Vancouver Aquarium now owned by Dollywood theme park operator Herschend Enterprises

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VANCOUVER — A privately owned entertainment company based in the United States is the new owner of the Vancouver Aquarium.

The aquarium says in a statement 100 per cent ownership has been acquired by Georgia-based Herschend Enterprises, the operator of numerous U.S.-based attractions, including Dollywood in Tennessee.

The agreement transferring ownership from Ocean Wise Conservation Association to Herschend was signed on Wednesday.

Clint Wright, the aquarium's chief operating officer, will continue in his role while Ocean Wise remains an independent ocean conservation organization.

Wright says the agreement secures the futures of the 64-year-old aquarium and its Marine Mammal Rescue Centre, and includes an annual donation of one per cent of the aquarium's gross revenues to support the Ocean Wise program.

The Vancouver Aquarium has been closed for all but a short time since the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic and it says it faced the risk of permanent closure because of severe financial challenges.

Andrew Wexler, CEO of Herschend, says in the statement that his company has always considered the Vancouver Aquarium the "gold standard" for "animal care, educational focus and exceptional family entertainment."

"Herschend intends to build on the aquarium’s exemplary track record and enhance the things that have made it so successful, while remaining true to the aquarium’s founding principles," the statement says.

As it considers how and when to reopen, Herschend says it will consult with guests, partners, stakeholders and staff to determine possible enhancements and create a long-term plan for post-pandemic growth.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 15, 2021.

The Canadian Press