Second reading of Bill S-203, An Act to amend the Criminal Code and other Acts (ending the captivity of whales and dolphins)Published on 27 January 2016 Hansard and Statements by Senator Wilfred Moore (retired)
Hon. Wilfred P. Moore:
Honourable senators, I rise today to speak to a bill that I am pleased to have reintroduced: An Act to amend the Criminal Code and other Acts (ending the captivity of whales and dolphins), now known as Bill S-203. I first tabled this legislation in June of last year and have reintroduced it as promised.
The purpose of this bill is to phase out the keeping of whales, dolphins and porpoises in captivity in Canada, with an exception for rescues and rehabilitation. The evidence shows that keeping these incredible creatures confined in swimming pools is unjustifiably cruel. That is why I hope all new and returning parliamentarians will support the ending of the captivity of whales and dolphins act. This is not a political issue for any party to own; it is a moral issue and a question of conscience.
Colleagues — and I say this equally to Conservative senators, Senate Liberals and independent senators — when it comes to phasing out the captivity of whales and dolphins, let us come together as a chamber. Let’s look at the facts and do the right thing.
Many Canadians are coming together on this issue already; it really touches a nerve. Since the bill’s introduction in June with its former numbering, my office has received an incredible outpouring of public support for this proposal. Yesterday, I tabled in the Senate a petition containing the names of 2,000 residents of British Columbia who support this bill. This bill has also received the endorsements of Phil Demers, formerly the head trainer at Marineland in Niagara Falls, Ontario; Dr. Marc Bekoff of the Jane Goodall Institute; Gabriela Cowperthwaite, Director of the CNN-distributed documentary Blackfish; the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies; the British Columbia Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals; three ex-trainers from SeaWorld in the United States; and Zoocheck Canada.
In Parliament, I’m pleased that Senators Johnson, Mockler, MacDonald and Stewart Olsen across the aisle in this chamber are sensitive to this matter and support this bill, as well as Ms. Elizabeth May, Leader of the Green Party in the other place. I will share some encouraging words from other supporters later on in my remarks.
First, let’s view the facts. Whales, dolphins and porpoises, which together are known as cetaceans, are highly intelligent, emotional and social mammals that roam vast distances in the oceans. In the wild, many species of whales and dolphins live in large family groups, or pods, that can grow to over 100 members. Distinct populations communicate using complex vocalizations that resemble languages. Orcas have been known to travel 150 kilometres in a day, reaching speeds of 45 kilometres per hour and dive to depths greater than 200 metres. I was shocked to learn that a captive orca’s range is only 1/10,000th of 1 per cent the size of its natural home range. Just think about that: 1/10,000th of 1 per cent of its natural home range.
Captive cetaceans live in swimming pools. These conditions are socially isolating, stressful and physically restrictive. Orcas experience dorsal fin collapse, broken teeth, damaged skin, significantly reduced lifespans and stress-induced aggression. Dr. Lori Marino, a leading cetacean scientist at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, United States of America, believes that captive cetaceans have attempted suicide by beating their heads against the walls of pools and leaping from their tanks. If anyone questions the suffering of captive cetaceans, I would invite them to watch the film Blackfish. It is a heartbreaking film, and it’s available on Netflix.
Two Canadian facilities currently hold whales, dolphins and porpoises in captivity. Marineland in Niagara Falls, Ontario, a privately owned theme park, holds in captivity one orca, five bottlenose dolphins and approximately 45 beluga whales. Phil Demers, the former Marineland trainer with whom we consulted on this bill, told us that since the United States generally won’t allow the import of whales caught in the wild, Marineland purchases wild caught whales from Russia, breeds them in Canada and provides them to American aquariums. I have also learned that at Marineland, beluga whales and dolphins are trained to perform tricks through starvation and are fed Valium.
Just yesterday, an organization released undercover footage from Marineland that appeared to show widespread health problems among the belugas, including infections, skin damage, open wounds, behavioural abnormalities and, most shockingly, an emaciated beluga calf in isolation.
Honourable senators, I think we can all agree that the status quo is not something Canadians can or should be proud of.
The Vancouver Aquarium, a public facility, holds in captivity a Pacific white-sided dolphin, two harbour porpoises, a false killer whale and two beluga whales. In a two-minute video I’ve seen that was filmed at the Vancouver Aquarium, a beluga whale swims end to end in its pool seven times. At that rate, these belugas would be doing thousands of laps each day, and this goes on week after week, month after month, year after year. Honourable senators, who wouldn’t say that’s not cruel?
The Vancouver Aquarium has six additional belugas on loan to U.S. aquariums, including SeaWorld theme parks. Not too long ago, that number of belugas was seven. However, in February, one beluga died a violent death from a broken jaw in a SeaWorld facility in Orlando, Florida.
You might ask, what are Vancouver Aquarium whales doing at for-profit American theme parks? The answer is that the Vancouver Aquarium maintains a captive breeding program with U.S. entertainment facilities.
I was saddened to learn that captive breeding has a very high mortality rate. For example, at the Vancouver Aquarium, there have been 10 orca, dolphin and beluga births over the years. Of those 10 calves, only one survived past the age of three. That’s right; just one of 10.
Jane Goodall has condemned the Vancouver Aquarium’s breeding program as lacking scientific value, and rightly so. This year alone, two calves fathered by a Vancouver beluga died at a SeaWorld facility in San Antonio, Texas.
So what will this bill do about this situation?
Bill S-203 will phase out the keeping of whales, dolphins and porpoises in captivity by prohibiting captive breeding, imports, exports and live captures in Canada. To be clear, the bill allows for the rescue and rehabilitation of injured individuals, which can be used in research if they cannot be returned to the wild. This is a very important point, since the Vancouver Aquarium typically alludes to rescues and research to justify its entire operation. This bill will not interfere with rescues, and it will permit research on rescued individuals.
As to currently captive cetaceans, Bill S-203 allows the owners to retain those individuals, including for research, though not for breeding purposes. To put it bluntly, this bill shuts down Canada’s whale farms. I’m also happy to say that this bill builds on an Ontario law passed in May 2015, which phases out keeping orcas in captivity in that province. I would again commend the Honourable Yasir Naqvi and the Ontario government for taking that step forward.
Ontario’s legislation brings me to an important point. Legally, captive whales, dolphins and porpoises are private property falling under provincial jurisdiction. However, animals are a special kind of private property. In addition to the general prohibition on cruelty against animals, the federal Criminal Code also contains several specific prohibitions, for example, fighting or baiting animals or birds. This bill would add to those specific criminal prohibitions by banning the keeping of cetaceans in captivity, as well as captive breeding. In addition, performances and entertainment by currently captive cetaceans will require a licence from a province’s lieutenant governor in council.
Bill S-203 makes some other significant changes. The capture of wild cetaceans currently requires a licence from Canada’s Minister of Fisheries and Oceans. By amending the Fisheries Act, this bill would prohibit live captures, except for injured animals in need of assistance. In addition, the export and captive breeding of cetaceans is currently unregulated in Canada. This bill would prohibit imports and exports, including of cetaceans’ reproductive materials, by amending the Wild Animal and Plant Protection and Regulation of International and Interprovincial Trade Act.
These are important changes. I was surprised to learn that Canada is behind other jurisdictions on this issue. Chile and Costa Rica have banned the keeping of whales and dolphins in captivity, and India has done so for the purposes of public entertainment. The United Kingdom has implemented restrictions so stringent that no cetacean is currently held in captivity, and Italy has banned swim-with-the-dolphins attractions. New Zealand requires ministerial approval for holding cetaceans, and many countries have banned live imports, including Cyprus, Hungary and Mexico.
In November of last year, California congressman Adam Schiff announced his plans to introduce federal legislation in the United States House of Representatives to phase out the display of orcas for entertainment. As Mr. Schiff said:
The evidence is very strong that the psychological and physical harm done to these magnificent animals far outweighs any benefits reaped from their display.
Also in November of last year, a SeaWorld theme park in San Diego, California, announced its plan to rebrand its orca show to be conservation themed. The move is a public relations response to the company’s financial struggles, but it’s also a tacit admission that it is morally objectionable to keep whales in captivity for the purpose of entertainment.
Honourable senators, I want to share with the chamber some words from supporters of this bill. Phil Demers, a former head trainer at Marineland, said the following:
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 psychological 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.
Gabriela Cowperthwaite, director of the CNN-distributed documentary Blackfish, had this to say:
I made Blackfish because I wanted to understand why a trainer came to be killed by a killer whale. I did not come from animal activism and had even taken my kids to SeaWorld. I simply had a question. I soon learned the heartbreaking story of orcas in captivity. All whales and dolphins suffer in marine parks, and seeing these incredible creatures reduced to performing tricks has no social, educational, or conservational value. It is time for us to evolve. I hope Canadians get behind Senator Moore’s bill and end this practice.
Dr. Marc Bekoff, who sits on the ethics committee of the Jane Goodall Institute, said this:
Science has clearly established that whales and dolphins suffer deep and enduring psychological and physical harms in captivity. The practice is ethically indefensible, and Senator Moore’s proposed ban would be a timely and important change in Canadian law. These highly intelligent, emotional, and social species deserve to live free in the wild, where they belong.
Marineland and the Vancouver Aquarium have attacked this proposal. I hope they will both have the opportunity to make their cases at committee. However, I do not predict that their arguments will be persuasive. Marineland’s response to this bill was particularly surreal, calling it “. . . a bicoastal job creation and tourism bill at the expense of Ontario . . .” that will rob “. . . the average people of Ontario from a fair opportunity to see our marine mammals.”
As I said in June of last year, this is the height of human ignorance to say it is unfair that whales and dolphins only live in oceans. To my knowledge, no philosopher or religious leader has ever proposed a moral right to inland dolphin access. The reason, presumably, is that it is indeed ridiculous.
As far as the tourism argument goes, I can guarantee this chamber that in the genesis of this bill, there was not one mention of creating tourism in another part of the country. There is no desire to see Marineland’s full operations shut down; there is no desire to see any jobs lost. What is intended by this bill is to end the captivity of cetaceans, because it is time to do so. Niagara Falls mayor Jim Diodati looks for Marineland to evolve:
. . . 53 years ago we weren’t recycling, we weren’t wearing seat belts, we weren’t worried about drinking and driving or performing marine mammals. In 53 years, a lot has changed. Society’s perspective has changed. Marineland needs a graduated opportunity to re-invent itself.
As to the Vancouver Aquarium, their spokesperson’s response to this bill was that aquariums have scientific importance and that captive cetaceans help us to better understand those in the wild. The spokesman cited the example of a young false killer whale rescued in 2014, and how it provides researchers with an opportunity to learn more about the species, including vocal communications.
First of all, I would note that Bill S-203 allows the rescue and rehabilitation of cetaceans, such as that individual, which can be used in research. So let me be crystal clear: This bill will not interfere with rescues and rehabilitation, and research can continue on rescued individuals.
What this bill will end is the captive breeding programs at Marineland and the Vancouver Aquarium. Dr. Jane Goodall had this to say about the Vancouver Aquarium’s practice:
. . . the current permission of Vancouver Aquarium cetacean breeding programs on-site, and at SeaWorld with belugas on loan, is no longer defensible by science. This is demonstrated by the high mortality rates evident in these breeding programs and by the ongoing use of these animals in interactive shows as entertainment. . . . The phasing out of such cetacean programs is the natural progression of human-kind’s evolving view of our non-human animal kin.
Honourable senators, Jane Goodall is correct. Furthermore, I have yet to hear of that aquarium doing any research that has saved a single whale, nor an explanation of why research cannot be satisfactorily accomplished with rescued and currently captive cetaceans. What I have heard about are the concrete, moral harms of captive breeding, the individual suffering and the deaths. On an empathetic level, the practice is quite plainly cruel.
To conclude, honourable senators, whether we should keep whales, dolphins and porpoises in captivity is a moral issue. It’s also an issue where our moral intuition agrees with science: these incredible creatures truly suffer in captivity. At its heart, this bill is about preventing cruelty to sensitive beings that share our planet. Canada’s federal laws should recognize that whales and dolphins don’t belong in swimming pools. They belong in the sea. I hope our chamber will lead the way on this issue by passing this bill. As the late Mahatma Ghandi said, “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”
Honourable colleagues, thank you for your attention and let us do the right thing and pass this bill.