Vancouver Aquarium closing to public temporarily; cites ‘financially challenging times’

VANCOUVER — A popular Vancouver tourist attraction says it will be closing next week due to “financially challenging times.”

The Vancouver Aquarium, located in the city’s Stanley Park, says it will “temporarily pause public programming” after Labour Day.

The 64-year-old facility says the decision was based on an almost 80 per cent decline in ticket sales.

“It’s not that people don’t want to come,” Ocean Wise president and CEO Lasse Gustavsson told CTV News on Monday, “It’s just we can’t let them come because of COVID.”

When the aquarium reopened in June, it required visitors to reserve tickets online. And while some time slots on some days sold out, the aquarium said, it wasn’t enough to cover over $1 million a month in operating costs.

More than 200 full-time, part-time and casual staff members will lose their jobs, which Gustavsson called “painful.”

Megan von Bergermann from Abbotsford, who was visiting the aquarium Monday with her 7-year-old son, Christian, called the news “heartbreaking.”

“I want him to enjoy it and see everything that he can,” von Bergermann said. “Everything that we do, I feel like it’s the last time we might get to do it.”

Three-year-old Hannah Somerville from Tofino and her older brother, Brennan, had just met the aquarium’s new baby otter, Joey.

Their mother, Christine Morrow, said the family had recently relocated from Ontario and the aquarium had given her the chance to introduce her children to West Coast wildlife.

“I’m really happy that we got visit,” Morrow said, as she praised the physical distancing and flow inside.

Morrow said she was saddened by the news and called the coming closure “super unfortunate.”

Animals, including the sea otters, will still be cared for by a team of 75 specialized staff.

And Ocean Wise’s other conservation and education initiatives will continue while the team tries to find a sustainable path forward.

“We are going to reinvent ourselves in a way that will allow us to open to the public again. When, I can’t tell you,” Gustavsson said.

He also praised the widespread community support and thousands of private donations the aquarium has received during the pandemic.

And while Gustavsson said it’s too early to have specifics, what he referred to as a “new model” for the aquarium could potentially include things like augmented reality experiences.

The aquarium is home to approximately 70,000 creatures.

The attraction initially closed in March, but reopened three months later following fundraising campaigns including the sale of aquarium-branded face masks.

The last day it will be open to the public is Sept. 7.

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