Over the past several years, there has been talk about banning the captivity of whales and dolphins. Action has finally been taken and due to a recently passed bill in Canada, aquariums will no longer be allowed to keep this time of marine life in captivity. Because of this, the Vancouver Aquarium will stop holding whales and dolphins captive after signing a new 35-year lease.
Just two weeks ago, the Canadian government officially banned whale and dolphin captivity after years of delay. The bill was first introduced in the Senate in 2015 and known as the Ending the Captivity of Whales and Dolphins Acts. According to the BC SPCA, this bill was more than four years in the making and underwent more studies than any other bill in recent history.
Bill S-203, nicknamed the “Free Willy Bill,” eventually made it’s way to the House of Commons where it had its third and final reading on June 10, 2019.
The Vancouver Aquarium, however, was exempt from the new law. According to CityNews, the bill will phase out the practice but will grandfather in those animals that are already being held in Marineland in Niagara Falls, Ontario, and the Vancouver Aquarium in BC.
Now, the Vancouver Aquarium is agreeing to ban the captivity of whales and dolphins due to the signing of a new 35-year lease of its building in downtown Vancouver.
Ranked as one of North America’s best aquariums, the Vancouver Aquarium's new lease will allow it to remain in Stanley Park for the next 35 years. This agreement will require the company to no longer have cetaceans at the facility.
In May of 2019, the aquarium launched a lawsuit against the city seeking damages regarding revenue loss stemming from the May 2017 cetacean ban. The lawsuit claimed there was a 13% decline in attendance in 2017 and 2018 which resulted in $4 million annually.
Set to launch in 2020, the aquarium has agreed to drop the lawsuit and shift its focus to conservation, public education, and enhancing visitor experiences.
According to The Province, a Pacific white-sided dolphin named Helen is the aquarium's last remaining cetacean. The dolphin was rescued from entanglement in a fishing net off the coast of Japan in 1996. Due to amputation of one of her flippers, she was deemed non-releasable.
“Ocean Wise aspires to become a global ocean conservation organization and wants to inspire people in every corner of the planet to participate in creating healthy oceans, but for most people the ocean is ‘out of sight, out of mind,’ " said Lasse Gustavsson, CEO and President of Ocean Wise, in a news release sent to Narcity.
“There are many threats to the ocean, but the greatest threat is that many believe someone else is going to save it. Ocean Wise has an important role to bring the ocean to the people and the people to the ocean, and the Vancouver Aquarium is one of the best tools we have to do that.”
Despite the bill, Marineland will be allowed to keep their whales and dolphins captive. Marineland owns the vast majority of marine mammals in Canada, with an estimated 51 beluga whales, five bottlenose dolphins and a killer whale at its facility in Niagara Falls, according to Cetabase data.
While the S-203 bill now bans the capture, sale and import of cetaceans in Canada, Marineland will remain unaffected and are officially allowed to keep all of their current captive animals until they all die.