Canada: 'Free Willy' bill bans dolphin and whale captivity

Canada approved landmark bill banning the capture and breeding of cetaceans such as whales and dolphins.

    Canada: 'Free Willy' bill bans dolphin and whale captivity
    Known as the 'Free Willy' bill, S-203 was first proposed in 2015 [File: GALLO/GETTY]

    Canada has approved a bill banning the capture and breeding of cetaceans such as whales and dolphins, now punishable by fines up to $200,000.

    Known as the "Free Willy" bill, S-203, it was first proposed in 2015 and now it is awaiting symbolic royal approval.

    The bill was heavily supported by animal rights groups, but faced fierce opposition from Conservative senators.

    The new law will contain exceptions for marine mammals who require rehabilitation following an injury or licensed for scientific research, while parks can also keep the animals they currently own.

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    Marineland in Niagara Falls and the Vancouver Aquarium are the only two places in Canada with cetaceans in captivity. 

    "Nothing fantastic ever happens in a hurry. But today we celebrate that we have ended the captivity and breeding of whales and dolphins. This is news to splash a fin at," animal rights group Humane Canada said on social media. 

    According to local reports, Marineland, a themed amusement park and zoo in Niagara Falls, also opposed the bill saying it would devastate attendance and threaten conservation efforts at parks where these animals are on display.

    Marineland currently owns 61 of these animals according to reported data.

    "[The park] has enough beluga whales in existence to probably continue for another 30 years, so no jobs are going to be lost as a result of this in the immediate future," Senator Murray Sinclair, the former judge who previously ushered the bill through parliament was quoted as saying by Canadian news agency CBC

    A backlash has been growing in recent years against theme parks that showcase whales and dolphins.

    Last year, British tour operator Thomas Cook announced it would stop selling trips to animal parks that keep captive killer whales.

    After the resolution was announced supporters went out on social media and celebrated with the tag #EmptyTheTanks. 

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    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies