07/30/2014 05:18 EDT | Updated 09/29/2014 05:59 EDT

Former mayors lend support to Vancouver Aquarium's whale and dolphin program

VANCOUVER - The Vancouver Aquarium has gained some high-profile support in the intense debate over banning dolphins and whales at the facility.

Four former Vancouver mayors and dozens of members of the business community or aquarium patrons have signed letters in support of the aquarium's cetaceans' program.

Former B.C. premier and Vancouver mayor Mike Harcourt says in his letter that he's against any "ill-conceived proposal" to alter policy in a way that will harm the aquarium, and he urged park board members to say no to what he called a misguided campaign.

Another letter signed by former mayors Larry Campbell, Philip Owen and Sam Sullivan says the aquarium is a tremendous asset that is a world leader in educational institutions and the animals housed there are far better off than others in facilities elsewhere.

The letter from business leaders and patrons points out that the aquarium operates without subsidies from any level of government, including the city.

More than 130 people registered to speak about the issue at two recent park board public hearings, and the board is set to meet again Thursday to discuss what steps — if any — it will take on the animals at the Stanley Park facility.