Canada Passes 'Free Willy' Bill Outlawing Whales and Dolphins in Captivity
In response to accusations of animal cruelty, aquariums around the world are moving away from keeping large marine mammals in tanks. On Monday, June 10, Canada made a huge leap toward that goal. CNN reports that Canada's House of Commons passed a bill that bans holding whales, dolphins, and porpoises in captivity, barring special circumstances.
The so-called "Free Willy bill," named after the 1993 film that follows an orca freed from an amusement park, makes capturing and breeding cetaceans for entertainment punishable by a fine up to $150,000 USD. The exceptions to the rule are animals that are in need of rehabilitation, that have been licensed for scientific research, or that are unable to survive in the ocean on their own. The bill has been moving through Canada's legislature since December 2015.
Animal rights activists argue that highly social, intelligent mammals like whales and dolphins are unsuited to life behind glass walls. The 2013 documentary Blackfish, which focused on the captive orcas at SeaWorld, drew the issue into the international spotlight. In 2016, SeaWorld announced that it would end its killer whale breeding program.
Canada's Free Willy bill has already earned approval from the nation's Senate, but it must return there to receive "royal assent" before it can become law. Similar initiatives have been launched in the U.S.: In 2016, California passed a law making it illegal to hold orcas in captivity for "display, performance, or entertainment purposes."