Canada passes ‘Free Willy’ bill to ban captivity of all whales, dolphins

Canada passes ‘Free Willy’ bill to ban captivity of all whales, dolphins

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Canada has made it illegal to catch and hold whales, dolphins and porpoises in captivity.

On June 10, Canada’s House of Commons passed Bill S-203, or the Ending the Captivity of Whales and Dolphins Act, banning the practice of keeping cetaceans in captivity in the country.

Canada passes ‘Free Willy’ bill to ban captivity of all whales, dolphins

The new legislation also prohibits the trade, breeding and collecting of reproductive materials from the animals, such as sperm or embryos. The only exceptions to these provisions will be in cases of rescues and rehabilitation, licensed scientific research, or in the “best interests of the cetacean’s welfare.”

Referred to as the “Free Willy” bill after the 1993 U.S. movie in which a young boy releases a captive orca or killer whale (Orcinus orca) into the wild, the bill also makes it illegal to participate in competition, exhibition, or any other events in which captive whales or dolphins are used for performance for entertainment purposes. Those who violate sections of this law can be fined up to $200,000.

“The passage of Bill S-203 is a watershed moment in the protection of marine animals and a victory for all Canadians,” Rebecca Aldworth, executive director of the Humane Society International/Canada, 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.”

At the moment, Canada has two facilities that hold whales or dolphins in captivity: the Vancouver Aquarium, which houses a dolphin named Helen, and Marineland at Niagara Falls, which has a single orca named Kiska and more than 50 beluga whales (Delphinapterus leucas). The bill allows both facilities to continue to keep these cetaceans, but they cannot breed or bring in any new animals.

First introduced to the Senate in 2015, the bill took nearly four years to make its way through the Parliament. The bill was supported by organizations like the Humane Society International/Canada, Animal Justice, Humane Canada, the Jane Goodall Institute, and Ontario Captive Animal Watch; as well as cetacean experts like Lori Marino and Naomi Rose of the Whale Sanctuary Project; Phil Demers, the former head trainer at Marineland; and Hal Whitehead of Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia.It was passed in the Senate in October 2018, and in the House of Commons this week.


“This is a major victory for cetaceans,” Marino, who testified at Senate hearings in 2017, said in a statement. “They are among the most cognitively complex of all animals. Confining them to life in a concrete tank is truly unbearable for them.”

“We have a moral obligation to phase out the capture and retention of animals for profit and entertainment,” said Wilfred Moore, the senator who sponsored the bill. “Canadians are calling upon us to do better — and we have listened.”

This article by Shreya Dasgupta was first published on Mongabay.com on 11 June 2019.

 

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