In a Canadian first, Ontario has banned the captive breeding and acquisition of killer whales. The province has also introduced better protections for marine mammals including dolphins, belugas and walruses.
The government announced Tuesday standards for better care of marine mammals in captivity that dictate pool size, noise, lighting and bacteria content. The regulations consider social groupings and how the animals should be handled, displayed and asked to perform.
Yasir Naqvi, Ontario’s Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services, said the stronger protections are among the highest in the world and will cover the province’s more than 60 zoos and aquariums.
“This is something that Ontarians expect and these animals deserve,” Naqvi said in a statement. “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.”
Animal rights groups cautiously applauded Ontario’s move to add its name to a list of at least 14 countries that ban captivity for orcas.
“This is a recognition that confining orcas in tiny tanks for our own entertainment is inhumane and no longer,” Camille Labchuk, legal advocacy director with the Animal Justice Canada Legislative Fund. “Captive orcas are deprived of the ability to perform important behaviours in a natural environment, including swimming long distances, socializing with family members, and hunting for food.”
The new rules do not extend to all species of whales and dolphins. And, they don’t appear to include licensing for aquariums or zoos, Animal Justice Canada said.
The only killer whale in captivity in Ontario is named Kiska and housed at Marineland in Niagara Falls. Kiska’s health has been the subject of some controversy. Most recently an article that wrongly suggested the animal was in failing health.
The province’s announcement also comes with $5.5-million in annual funding to the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals to strengthen the protection of animals.