The Canadian Bill S-203 that is cited as “endi…



This bill would:

  • Prohibit the import/export of cetaceans to/from Canada (which would including moving animals to a more appropriate facility eg. moving Kiska and would also prevent movement to a potential sanctuary)
  • Disallow cetacean reproduction (limiting natural behaviour and, again, requiring the long term use of potentially damaging birth control)
  • Remove provisions for cetacean shows or interactions (which I wonder whether that means facilities simply won’t be able to ask for high energy exercise behaviours in public presence, lest it’s seen as a “show”)
  • Provides exemptions made for cetacean rescue and research, but the potential legislation is not clear as to what form that might take.
  • Provides regulatory processes that potentially complicates a swift (and perhaps critical) transfer of a stranded/rescued cetacean.
  • Facilitates a nearly impossible permit system for the shipping of biological samples necessary for laboratory analysis. (creating a system that wastes time for potentially time sensitive analysis of samples to ensure a diagnosis can be made for sick animals)
  • Penalizes those who provide care to cetaceans. Which makes zero sense to penalize people who are following correct protocol and providing the best possible care to the animals they’re responsible for.

Up until last night, each time S-203 was presented, it was defeated in the Senate – but last night’s majority vote moved the Bill forward in the Senate and onto the House of Commons. From here, the Bill will continue through three stages: a debate at the second reading, review by committee, and then a final debate at a third reading. Until such time as the Bill passes the House of Commons, it is not adopted as law.

The zoological community will continue to fight this ridiculous bill, which has no grounding in science and clearly created by extremists who are not thinking about the animals themselves.

Though I generally am not supportive of cetacean captivity (there are many exceptions however), I do not support this bill. Mainly because I find alarming that it is likely going to seriously impact any research involving cetacean tissues or bones for anybody in Canada. Here is what the full bill says:

“7.1 No person shall import into Canada or export from Canada a cetacean, including a whale, dolphin or porpoise — whether living or dead — or sperm, a tissue culture or an embryo of a cetacean.”

Though this was likely written to prevent import/export of captive animals and genetic material used for breeding purposes, it also puts a stop to pretty much any research involving biological materials, even if it’s not associated with captive animals. For example, if a Canadian biologist is conducting research abroad and wishes to bring back biopsy (tissue) samples to Canada for analysis, the language of this bill potentially makes this illegal.

It may also prevent the exchange of osteological specimens as they don’t define what a “dead” cetacean is. Are they referring to carcasses? Skeletal remains? This bill could make it illegal for museums or universities in Canada to exchange skulls or skeletons of cetaceans with institutions in other countries.

I fear this could really impede research to a large degree.

Update: Apparently there is an exception to this rule and possibly the others:

“(3.‍1) Subsection (2) does not apply to a person who is conducting scientific research pursuant to a licence issued by the Lieutenant Governor in Council of a province or by such other person or authority in the province as may be specified by the Lieutenant Governor in Council.”

This is not listed on the public version of the bill I have read so I am not sure where it was added. I will fully admit that I am not familiar with most legal jargon so I do not know if this means biologists can be approved to own, breed, and seek/own reproductive materials with permission from the government or if refers specifically to the section about import/exportation.

I’m always conflicted about legislation that completely prohibits captive cetaceans. I’m not sure if this is the best way to solve the issues that exist with captive cetacean welfare. I worry it could hamper our abilities to rescue cetaceans. Also, no two species are the same and some may be held in captivity with fairly minimal welfare concerns (bottlenose dolphins) while with other species, like killer whales and belugas, there are more issues and difficulties with providing adequate care. I think it’s a bit shortsighted to enact laws which make blanket rules like these.

Perhaps it would be better to create legislation that enahances existing welfare laws and tailors them to be more species-specific and bumps up enforcement/regulation. This way it wouldn’t make rescuing cetaceans more difficult than it already is and would perhaps exclude facilities that cannot meet the highest and strictest standards.