A Senate bill to be tabled this afternoon would phase out the captivity of whales, dolphins and porpoises in Canada, a move that targets the Vancouver Aquarium and Marineland in Niagara Falls, Ont.

Senate Liberal Wilfred Moore said at a news conference ahead of tabling his bill that it also proposes to regulate the captive breeding of those marine animals.

"I've long been of the opinion that these incredible creatures belong in the wild," the Nova Scotia senator said Thursday.

He called on parliamentarians and candidates to support the bill as the federal election approaches.

"I've long been of the opinion that these incredible creatures belong in the wild." - Senate Liberal Wilfred Moore

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May threw her support behind the bill at the news conference.

"I know this is a fraught issue," she said.

"The science is clear that cetaceans are deeply sensitive, social animals and that maintaining them in captivity can never replicate nature."

Phil Demers, a former trainer at Marineland, who has accused the park of mistreating animals, said in a statement that the bill is long overdue.

"I have witnessed the physiological and emotional consequences captivity imposes on these magnificent beings, and those who care for them," he said. "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."

Marineland has denied allegations that it mistreats its animals. Despite being the subject of numerous investigations, Marineland told CBC News it has never been charged or prosecuted for the mistreatment of animals.

A spokesman for Marineland would not comment on the Senate bill, but said the park supports "clear scientific-based legislation to appropriately secure public confidence that all of the marine animals under our care are taken care of." The spokesman said Marineland fully supports the Ontario SPCA's zoo inspections programs.

The bill has also garnered support from the Jane Goodall Institute, the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies, Zoocheck Canada and Gabriela Cowperthwaite, the director of Blackfish, a documentary about a SeaWorld orca that has been involved in the deaths of three people.

"It is time for us to evolve," Cowperthwaite said in a statement.

Builds on new Ontario rules

The Senate bill comes just as Ontario bans the buying, selling or breeding of orcas. The May 28 amendment to the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Amendment Act also increases protection of other marine animals.

The province can now:

  • Require animal welfare committees at facilities that house marine animals.
  • Require qualified veterinarians at facilities that house marine animals to oversee preventative and clinical care.
  • Issue penalties of up to $60,000 and two years in prison for breaching the act.

The Senate bill would go beyond the Ontario change to cover a wider range of marine animals.

The only orca in captivity in Canada, Kiska, is at Marineland. The Niagara Falls marine park is also home to bottlenose dolphins and beluga whales.

The Vancouver Aquarium is home to harbour porpoises, beluga whales, a false killer whale and a Pacific white-sided dolphin. It has not captured cetaceans — which includes whales, dolphins and porpoises — from the wild since 1996 for the purpose of display, but does rescue animals in need of treatment.

The Vancouver Aquarium told CBC News in an email that the Pacific white-sided dolphin and two harbour porpoises it has in captivity were rescued and later "deemed non-releasable by government authorities due to their inability to survive on their own in the wild."

The capture of wild cetaceans currently requires a license from the minister of fisheries and oceans. The bill proposes to amend the Fisheries Act to prohibit live captures — with the exception of injured animals.

The bill also proposes to regulate the export and captive breeding of cetaceans with an amendment to the Wild Animal and Plant Protection and Regulation of International and Interprovincial Trade Act

Earlier this year, a beluga whale named Nanuq died at Orlando SeaWorld after being loaned from the Vancouver Aquarium for breeding. Despite the death, Vancouver Park Board said it will not reopen the debate on cetacean breeding.