We took my nephews to the Vancouver Aquarium on Saturday. They loved it of course. The displays of brightly coloured fish and undersea life are breathtaking. The Aquarium lived up to its promise of: Engage. Amaze. Inspire. Except for the beluga whale show. We waited and waited for the show to begin, even the adults were restless. One of the staff, a young woman, gave a long preamble, which stretched into a very long monologue. We kept waiting for the show to begin. The belugas wrinkled their foreheads. Flapped a fin. One of them could stand up to its waist in the water. All the while, the woman droned on, distracting from any activity that was actually going on. My eight year old nephew turned to me at one point and asked, “When is she going to shut up?” My thoughts exactly. It was mostly young kids in the audience, there wasn’t enough going on in that pool to engage, amaze or inspire. The “educational programming” was just a boring sermon on climate change and conservation and likely above the heads of most of their audience. The staff would have been better off saying nothing and letting the whales engage us enough for us to want to learn more about them. Instead I suspect, like me, most of the audience tuned out. We were all shocked when the woman announced the show was over, we were still waiting for it to start. The grand finale came when one of the whales spit water onto a family or two. It was unimpressive, that is if you’re old enough to have seen the orca show and the wall of water that would drench half the crowd.
I am on the fence about the whole critters in captivity debate. Every summer holiday, when we were growing up, my parents would take us to the Stanley Park Zoo and the Aquarium. They had to drag us away from the monkey cage, we would be mesmerized by the polar bears, delighted by the otters and the dolphins, and the orcas, now those whales put on a killer show. Those visits probably did help instill in me my love for animals and as the Aquarium website says a “profound caring for flora and fauna and the environments in which they live.” In fact, I love animals and fish so much, that I don’t eat them. But that beluga show in no way provides “the ultimate visitor experience.”
Belugas live mostly in the Arctic. They call them the canaries of the sea because they are so musical, giving off high-pitched whistles, chirps and clicks. I was lucky enough to see the white whales in the wild on a trip to Churchill Manitoba, but not everyone will have that opportunity. Facilities like the Aquarium give rare access to marine life. But even the whales must be disappointed with that performance. Not sure if they signed a contract, but I’m sure I heard them singing an old Engelbert Humpback tune, “Please release me, let me go.”