04/09/2014 08:24 EDT | Updated 06/10/2014 05:59 EDT

Vancouver Aquarium Whales, Dolphins Should Be Phased Out: Mayor

Two belugas and two people.

VANCOUVER - The Vancouver Aquarium is defending itself after the city's mayor expressed his personal beliefs against keeping whales and dolphins in captivity.

A statement issued by the aquarium Wednesday said Gregor Robertson may have personal feelings on the issue, but he might not understand the vital role belugas and dolphins play in its conservation efforts.

"Dolphins and belugas at Vancouver Aquarium play a direct and vital role in engaging people in key ocean issues," the aquarium states.

"In addition, with rapid environmental changes in the arctic where belugas live, continued research, much of which must be done in marine science centres like the Vancouver Aquarium, is critical to their future."

The aquarium also states that it's the only facility in Canada that can rescue, rehabilitate and provide a long-term home to marine animals that can't be released back into the wild.

The statement was issued amidst a renewed debate on keeping whales and dolphins in captivity. Critics are arguing the aquarium should stop displaying large animals and release them to the wild.

In fact, Aaron Jasper, the chairman of the city's park board, has announced that he'll ask staff at the next meeting for a public report on keeping the animals in captivity. He said the report will include best practices from around the world on marine-mammal rehabilitation.

Robertson has joined the debate on the side of the critics.

"My personal view is that the Vancouver Aquarium should begin to phase out the holding of whales and dolphins in captivity," he said in a statement.

Robertson said he's hopeful the aquarium and the board can work collaboratively and come to an agreement on how to phase out the current captivity program with a review that will be informed, thoughtful and inclusive.

The aquarium first opened in 1956, operating out of an 830 square metre facility and employing a staff of seven. It now operates from a 9,000 square metre facility and has 400 employees.