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Yoga sessions at beluga whale exhibit spark protest

The Vancouver Aquarium's decision to offer yoga sessions alongside its beluga whale exhibit has come under protest by members of the local yoga community.
The Vancouver Aquarium's decision to offer yoga sessions alongside its beluga whale exhibit has come under protest. Today

The Vancouver Aquarium’s decision to offer yoga classes alongside its beluga whale exhibit has not left a group of protesters with a feeling of tranquility.

Three yoga sessions led by instructor Celeste Lyon have been held so far in Canada’s Arctic Gallery in the aquarium, which houses its two beluga whales, Qila and Aurora. On Nov. 14, a group of about 20 protesters gathered in front of the aquarium, chanting and waving signs bearing messages like, “Yoga is liberation,’’ and “Yoga does not make whale jails okay!” 

“We just don't believe yoga has any place next to confined animals, especially beluga whales, because yoga traditionally means ‘liberation and freedom,’ so it’s an oxymoron to practice it next to whales who are captive in a confined concrete box,’’ protest organizer Corie Kielbiski, an instructor at Yogacara Studios in Vancouver, British Columbia, told

The first yoga class at the aquarium in 2011 marked World Oceans Day and was led by Eoin Finn, an ambassador and "blissologist" for yoga clothing company Lululemon, according to Lululemon's official blog. This is the first year that a series of sessions involving the whales have been open to the public, and Kielbiski said that she was not aware of them until the third session that sparked the protest. 

On its website, the aquarium asks potential practitioners to “come join us for this incredible opportunity to see just how inquisitive and calming belugas are as their presence supports you into finding your own stillness and calm.”

The group is planning to protest any future yoga sessions at the aquarium and will also hold outdoor yoga classes during the protest.

“We want to encourage the students to come practice with us instead of with the whales,’’ Kielbiski said.

The aquarium has issued a statement noting that future sessions have not yet been finalized.

“The Vancouver Aquarium’s yoga with belugas session has been warmly received by the community,’’ the statement reads. “We have offered three public yoga sessions at the Vancouver Aquarium. Future sessions have not been confirmed. The Vancouver Aquarium is a non-profit society dedicated to the conservation of aquatic life. All proceeds directly support the Aquarium’s conservation, research and education programs.”

Kielbiski added that about 30 more people have joined the protest movement since it first began, and she has been contacted by other yoga practitioners and animal-rights groups.