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History & People

About AquaFacts: AquaFacts are a resource for students who are looking for information on the animals at the Aquarium or other Aquarium-related topics. Here, we’ve compiled some of the most frequently asked questions that we’ve received about our history and people. The answers come from our archives and long-term staff. If you have a question about our history and people that’s not addressed in this page or the references below, please feel free to email our librarian.

History & People

Questions & Answers

How old is the Aquarium?

The Vancouver Public Aquarium opened its doors on June 15, 1956. Since then more than 27 million guests have visited the Aquarium. In 1967, the Aquarium was expanded to three times its original size. The natural colours and limited height of the present structure allows it to remain inconspicuous within the wooded surroundings of Stanley Park.

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What prompted the establishment of the Aquarium?

The mission of the Vancouver Aquarium is to effect the conservation of aquatic life through display and interpretation, education, research and direct action.

How does the Aquarium survive without the support of tax dollars?

For support, the Aquarium relies on donations, proceeds from admissions, membership revenue, income from group, educational and community programs, and ClamShell Gift Shop sales on-site and online. The Aquarium employs more than 100 people, and uses the skills of more than 500 volunteers, without whom the Aquarium could not function. Of course, we depend on you and your curiosity and concern for the environment: visitors and Members are the driving force behind the Vancouver Aquarium.

What was the Aquarium first in?

  • The Aquarium was the first facility in the world to study a killer whale, Moby Doll (actually a young male) in July of 1964.
  • In 1967, the Aquarium established the first on-site killer whale habitat, the B.C. Tel Pool.
  • In September of 1975, the Aquarium became the first aquarium to be accredited by the American Association of Zoological Parks and Aquariums (AZA).
  • January 1981 saw the first birth of a sea otter in an aquarium in Canada.
  • In 1984, Chief of the Undersea World, sculpted by artist Bill Reid, was unveiled at the Aquarium’s entrance.
  • Late in 1996, the Aquarium became the first facility in the world to undertake to never again capture, or cause to be captured, a wild whale or dolphin.
  • In 1997, an Aquarium aquarist discovered a new species of shrimp in the Gulf Islands: this species has since been raised in our research lab.

Has the Aquarium always had an educational focus?

Yes: the Aquarium’s commitment to education began in 1956 as the first aquarium in North America to benefit from educational interpreters. Professional Naturalists (now called Interpreters) were introduced in 1967, adding a whole new dimension to the enjoyment and educational experience at the Aquarium. The Wet Lab, a classroom designed to introduce people to the incredible variety of marine invertebrate life in B.C.’s waters, opened its doors in 1968, giving students the opportunity to enjoy hands-on education about marine life. In 1994, the AquaVan hit the road. This mobile aquarium-truck brings a piece of the Aquarium to children province-wide through live animals and other educational props. The Aquarium unveiled the Ducks Unlimited Wetlands Discovery Centre in 1995, offering yet another opportunity to learn about B.C.’s aquatic environments. 

The Aquarium established itself online during the second half of 1996. The website incorporates Aquarium news and information, a gallery tour, educational guides, online activities, booking information and links to online resources. The site promises to extend the Aquarium’s educational scope, introducing people worldwide to aquatic issues. Online education continues with the launch of the Engaging Science website. In 2006, the aquarium opened Aquaquest: The Marilyn Blusson Learning Centre. This 52,000 square foot ‘green’ building houses the brand new Canaccord Capital Exploration Gallery which includes new wetlab and class space, new gallery space and the new 170 seat Goldcorp Theatre.

What are some of the Aquarium's accomplishments?

Whytecliff Marine Park: In 1992, the Aquarium assisted in the creation of Whytecliff Marine Park, Canada’s first Marine Protected Area.

The Marine Mammal Rescue Centre Presented by Port Metro Vancouver.  The Vancouver Aquarium has been involved in the rescue and rehabilitation of marine mammals for almost fifty years. In that time, the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Mammal Rescue Centre has grown from admitting one or two animals in a season, to admitting over 150 in recent years. Animals receive expert veterinary treatment and supportive care to recuperate before they are released.

Steller Sea Lion Research: Researchers are searching for clues to the massive decline in Steller sea lion numbers in many of their habitats. Aquarium-based research explores questions about diet, food intake, growth and metabolism of Steller sea lions.

The B.C. Wild Killer Whale Adoption Program: This Program allows the public to support research efforts by adopting one of B.C.’s 600 wild killer whales. Donations are tax deductible, with proceeds going directly towards wild killer whale research in British Columbia. Visit www.killerwhale.org for more information.

BC Hydro Salmon Stream: A salmon stream has been restored and stocked with Coho, pink, and chum salmon that will spawn in an exhibit at the Aquarium. Interpretive signage and educational programming at the Aquarium accompanies the project. The project is a partnership between the Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation, BC Hydro, and the Aquarium.

The Wild Coast Exhibit: opened on June 29, 2001. The exhibit features walkways allowing visitors to interact with marine life found on the West Coast and learn about conservation issues.

With all the advances of the past 40 years, have there been many setbacks?

Aquariums and zoos are often the focus of disagreement and heated discourse. The Vancouver Aquarium is no exception and has been at the centre of a great deal of dialogue over the years. In 1986, the Aquarium experienced its greatest setback to date. An unsolved attack left more than 700 fishes poisoned. Following an inspiring display of nationwide support, the animals were replaced and the Aquarium survived.

Has the Aquarium been host to many celebrities over the years?

During the past 50 years the Aquarium has educated, entertained and been host to numerous celebrities and their families. In 1971, then Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau was in attendance for the official opening of the killer whale pool. On March 9, 1983, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth was on hand for the official opening of the Graham Amazon Gallery. The Aquarium has also acted as the backdrop for numerous movies and television episodes, lending a unique location and cast of characters to the productions. For five years, the Aquarium was the location of the filming of Danger Bay, a Canadian television drama, now in syndication.

Who works at the Aquarium?

An aquarium is similar to an ecosystem as numerous components must mesh together to keep the whole system running. A skilled and varied staff is needed, which includes educators, biologists, naturalists, aquarists, divers, scientists, curators, carpenters, computer specialists, horticulturists, cashiers, grounds keepers, trainers, veterinarians, accountants, artists, writers, web site developers, photographers, administrative assistants, and engineers. Most people who work at the Aquarium must have a technical diploma or certificate, a university degree, or some form of professional training. Many of the staff began their careers by volunteering at the Aquarium. It's a great place to gain experience and have fun—and every part of the Aquarium relies on the valuable help of volunteers.

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References

  1. Annual Report 1996. 1996. Vancouver Aquarium. Vancouver, B.C.
  2. AquaScene. April - June, 1996, Volume 40, Number 5. Vancouver Aquarium. Vancouver, B.C.
  3. Newman, Murray A. 1994. Life in a Fishbowl. Vancouver, Douglas & McIntyre.

Permission is granted by the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre for classroom teachers to make copies for non-commercial use. This permission does not extend to copying for promotional purposes, creating new collective works, or resale.

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Sea otters hold hands to rest in groups called “rafts”.
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