After nearly three years of swimming against a strong current of Conservative opposition, a bill that would ban whale and dolphin captivity in Canada has cleared the Senate. Shortly after, a bill that would ban the import of shark fins into the country was also adopted.

After a surprise vote late Tuesday, Bill S-203, also known as the “Free Willy” bill is now making the leap to the House of Commons.

Tabled in December 2015 by former Liberal senator Wilfred Moore, the Ending the Captivity of Whales and Dolphins Act has faced opposition keeping it from moving to a vote until now.end whale captivity canada

There are only two facilities in Canada that keep captive cetaceans, the Vancouver Aquarium and Marineland.
Amendments that would have excluded them from the scope of the bill was defeated.

Given today’s heightened awareness and compassion, Independent Sen. Mary Jane McCallum said she was frustrated that “a bill aimed at protecting some of nature’s largest, most substantial and most intelligent animals from living in insufficient confines can be mired in the Senate since its introduction in 2015.”

While facilities like Marineland and the Vancouver Aquarium speak of the commitment to animal care and don’t set out to do harm, McCallum said the nature of an unnatural environment means that harm is inevitable. That the reality of undue harm in captivity exists “should be enough to jolt people — namely this chamber — into action.”

“This issue of animal cruelty is unacceptable in the 21st century in and of itself,” she said.

“This concern is compounded by my personal belief, shared by many, that having these majestic and intelligent animals in captivity is simply unnatural. It is against the very nature, biology and physiology of these animals to be swimming around in tanks when they are wired and built for the vastness of an ocean.”

At committee, senators heard from several witnesses from the Vancouver Aquarium about the need for and benefit of research that is done on whales and dolphins in captivity. McCallum called that “an argument of convenience.”

“Nothing about cetaceans in captivity is natural, including their behaviour. If scientists are truly interested in observing and understanding the actions and behaviours of these animals, they would be best suited doing this in the wild, where they are able to exist freely and without constraint,” she said.

“Colleagues, it is my belief that aquariums have these animals in captivity, first and foremost, to turn a profit. It is important that we do not confuse entertainment for education. The actions and reactions elicited from these animals while in captivity is a far cry from what their usual behavioural patterns and habits are in the wild. … It is incredibly unfortunate that the entertainment must come at the expense of the welfare of these animals.”

Banning the Import and Export of Shark Fins

Shortly after S-203 passed Tuesday, Bill S-238 followed suit. It would ban the import and export of shark fins to and from Canada.

The Ban on Shark Fin Importation Act was introduced in April 2017 and received unanimous support at the Senate fisheries committee in February this year.

Canada has banned the practice of shark finning since 1994. However, fins can still be imported — and demand for them has been rising. Last year, nearly 159,000 kilograms of fins were imported into this country — a 60 per cent

shark fin noaa
NOAA agent counting confiscated shark fins. – Credit NOAA

increase over the last five years. Most came from Hong Kong and China, and were likely from finning.

Outside of East Asia, Canada is the largest importer of fins in the world.

With many of the world’s species of shark on the brink, the University of Guelph conducted DNA testing on shark fins being sold in Vancouver to determine what species they were. Of the 59 shark-fin samples collected, 76 per cent were from species on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s list of vulnerable species.

Both bill are now heading to the House of Commons, which will hold a vote, the result of which will decide wether or not they become law.

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