Our work isn’t done to protect captive marine mammals in Canada
After the landmark passing of Bill S-203 (aka the Free Willy Bill) in 2019, there were so many reasons to celebrate – Canada was one of the first countries to make such a bold and progressive decision to ban the breeding, display and trade in cetaceans for public entertainment. But even with such an exciting win for animals, it doesn’t mean that the cruelty has ended, the neglect is over and that profit won’t still come before the welfare of animals.
Breaking news: MarineLand cited for water quality concerns and animal deaths
You might have seen the recent CBC report, that after a months-long inspection of MarineLand by Ontario's animal welfare watchdog, they found that marine mammals were in distress due to poor water quality.
Sadly, this isn’t the first time MarineLand has been investigated over the poor water quality for its marine mammals and it has faced repeated animal cruelty charges over the years. It’s a small but positive step that the Ontario government’s animal welfare enforcement team continues to investigate the conditions for the animals and has ordered them to fix their water system, or as the expert quoted called it, the “the life support systems for marine mammals [in captivity]”.
You know that these animals are living sentient beings who suffer daily until changes are made and we know you want MarineLand to be held accountable for their actions. This is why it was so important for the Canadian government to pass and enforce the Free Willy Bill in 2019 which banned MarineLand from breeding their whales and dolphins.
It is a tragic reality that there are not enough seaside sanctuaries in operation or planned to house all of these animals, and until that is the case, we must do more for captive whales, dolphins and porpoises.
Here’s how you can help them:
1) Ask the Ontario government to prohibit the breeding of all wild animals in zoos and aquariums that can’t meet welfare standards and don’t have conservation value. Breeding restrictions are the best way to curb this problem and phase out this cruel industry. It would prevent new animals from a life of imprisonment and suffering. You can email Ontario’s Solicitor General, Sylvia Jones, who is responsible for making and enforcing regulations to protect welfare of animals at firstname.lastname@example.org and cc your MPP.
2) Help us end the demand for wildlife entertainment. Expedia, the world’s largest online travel platform still sells tickets to MarineLand. Take action here.
Also in the news: MarineLand exports five beluga whales to US aquarium
World Animal Protection learned through news reports that Canada’s Minister of Fisheries and Oceans had approved MarineLand’s permit to export five beluga whales to Mystic Aquarium in Connecticut. The Canadian government should be more transparent on their process for evaluating permits to transfer Canada’s captive cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises) as this is a matter of significant interest to compassionate Canadians.
Didn’t Canada ban the whale and dolphin trade?
Yes, in 2019 Canada made a bold and progressive decision to ban the breeding, display and trade in cetaceans for public entertainment with Bill S-203. The new law allows MarineLand to keep the whales and dolphins it currently has but prohibits breeding them. It also allows cetaceans to be transferred out of the country to an accredited facility if it significantly benefits the cetacean’s welfare or the conservation of wild cetacean species through scientific research.
What’s good for the whales?
That’s sometimes a difficult question to answer and a reason why the Canadian government should be consulting with independent cetacean welfare experts on every permit application.
While MarineLand is not an ideal environment, transporting cetaceans is stressful and it is arguably sometimes better to keep these animals in Canada where there is now stronger legislation to protect them from being exploited and traded further for entertainment. While Mystic Aquarium wanted to import the belugas for scientific research, this research could have been conducted at MarineLand and Mystic could have worked with the Canadian venue to improve its housing conditions and practices, which would benefit the welfare of several beluga whales (reportedly the facility had 54 beluga whales before exporting 5 to Connecticut).
World Animal Protection joined a coalition of NGOs led by Animal Welfare Institute and Animal Justice to raise concerns about the trade of beluga whales from MarineLand to Mystic Aquarium. Thankfully the US regulators agreed to add strong conditions to Mystic’s import permit to prohibit breeding and using these animals for performances. But Canada must also do its part by adding legally binding restrictions to export permits.
Canadians should have the right to know about government decisions to transfer whales and dolphins to other countries just as Americans do!
The US has a public notification and comment period which has allowed NGOs and scientists to provide helpful information to inform decisions made under their Marine Mammal Protection Act. The US also has established a Marine Mammal Commission which includes scientists from academia, NGOs, industry, and government to help review decisions.
World Animal Protection and other NGOs have been encouraging Canada to set up a similar process and establish a committee of independent scientific experts in the welfare, husbandry and management, and scientific research involving captive cetaceans to make recommendations to the Minister. These are complex issues that require specialized expertise, and we cannot rely on the profit-driven aquarium entertainment industry to represent the best interests of these animals.
Government of Canada announces new policies to guide decisions related to importing and exporting whales and dolphins
On May 17 2021, The Canadian government announced new policies to provide the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans with further guidance and criteria for authorizing permits related to taking, importing and exporting cetaceans and conducting scientific research on them. The new policies were released after concluding a public consultation with World Animal Protection and a coalition of other animal welfare groups in Canada and the US.
While disappointed the government didn’t accept all of our recommendations, we are pleased to see the policy amended to allow for seaside sanctuaries to apply for permits to take in rescued cetaceans and that the government’s intention remains focused on ending the keeping of cetaceans for entertainment as highlighted in the Minister’s statement:
“Whales, dolphins, and porpoises are wild animals that belong in the wild. Canadians do not want to see these sentient creatures behind glass for their entertainment, and over the past three years our government has worked to amend policies and legislation to end these practices in Canada. Thank you to all the Canadians who participated in our online consultation process to inform and strengthen our actions going forward. Through these amendments, as well as our protective measures and ongoing marine conservation work, we will ensure that marine mammals can live safe and free in Canadian waters.”
The Honourable Bernadette Jordan, Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard
We need to make this the last generation of captive cetaceans
As one of the first countries to ban the keeping of these highly social, intelligent, and wide roaming animals for entertainment, Canada is a global leader in protecting the welfare of captive cetaceans. Canada must now take steps to ensure the best possible welfare for the animals currently in captivity and to make sure they are the last generation on public display. It must ensure the good work it has done is not compromised when MarineLand sells its whales and dolphins to other facilities by enforcing breeding restrictions. Our stronger federal laws must follow our whales and dolphins wherever they go. As ultimately, we need to put an end to the breeding, trade and exploitation of these animals globally.