In a powerful affirmation of the rising global tide against the use of marine animals in performing acts, Canadian lawmakers today voted to end the captivity of whales, dolphins and porpoises for entertainment.
The Ending the Captivity of Whales and Dolphins Act or the “Free Willy Bill,” passed by the Canadian House of Commons with overwhelming support, includes a sweeping ban on the trade, possession, capture and breeding of all cetaceans for entertainment.
Just two facilities in the country house cetaceans — the Vancouver Aquarium and Marineland in Niagara Falls. They will no longer be able to breed or import any new cetaceans into their facilities, and no similar operations can be established in Canada.
Humane Society International/Canada campaigned for years — along with a broad coalition of key stakeholders, including other leading animal welfare groups, prominent marine scientists and parliamentarians from all political parties — for this ban. We are grateful to former Liberal Senator Wilfred Moore who introduced the bill in December 2015 in the Senate, and to Senator Murray Sinclair, who sponsored it. In the House of Commons, the bill was championed by Green Party Leader and Saanich–Gulf Islands Member of Parliament Elizabeth May.
The global movement to end the captivity of marine animals in entertainment has snowballed in recent years, with the Humane Society of the United States and HSI at its forefront. We know that whales and dolphins bred and held in confinement suffer from severe psychological stress and have high mortality rates and injuries. Today’s news is yet another sign that the world is waking up to the fact that there is no justification for such cruelty.
In the wild, whales and dolphins live in groups and family bonds that often last many years, but in captivity they are routinely traded between facilities and their family and social groups are not maintained. The shallow, confined, monotonous environment of a tank forces these marine mammals — used to traveling long distances each day in the ocean — to swim in endless circles, deprived of the normal stimuli and experiences they would have in the wild.
Our work to shine a spotlight on the suffering and deprivation of these highly intelligent, social creatures in captivity has led to many policy and corporate reforms in recent years. Bolivia, Chile, Croatia, Costa Rica, Cyprus, France, Greece, Hungary, India, Nicaragua, Slovenia, Switzerland and the United Kingdom are among the countries that have outlawed the use of cetaceans in entertainment.
In 2016, SeaWorld, in cooperation with the HSUS, announced it would end all breeding of its orcas and would not seek to obtain additional orcas from other sources. Later that year, California banned the breeding of orcas and the use of orcas in performing acts, and other U.S. states are considering similar bans.
Today’s vote in Canada is a watershed moment, for the animals and for the thousands of our HSI/Canada supporters who wrote, emailed and called their political representatives in support of this bill. This victory is proof of what a diverse and dedicated set of stakeholders can achieve when they come together for the greater good.