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Second reading of Bill S-203, An Act to amend the Criminal Code and other Acts (ending the captivity of whales and dolphins)

Second reading of Bill S-203, An Act to amend the Criminal Code and other Acts (ending the captivity of whales and dolphins)

Second reading of Bill S-203, An Act to amend the Criminal Code and other Acts (ending the captivity of whales and dolphins)

Second reading of Bill S-203, An Act to amend the Criminal Code and other Acts (ending the captivity of whales and dolphins)

Published on 23 November 2016
Hansard and Statements by Senator Wilfred Moore (retired)

Hon. Wilfred P. Moore:

Honourable senators, I rise today to speak in final reply to Bill S-203, the ending the captivity of whales and dolphins act.

This bill proposes to phase out the captivity of whales, dolphins and porpoises in Canada, with an exception for rescues and rehabilitation. The bill would achieve this result by exercising the federal powers over international trade, animal cruelty and marine mammals in coastal waters.

I’ve argued that keeping whales in display tanks is an unjustifiably cruel practice; others have disagreed. Thankfully, the Senate of Canada is a place where such debates can take place. I too offer my thanks to members of the chamber for their patience in our deliberations yesterday. I hope that this place continues to operate under the principles of respect and civil dialogue by which we are all bound.

The question before us — Should whales and dolphins be kept in display tanks? — is a moral one, but it must be informed by scientific evidence. Collectively known as cetaceans, these creatures constitute a distinct biological group. They share characteristics such as high-level intelligence, emotions, sociability, complex communication ability and roaming lifestyles. In the view of many, such characteristics oblige us to extend these creatures moral consideration.

That is why Bill S-203 seeks to grant whales and dolphins reasonable protections under Canadian law. Specifically, Bill S- 203 seeks to protect them from suffering the harms of captivity. Those harms include confinement, isolation, health problems, reduced lifespans, high infant mortality rates and sensory deprivation, which must be acute for creatures that experience the world through echolocation.

If Bill S-203 passes, the live captures of whales and dolphins will be illegal except in the case of rescued species. As well, the trade and captive breeding of live cetaceans will be prohibited, and live entertainment shows will require a provincial licence.

In this chamber, the main objection to Bill S-203 has been the claim that it will interfere with scientific research that is crucial for conservation efforts. Even if this claim was sound, and it is not, the research argument mischaracterizes the captivity industry.

The vast majority of captive whales and dolphins in Canada play no role in scientific research. Over 50 beluga whales and dolphins, and one isolated orca, are kept at Marineland, an amusement park in Niagara Falls. Their purpose there is exclusively for entertainment. Phil Demers, a former head trainer at Marineland, told us that the whales are trained using starvation and fed fish containing Valium. I mentioned this previously and would have expected opponents of Bill S-203 to comment.

The Vancouver Aquarium has a much smaller operation. They hold only four cetaceans. Of these four, three were rescued and retained because they could not be released into the wild, which this bill would continue to allow. The remaining beluga, Aurora, was captured near Churchill, Manitoba, in 1990. She was taken from her family in the wild to be used for captive breeding with American theme parks, where the Vancouver Aquarium has additional whales on loan. Aurora has witnessed the death of all of her offspring, including Qila, who died last week. Aurora, we found out yesterday, is dying in the Vancouver Aquarium as we speak. The staff of the aquarium is of course doing what they can, but the fact remains that Aurora has spent her life in captivity for the purpose of breeding and entertainment and will also die in captivity.

Honourable senators, whale captivity is not primarily about research; it’s about revenue. Perhaps that is why many scientists, including Dr. Jane Goodall, oppose the captivity of whales and dolphins. As you know from a letter I circulated, 20 world- renowned marine biologists have endorsed Bill S-203. I will read from that letter:

[Toothed whales, dolphins and porpoises] are among the most intelligent and socially complex mammals. As marine mammal biologists, we believe that [these] species inherently cannot fully adapt to confinement in zoos and aquariums. All [these species] are wide-ranging and share certain biological and ecological characteristics that do not allow them to thrive in zoos and aquariums, and this is particularly true for the larger species such as orcas.

The letter continues:

When dolphins were first commercially displayed to the public some 80 years ago, the world knew little about their ecology and behaviour. Much of what researchers have learned about [them] in the following decades came from studying them in captivity. However, studies on free-ranging animals, starting in the late 1960s and early 1970s and continuing to today, have greatly expanded knowledge on [toothed whale, dolphin and porpoise] biology and ecology. At a minimum, the maintenance of [these species] in commercial captive display facilities for entertainment purposes is no longer supported or justified by the growing body of science on their biological needs.

Honourable senators, this letter should be enough to send this bill to the Committee on Fisheries and Oceans. But there is more.

Dr. Sidney Holt, another supporter of Bill S-203, is one of the most influential marine biologists of the 20th and 21st centuries. Dr. Holt helped end commercial whaling and has held senior positions at the United Nations, the International Whaling Commission, and the University of Cambridge. In support of this bill, Dr. Holt wrote the following:

The aquarium industry attempts to justify the captivity of whales and dolphins as a means of “obtaining crucial scientific knowledge” for their conservation, but this is generally false.

I do not know of a commercial or other public aquarium where it could be justly claimed that its activities were important for the conservation of the species it held. There are certainly interesting observations that have been made but not, as far as I know, any that have contributed meaningfully. Claims that research performed on captive animals is for their benefit are specious, at best.

Captivity is by no means a requirement for us to continue to learn about these animals. There are, in fact, other proven, more ethical ways of performing research with whales and dolphins that do not require a life in captivity and are more likely to provide information that is directly relevant to their life in the wild. For example, I and many others have conducted productive research on bottlenose dolphins in lagoons, from which they could escape, and return, at will.

In the case of highly migratory cetaceans such as belugas, who are used to traveling vast distances, to be held in ponds, pools, and tanks is, I think, a special form of cruelty. No one has ever produced a compelling reason to justify such treatment — certainly not a scientific or conservation-based reason.

As I said, Dr. Jane Goodall has expressed support for the policies contained in Bill S-203, and I quote her:

The current permission of Vancouver Aquarium [beluga] breeding programs on-site, and at SeaWorld with belugas on loan, is no longer defensible by science. This is demonstrated by the high mortality rates evident in these breeding programs and by the ongoing use of these animals in interactive shows as entertainment. . . . The phasing out of such . . . programs is a natural progression of human-kind’s evolving view of our non-human animal kin.

We should hear from all sides on this issue. I hope to see a thorough scientific debate at the Fisheries and Oceans Committee, with experts presenting and testing the evidence. I want to hear what the scientists have to say, particularly to each other.

I also hope Marineland will welcome the opportunity to publicly describe the social value of its activities. It is worthy to note that the State of California passed a law similar to Bill S-203 on September 13, 2016, and that SeaWorld supported that legislation.

Currently, Canada’s criminal laws prohibit cruelty to animals, including specific practices such as fighting or baiting animals, or releasing birds and then shooting them. Bill S-203 would prohibit additional particularly cruel practices, namely breeding cetaceans or taking new individuals into captivity, except for rescues. As with other animal cruelty laws, this is a moral condemnation of a cruel practice with an appropriate sanction.

For the record, I would support the committee amending the penalty to a summary conviction with a substantial fine, sufficient to deter and condemn the keeping and breeding of cetaceans in captivity. Further, if the committee does not believe breeding whales constitutes animal cruelty, I expect the committee will exercise its independent judgment. The other restrictions proposed in Bill S- 203, notably imports and exports, require no changes to the Criminal Code. That is my position, which is now on record.

No legal expertise is required to determine whether cetacean captivity is cruel. Colleagues, this is a moral and scientific question, and the Fisheries and Oceans Committee is best positioned to make that assessment.

Supporters of Bill S-203 include Dr. Marc Bekoff of the Jane Goodall Institute; Gabriela Cowperthwaite, Director of the CCN- distributed documentary Blackfish; Ric O’Barry, the former trainer of Flipper and subject of the Oscar-winning documentary on dolphin drive hunting, entitled The Cove; the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies; the British Columbia Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals; three ex-trainers from SeaWorld in the United States; and Zoocheck Canada.

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson has publicly opposed captive breeding, and Niagara Falls Mayor Jim Diodati has called for a graduated opportunity for Marineland to reinvent itself.

And because individuals like Phil Demers and Vancouver’s Gary Charbonneau have worked tirelessly to get the word out, 5,775 Canadians have petitioned the House of Commons to pass this bill. An petition has over 27,000 signatures, and Elizabeth May of the Green Party looks to receive this bill as sponsor in the other place.

I now ask that the Senate make a decision on second reading. In doing so, I only ask that this bill on its merit receive fair and timely consideration, and be put to a free vote.

The question is whether, in 2016, we should keep whales and dolphins in display tanks for the primary purpose of human entertainment.

I submit that, if we continue to allow these intelligent, empathetic creatures to be owned and sold, we place ourselves on the wrong side of history.

Please consider the evidence and search your hearts. I think you’ll find that whales and dolphins deserve to live free lives, among their kind, in the open sea.

Your Honour, if you would, the question.


  1. Shawna Habeth 8 months ago

    RIP Tilikum.

  2. Elaine Thomas 8 months ago

    I support Bill S-203 – An Act to amend the Criminal Code and other Acts (ending the captivity of whales and dolphins).

    The live captures of whales and dolphins will be illegal except in the case of rescued species. As well, the trade and captive breeding of live cetaceans will be prohibited.

    This part is NOT ACCEPTABLE. Please REMOVE:
    ” live entertainment shows will require a provincial licence.”

    This reverses all the logic of this Act and approves abuse. #EmptyTheTanks Rescue Only

  3. catherine allison 8 months ago

    We starved this whale in order to get him into the cage he had outgrown.A Steel cage to keep him safe from Greenpeace people who might have freed him in the night.I heard the cries when I worked at the restaurant next to him.The haunting sound of his cry will never be forgotten.It makes me so sad to know this happened in my ‘backyard’.I am grateful to the young woman behind the movement and the movie Blackfish.

  4. Barbara Mullaley 8 months ago

    I support you. I am heartbroken over Tilikums death it was senseless. These animals should not have to live in small tanks and perform for profit.

  5. Lesly taylor 8 months ago

    Thank you for all living creatures. It is a start.

  6. Margaret Degnan 8 months ago

    Swim freely precious angel.Rest peacefully.

  7. Leah 8 months ago

    Canada ~ take the lead so others may follow ~ Ban the captivity of dolphins and whales.

  8. C. Simard 8 months ago

    I agree with Elaine Thomas. This is contrary to the objective of the bill. Is it a loophole?
    Please REMOVE:
    ” live entertainment shows will require a provincial licence.”

  9. Sophie 8 months ago

    Agree with Elaine Thomas to remove that specific section from the proposed Bill.

  10. MLBruno 8 months ago

    R I P Tilikum! If only the USA would also adopt this policy, it would end needless suffering!

  11. Tatania 8 months ago

    Where do I sign to stop this cruelty, embarrassing that Canada allows this !
    We need to stand and be leaders , to show the world that animals are NOT FOR ENTERTAINMENT / PROFIT !!! Where is the petition for all to sign to show their support Bill S-203 ….Thank-you …Hon Wilfred P Moore for taking a stand !!! Wake up CANADA ITS 2017 Animal Abuse is WRONG !!

  12. Dianne 8 months ago

    I support Bill s 203, to end captivity of whales, dolphins and any cetaceans. It is cruelty to animals without question. These are highly intelligent beings who do not belong in small chlorine pools. They belong in the sea.

  13. Nadia Laubach 8 months ago

    I support Bill S-203 – An Act to amend the Criminal Code and other Acts (ending the captivity of whales and dolphins).

    The live captures of whales and dolphins will be illegal except in the case of rescued species. As well, the trade and captive breeding of live cetaceans will be prohibited.

  14. Laura Smith 8 months ago

    Please bring Bill S203 to end all cetaceans captivity. This is year 2017, we live in modern civilization. Let’s end cruelty!

  15. Patricia Burns 7 months ago

    I support bill s-203! I am a voting Canadian . If there is anything else I can do please advise.

  16. Michelle Arnold 7 months ago

    I’d give anything to see these cetaceans just be free. We’ve already lost too many and captivity offers no life.

  17. Laura Graham 6 months ago

    The information we gain about the physiology of cetaceans in captivity cannot be obtained any other way. And that information is critical to their effective conservation in the wild as well as rehabilitation efforts of injured animals. As a conservation biologist that has worked for decades on endangered species physiology, including assessing welfare in captive species I strongly object to this bill. It will do far more harm than good to conservation of these species that are under increasing threat in the wild. I suggest you familiarize yourself with the vaquita. How do you propose we save this species without captive breeding/research??? With a bill like this the only option would be to let the vaquita go extinct. Can you guarantee that the cetaceans affected by this bill will never become so endangered?? Of course you can’t! You have no right to tie the hands of people working to protect cetaceans from going extinct by unilaterally banning their holding in captive facilities. And where is your evidence that it is cruel??? A large part of my research program is assessing the physiological stress response to various wildlife management protocols in both wild and captive species. Where is your scientific evidence?

    • Diane Fraleigh 3 months ago

      There are numerous studies in the wild that assist conservation much more than any research done in captivity, where the behaviour of cetaceans is not natural and in no way normal. There have only been six peer reviewed studies coming out of Marineland in the past 30 years, with next to no citations, and only 13 from Vancouver Aquarium with respect to captive cetaceans, with only 60 citations in total. That is, in the opinion of many scientists, pathetic. There are ZERO studies on captive cetaceans relating to the endangered Southern Resident Killer Whale population and many on wild cetaceans relating to the same endangered population. So whilst you may claim research performed on captive cetaceans is vital, there are no stats to support your argument and the paltry peer reviewed research done on captive cetaceans in Canada does not justify the obvious harm to their welfare.

  18. Lisa Fike 6 months ago

    Please end captivity for whales & dolphins. In Todays Age, our awareness Worlwide of orca intelligence and what theyve been forced to endure by the hands of human greed, everything from the enormous sad and cruel endurance of capture process, and being separated from their families, ripped from theyre Life of Sound and freedom; Way of suffer a death sentence of confined pools, inbreeding,sicknesses,health failure, non sufficient nutrition, and mental unremarkable torture again,seperating babies from mothers. ALL due to allowance of all marine who simply do not care about these cetaceans but ONLY their profits. It is very sad in this Society that we have such humans capable of such lack of empathy & respect for these inteligent very social creations. But what we can do is come together and give back to the orcas and dolphins our repect and restoring their freedom from all human greed that is hurting them. After all, they just want what we want. To Share Life in this World of freedom, choice and Peace. This Society we call Life is ALL to full of destruction of human vs human. Must we allow our whales and dolphins this torture? They dont want to hurt us, they just want theyre Lives they deserve. Please End Captivity.

  19. Joanna Caig 2 months ago

    These animals are not entertainment and the behaviours they exhibit in captivity are nothing like the ones they exhibit in the wild so the argument of science is a load of BS. Anyone who knows anything about these animals knows they are incredibly intelligent social beings and belong in the wild with their families swimming great distances each day. There is no excuse anymore in this day and age to keep them held prisoners in concrete tanks swimming in circles with no stimulation. Anyone who believes otherwise should have their heads examined. I hope Canada passes this bill and look forward to the day the rest of the world follows!


  1. […] marine mammal biologists from around the world recently signed a collective letter in support of the goals of Bill S-203, which would outlaw the practice of keeping these …Read […]

  2. […] marine mammal biologists from around the world recently signed a collective letter in support of the goals of Bill S-203, which would outlaw the practice of keeping these …Read […]

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