Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise to speak in support of Bill S-203, an act to amend the Criminal Code and other acts (ending the captivity of whales and dolphins).
The bill was first introduced in the Senate in 2015. It has taken three long years to get it here, and I fully support its quick passage into law. The purpose of the bill is to phase out the captivity of cetaceans: whales, dolphins and porpoises in Canada. There is an exception for rescues, rehabilitation, licensed scientific research, or if it is in the best interest of the cetacean.
Keeping these incredible creatures confined is cruel. This is a moral issue, but it is informed by science, and I hope all members of the House will support this legislation. The study of cetaceans is important, but New Democrats believe research on cetaceans can be conducted in an ethical manner in the wild where they belong. There, scientists can get a realistic view of their natural behaviours without causing a lifetime of pain and suffering.
Science has proven that they suffer in captivity. Let us have a look at what the Animal Welfare Institute reports about their natural behaviour compared to when they are in captivity.
In the wild, cetaceans can travel up to 100 miles a day, feeding and socializing with other members of their pods. Pods can contain hundreds of individuals with complex social bonds and hierarchies. In captivity, they are housed in small enclosures, unable to swim in a straight line for long or dive deeply. Sometimes they are housed alone without opportunities for socialization, or they are forced to live with incompatible animals and even species with which they would not naturally have close contact.
In the wild, cetaceans spend approximately 80% to 90% of their time under water. They have the freedom to make their own choices. In captivity, they spend approximately 80% of their time at the surface, looking for food and attention from their trainers, who make the choices for them.
In the wild, they are surrounded by other sea life and are an integral part of marine ecosystems. They have evolved for millions of years in the oceans, and in most cases, they are the top predators. In captivity, cetaceans are in artificial environments that are sterile or lack stimulation. Tank water must be treated or filtered, or both, to avoid health problems for the animals, although they may still suffer from bacterial and fungal infections that can be deadly. Other species, such as fish, invertebrates and sea vegetation cannot survive these treatments, so display tanks are as empty as hotel swimming pools.
In the wild, cetaceans live in a world of natural sound. They rely on their hearing as we do on our sight. Echolocation is their main sensory system, and they use sound to find mates, migrate, communicate, forage, nurse, care for young, and escape predators. In captivity, cetaceans must listen to filtration systems, pumps, music, fireworks and people clapping and yelling daily. Their concrete and glass enclosures also reflect sounds, so a poorly designed enclosure can make artificial noises worse. Echolocation is rarely used, as a tank offers no novelties or challenges to explore.
In captivity, it must be horrific for these animals. Cetaceans are intelligent, emotional and social mammals. Orcas, in particular, are highly social animals that travel in groups or pods that consist of five to 30 whales, although some pods may combine to form a group of 100 or more.
Canadians witnessed their extraordinary human-like behaviour this past summer, as we watched the grieving ordeal of the mother orca, J-35 Tahlequah, who carried her dead newborn calf for about 1,600 kilometres over 17 days. She empathetically held on, diving deep to retrieve her calf each time it slid from her head. Jenny Atkinson, director of the Whale Museum on San Juan Island told the CBC:
We do know her family is sharing the responsibility of caring for this calf, that she's not always the one carrying it, that they seem to take turns. While we don't have photos of the other whales carrying it, because we've seen her so many times without the calf, we know that somebody else has it.
This type of grieving behaviour is not unique to killer whales. Dolphins and other mammals, including gorillas, are known to carry their deceased young in what is widely believed by scientists to be an expression of grief.
Sheila Thornton, the lead killer whale biologist for Fisheries and Oceans Canada describes it. She said:
Strong social bonds between the families of orcas drive much of their behaviour. The southern residents share food, a language, a culture of eating only fish and an ecological knowledge of where to find it in their home range.
Bill S-203 is an important piece of proposed legislation that would grandfather out captivity in three ways.
First, it would ban live captures under the Fisheries Act, except for rescues. To be clear, the bill would not interfere with rescues. In fact, it would allow for research if the cetacean is unfit to return to the wild.
Second, it would ban cetacean imports and exports, except if licensed for scientific research or in the cetacean's best interest. An example of that exemption would be a transfer to an open water sanctuary under the Wild Animal and Plant Protection and Regulation of International and Interprovincial Trade Act, or WAPPRIITA.
Third, it would ban breeding under the animal cruelty provisions of the Criminal Code, subject to a summary conviction and a $200,000 fine unless provincially licensed for scientific research.
It is important to note that government Bill C-68, which is currently in the Senate, prohibits cetacean captures except for rescues and authorizes the regulation of imports. However, Bill C-68 would not restrict imports or exports by law or ban breeding.
Bill S-203 would also ban cetacean performances for entertainment. Currently, two Canadian facilities hold captive cetaceans. The Vancouver Aquarium holds one dolphin and has publicly committed to not hold any new cetaceans following the Vancouver Park Board ban. Marineland in Niagara Falls, Ontario, holds 50 to 60 belugas, five dolphins and one orca. Since 2015, it has been illegal to buy, sell or breed orcas in that province.
For these facilities, a change brought on as a result of Bill S-203 would be felt gradually. Marineland, for example, could keep its current whales and dolphins, many of which should live for decades, and in that time it could evolve to a more sustainable model, perhaps with a focus on conservation. The Vancouver Aquarium, for instance, could retain its current residents for research and may even acquire new whales and dolphins through rescue and rehabilitation.
Phil Demers, a former head trainer at Marineland, said this about the bill:
As a former Marine Mammal Trainer, I believe the bill to ban cetacean captivity and breeding in Canada is imperative and long-overdue. I have witnessed the physiological and emotional consequences captivity imposes on these magnificent beings, and those who care for them. No living being should be forced to endure what I’ve witnessed, and it’s my hope that this bill will finally put an end to these cruel practices.
It is about time. Canada is behind other jurisdictions on this issue. The United Kingdom, Italy, New Zealand, Chile, Cyprus, Hungary and Mexico all have banned or severely restricted these practices. Companies have begun ending their partnerships with other companies that keep cetaceans in captivity. Air Canada, WestJet, JetBlue, Southwest Airlines and Taco Bell have all recently ended their association with SeaWorld Entertainment, which operates a total of 12 parks in the United States.
In a letter to the Vancouver Parks Board, Dr. Jane Goodall said:
The scientific community is also responding to the captivity of these highly social and intelligent species as we now know more than ever, about the complex environments such species require to thrive and achieve good welfare. Those of us who have had the fortunate opportunity to study wild animals in their natural settings where family, community structure and communication form a foundation for these animals’ existence, know the implications of captivity on such species.
In 1977, I received the honour of a lifetime when the Squamish nation bestowed me with the name Iyim Yewyews, meaning orca, blackfish or killer whale, a strong swimmer in the animal world. They gave me this name for the work I was doing to conserve, protect and restore the watersheds, our marine environment and the natural world, which includes these whales.
I encourage all members to get on the right side of history and pass this important bill.