OTTAWA – National animal law advocacy organization Animal Justice says the federal government should revoke or deny beluga export permits to Vancouver Aquarium and Marineland. The two aquariums are secretly attempting to ship beluga whales out of the country before commercial whale export becomes largely illegal.
Vancouver Aquarium apparently owns two beluga whales that it confines at Marineland, and has been granted permits to ship those belugas to another aquarium it runs in Spain. Meanwhile, Marineland is seeking five permits to ship belugas to unknown aquariums in the United States. Beluga whales are an internationally protected species under the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), and cannot be exported from Canada without a federal CITES permit.
Exporting beluga whales from Canada will soon be nearly impossible, with legislation to phase out whale and dolphin captivity expected to pass a final vote in Parliament within weeks. Bill S-203 will make it a criminal offence to confine whales and dolphins. Cetaceans already in captivity grandfathered in. It will also become a criminal offence to breed all whales or dolphins who are in captivity.
Bill S-203 also prohibits the international trade in cetaceans. Export will only be allowed if the government grants a special permit in best interests of the whale, or for science.
Marineland currently confines over 50 beluga whales (some are pregnant), five dolphins, and one orca. Vancouver Aquarium only has one remaining dolphin in its facility, and was banned from acquiring more cetaceans by the Vancouver Parks Board in 2017. Until now, the Vancouver Aquarium concealed from the public that it houses two belugas at Marineland, and instead said it was getting out of the whale captivity business.
Public sentiment is strongly against whale and dolphin captivity, as shown by strong support for Bill S-203, the 2017 Vancouver Parks Board prohibition on whale and dolphin captivity, and a 2015 Ontario law banning orca whale captivity.
“It is shocking that beluga export permits were issued in secret by the government on the eve of whale export being largely outlawed in Canada,” said lawyer Camille Labchuk, executive director of Animal Justice. “The public obviously has an intense interest in the well-being of beluga whales confined by Vancouver Aquarium and Marineland, yet no one was made aware of the permit applications, and the public was given no opportunity to comment on or review this disturbingly secretive, closed-door process.
“Canada is on the cusp of becoming a global leader by passing strong legislation to phase out whale and dolphin captivity, yet the export permits will allow the international whale captivity industry to continue to flourish. Beluga whales shipped abroad can be bred, with their baby belugas condemned to live in the misery of unnatural, concrete tanks and die without ever knowing the freedom of swimming in the ocean. This is completely contrary to the purpose of Bill S-203.
“Instead of allowing Marineland and Vancouver Aquarium to ship whales abroad to expand the captive cetacean industry, the government should support the Whale Sanctuary Project, which is seeking sites in Nova Scotia to build a sea-side sanctuary for retired whales and dolphins.”
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