Canada Passes Ban Making It Illegal to Keep Dolphins and Whales in Captivity

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Canada just passed a bill that makes it illegal to keep whales and dolphins in captivity.

On Monday, the country’s House of Commons voted to pass Bill S-203, the Ending the Captivity of Whales and Dolphins Act, over three years after it was first introduced in late 2015, according to the CBC.

The bill bans importing, exporting, keeping and breeding whales, dolphins and porpoises, as well as making the animals perform for entertainment. Lawbreakers could face a fine of up to $150,000 U.S. dollars.

According to CNN, the bill is referred to as the “Free Willy” bill, after the classic 1993 movie in which a young boy frees a whale from a theme park.

CNN reports that the bill provides exceptions if the animal is a rescue, in rehabilitation, needs assistance, or is licensed for scientific research. Whales and dolphins that already live in captivity will be “grandfathered” into the bill, according to the CBC, so Canadian theme parks will be allowed to keep the animals they currently own.

Canadian animal rights organizations praised the passage of the bill on social media.

The country’s Green Party celebrated on Monday, writing, “These intelligent, social mammals will now get to live where they belong — in the ocean.”

“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,” Humane Canada wrote.

 SeaWorld Orlando | Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel/TNS/Getty Images

SeaWorld Orlando | Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel/TNS/Getty Images

In the United States, conversations about whale and dolphin captivity have mostly centered on the SeaWorld theme park chain. In 2013, the documentary Blackfish premiered, arguing that the conditions of captivity (tiny cages, close quarters to other whales, performance training) caused a whale named Tilikum to contribute to the deaths of three humans.

Following that documentary, in 2016, SeaWord announced the end of its captive orca breeding program. New orcas will only be introduced to the parks if they are rescued from the wild and are not healthy enough to be released back into the ocean. Over all of SeaWorld’s parks, there are now only 20 orcas that remain in captivity.

There are no plans to release these whales, most of whom have spent their life in captivity, into sea sanctuaries — an alternative that multiple animal welfare groups have campaigned for.

In 2016, SeaWorld also announced plans to stop the parts of its orca performances that included kissing, dancing or posing, and additional plans to phase out orca shows completely.