The Ontario government plans "higher standards of care" for marine animals in new rules that would also include banning the acquisition and sale of killer whales.

The new standards, which would also cover dolphins, belugas and walruses, appear to be aimed at theme parks, aquariums and other attractions that own and display such water life to the public.

The government says Ontario would become the first to set specific standards of care for such mammals.

In 2012, Marineland, a southern Ontario aquarium and theme park, was accused of mistreatment of its mammals. A killer whale, also known as an orca, was reported ill last year.

Marineland is one of 60 zoos and aquariums in Ontario — more than any other province. 

Animal rights groups are applauding the planned standards.

“This is a recognition that confining orcas in tiny tanks for our own entertainment is inhumane,” said Camille Labchuk of Justice For Animals.

The government used a report by University of British Columbia marine biologist Dr. David Rosen to form the standards, which would cover:

  • The size of pools that house marine mammals.
  • Environmental considerations such as bacteria content, noise and lighting.
  • Appropriate social groupings of the animals.
  • Regulations for the handling and display of marine mammals.

“This is something that Ontarians expect and these animals deserve," Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services Yasir Naqvi said.

"These higher standards of care, along with prohibiting any future breeding or acquisition of orcas in Ontario, are both the right thing to do and builds on our government’s ongoing efforts to have the strongest animal protection laws in Canada.”

A technical advisory group of veterinarians, animal welfare groups, industry and enforcement partners will provide advice on the final standards and timing of their implementation, They're set to report back to the province in six months.