Thursday, November 12, 2015

UPDATED: Restricting the Import of Wild Caught Cetaceans into Canada

It was five years ago this week that Marineland took delivery of eight young female beluga whales.  Acadia, Aurora, Lilloet, Meeka, Rain, Rose, Secord and Talia all arrived on December 6th 2008 from a life of freedom in the ocean to face a lifetime of captivity in a Niagara Falls tank.  The eight beluga whales were captured from the Sea of Okhotsk in Eastern Russia.  This week's grim anniversary for the eight Belugas marks the most recent occasion where Marineland has  imported wild caught cetaceans.  Previous to this they had imported belugas in 2005, 2003 and 1999 as well as dolphins from the Black Sea in 2001.  

Throughout its history Marineland has imported orcas, dolphins and belugas from different parts of the world exploiting the lack of regulation in Canada that does not restrict the importation of wild caught cetaceans.

The Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans does not allow the capture of wild cetaceans within Canadian waters without a permit and has not granted one in decades.  Marineland last applied to the DFO in 1999 asking to capture wild Belugas from Hudson's Bay near the town of Churchill, Manitoba.  Residents of the town loudly protested the request.  The permit was denied and the DFO cited (among many reasons) the inadequate facilities for such animals at Marineland.  Months later wild caught belugas began arriving from Russia instead.

Marineland is the only facility in Canada that continues to capture wild cetaceans and their ability to import them with ease is a real problem.  Currently there is no specific legislation that prevents the importation of these animals into the country.  Canada is a signatory to CITES (Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) via the "Wild Animal and Plant Protection and Regulation of International and Interprovincial Trade Act" (WAPPRIITA).  WAPPRIITA requires the use of a permit system to restrict trade in some cetacean species. Depending on which CITES appendix a species is found on, both an import/export permit is needed, while in other cases only an export permit from the country of origin is needed.

Orcas, belugas and dolphins are Marineland's main attractions and the key to their current business model.  While they might be priced out of the captive orca market there is no doubt they will likely be importing more dolphins very soon to replace their aging inventory.   Any wild caught cetaceans currently do not require a permit to be imported into Canada.  Correcting this problem actually requires relatively little regulatory reform for Canada to begin requiring an import permit for these animals.  It can be accomplished through the existing CITES & WAPPRIITA rules.  The federal Minister of Environment would be responsible for making such changes and it can be done without the difficulty of passing new legislation.  Other countries such as the United States already require an import permit for these animals and also importantly allow the opportunity for the public to comment on the application.  A successful example of this was the recent denial of the Georgia Aquarium's application to import 18 wild beluga whales.

Anyone in Canada concerned about restricting wild capture imports and currently writing about it to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans will automatically be referred to CITES policy.  In previous governments,  attempts from the DFO at passing brand new legislation and a total ban on imports have failed at the cabinet level. Private member's bills introduced by MPs seeking similar laws have also not succeeded.

If Canadians really want to change the current system and severely restrict or ban the importation of wild caught cetaceans into Canada they should be writing to the federal Minister of Environment & Climate Change Catharine McKenna who can actually make these changes under CITES & WAPPRIITA.  Requiring a permit to import wild caught cetaceans into Canada and allowing for the opportunity for the public to make comment on such applications is the key first step in preventing Marineland from capturing and importing more wild caught orcas, dolphins and belugas.

The Honourable Catherine McKenna

Minister of the Environment & Climate Change
House of Commons
Ottawa, Ontario
K1A 0A6

Tel.: 819-997-1441
Fax: 819-953-0279

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