Vancouver Whitecaps look to help financially troubled aquarium survive

VANCOUVER — The Vancouver Whitecaps have joined forces with the Vancouver Aquarium to sell face masks with proceeds going to help keep the financially troubled aquarium afloat.

The aquarium, a not-for-profit operation, is closed during the pandemic and struggling to survive.

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More than 25 Whitecap staff members are also volunteering in the rescue effort, helping reach out to aquarium members, donors, and supporters.

Whitecaps CEO Mark Pannes said he mobilized his club's resources after hearing of the aquarium's difficulties.

"I mean I'm a kid at heart, right — and I think we all are to some degree," Pannes said Friday. "And every kid loves the aquarium. And we need to embrace it and the noble work it does."

"I'm a kid at heart and I'm also a soccer supporter," said Lasse Gustavsson, president and CEO of the Ocean Wise Conservation Association, which operates the aquarium. "Normally I would support my old club, Halmstads BK in Sweden, but today I'm a Whitecaps fan for sure."

The aquarium has been open 365 days a year since 1956 with more than 40 million visitors. It closed March 17 to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

"Obviously the right thing to do from a health point of view. But by doing that, we lost 85 per cent of our revenue," said Gustavsson.

And while the doors are closed, the aquarium still has to look after 70,000 animals.

"They all need good care. We are providing world-class animal care in the aquarium. It comes at a price," said Gustavsson.

The aquarium has had to temporarily lay off more than 60 per cent of its staff.

The Whitecaps say they have already sold more than 7,500 masks and have ordered a second batch.

"Every dollar matters now," said Gustavsson. "We're months away from bankruptcy and we need $1 million at least a month."

The masks sport designs drawing inspiration from the Whitecaps crest and the aquarium itself.

The face masks are available on the websites of the Vancouver Aquarium (vanaquashop.org) and the Whitecaps (whitecapsfc.com).

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 24, 2020.

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