The Current

Should Canada ban keeping whales and dolphins in captivity?

A bill to ban keeping whales and dolphins in captivity has been under consideration since December 2015, leaving animal rights activists frustrated by the long delays. But one Senator cites expert testimony that suggests animals in amusement parks are not suffering.

Scientists say whales in captivity 'happy' and 'healthy,' argues Senator

Kiska, the killer whale of Marineland in Niagara Falls, Ont. (CBC)
Listen23:34

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Keeping whales and dolphins in theme parks isn't cruel, according to a senator opposed to a bill that would outlaw the practice.

"I absolutely do not think it is cruel and neither do independent marine biologists," said Senator Don Plett, the federal Conservative Party whip.

"They study these animals and they say these animals are healthy, they are happy, they have companionship, they are not fleeing predators — no, I do not think it is cruel."

Bill S-203, which would ban keeping and breeding cetaceans in human captivity, has been working its way through Parliament since December 2015. MPs from four parties recently called on the Senate to stop playing "games" and end the delays, but last week, Plett used parliamentary procedure to stop a third-reading vote.

Conservative Senator Don Plett argued that animals in captivity have different needs, because food is provided and they are not subject to predators. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Marineland in Niagara Fall, Ont., is the only amusement park that keeps marine mammals in Canada. Vancouver Aquarium decided in January to stop the practice. Proponents of the bill say that confined conditions harm the animals mentally and physically.

However, Plett argued that animals in the wild only dive to great depths or swim long distances to find food, or avoid predators.

In captivity, he argued, where food is provided and the animals aren't hunted, there is no need to match the space available in the wild.

"We had 14 witnesses — top marine biologists — at the Senate committees that were opposed, for various reasons, to this bill," he told The Current's guest host Mike Finnerty.

Keeping whales and dolphins in captivity is 'absolutely cruel', Camille Labchuk tells Mike Finnerty. 0:53

The bill was originally introduced in 2015 by Senator Wilfred Moore. Following his retirement in 2017, Senator Murray Sinclair took charge of the proposal.

Sinclair believes that the experts who testified before the Senate had a conflict of interest.

"Almost all of these scientists who were called on behalf of Marineland and Vancouver Aquarium were affiliated with Marineland and Vancouver Aquarium and were hardly independent," he said.

"They admitted as much in the course of their testimony ... but they asserted as scientists they had an obligation to maintain some neutrality.

"But the reality is that they are advocating for Marineland and Vancouver Aquarium."

Senator Murray Sinclair took charge of the proposal after the retirement of Senator Wilfred Moore. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

The bill would not ban captivity for the purposes of research, he said, as well as for animals that need to be protected or require veterinary assistance.

"The industry has established a tendency to take cetaceans into captivity solely for the purpose of breeding them," he said, "for reselling them to other display facilities, and for purposes of putting them on display for entertainment purposes and making money that way."

Listen to the full conversation near the top of this page.


With files from CBC News. This segment was produced by The Current's Kristin Nelson and Richard Raycraft.

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