Ontario to strengthen protections for marine mammals

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Ontario government says it will introduce legislation prohibiting future acquisition and breeding of Orcas

On Jan. 27, the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services said that the Ontario government will implement stricter and tougher standards, ensuring greater protection marine mammals such as killer whales, dolphins, belugas and walruses.

“The intent of our legislation will be to make sure that we don’t have orcas in captivity in the future,” said Yasir Naqvi, Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services.

“They are unique animals that cannot be replicated in captivity.”

The government says it made the decision to increase its standards following the publication of an expert report by University of British Columbia marine biologist Dr. David Rosen, who advised the government to introduce new standards.

Rosen’s 128-page report was commissioned by the Ontario Government in October 2013 to evaluate Ontario’s current regulatory environment regarding the welfare of marine mammals in captivity or in facilities for public display.

He was asked to make recommendations for improving care and to determine where changes to regulations were necessary to improve the welfare of marine mammals being held in captivity.

Rosen published the report in May and made a number of recommendations, which the province has decided to pursue, including establishing new standards on the size of housing facilities, limits on noise and light, and water and environment quality.

“It is our opinion that the current standards of care for marine mammals in display facilities are insufficient,” the report stated.

Some of the new standards the province will address include “the size of pools used to house marine mammals, environmental considerations such as bacteria content, noise and lighting, appropriate social groupings, and regulations for the handling and display of marine mammals”.

The government “is moving forward with stronger protections for marine mammals to ensure these unique animals receive the best possible treatment and care. This is something that Ontarians expect and these animals deserve”, said Naqvi.

“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.”

The government said it will form an advisory group of experts and scientists, industry representatives and animal activists to report on the final standards and how best to implement them. The group will be given a period of six months to review the legislation, recommended standards and report their findings.

Along with legislation that will prohibit the future breeding and acquisition of killer whales, the government says it will place Animal Welfare Committees at all places in the province that house marine mammals.

These committees “will provide both oversight and access to additional protections such as veterinarians with expertise in marine mammals,” said Naqvi.

Across the province, there are just over 60 zoos and aquariums – the most in Canada – that hold these marine mammals.

The proposed legislation will make Ontario the first province in the country to introduce specific standards of care for marine mammals.

“We will require facilities that keep marine mammals to upgrade their facility if they don’t meet the standards of care,” said Minister Yasir Naqvi.

“That is exactly the advice we will be seeking from the technical advisory committee as to what is a feasible time frame to make those, in many instances, those very significant physical changes to enclosure size for example.”

Philip Demers, a former employee of Marineland who is also engaged in lawsuit with the company following criticism of its practices, feels activists are starting to get the upper hand.

“I think it validates the efforts of animal rights activists and people who have been pushing for laws and regulations,” said Demers.

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