Who cares about the rights of marine animals kept in captivity? According to a recent Ryersonian Facebook poll, the majority of Ryerson students do. But, when it comes to physically acting for change, there is no longer a consensus.
Last Tuesday, Fisheries Minister Dominic LeBlanc introduced Bill C-68, which mainly focuses on protecting cetaceans—dolphins, whales and porpoises—from being showcased in aquariums throughout the country, including Marineland and the Vancouver Aquarium.
The bill is a delivery on the federal government’s promise to restore lost protections and incorporate modern safeguards into the Fisheries Act.
After consulting with thousands of Canadians and participating in more than 100 meetings with partners, stakeholders and Indigenous groups, LeBlanc said, “We have heard Canadians’ calls for a Fisheries Act that significantly improves protections for our fish and fish habitat, ensuring that our fisheries and their ecosystems are protected for future generations law.”
Ryerson’s Vegan Education Group (RU VEG) is the only animal rights and protection group affiliated at the university. They’re happy about this bill’s introduction in Parliament, although they believe it should’ve happened sooner.
In 2016, the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (OSPCA) laid charges against the Vancouver Aquarium for the peculiar deaths of two beluga whales nine days apart. Then in 2017, the OSPCA laid charges against Marineland for abusing their marine mammals before, after and during their shows. The common issues the two aquariums share are cramped facilities for their marine mammals, unsanitary water, forced medication and abusive treatment of trainers and other staff.
To date, One Green Planet—an online platform that advocates for ecology, environmentalism, ethics and veganism—reported that approximately 22 dolphins, 17 orcas and 25 beluga whales have died at Marineland alone.
Most of the 35 participants of a Ryersonian Facebook poll, which asked how students feel about marine life being kept in captivity by Canadian aquariums agree that these practices are wrong. But some suggest that it is alright to keep cetaceans in captivity so long as they are treated properly.
“There are marine life that are incapable of living in the wild for various reasons. However, healthy marine life are suffering in captivity,” Aleks Markova, a fourth-year biology student, said in a Facebook message.
Other respondents to the poll said that captured wildlife can face a better chance of survival at an aquarium over an ocean, provided they are treated humanely.
Andrew Laursen, an associate professor for Ryerson’s department of chemistry and biology, believes that keeping marine mammals in captivity can be beneficial for conservation if properly done, but also cruel when poorly executed. “The problems in captivity of mammals such as whales is that it is really difficult, if not impossible, to do so in a manner where the net benefit in conservation efforts is greater than the harm done,” said Laursen.
Laursen believes that aquariums could potentially be useful as centres of rehabilitation for cetaceans, but the new bill prohibits the act of capturing such marine mammals for such purposes.
While the Vancouver Aquarium said that they will no longer keep dolphins and whales in their facilities, Marineland has declined to comment about their future policies and practices.
RU VEG is optimistic about future steps toward protecting more animals from human activity and recreational use. They hope that this bill spreads awareness to more people who will be more compassionate to cetaceans.
“As more people become aware of captivity being inherently cruel, we’ll also continue to see more wins and eventually a world where these wonderful animals are not exploited or put on display,” the group said via Facebook.
Bill C-68 must pass the House of Commons and the Senate before becoming a law.