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Ottawa passes legislation that bans whale and dolphin captivity in Canada

Last Updated Jun 10, 2019 at 6:20 pm PST

FILE - The outside of the Vancouver Aquarium is pictured in Vancouver, B.C. Friday, Nov. 18, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

The Liberal government has passed legislation that bans whale and dolphin captivity in Canada

Bill will phase out the practice of keeping cetaceans in captivity, but grandfathers those already being held

Vancouver Aquarium, Niagara Falls' Marineland are only two facilities in Canada that currently keep cetaceans captive

OTTAWA (NEWS 1130) – The federal government has passed legislation that bans whale and dolphin captivity in Canada.

Introduced four years ago, the bill will phase out the practice of keeping captive whales, dolphins and porpoises, but grandfathers in those that are already being held at two facilities in the country.

Marineland in Niagara Falls, Ont., and the Vancouver Aquarium are the only two places that currently keep captive cetaceans.

The bill bans the capture of wild cetaceans, captive breeding and the import and export of those animals, with limited exceptions.

The bill was first introduced in the Senate in 2015 and eventually made its way into the House of Commons, where it had its third and final reading on Monday.

The Vancouver Park Board approved bylaw amendments that effectively ban the captivity of cetaceans at the Vancouver Aquarium in May of 2017. The aquarium is suing both the Park Board and the City over financial impacts it says the ban has had on its operations.

Clint Wright, the Executive Vice-President and COO of Ocean Wise, which runs the aquarium, says the organization is still involved in cetacean research and rescues in the wild, but is comfortable with the decision to no longer have them at the facility.

“It was a difficult decision when you consider that the Vancouver Aquarium has had cetaceans as the very fabric of the aquarium since 1964,” he says. “Making a massive change like that, to suddenly not have those animals, was a big decision and it has taken time to work through that and to work on other plans.”

SPCA applauds move

Lorie Chortyk with the B.C. SPCA says the passing of this legislation marks a great day for animal rights.

“This is something that has been so important to us because we know so much more now about whales and dolphins — how intelligent they are, how important their family relationships are, how deep they dive, how far they swim in a day,” she explains. “Keeping these amazing, social, and intelligent animals in small little pools confined for their lives is just causing them mental and physical pain and suffering. We’re so excited to see Canada take this step.”

Chortyk says the organization has been working toward this goal for the past several years, and adds the SPCA is “ecstatic” that Bill S-203 has now been passed.

Related article: Vancouver Park Board pleased, aquarium worried about proposed federal law banning cetaceans in captivity

She believes this latest move shows Canada is taking a stand to fight for these animals. While she admits many people enjoy seeing these aquatic mammals at shows and at facilities, Chortyk says it’s just “not worth it,” considering the suffering they endure.

She points out the law will still allow facilities to care for sick and injured animals before they are returned to the wild.

Chortyk notes there was a lot of public support from B.C. on the matter.

“It was studied for four years, it’s had its ups and downs as it went through the parliamentary process, and we had such an amazing response from our own supporters and British Columbians who emailed their members of parliament to ask for their support in this final vote.”