Vancouver Aquarium at risk of bankruptcy

Tourist venue's costs exceed $1 million per month, but revenue is near zero

Vancouver Aquarium is a destination for tourists but COVID-19 has wiped out the number of tourists | Tourism Vancouver

What happened: The Vancouver Aquarium is losing more than $1 million each month and is appealing to the federal and provincial governments for help weathering the government restrictions put in place to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.

Why this matters: The venue is an economic driver and a stimulus for the tourism sector, which was worth about $18.4 billion in 2017, according to Destination British Columbia. 

The not-for-profit Vancouver Aquarium – Canada’s oldest and largest aquarium, opened in 1956 – is at risk of bankruptcy by early summer due to loss of revenue from government restrictions prompted by the coronavirus closure. 

The venue is home to more than 70,000 animals, including rescued sea otters, sea lions, seals, jellies, fish, birds and insects. Caring for those animals costs the Vancouver Aquarium more than $1 million dollars each month. But since closing to the public on March 17, revenue at the Aquarium has dropped to almost zero.

“It is heartbreaking to imagine that the Vancouver Aquarium may cease to exist but that is the reality we are fighting against” said Clint Wright, the Vancouver Aquarium’s chief operating officer, and executive vice-president of Ocean Wise.

“The Vancouver Aquarium can’t turn off the lights and lock the doors. Our 70,000 animals still need to be taken care of. They require specialized diets and expert care from veterinary staff, trainers and biologists. Our animals rely on us for managing every aspect of their environment – temperature, salinity, lighting, oxygen. For most of our aquatic animals this means our team of professional engineers and water quality technicians working around the clock."

The loss of revenue has forced Ocean Wise Conservation Association, the Vancouver Aquarium’s parent organization, to take extraordinary measures to reduce costs so that essential animal care and facilities management can continue. These measures include laying off 331 staff (60% of the workforce), closing the Marine Mammal Rescue Centre, halting important maintenance projects, and reviewing the feasibility of some research, conservation and education programs. Many remaining staff are on reduced work weeks and Ocean Wise senior leaders have taken voluntary pay cuts.

The Vancouver Aquarium is appealing to government and the community to help raise funds to support critical animal care until the Aquarium can reopen.