The consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic reach much further than anticipated. Due to its closure on March 17, the Vancouver Aquarium, for example, has lost over $2 million. The loss of income might soon mean the permanent closure of one of Vancouver’s most-visited sites and the relocation of the tens of thousands of animals in its care.
“Unlike other institutions,” said the aquarium’s president Lasse Gustavsson, “we can’t just lay off our people, switch off the light and go home. We have 70,000 animals we take care of and that we care a lot about.”
The aquarium, a not-for-profit operation has already laid off about 340 employees, i.e. about 60 percent of the staff, and the remaining staff is working part-time, while senior management is taking pay cuts. But feeding the animals costs over $700,000 per month.
Although the aquarium did receive government funding from upgrades and expansions, it’s a “self-supporting” institution, meaning it does not fund its day-to-day operations through taxpayer dollars but mostly through the sale of tickets. Without aid from the federal or provincial government, the aquarium won’t be able to survive for more than a few months.
“We have two, max three more months to run the operation,” said Gustavsson, “unless we get any additional support from the outside.”
Closing the aquarium would mean 70,000 animals would need to find a new home, so they’re doing everything they can to find funding, including asking for public donations.
“We can’t expect the public to provide us with the funding necessary,” said Gustavsson, “simply because everybody’s having a hard time and running the aquarium is expensive. So I think we are looking primarily at the government and (a few individuals and corporations) who can give generously, in large amounts.”
The aquarium first opened in 1956 and is run by the Ocean Wise Conservation Association.