THE STANDING SENATE COMMITTEE ON FISHERIES AND OCEANS
OTTAWA, Thursday, June 1, 2017
The Standing Senate Committee on Fisheries and Oceans, to which was referred Bill S-203, An Act to amend the Criminal Code and other Acts (ending the captivity of whales and dolphins), met this day at 8:30 a.m. to give consideration to the bill.
Senator Fabian Manning (Chair) in the chair.
The Chair: Good morning, my name is Fabian Manning. I’m a senator from Newfoundland and Labrador, and I have the privilege to chair the Standing Senate Committee on Fisheries and Oceans.
Before I give the floor to our witnesses this morning, I would like to invite the members of the committee to introduce themselves, beginning on my immediate left.
Senator McInnis: Thomas McInnis, Nova Scotia.
Senator Gold: Marc Gold, Quebec.
Senator Forest: Éric Forest from the Gulf region of Quebec.
Senator Enverga: Tobias Enverga, Ontario.
Senator Raine: Nancy Greene Raine, British Columbia.
Senator Sinclair: Murray Sinclair, Manitoba.
Senator Watt: Charlie Watt, Nunavik.
Senator Plett: Donald Plett, Manitoba.
The Chair: The committee is continuing its examination of Bill S-203, An Act to amend the Criminal Code and other Acts (ending the captivity of whales and dolphins).
I have just been informed that one of our witnesses this morning has brought some extra documents with her, Ms. Visser, I believe. We only have them in English at the present time. I need permission from the committee to accept them as they are and we’ll have them translated and distributed to you afterward.
Is that okay with everybody?
Hon. Senators: Agreed.
The Chair: We are pleased to welcome this morning Ingrid Visser, Founder and Principal Scientist, Orca Research Trust; and Kathryn Sussman, Consultant to Vancouver Humane Society, Zoocheck Inc. and Whale Sanctuary Project.
On behalf of members of the committee, I thank you for being here with us this morning as we continue our study. I understand we have some opening remarks following which the members of the committee may have some questions.
We usually give five or six minutes to the opening remarks because we want to get to the questions and have some dialogue with our senators. If you’re going to be beyond that maybe you could summarize your remarks.
Kathryn Sussman, Consultant to Vancouver Humane Society, Zoocheck Inc. and Whale Sanctuary Project, as an individual: Thank you for having me here. It’s quite a pleasure to discuss this issue with you.
It’s extremely encouraging to me that the government is now giving such considerate and thorough attention to ending the practice of the captivity of whales and dolphins in Canada. I am an independent consultant and have worked most recently with the Vancouver Humane Society, Zoocheck, and as an adviser to the Whale Sanctuary Project. Part of my work has been trying to stop the importation of wild-caught cetaceans into Canada for public display purposes.
I have been in discussions with the government regarding amending WAPPRIITA, the domestic legislation that implements Canada’s CITES obligations so that it is strengthened and better controls the importation of orcas, bottlenose dolphins and belugas.
These three most commonly kept types of cetaceans are listed in Appendix II of CITES. The CITES regulations require only an export permit for species listed in Appendix II being brought into the country but countries can enact more stringent regulations on their own if they want. In fact, some countries regulate all trade, even species listed in Appendix II and some CITES signatories have banned trade in live cetaceans entirely.
In WAPPRIITA the cetaceans we most commonly have in captivity in Canada only require an export permit to bring them here. No import permit is required. Importation of live CITES Appendix II listed cetaceans for public display purposes isn’t exceptionally difficult.
When Mr. van Havre spoke with you, he indicated that the capture and importation of cetaceans is not a conservation issue and therefore WAPPRIITA is not the appropriate vehicle for dealing with it. I disagree. From a conservation standpoint, it fits squarely within WAPPRIITA’s mandate as some populations of cetacean species are at risk from a variety of threats, including overexploitation by the zoo and aquarium trade.
Not long ago, in 2013, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NOAA, the U.S. agency that oversees marine mammal issues, denied the Georgia Aquarium’s request to import 18 wild-caught beluga whales from Russia for public display. They did so for primarily conservation reasons.
Later that same agency designated this Sakhalin-Amur beluga population the most exploited by the captivity industry, as depleted, which banned all U.S. trade in animals from that population and even their captive-born progeny. Animals from this region have been imported into Canada and can continue to be imported with nothing more than an export permit from Russia.
The U.S. denied an application for a permit to import those animals and later banned all trade for conservation reasons. Clearly the importation of wild-caught cetaceans from that population is an issue that falls within the conservation mandate of WAPPRIITA. Removing animals from the wild can affect wild populations, as the U.S. recently determined, so it is a conservation issue and addressing it through WAPPRIITA is entirely appropriate.
Ideally the most effective way of addressing this activity would be for the government to adopt a total ban, as proposed in Bill S-203, while revising the bill as appropriate to address concerns about materials for research or trade. To clarify, this bill will not affect the Vancouver Aquarium’s ability to rescue, transfer, display, or do research on stranded cetaceans, although the May 15 Park Board decision to ban the Vancouver Aquarium from bringing in new cetaceans and banning performances means these issues are not currently relevant to this facility. The only elements of this bill that are criminalized are wild capture and captive breeding. To do so in both cases has overwhelming support scientifically and ethically from experts, governments and the public alike, domestically and on the global stage.
I would also like to submit that I support thorough consultation with the Inuit. It is important to note, however, that there is no historical use of indigenous people capturing cetaceans or breeding them for the purposes of captivity. That is simply not their historical use of these animals and I believe many indigenous people are in fact against this practice as was indicated to you by Mr. van Havre.
While the government’s current position has been to argue that many cetacean species are subject to the strictest CITES trade controls, those controls generally apply to animals listed in Appendix I, such as the critically endangered river dolphin, the bowhead whale and other rare species, not those species commonly found in public display facilities. When animals from a heavily exploited and depleted population can still be imported into Canada for public display, Canada’s controls don’t seem very strict at all.
In regard to conservation contributions through research done by the Vancouver Aquarium and Marineland in which captive cetaceans were the research subjects, the output of published, peer reviewed scientific papers by the two facilities, as has been established throughout these hearings, is simply not substantial. If the facilities are claiming they need cetaceans in captivity for research, clearly the record suggests otherwise.
As well, it should be stressed that Marineland has imported more than 30 wild-caught belugas from the Sea of Okhotsk in Russia, a region that includes the aforementioned depleted population. Their anti-conservationist imprint, therefore, is much higher than their contribution to science. While Marineland’s lawyers stated they have no intention at present of importing additional belugas, if they change their minds there is little preventing them from doing so.
In regard to education I recently completed a scholarly assessment of the human learning component behind live animal exhibits in presentations. I found not only that the data do not support the argument that viewing captive animals leads to long-term attitude and behaviour change but that a negative educational process occurs. One example of this is how witnessing animals’ lack of natural environment, freedom and privacy normalizes captivity. This is especially the case for species whose needs cannot be met in captivity and for which there is therefore an animal cruelty component.
Different species fare differently in zoos. While I wholeheartedly agree that we need to connect people to nature, the question is how we do that. When children witness species that can’t have their needs properly met in captivity then the education component backfires. They witness something unethical and in certain cases disturbing.
Given the new Park Board decision in Vancouver, the only institution left housing whales and dolphins in the country will be a privately owned for profit theme park that is regulated by a self-regulating body. It is incumbent upon the Canadian government not to allow this facility nor any new facility to continue to bring in from the wild or breed cetaceans. Without amendments to WAPPRIITA to prevent it, it absolutely could still happen.
In conclusion, I would like to clarify that you have heard testimony in support of this bill not only by animal rights activists but also by some of the most reputable animal protection organizations in Canada, world-renowned cetacean scientists, researchers and educators. The majority of people, both domestically and internationally, support ending the captivity of whales and dolphins as it is anti-conservationist and inhumane. Nothing can justify the continuation of this activity, not scientific research, human entertainment nor education. For this reason, it behooves Canada to get on board with other nations that have taken the lead in the preservation of cetaceans. The Canadian public is overwhelmingly in support of doing so.
This is largely a matter of ratifying into law what is already the case as this is a dying practice here in Canada. For this reason, now is the time to support Bill S-203 to prevent that door from opening up again. Thank you.
The Chair: Thank you, Dr. Sussman. Dr. Visser, welcome back to Canada.
Ingrid Visser, Founder and Principal Scientist, Orca Research Trust: I have travelled here from New Zealand to submit my testimony. As a scientist, I definitely support this bill. My area of expertise includes more than two decades of field research on cetacean behaviour. I’ve also observed captive cetaceans in more than 30 facilities around the world. Regarding such facilities, I can’t emphasize enough how they compromise the welfare of cetaceans, including here in Canada.
I’ve documented graphic examples of abnormal repetitive behaviours that are indicative of the poor quality of life that these animals are forced to endure. It isn’t difficult for the casual observer to identify such behaviours. We’ve all seen examples of it: pacing polar bears, rocking elephants and animals that lie catatonic in their cages. I will present a short video at the end of my submission to illustrate some of these stereotypies in cetaceans.
Here in Canada, I’ve observed cetaceans with self-mutilation behaviour, wounds, scars and damage to their teeth. These types of injuries can be extremely graphic and are documented not only on orcas but also belugas and dolphins.
Such issues arise because the animals are housed inappropriately. If you can imagine draining one of these tanks and substituting the dolphins for another animal such as a lion or even your dog, you might begin to understand how profoundly barren and inappropriate these conditions are. It is a concrete box, nothing more. Additionally, everything involving choice is completely removed, and choice is fundamental when it comes to good animal welfare.
A lack of charges and/or convictions against a facility doesn’t mean that there aren’t welfare issues at stake. The unique 2014 court case of SeaWorld v. Marineland is noteworthy because this was the world’s leading marine mammal facility against Marineland.
SeaWorld had sent an orca called Ikaika to Marineland under a breeding loan, but due to subsequent concerns for his physical and psychological health, they demanded him back. SeaWorld won and Ikaika as immediately retrieved. In this case, we had industry professionals, including veterinarians, stating to the court and providing evidence that there were welfare issues at Marineland. Such an outcome is extremely telling and lends much credibility to those who are repeatedly raising concerns about welfare issues at Marineland.
The system fails the animals. The industry is self-regulating,and in most cases, as well as occasionally external inspectors, the staff generally do not have the experience necessarily to assist abnormal behaviour nor put in the context of wild, normal behaviour. Those who do have experience, including scientists and veterinarians and yet do not expose the issues, are often influenced by the very industry that they speak for and may benefit financially and/or in their career from the keeping of cetaceans. They have a vested interest and are therefore not unbiased or objective observers.
Comparatively, those experts who speak out against the industry do not benefit. Rather, many have been vilified and harassed. There have been examples of SLAPP suits, defamation of character, witness intimidation and other examples by the industry to discredit and harass them.
I know. I have been exposed to some of this myself, including being threatened as a court case expert witness. Those who are speaking for the animals do so with the animals’ best interests at heart and for the ratification of this logical and compassionate bill.
Scientific assessment of how animals cope with captive environments has been evaluated rigorously in the past decades, and our understanding of the needs of these animals has improved during this time. There are literally hundreds of scientific papers and books dealing with the welfare of captive zoo animals, yet cetacean-specific papers dealing with welfare is less than a handful, at best.
Such a lack of research is an abysmal record by the industry and illustrates the lack of priority given to welfare. Of note is that the most basic welfare criteria are not met by Marineland or Vancouver Aquarium.
Some veterinarians working at or for cetacean facilities have been documented administering inappropriate or excessive amounts of drugs. One veterinarian exposed in the 2014 case dosed an orca, that had a newborn calf, with Diazepam, a drug you would be most familiar with under the trade name of Valium. This was in contravention of the pharmaceutical company’s protocols and industry best practices. At least one facility has been closed down due to excessive prescription of drugs for cetaceans.
The captivity industry repeatedly claims that there is no higher priority than the health and well-being of the animals. The statement seems ironic and against common sense because if the animals are so stressed that they frequently require drugs, clearly their basic health and well-being is not being met. Furthermore, trainers have now come forward and admitted it is standard practice in the industry to withhold food in order to subdue and control cetaceans’ behaviour.
Despite the fact that this bill clearly allows research, the industry using research for benefits of conservation as an attempt to muddy the waters. Scientists, myself included, generally concede that in the past there has been some research done on captive cetaceans that has helped us better understand their wild conspecifics.
However, ethically, today’s research should only be conducted in facilities such as natural seaside sanctuaries. These will provide humane housing and husbandry conditions that better meet the needs of these animals. Such facilities would rationally also provide better data and therefore more robust outcomes for research and the conservation of wild counterparts.
Marineland is owned by one man. Since opening, there have been excessive numbers of animals held there. At least 21 orcas have died in the cramped and inadequate tanks. The numbers for belugas are even more alarming. A minimum of 32 have died at Marineland.
Currently, other than Marineland, the maximum number of belugas held in facilities worldwide is 18, with most holding between two and five individuals. Marineland has at least 50 on display, which is 65 per cent of all the captive belugas in North America. To put that into perspective, the remaining 35 per cent are held across six other facilities all in the United States.
It is my opinion that we would be more responsible mentors if we inspired children to understand and connect with animals through alternative methodologies than captivity, such as documentaries, virtual reality or viewing them responsibly in the wild.
By the year 2000, Canada had a remarkable 240 whale-watching company operators in six provinces, providing its citizens with ample opportunity to encounter cetaceans in natural settings.
Public opinion is changing. Polls in Canada and elsewhere have shown a decreasing desire to see cetaceans in captivity.
Lastly, I clarify for Senator Plett that under the amendment to the OSPCA Act, which was previously Bill 80, Kiska, the orca, can be moved to another facility. I was consulted by the Ontario government for that bill, and this option was specifically allowed for.
In closing, I reaffirm my support for Bill S-203, with some minor amendments. Thank you.
The Chair: Thank you, Dr. Visser. We are in the process of showing your video.
Ms. Visser: I’ll speak over the video while it’s happening.
This first video shows some dolphins banging their heads on the bottom of the tank. This one is filmed in Miami Seaquarium, but it’s an example of the sorts of things you see. Chester, the false killer whale, was filmed doing something similar 10 days ago.
This is Kiska, and this is sped up 10 times, and it shows the typical pattern and swimming behaviour. You can see her going round and round and round.
This video was taken in Vancouver Aquarium. This is a little dolphin called Helen, and she is food tossing. She regurgitated the last piece of her food and then tosses it up and down, up and down. That is her tank she was in at the time, and you can see that it’s completely devoid of anything in there for her to do, and she just repeats the behaviour over and over again.
These are a couple of examples of the things that anyone can go into one of these facilities and see. Thank you.
Senator Plett: Ms. Visser, in the brief which you provided to this committee you stipulated that the quality of the tanks at Marineland, among other things, constitutes a violation of basic animal welfare.
Now I’m sure you’re aware that Dr. Lanny Cornell, an internationally renowned marine mammal scientist that specializes in marine mammal veterinarian care, testified before this committee. In his testimony, he specifically stated that the quality of water at Marineland is some of the finest you will find in the world. In fact, he stated that it is not only cleaner than anything these cetaceans would encounter in the wild, but also that it’s likely cleaner than common drinking water other than, of course, the fact that there is salt in it.
Would you comment on Dr. Cornell’s analysis? In a follow-up to that, have you personally tested or examined the water quality at Marineland?
Ms. Visser: Look, I don’t think anyone wants to call into question anyone else’s qualifications or abilities or opinions, but the fact of the matter is that water quality is not the criteria that is the key for looking at the welfare of the animals. It’s one of many things we look at.
Senator Plett: One that you used in your brief.
Ms. Visser: Yes, indeed, sir, I did, among the 27 others that are listed by other scientists when they look at the welfare —
Senator Plett: I’m asking you about one. Do you agree with Dr. Cornell that it is among the cleanest water around?
Ms. Visser: No, I do not, sir. I specifically saw, when I was there three days ago, the staff washing from a platform, pushing poop into the water, and then using detergent to scrub the facilities and then washing that detergent into the water. I have that on video, if you would like to see it. That’s one example that I saw.
I’m not given the option to go in and test those facilities for water quality.
Senator Plett: So you haven’t tested.
Ms. Visser: No, sir, I haven’t, but that is not the point. The point of the matter is that the facility is not up to standard. It’s not good enough for these animals.
Senator Plett: Your team at Orca Research tried to rescue an orca, which was unfortunately unsuccessful.
Ms. Visser: Yes.
Senator Plett: I have pictures here of the pool sizes at Marineland compared to the pool size you used for this rescue, which is a little larger than the pool that my grandkids use. I have seen pictures on your website as well of this orca in this tiny, tiny swimming pool with almost no water in it.
Ms. Visser: Yes.
Senator Plett: Yet you talk about Marineland’s small pools and Vancouver Aquarium’s small pools. Why would you put an orca in this small pool and try to rescue it?
Ms. Visser: I’m so glad you brought that up, Senator Plett.
Senator Plett: So am I then.
Ms. Visser: I’m actually very pleased because I think it is an important thing to address. I have a situation that developed with that animal.
Mr. Chair, may I have a moment to address this fully?
The Chair: We’ll give you time.
Ms. Visser: Thank you. The situation that developed with that animal was that it was free-swimming for 21 days, at least. During that time period, we were in full consultation with the government and external experts that were flown in from overseas, and also external experts that we consulted with overseas.
One of those included the head vet of the Vancouver Aquarium, who did appear here. The consultation was made with all of them on the appropriate thing to do, after 21 days of trying to get permission to intervene so that we could put the animal directly into a sea pen. That was denied by the New Zealand government. Eventually the decision was made that the animal had to go into a temporary holding pen or a pool for a maximum of three days.
Unfortunately, the animal had gone into terminal decline and died before those three days were up, but the facility that we held it in is a standard way to use a rehabilitation system, and SeaWorld itself uses exactly the same system.
Senator Plett: Thank you. I have some further questions for the second round, chair.
Senator Forest: Welcome and thank you for making the trip from as far away as New Zealand to share your experience and knowledge.
I have two questions for you. You are suggesting an amendment to the bill to allow for cetaceans to be moved and to improve their conditions. This is one of the things you recommend in relation to the current bill. The bill would prohibit the capture of individual animals in the wild and make changes as to moving individual animals to improve their conditions. Do these two changes represent a viable compromise for cetaceans currently in captivity or who are born in captivity? We are talking about prohibiting the capture of individuals and allowing them to be moved for their well-being.
Ms. Visser: Yes, I think we can come up with some very good compromises. I believe that concrete tanks are not the way to go, that they are not the way forward, and that seaside sanctuaries are the best way we can help these animals. By having a compromise and a slight amendment to the bill, allowing animals to go into sanctuaries that may be outside of Canada, or perhaps if you have a sanctuary here in Canada that would allow animals to come into that sanctuary, those are things that certainly should be discussed, in my opinion, yes.
Senator Forest: I am trying to understand because we have heard from witnesses who have different, not to say diametrically opposed, views. In terms of a compromise, what solutions could be considered?
I have one final question for you. In your brief, you stated that, in 2015, you made observations regarding Kiska, at Marineland. You were allowed to observe Kiska in the public areas. Why were you not allowed to observe Kiska in the whole environment where she lives?
Ms. Visser: Yes, I think that’s a very valid question. I was there three days ago. I was actually removed from Marineland. I was threatened by the staff that they would bring in the police. I was told that I could not take photographs.
This comes only days after you yourselves have heard the experts from Marineland say that they are fully transparent and that they welcome people. I have a photograph that I took just three days ago, this one here, compared to the photograph that I took in 2015 of the open wounds on the end of the tail flukes of Kiska.
This is the sort of thing that is indicative of what is going on in these places. It might not look like a big wound, and you’re correct that it’s not. The fact of the matter is how this wound was formed. It was formed from these abnormal repetitive behaviours. I’m concerned because she clearly hasn’t been treated for it or, if she has been treated for it, that treatment isn’t working.
Senator Enverga: Thank you for your presentations and for travelling so far. My question is that Dr. Kelly Jaakkola, director of research for the Dolphin Research Center in Florida and chair of Scientific Advisory Committee for the Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums, submitted a brief to this committee earlier this week. In her brief, she specifically discusses the amount of space provided to cetaceans in marine mammal facilities, a topic that you discussed.
In your brief to this committee, as an area of concern within both the Vancouver Aquarium and Marineland, her research contradicts the information that you have provided to us saying that there is no empirical evidence supporting the claim that cetaceans in zoological settings need extraordinary amounts of space to ensure the welfare of the animals therein.
What empirical evidence, if any, can you provide to the committee that would contradict this assertion?
Ms. Visser: Yes, sure. I think it comes down to the fact that the industry is not doing the research because they don’t want to find that the results don’t reflect well for the animals in captivity.
If you look at the comparative research that is done in the wild, and you look at photographic identification studies, satellite tracking studies and these things that follow individuals, you will see that they are covering extraordinary amounts of distance. This has been something that they have evolved to do over millions of years. You’re not going to remove that just because you put them into captivity for even three or four generations.
This is something that is inherent in the biological, fundamental make up the species. If you look, for instance, at Marineland, I have heard multiple times in various formats and forums that Marineland is the gem. It’s a stellar place. It’s the largest facility. I have an example here of something that we have been working on for a little while now. This is Marineland, circled. I will pass these around. These brown tanks are the tanks for the orca. This is all on scale to other facilities around the world. You will see that Marineland is actually the world’s second smallest. It’s not the largest, not the second to largest, but the second to smallest. This is from data that is supplied by the aquariums and then verified from Google Earth.
You can look at that and put that into the framework, for instance, of the French decree, which has some very basic standards that they expect the cetaceans to be kept in. I did a comparison of Marineland’s thanks to the French decree. I have made enough copies for everybody to have one of these, I believe. You will see that the tank for the orca is 2,264 metres square smaller than the requirements for the French decree. The Tursiops or bottlenose dolphin one is saying that Marineland fails by 60 square metres per dolphin. There are more and more details in here.
It really doesn’t matter which set of criteria you look at. If you look at the behaviour of the animals, it’s the behaviour of the animals that will tell you whether the facility is appropriate or not. At every one of these facilities here in Canada you see these abnormal stereotypic behaviours.
Senator Enverga: Are you basically saying that Dr. Jaakkola is contradicting the research? Can you give us the details of what other kinds of contradictions are happening?
Ms. Visser: It’s all the evidence that you see with the animals themselves. They are behaving abnormally. You see them either catatonic in the corner or you see them performing the abnormal repetitive behaviours that you saw, head banging, pattern swimming, and all these sorts of things that you do not see in the wild. That’s indicative that the facility holding them is not appropriate.
Senator Enverga: You could probably say that you do not see them in the wild. You haven’t seen every wild animal. It could happen, right?
Ms. Visser: It has never been reported by any scientist anywhere in the world for any of the research that has done by all the hundreds of scientists that observed cetaceans around the world. It is quite prevalent. In fact, I have not been to a single facility in all of the facilities I have been to around the world where I haven’t seen it with cetaceans.
Senator Enverga: The ocean is big, and not every animal can be looked at.
Ms. Visser: But you do see it pretty much on every single cetacean in captivity, senator.
Senator Enverga: I looked at the video. Can you tell me, please, why it was fast-forwarded? Was it so that it would look like they were banging the glass?
Ms. Visser: Only the one where she is swimming. Only the one where she is swimming is sped up. The others are all at natural speed. Where she is tossing the fish, that’s normal. Where they are banging the heads on the bottom of the tank like this, that’s all normal speed. Yes, sir.
Senator Enverga: But the going around —
Ms. Visser: Yes, the going around was sped up because you would get bored watching it going around and around.
Senator Enverga: It’s more like that’s what you saw, but you have seen this in many different animals.
Ms. Visser: That is correct, sir.
Senator Enverga: But only at a certain point.
Ms. Visser: How do you mean, only at a certain point?
Senator Enverga: When you were there, did you notice —
Ms. Visser: Sometimes I turn up to these facilities when they first open. Sometimes I’m there late in the afternoon. We have video footage from them outside of public hours doing these sorts of behaviours as well. Anybody who has worked at these facilities, the trainers for instance, will tell you that these behaviours are prevalent as well.
Senator Enverga: Thank you, chair. I’ll go for the second round.
Senator McInnis: Thank you for coming, Dr. Visser. We finally get to see you in person. It has been a long trek.
Ms. Visser: Yes, it has.
Senator McInnis: How long have you been on this case? How long have you been speaking out about cetaceans in captivity?
Ms. Visser: I’ve been speaking out about cetaceans in captivity for probably for 15 years. Actually I can tell you the year. I’ve been more vocal since 2010. I was approached by the United States government in the case of the Dawn Brancheau death at SeaWorld. At that point I started speaking out in forums such as this, yes.
Senator McInnis: You mentioned it was 15 years.
Ms. Visser: It is 15 years that I’ve been speaking publicly, but in forums such as this, it has been since 2010.
Senator McInnis: Have you spoken much in Canada?
Ms. Visser: Not so much, but a little bit. I was reported speaking out in Vancouver a couple of years ago when I was at a compassionate conservation conference. I viewed Chester, the false killer whale there, who had wounds on his lower jaw that were indicative of self-mutilation, self-harming behaviours. That was received quite interestingly in the media. Both sides of the story were presented and the aquarium denied there was a problem, to start with,and later admitted this was attention-seeking behaviour on behalf of the animal.
Senator McInnis: Of course you’re not alone.
Ms. Visser: No, sir.
Senator McInnis: There are organizations.
Ms. Visser: Yes, there are thousands of people who agree.
Senator McInnis: Yes, I know. I want to ask you: To your knowledge, have any of you done any investigation as to laws that may exist? For example, we’re dealing here in Canada. Have any of you, after all of this effort and all of this travel, analyzed or asked anyone, a lawyer who would do it pro bono, to examine the laws that are currently on the books here in Canada?
Ms. Visser: I have looked at the laws. I’m not a lawyer, obviously, but I have read the laws. We have, for instances, lawyers that are looking at the French decree that is currently under way. We have lawyers that were involved with the California bill that was passed. We do have lawyers involved, yes, sir.
Senator McInnis: Have they come back with any analysis, anything?
Ms. Visser: Oh, yes, absolutely.
Senator McInnis: And hey are saying what?
Ms. Visser: They are saying we are on the right side of history, that there are a number of countries moving forward with this, and that the way forward is to ban cetaceans in captivity because —
Senator McInnis: With respect, that’s not my question.
Ms. Visser: I beg your pardon.
Senator McInnis: I don’t mean to be rude.
Ms. Visser: No, no, not at all, sir.
Senator McInnis: I want to treat you with the utmost respect.
Have they come back with any analysis of the laws that exist, whether it be in fisheries and oceans, whether it be in the environment, or whether it be under the Criminal Code? A lawyer would be able to do that that analysis for you, had they been working.
Have they examined any laws in Canada that would say if they wanted to take action in various aspects of these aquariums, they could do it? Has anyone looked at that?
Ms. Visser: I believe they have, sir, yes.
Senator McInnis: What is the answer?
Ms. Visser: The answer is they believe this is a viable bill, but that there should be a few amendments to it, some of which I have suggested in my testimony.
Senator McInnis: I’m not going to belabour it, but that’s not my question. My question is on current laws that exist in Canada, on the books. That is what I am asking.
Ms. Visser: Current law, yes, they have. They feel that they don’t adequately protect the cetaceans the way they exist at the moment.
Ms. Sussman: If you like I could speak to that a little bit. I think the problem right now is currently the animals that we see in captivity in Canada, the cetaceans we see, orcas, belugas and bottlenose dolphins, right now they are treated the way all other Appendix II CITES cetaceans are treated. We only have very few cetaceans that are not the ones we see in captivity which require import permits, a situation where Canada takes more stringent measures to protect those species.
I think the problem in terms of protecting these animals, not from an animal welfare standpoint -- you may be referring to animal welfare laws with the animals currently in captivity -- certainly in terms of animals that are in the wild and what we need to do is really at the discretion of Minister McKenna right now. She has a discretionary ability to make more stringent regulations in WAPPRIITA so that we adopt a policy of requiring import permits for orcas, belugas and bottlenose dolphins at the very least and then adopting a policy of not granting those permits. That could be done right now within the existing legislation.
Animal welfare, it’s more provincial. We have the Criminal Code which is more general, but these cases are often left to the provinces. That’s why Bill 80 happened in Ontario. I don’t know if that helps clarify.
Senator McInnis: I’m not going to belabour it. I wasn’t seeking a specific answer. I just wanted to know what research you have done. We are going to have experts in to explain what laws currently exist.
I read in my research,Dr. Visser, that you state there is little or no education or inspiration for our children by viewing or interacting with cetaceans in captivity, little or no. We heard here, I think it was Tuesday night or the week before, hat there were 30 million views of cetaceans in captivity.
How can you make a statement then that there is no education or inspiration? What are these 30 million doing there?
Ms. Visser: Exactly. I would turn that around and say exactly that. What are they doing there? They are not being educated.
I was at Marineland three days ago. I watched their show. At no point did they mention anything about the biology of the animals, the habitats of the animals, the behaviour of the animals, other than to indicate how they train them and that they can do fun things with them, like ride on them. Basically that was the show. We can train them so we can ride on them, and I have that on video. I’m more than happy to show you the whole show if you would like to see it at some point. To me that’s not education.
I was just in the EU commission in Brussels last week. I was presented with a document there signed by over 100 psychologists. This was about going to see animals in shows, and they state that such context, far from facilitating and promoting learning about the animals’ nature and needs, may promote a lack of respect for living beings, lead to the denial of pain messages and hinder the development of empathy which is critical during the development and growth processes as they may solicit an incongruous response, that is amusement and joy, to punishment, discomfort and injustice.
This is from Harvard psychologists, you know, some really big names. I have deposited a copy for you to have a look at. This isn’t just myself, but I have personally seen kids at aquariums coming up and banging on the glass, throwing things at the animals, yelling abuse at them, and screaming at them. To me, that is not inspiration. I think we can do much better jobs of it.
In fact Canada leads the world in this. You have the longest shore-based whale-watching place in the world. It’s over a thousand kilometres long. I just found this out last night. I wasn’t even aware of it. For $19.60 you can have the whole family go to an interpretation and observation centre to see these animals in the wild. That to me is education.
Senator McInnis: Thank you. I will wait for the second round.
Senator Sinclair: I was interested in a couple of things that you said, Dr. Visser. I also want to ask both of you to respond to a question.
You mentioned the French decree a couple of times in your presentation. I’m not sure if it has been explained to the members of the committee. Maybe you can give us a brief explanation.
Ms. Visser: Yes, I would like to do that. I have a piece of paper somewhere among all these numerous bits of paper I have with me. The French decree was put in place, I believe, on May 3 of this year. In their article 1 it says that in order to protect species, improve animal welfare and eliminate animal suffering, captive possession of cetacean specimens is prohibited. It has 27 articles.
I’m more than happy to supply that to you. Obviously I can do that one in French as well as in English. It has a lot of details about the banning of the breeding of cetaceans in captivity, and it is done purely for the welfare of the animals. The French decree will come into law in five months from now. It’s currently law, but it will be ratified in five months.
Senator Sinclair: It will be the law of France, will it?
Ms. Visser: Yes, it will be.
Senator Sinclair: We have heard various conflicting evidence and comments from some of the witnesses regarding the role of veterinarians and the role of behavioural experts. I gather you’re not a veterinarian.
Ms. Visser: No, I’m not a veterinarian, but I have actually done one year of veterinarian. For various reasons, including that I’m not good with mathematics, I didn’t continue on with it.
One of the things that I also was very disappointed in was the complete lack at that stage, a number of years ago now, that we didn’t as vets learn anything about animal welfare. Even today, it’s an extremely limited aspect of what have veterinarians learn. It’s often something that you have to nominate to do outside of your normal curriculum.
It’s the same for animal behaviour because vets specialize in learning about diagnostics and medical problems. They are not learning about the welfare so they often don’t understand the welfare issues at stake.
Senator Sinclair: The amendments you suggested, I wonder if you might just briefly address those and tell us what you think we need to do to improve this bill.
Ms. Sussman: Absolutely. In terms of the amendments to WAPPRIITA, all that would need to be done would be to switch the cetaceans that are currently on schedule I of WAPPRIITA that only require an export permit to schedule II. Then they would therefore require an import permit to be issued as well.
This is a really important thing to do because, as it is now, Canada is trusting other nations to fulfill CITES obligations. They’re trusting exporting nations in terms of the science done, that there is no detriment to the animals, and that sort of thing. I believe we need to take a more proactive role, require import permits as well, and then adopt a policy of not issuing import permits for species that are overexploited for aquarium purposes.
This is a dying practice in some countries, but there are some parts of the world right now where dolphinariums are thriving: China, Japan, the Caribbean and Russia, where most of the animals are taken from.
It is incumbent upon us to be a world leader. As I said in my opening remarks, Zoocheck has done independently and has had polls done numerous times. I have many polls I can share with you showing that the public in Canada and abroad is hugely in support of this change.
Senator Sinclair: Some of the witnesses have testified and told us that animals in captivity are quite happy and enjoying life every day at the aquariums. I wonder if you might comment upon one aspect of that. As an animal welfare specialist, doctor, is the issue of breeding an indication of happiness or is it a component of the happiness of these beings?
Ms. Visser: It’s very easy for someone to say that an animal is happy or unhappy, but how can we judge an individual? We have trouble telling it among ourselves as humans sometimes. Let’s run a parallel to humans in this scenario, and please bear with me on this for a moment.
If you take a woman who has been raped, a woman in a concentration camp or a woman in a refugee camp, if she has a child that doesn’t necessarily mean she’s happy. Let’s not even compare it to humans. Let’s go down the track of animals and look at puppy mills, for instance. It has been very well established that puppy mills are not good for the animals and in theory those animals are not happy. Yet, in puppy mills the animals keep churning out babies.
I don’t think it’s an appropriate measure to say that an animal having a baby is therefore necessarily happy. It is a fundamental biological drive of every species to reproduce, happy or not.
Senator Christmas: Thank you, Dr. Visser, for coming all this way to Canada to share your knowledge and expertise on cetaceans.
I would like to follow up on Senator McInnis’ question. Years ago, my wife and I had taken our two older children to both Marineland and the Vancouver Aquarium. Now we have a beautiful little six-year-old girl, and she hasn’t been to either facility. As a parent, after hearing a lot of expert witnesses, I’m thinking about whether I should take my little girl to Marineland or to the Vancouver Aquarium.
Why do you think that children should not be exposed to seeing cetaceans in captivity?
Ms. Visser: Personally, I have seen what happens with kids in these places. I’ve seen them go to a show, for instance, where the animals are ridiculed and presented in a non-educational way. When you also see the animals, even if they’re “just swimming” around in a tank, this is passive abuse in some ways. That would be the kindest way to describe it. I don’t think that’s instilling respect for these animals.
We all want to do good for our kids and our grandkids. We want to educate them properly and we want to get the right information into their little absorbing minds. If we do that by presenting the wrong types of information, we’re sending the wrong messages.
You only have to look, for instance, at something like zoos. I don’t necessarily agree with all zoos, but there are some very good ones out there. When you look at when we were kids, and we went to the zoo, the animals were in bare, concrete boxes, and that was it. You saw them pacing up and down. Now you go to a zoo and there are trees, grass, a little stream, and nice things for the animals to do with ropes to hang on and stuff like that.
Think about what you’re showing your kids when you take them to see cetaceans in a concrete box. It’s like when you were a kid. It’s a concrete box. There’s nothing in there for those animals, not even a fish painted on the wall. There’s nothing. That is not the right message we should be giving to our kids.
Ms. Sussman: If I may speak on this, I have an almost 6-year-old little girl. She has been to Marineland with me on more than one occasion as I was observing the animals. She has been most recently to the ROM in Toronto, where there’s a wonderful blue whale exhibit about the nine blue whales that died in the Newfoundland and Labrador area. To watch the difference in my daughter between observing, for instance, Kiska, the lone killer whale, swimming in circles, there’s no educational material. There are two signs in all of Marineland in the cetacean areas that give information that can be found on the Internet easily and signs that have been there for many years.
I compare that to taking her last week to the ROM exhibit, where she walked in and was surrounded by movie screens on three sides. She had pictures and was immersed in icebergs in the Newfoundland and Labrador area. She learned all about the tragedy. There was an interactive exhibit where she was able on a video screen to simulate being a blue whale in the ocean, diving down, eating krill and going up to the surface. She was dancing. She was completely inspired by that. There was an educational film at the end about how to become politically active in Canada to protect our oceans. That was conservation; that was education.
It’s really traumatic emotionally for a lot of children to witness a displaced captive animal, especially an animal that was once wild that’s now living, as Dr. Visser says, in a completely artificial environment. This is especially the case for cetaceans, because a lot of positive learning that occurs at zoos happens when an animal is seen in its naturalistic environment and is able to participate in natural behaviours. Because the needs of cetaceans are so inadequately met in captivity, it’s more dire in that instance and can actually be quite upsetting for a child who afterward may say something because this has had a lingering effect.
This is based on a scholarly report I spent months writing, looking into the educational value behind live animal exhibits and programs.
Ms. Visser: To follow up with that, huge numbers of young people, 14 years and older, or possibly even younger, come up to me and say they cannot believe they went to SeaWorld, Marineland, or whatever facility, because they didn’t know what was going on. Now that they know, they are absolutely mortified and don't know how to fix it.
They’re really devastated that they’ve been involved in this industry by buying a ticket and being complicit in that industry without realizing it. They’re sold a fairytale, when in reality it’s a nightmare for these animals.
Ms. Sussman: There is also a lot of negative learning that happens in these facilities. The information is simply not accurate. While we think we’re educating, often children are getting incorrect facts. I read certain studies, particularly regarding chimps and other apes that can be also be applied to the belugas at Marineland, where the conservation status of an animal can be inaccurately perceived.
An animal that is endangered, when a child gets to see a plethora of that animal such as the large number of belugas at Marineland, the child may think, “Oh, this is an animal and species that is thriving. Therefore, there isn’t a need to protect it in a conservation sense.” There are a lot of negative things that happen.
The last thing I would like to say is that seeing a majestic animal being ridden on, for example, at a theme park, with blaring rock music in the background, which is what happens at Marineland, it really reinforces a notion that animals are objects to be used by us, whether for entertainment or even education. The educational elements are something to think about.
Senator Christmas: Thank you very much. That really helps me as a parent because, as you know, one of the dangers of raising children today is that we have both bad entertainment and we have good entertainment. I never thought of it in the sense of what is the message being conveyed.
Ms. Sussman: I understand it’s very difficult when your child says, “I want to go to Marineland,” or “I would like to go to SeaWorld. I want to see these animals.” Of course, as a parent, you want to expose them to animals, but it’s just the way in which we do that. Sometimes it’s important to say no and present an alternative and an explanation.
Senator Christmas: Thank you for helping me with that, because I really don’t want my daughter to get the wrong message.
One of the alternatives in Nova Scotia is that we have numerous whale watching tours. In the past I have taken some of those. In most cases, it’s former fishermen or current fishermen who know the area and the cetaceans. Some of the things they say are quite interesting.
In your view, is there more educational value there? Is that sending the right kind of message to our children by going into a more natural setting?
Ms. Visser: I’ve been on similar whale-watching tours, in fact some of them run by ex-whalers on whaling vessels. For instance, in Iceland, there is an ex-whaling company that takes out people to go and see them. They talk a bit about the whaling side of things, but the information they give is very educational about the conservation of the animals now. They understand, wholeheartedly what we need to do to protect them because they were right there at the forefront of the decimation of the species.
There are obviously some bad whale-watching operators out there and some good whale-watching operators out there. I don’t really know how to express it in a very tight little nutshell, but any whale-watching trip that you go on is immediately a much better message because the animals are free and wild. Even if it didn’t have education, and I have yet to go on a whale-watching tour that didn’t, it would still be a better option.
The Chair: As everybody will understand, our clock is ticking here. We have five people who have requested a question on second round. I’m going to limit it to one question per person to give everybody an opportunity.
If you have three questions, you had better combine them into one because there won’t be a second opportunity. Also, while I understand it takes some time to explain these things, I would ask our witnesses to shorten your answers, if you can. With shorter questions and shorter answers we should get through the day.
Senator Plett: I will try to abbreviate my question as well, but I need to put a little preamble on it. Three of my granddaughters visited Vancouver Aquarium, and they’re great animal lovers. One now wants to become a veterinarian, so I don’t think all children come away from the aquariums with negative ideas. I think some come away with very positive ideas.
Ms. Visser, despite what you say, what would you say if I said we have evidence of your taking photos at Marineland? You allege Kiska is injured and not treated, yet we have heard that OSPCA and others have examined her and she is fine. I understand you did not report any of the alleged injuries to Marineland, and you did not complain to the OSPCA and, if you did, Marineland never heard from them. Veterinarians have seen Kiska in the last two days and they say she is fine.
I have to do all of this now because the chair won’t let me ask a second question. Further, Ms. Visser, you participated directly in a case brought in California by PETA where you were personally named as a representative for one of SeaWorld’s killer whales. In that lawsuit, you alleged that killer whales were being held in slavery, which you argued was in violation of the constitutional amendment which ended the slavery of people. The court rejected that position, and I understand you lost the suit.
My question at the end of this is: Do you believe in persons’ rights for whales under the Canadian law? Is that right? What other animals do you believe should be treated the same as people under the law? Should the Calgary Stampede be shut down?
You mentioned trees growing in zoos. I understand and appreciate that. Not many trees grow even in the wild waters. In the Arctic, there are only rocks under the ocean. There are no trees in the Arctic seas. You’re drawing comparisons between apples and oranges.
Ms. Visser: Senator Plett, when I was referring to the trees in the zoos, I meant for animals in general. I wasn’t referring to trees for cetaceans.
I think it’s worth just nipping this in the bud immediately and saying that the personhood aspect that you bring up is not relevant to this bill. It’s not discussed as part of the bill.
Senator Plett: That’s not what I asked you. I would like an answer to whether you believe in personhood because I think it’s relevant, so I’m asking the question.
Ms. Visser: Senator, you may ask me the question and you may attempt to bully me on the answer, but so that we are clear, again, this is not relevant to the bill. Therefore there is no reason for me to respond to that question. Whether I believe in personhood for animals or not is irrelevant to the testimony that I am putting forward for this bill, which is that cetaceans should not be kept in captivity.
Senator Plett: You should run for politics with those answers.
Senator Enverga: I would like to mention that I have three kids. I got a special kid, actually, who, I think, when we went to Marineland and SeaWorld, was happy to be there. Actually, they were all attached to it. When they looked at it, they thought it was better than video games and better than watching TV. This is the closest thing they have done with nature. Not everybody, especially people with kids with disabilities, can go to the sea. They cannot go there.
Why would you say there is no educational value to going to these kinds of places? I’m pretty sure my kids really loved it. They had an attachment to it and they learned something. I can also attest that some of their friends were attached to it. They learned that these animals were a great work of nature and it’s worth preserving them, not only in the tank but right in the sea.
I cannot see why you would say there is no educational attachment to it. Can you tell me more about why there would be no attachment to it and why there would be no reason to take care of them in the wild? My kids loved them.
Ms. Sussman: I completely see your point. As I said, I have a young daughter myself. When I was a little girl, I was taken to Marineland and saw Kiska, and I actually felt quite sorry for her.
I’m not saying that no one can be inspired in a zoo or aquarium setting, but we have to think critically about the best way to teach children about animals. There are a lot of negative things you’re teaching your child when you take them to a facility to witness an animal, especially one in a dire situation at a theme park where their needs are not being properly met. They’re learning about dominance, really, and that it’s okay to treat animals in this way.
There are so many alternatives now, such as the ROM exhibit and sanctuaries for animals that you can visit. I understand that financially not everyone has the ability to do everything, but there are a plethora of ways that we can learn and be inspired without having an actual live animal in an animal cruelty situation. There are other ways to gain inspiration and knowledge.
Senator Enverga: I can’t understand why a dead animal would be better to see than a living animal.
Ms. Sussman: I came across one interesting scholarly study that was done on three different groups of schoolchildren. One group of children was taken to a museum. Another was taken to a zoo environment and saw a live animal show. A third group was taken outside to a local park. Later, when the children were asked where they would go to learn about animals, the children who went to the live animal show drew animals behind bars in zoos. The kids that went outside into nature were drawing pictures of animals in the wild.
Psychologically, yes, some children can get some form of inspiration from seeing a live animal, because we all love whales and dolphins, but it’s a question of responsibly educating our children. I don’t believe, even though it’s difficult to say no, that the right thing to do is say yes in that circumstance.
Senator McInnis: I want to assist my fellow senator from Nova Scotia’s summer vacation for him and his daughter.
Richard Louv is the journalist and author who wrote Last Child in the Woods. Let me just quote a couple of sentences from his novel:
Direct exposure to nature is essential for healthy childhood development and for the physical and emotional health of children and adults.
Exposure to these cetaceans is extremely valuable for the well-being of our children.
That’s a person who apparently has done vast research. He’s one of the best-selling authors.
We get conflicting information here, but I held onto this quote for some time because it had come up about a month ago. What do you say to that?
Ms. Sussman: What I say is that it’s really important to keep in mind that different animals fare differently in zoos. I’m not a scientist, so this is outside of my realm of expertise or a lot outside of it, but I will say that some species don’t seem to be as affected in captivity. They’re not as aware that they’re in captivity. There has been much research done on highly intelligent, wide-ranging, deep-diving animals. You had Dr. Marino here. For certain species we know the size of their brains, their large neocortex, their complex emotional lives, and how social they are.
That’s what this bill is about. We’re not talking about the wide gamut of all animals. We are talking about particular animals that are particularly troubled in captivity. That is something I feel we can do something about.
Senator Sinclair: There are two federal laws being addressed by this bill, one being the Criminal Code and the other being the Fisheries Act. Dr. Visser, the Criminal Code amendments specifically fall within the animal cruelty section of the Criminal Code.
My question is a general one, because it’s a general sort of offence that’s being created, that is the offence that it is inherently cruel to hold cetaceans in captivity. Do you believe that?
Ms. Visser: I absolutely do, yes, and the evidence speaks for itself. As I mentioned earlier to another senator, you only have to look at the behaviour of the animals to understand that. It’s important to put that in the framework of yes, the senators have been presented with a lot of dichotomous information, but they have also been presented with duplicitous information.
It’s not only that we’re standing at different sides, but you’re hearing different stories from some of your witnesses. This is testimony of a recent witness that I wrote down from the video streaming who stated:
I have personally removed bullets from two killer whales that were recently brought in from the wild . . .
I was horrified when I heard that. I thought, “Wow, where did that happen?”
Later on in his testimony, he says that he hasn’t seen that out in the wild since the 1960s. He has given you the information and the appearance that this is a recent issue, and then he turns around when he's questioned and clarifies that it’s the 1960s.
There are so many examples of that from many of the witnesses that are supporting the captivity industry that I find it disconcerting. It’s not a good reflection of how they’re representing themselves or their industry.
Senator Forest: Indeed, but we have to recognize that the world we live in is unfortunately not always ideal. With regard to educating visitors to an aquarium such as the Vancouver Aquarium, I would refer instead to raising awareness. The behaviour of certain individuals, including children, might be questionable. The problem is perhaps more the parents than the children. It is like with dogs; sometimes the problem is at the other end of the leash.
In terms of contribution, however, it must be recognized that certain animals suffer more in captivity than others do, owing to their characteristics and genetic needs. I sense that these facilities offer an alternative since not every family can travel to the Gulf of St. Lawrence, to Nova Scotia or elsewhere to observe marine mammals in their natural habitat. They do offer an alternative, and these institutions expose young people to nature, flora and aquatic and land fauna.
In our considerations, in looking for a fair balance among objectives that are often somewhat separate, would it be satisfactory for the bill to prohibit the capture of individual marine mammals for commercial purposes, while also allowing animals that are currently in captivity to remain there, as you said, and making efforts to improve education? Right now, and for cetaceans in particular, the focus is on entertainment rather than raising awareness of the animals’ characteristics. Perhaps we could do some work in that regard. In view of your objectives, would this bill be satisfactory in your opinion if it specifically addressed the two bans and allowed animals to be moved for their well-being?
Ms. Visser: It’s interesting that you should come up with that compromise while you were asking me the question. The first thing I wrote was that for those who remain there should be better education given. That’s the exact thing you have suggested as a compromise, and I fully agree with you
The bill at this stage, as I understand, is not to remove all the cetaceans in captivity in Canada. It is to stop any more coming in through breeding and capture. According to the aquarium’s claims, you have literally got decades left where you will still have cetaceans in captivity.
I understand your comment that not everybody can go to see cetaceans in the wild, but not everybody can afford to travel to those that are in captivity. There are plenty of places in Canada where you would have to travel to see them in Niagara Falls or in the Vancouver Aquarium. You’re also penalizing those individuals.
It’s a valid argument, but it needs to be taken in context. However, I feel that by banning capture and breeding you’re putting in a sunset clause that still allows research to go on and still allows for and should be encouraged to have a better education program, but I would also strongly advise you to look at the French decree that looks at improving the welfare of those animals in captivity. That’s exactly what the French have faced at the moment. Again, I can supply you with the French decree.
Senator Raine: I am concerned that this legislation will prevent the facilities in Canada from being used to assist in breeding for the saving of endangered species. I am aware that there are some bottlenose dolphins in Marineland, five females but no males.
When you say we should ban breeding I find that, especially with the beluga population at Marineland, very abnormal because mating and breeding are part of nature and part of what I think we need to encourage.
I’m concerned that this legislation will end the opportunity to assist in the future. I would like a very short comment on that if you don’t mind.
Ms. Visser: I understand your concerns. In the broad scope of things, without understanding the fine details, they’re very valid concerns. However, if you consider, for instance, that no breeding program of cetaceans anywhere in the world is releasing them back out into wild. They’re either trading them to another facility or keeping them themselves like Marineland is doing, so that’s not contributing to conservation.
Although you say that it’s a natural thing for these animals to be doing, yes, it is, but then it would also be natural for them to be out swimming, diving and catching their own food. It’s not natural for them to be in a concrete tank. It’s not natural for them to be in shows. It’s not natural for them to be fed dead fish or even boiled down cow's feet.
Senator Raine: I’m sorry, but I have to respond to that because perhaps you don’t know all of the programs that are going on in the world. The Black Sea bottlenose dolphins need captive breeding urgently. There are only about 3,000 left. There are about 200 in captivity. We have five in Canada. There is a plan. There are groups working together to reintroduce them into the wild natural habitat in the Black Sea to survive.
For this reason, a plan for a joint venture conservation program was started in 2016 by the German Federal Research Institute for Animal Health and the CETA Association in France, which plans to do research on reintroduction of captive dolphins into their wild habitat.
My concern is that if we go down the path and close the door to these opportunities, we will really have done a disservice.
Ms. Visser: Yes, of course. I am aware of that project, and I commend them.
Senator Raine: You said there were none.
Ms. Visser: There are no facilities that have released captive-born cetaceans into the wild. What these people are trying to do is to look at the reintroduction of the wild-caught animals. They’re not looking at taking captive-born ones and releasing them into the wild.
Ms. Sussman: Perhaps I may comment on your previous point. We have a situation now in Canada at Marineland because of this decision by NOAA preventing the importation of the Sakhalin-Amur belugas, the belugas that come from Russia, the ones that Marineland has imported now. With continued breeding, there’s actually nowhere where these belugas can go. They arguably have long outgrown the tanks that they are in. We can no longer give some of those belugas to the U.S.
If we allow uncontrollable breeding, I don't even know. It’s a terrible situation. The only place those belugas could go would potentially be China or Japan, something like that.
Ms. Visser: Just so that you’re aware as well, there are a number of scenarios with, for instance, bottlenose dolphins, where breeding is being done by facilities around the world. They have to put many of the dolphins on contraceptives because they now have “too many of them” or they have inbreeding problems.
With five females and no males, even if you bring in one male, then you’ve got a problem because you will have inbreeding. Then you’re going to exacerbate the problem. You’re not going to put this into a sunset clause where we phase it out. Thank you
The Chair: Thank you to our witnesses and our senators. It has been a very healthy discussion this morning. We’ve received a variety of opinions over the last number of months and we’re getting down to the wire. We thank you for your contribution here this morning.
Just a plug for my own province of Newfoundland and Labrador, we have 600 icebergs floating off of our coast, surrounded by whales of all kinds. If anybody is interested in going for a visit, feel free to do so. We have two really good days in August when you can come to visit.
I certainly want to thank everybody. Just to let our senators know, we have scheduled for Tuesday evening now representatives from the Department of Fisheries, Department of Justice and Department of Environment. That’s our schedule for Tuesday. Thank you.
(The committee adjourned.)