Imagine living your entire life in a bathtub with glass walls. You can barely turn around and other people watch you all day in your struggle to get out. You have scars on your body from trying to break out of your confines and are forced to put on a show daily for your jail keepers.
This is the daily life of captive whales and dolphins, intelligent and deeply intuitive species of animals.
Banning whales and dolphins in captivity is an idea that is gaining in public opinion and Canada has the opportunity to follow suit on a federal level. Bill S-203, a private member’s bill tabled by Senator Wilfred Moore that would ban the captivity and breeding of whales and dolphins in Canada, is currently being reviewed before the Senate. The Senate Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans heard the first testimony on Feb. 28. The bill is relatively moderate and would allow existing facilities to keep the animals they already have and use them for research. It would move to ban future cetacean captivity. The bill has been met with mixed reviews with strong partisan support and is being slammed by Marineland and the Vancouver Aquarium, which is no big surprise.
The Vancouver Aquarium has also been the subject of controversy since November when the only two beluga whales at the facility, Aurora, 30, and her calf, Qila, 21, died nine days apart from each other. The Vancouver Park Board voted on March 9 to prohibit the capture and display of whales and dolphins at the Vancouver Aquarium as a result of the beloved belugas’ deaths. The decision has been a subject of controversy with many critics claiming the Park Board shouldn’t intervene in Aquarium affairs, while others believe that respecting the overwhelming support to end whale and dolphin captivity is essential.
Animal Justice is also involved in a case against the aquarium that involved intervening on behalf of animal rights filmmaker, Gary Charbonneau, who created the film Vancouver Aquarium Uncovered. The Vancouver Aquarium filed a lawsuit filed against Charbonneau for violation of copyright law and was partially successful when the judge ordered nearly five minutes of material removed from the film. In May 2016, the Court of Appeal granted the filmmaker an opportunity to appeal the decision and Animal Justice has been allowed to intervene. Last week, they headed to court and the outcome of the case is yet to be determined.
Whale and dolphin captivity has consistently been losing support over the last few years. SeaWorld completing their final entertainment show involving orcas on Jan. 1. and California banned captive orca breeding in 2016. Ontario banned orca sales and breeding in 2015.
In January, Marineland was fined with six counts of animal cruelty. The entertainment agency has not been supportive of the Bill S-203, and has even gone as far to claim that animal rights group, Ontario Captive Animal Watch, is ‘using’ children to push for support of the bill.
It is clear that the the public opinion of whales and dolphins in captivity is changing drastically. The years of ‘Free Willy’ are behind us, and people are becoming more educated and aware of the frightening downfalls of captivity for marine animals. As an animal advocate, it is amazing to believe that in our lifetimes, we may just see Willy really go free and Canada become a leading nation in banning whale and dolphin captivity permanently.