Canada House of Commons approves bill to end captivity of cetaceans

An orca in captivity

Canada's parliament on Monday approved a bill banning the capture and breeding of whales and dolphins in a move hailed by animal rights activists.

Currently, there are just two facilities in Canada with cetaceans in captivity.

Now in Canada only the Marineland amusement park in Niagara Falls, Ontario, keeps cetaceans with about 55 beluga whales, a handful of bottlenose dolphins, and one killer whale. The "Free Willy" bill S203 - named after the 1993 movie about a young boy who frees an orca from a U.S. water park - will make cetacean captivity punishable by fines up to $US150,000 ($A215,000).

The Act provides some exceptions for cetaceans that are being kept in captivity for rehabilitative purposes or that are already in captivity at the time that the law is passed.

Scientists have long supported the movement of animal rights activists, based on the fact that the whale needed the ocean, a huge space, acoustic communication across long distances.

Bill S-203 was originally introduced by Senator Wilfred Moore in December 2015, then sponsored by Senator Murray Sinclair after Senator Moore retired.

As of today, the Canadian government has officially banned whale and dolphin captivity in Canada after years of delay. Breeding is also banned. The bill also changes the Criminal Code, creating new animal cruelty offences related to the captivity of cetaceans.

The animal rights group maintains that such displays can harm the animals.

"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", Rebecca Aldworth, Executive Director of Humane Society International/Canada, said in a release from the organization.

The Vancouver Aquarium has a single dolphin left after the city announced in 2017 it would no longer house whales there.

In Marineland is about 50 belugas.

It recently received approval to export two belugas, both owned by the Vancouver Aquarium, to a park in Spain. But in a statement Monday, Marineland said that its operations have been evolving since its founding in the 1960s and that it would comply with the legislation.

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