Whales and dolphins can no longer be bred or kept in captivity after Canadian bill passes

Whales and dolphins can no longer be bred or kept in captivity after Canadian bill passes

The nation of Canada has officially moved to ban whales and dolphins from being bred or kept in captivity, as new legislation passed in the House of Commons.

Dubbed the "Free Willy" bill by its proponents, it stands as a watershed moment in animals rights law - for the first time in history, Canadians could face prosecution just for possession of a whale or a dolphin, not just for treating them badly.

Dolphin Credit: Getty

"This legislation heralds a change in how Canadians are thinking," says Barbara Cartwright, the CEO of animal welfare group Humane Canada, who was speaking to The Globe And Mail.

The bill has been making its way through the legislative process since around 2015, when senator Wilfred Moore presented it to the Senate as a private member's bill. Moore explained at the time that the bill came about as a result of a conversation with his son, after they watched the documentary Blackfish.

"[My son] said, 'Dad, can you do something about that?' And I thought 'Well, I can try,'" added Moore, and the bill also contains a clause that stops aquatic mammals being imported or exported in Canada, apart from when it's in the animal's best interests.

All marine institutions already holding mammals when the legislation passed will be allowed to keep them, and one of those institutions is Marineland in Niagara Falls, Ontario. In a statement, Marineland said that the bill affirms that having these whales and dolphins living with them doesn’t necessarily amount to cruelty.

CBC News reports that Independent Senator Murray Sinclair, the former judge who helped usher the bill through Parliament after Moore's retirement, had this to say to the Commons fisheries committee: "The bill is a simple and straightforward one. It works from the presumption that placing these beautiful creatures into the kinds of pens that they have been kept in is inherently cruel."

Also speaking to CBC, executive director of advocacy group Animal Justice Camille Labchuk said that she's confident the bill will pass the final vote.

"I am delighted that the Liberals resisted pressure to kill the bill. I think the reason they were convinced to save this legislation is because ... of the power of Canadians who contacted these politicians in droves," she said.

"Probably over 20,000 e-mails and phone calls were made in the days proceeding this vote. This [captivity ban] is something Canadians across the country are really ready for.

"They've seen Blackfish and The Cove, they understand that whales and dolphins shouldn't be kept in tanks anymore — those in the wild travel vast distances, dive deeply, live in complex family structures and enjoy a quality of life that is much better than the abject misery and barrenness of living in a tank."

Labchuk also said that there had to be more legislation to define exactly what "best interest" means in this situation.