The Canadian government has set a precedent for protecting cetaceans with a recent bill enforcing animal welfare in the entertainment industry. It reflects the growing concern over animal cruelty and reducing environmental impact as a measure of good business. Hopefully the new law will serve as a paragon for other industries who currently eschew the virtues of investing in preservation for the future.
Ben Pearson is Senior Campaign Manager at World Animal Protection Australia, we asked him to examine the implications of Canada’s legal precendent to protect animal welfare in the entertainment industry, and the value of embracing these laws in other countries.
What Canada’s bill to protect cetaceans means for animal welfare legislation?
If you grew up in Australia, chances are that you’ve been to Sea World on the Gold Coast. And if you’ve been to Sea World, chances are that you’ve seen the dolphin show. For many families, watching a dolphin show has been part of the magic of school holidays.
But there’s nothing magic about the cruelty to dolphins and other marine animals that happens at Sea World in the name of entertainment.
Sea World is a relic of history. It opened its doors in 1971 in an Australia very different from today. Colour TV, credit cards and McDonalds were yet to be introduced, smoking was commonplace and car seatbelts weren’t yet mandatory.
In the intervening years a lot has changed, including community attitudes to animal welfare.
Canada recently introduced groundbreaking new laws to ban the trade, breeding and display of cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises) for entertainment. The passing of Bill S-203 will amend the Criminal Code, with fines up to $200,000 for breaking the law. This is a significant move, reflecting the immense suffering whales, dolphins and porpoises experience when kept in captivity for entertainment.
It is also a huge win for animal lovers, who have been campaigning for the legislation for years. Jurisdictions around the world are responding to the science by passing laws to ban or significantly restrict the captive display of marine mammals including Brazil, Bolivia, Chile, Costa Rica, India, Luxembourg, Norway, Switzerland, UK, and now Canada.
However, Bill S-203 does make an exception for animals currently captive and those needing care or rehabilitation. This is just one example of the complexity surrounding animal welfare legislation. For instance, there are no national laws on animal welfare in Australia – the states and territories are responsible for the legislation in their own jurisdiction. This means there’s no uniformity and some states are behind others.
The Canadian government acknowledged that a shift in public perception about animal captivity played a factor in the new law. This change in attitudes has come from an increased scientific understanding of marine mammals, helping to educate the public about the issues surrounding keeping them in captivity.
World Animal Protection’s recent report, Case Against Marine Mammals in Captivity, jointly published with the Animal Welfare Institute, delved into the scientific and ethical arguments for banning marine mammal captivity. These kinds of studies have led to the acceptability of keeping animals in captivity for entertainment to decline.
Back in 1986, Former NSW Premier Bob Carr introduced the Marine Mammals Protection Bill to protect marine mammals, while he was the environment and planning minister. Earlier this year, over 30 years after the legislation passed, the last captive dolphin venue in NSW, the Dolphin Marine Conservation Park in Coffs Harbour, announced it will end its dolphin breeding program.
This leaves Sea World on the Gold Coast as the only venue in Australia that still breeds dolphins in captivity. There are currently 30+ dolphins at Sea World, most of which were born and bred there. This is out of step with community attitudes, and global trends away from keeping dolphin’s captive for entertainment.
The end of captive dolphin breeding in NSW shows that change is possible and signals a shift in public perception in Australia. The introduction of nationwide laws in Canada is evidence that the voices of the people are being heard by governments. Globally, we have seen a greater awareness of animal welfare issues, but we need to keep speaking out to create lasting change.
World Animal Protection is now calling on the Queensland Government to ban breeding at Sea World and begin work on a sea sanctuary for the dolphins who cannot be released into the wild. We’re asking the public to act now by signing the petition on our website.