaking.'

Amid controversy for keeping beluga whales in captivity, the Vancouver Aquarium Wednesday released the results of a study on how whales communicate with each other as habitat is affected by global warming.

The research was conducted by Dr. Valeria Vergara as part of a PhD dissertation examining the sonic undersea world of belugas.

Vergara, a behavioural ecologist at the aquarium, said little is known about why the famed whales make underwater noises, but said noise can disrupt the animals’ navigation.

“The Canadian Arctic is warming at twice the rate as the rest of the planet and this has opened up areas for navigation, it has created an increase of boat traffic,” she said. “This increased exposure to sounds means more stress, especially acoustic stress, for these incredible sound-centred animals.”

Vergara said study of the belugas living at the aquarium helped her decipher how the animals communicate.

The aquarium has been under scrutiny recently by those who don’t think whales should be held in captivity.

Vancouver city Coun. Adriane Carr tabled a failed motion that would have held a plebiscite regarding if whales should be held in captivity within Vancouver’s city limits.

Wednesday Carr said despite the research she is still opposed to whales being in captivity.

“I love the research, I think the research needs to go on,” Carr said. “But I absolutely don’t believe that keeping the whales in captivity and putting them on performance should be the method of raising funds to do that research.”

She said she’s confident such research could be supported in other ways.

But in front of media at the Vancouver Aquarium Wednesday, with belugas floating just a few metres away, Vergara defended the aquarium’s beluga tanks.

“This research is only happening because we started the belugas here,” Vergara said. “(Otherwise) we would go out there and have no idea what to ask.”

Vergara’s research will continue in the Arctic next month.


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