Canada this week passed legislation that bans keeping cetaceans (marine mammals that include dolphins, whales, and porpoises) in captivity for the purpose of entertainment.
The approved bill will make the act illegal and an offense punishable by a fine of up to 200,000 Canadian dollars (or nearly US$150,000).
Canada’s House of Commons voted to pass the bill, known as the Ending the Captivity of Whales and Dolphins Act, more than three years after it was first introduced. It is now awaiting “royal assent,” or final approval from a senior official before becoming law.
“Whales and dolphins don’t belong in tanks, and the inherent suffering these highly social and intelligent animals endure in intensive confinement can no longer be tolerated,” stated Rebecca Aldworth, executive director of the Humane Society International in Canada.
The law will also make it necessary to obtain a permit in order for one of these animals to be imported into or exported out of Canada.
There are some notable exceptions to the forthcoming law, however, including for those whales, dolphins, and porpoises that are already held in captivity. Currently, only two facilities in the country house cetaceans—the Vancouver Aquarium and Marineland in Niagara Falls. While these facilities will no longer be able to breed or import any new cetaceans, they will be allowed to keep the ones they currently have.
Another exemption from the new law are marine mammals that are being held in captivity for rehabilitation. Additionally, institutes can apply for a license to conduct scientific research, which, if granted, will also allow for the animals to be kept in captivity.
Canada’s new legislation comes several years after the 2013 CNN documentary Blackfish, a critical depiction of SeaWorld’s killer whale program, changed the conversation about marine animals being held in captivity. In 2016, SeaWorld ended its orca breeding programs and shows.
That move came one year after Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus announced that it would remove elephants from its traveling circus performances. TripAdvisor, too, announced in 2016 that it would stop selling tickets to hundreds of attractions in which tourists come into contact with captive wild animals, including elephant rides, the opportunity to pet tigers, and swimming with dolphins.
As public opinion has been increasingly shifting on the issue of animal rights and pressure has been mounting, other strides have been made in the travel industry as well, according to animal rights groups.
The advocacy group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), for instance, recently announced it has worked together with more than 50 travel companies that have agreed to stop offering elephant rides in their itineraries.
“As awareness of the cruelty of elephant rides and tourist traps continues to grow, dozens of travel companies are making the compassionate decision to disassociate themselves from any activities that exploit elephants,” PETA stated in a recent release.
PETA and other animal rights organizations hailed this week’s decision by the Canadian legislature.