Canada bans whale, dolphin captivity

Canada bans whale, dolphin captivity
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Canadian lawmakers passed legislation on Monday banning whale and dolphin captivity in the country.

The federal bill — which was approved in the House of Commons on Monday after first being introduced in the Senate in 2015 — now requires only royal assent to become law. 

Under the new law the practice of holding whales, dolphins and porpoises will be phased out, though animals currently in captivity will remain. It also bans the capture of wild dolphins and whales, or cetaceans, as well as the practice of captive breeding and the import and export of such animals.

There are currently only two facilities that keep captive cetaceans: Marineland in Niagara Falls, Ontario, and the Vancouver Aquarium. 

"Canadians have been clear, they want the cruel practice of keeping whales and dolphins in captivity to end. With the passage of Bill S-203, we have ensured that this will happen," said Green Party leader Elizabeth May, who sponsored the bill.

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"The science increasingly tells us that it constitutes cruelty to animals to take these cetaceans and keep them in confined spaces," she added.

Under the new law, nicknamed the "Free Willy ban," parks and aquariums that violate the provisions could face fines of up to $200,000. It does make exceptions for the cultural traditions of indigenous peoples in the nation, however.

The new law in Canada comes after multiple documentaries in recent years have focused on animal living conditions within theme parks. One such film, CNN's “Blackfish,” raised questions about whether animals can thrive in confinement and criticized SeaWorld's treatment of killer whales.

Animal rights groups including PETA and the Humane Society International/Canada have hailed the decision as a positive step toward addressing animal cruelty.

“The passage of Bill S-203 is a watershed moment in the protection of marine animals and a victory for all Canadians," Humane Society International/Canada Executive Director Rebecca Aldworth said in a statement.

"Whales and dolphins don’t belong in tanks, and the inherent suffering these highly social and intelligent animals endure in intensive confinement can no longer be tolerated. We congratulate the sponsors of this bill and the Canadian government for showing strong leadership in responding to public will and sound science on this critical issue,” she added.

The Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks & Aquariums, however, said in a statement to The Hill that the move "will needlessly tie the hands" of marine mammal advocates.

"Just as new science has shown that dolphins in zoos and aquariums live as long as or longer than their counterparts in the wild, the Canadian government has chosen to ignore those findings and pass a drastic and misguided measure that will deny Canadians the opportunity to see and experience these amazing animals up close and in person and will over time deteriorate its experts’ marine mammal expertise that has contributed so much to the well-being of marine mammals in human care and in the wild," the group said.

—Updated at 8:09 p.m.