Vancouver Aquarium closing to the public until further notice as COVID-19 losses continue

The Vancouver Aquarium announced Monday more than 200 staff members are being laid off, primarily from the operations sector, as the aquarium closes to the public in an effort to save money after months of financial loss.

The Ocean Wise Conservation Association, which runs the facility, said in a statement all public programming will be “paused” until further notice as of Sept. 7.

The closure means dozens of people, from full-time to part-time to casual workers, are losing their jobs.

“Staff reductions were an incredibly difficult decision and one we truly hoped to avoid,” Christian Baxter, board chair of Ocean Wise, wrote in the statement.

The statement Monday said specialized staff, such as veterinarians and biologists, will remain on staff to care for animals at the facility.

The layoffs announced Monday are in addition to more than 330 people who already lost their jobs at the aquarium in the early spring. 

The aquarium reopened in June with $2 million in federal emergency funding after a three-month closure at the start of the pandemic.

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Terry Beech, Burnaby North-Seymour MP, visits the Vancouver Aquarium with his wife and daughter after announcing a $2-million grant to the aquarium on June 26. The aquarium said the emergency support helped keep the facility open, but animal care alone costs $1 million monthly. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

A reduced number of guests were allowed back over the summer, per public health guidelines, but the drop in revenue meant the aquarium couldn’t recoup its losses.

Hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations only covered a few weeks’ worth of operations.

Ocean Wise has said it costs $1 million per month to feed and care for the 70,000 animals at the aquarium. 

In order to avoid bankruptcy, the aquarium said its board is planning to try to create a new business model “that is both financially viable in light of the pandemic and also accelerates Ocean Wise’s mission of ocean conservation.”

“Under these difficult circumstances, transforming the aquarium is the most responsible thing we can do,” said Lasse Gustavsson, president and CEO of Ocean Wise.

The aquarium, which was the first public aquarium in the country, opened in 1956.

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