Canada Passes ‘Free Willy’ Bill Banning Whale and Dolphin Captivity
The so-called "Free Willy" bill passed the Canadian House of Commons by an overwhelming majority Monday, CBS News reported. It now must pass through a process called "royal assent" in which either the governor general or their deputies sign off on the bill. It will make it illegal to keep cetaceans in captivity, breed them or import or export the intelligent marine mammals. Anyone who violates the law could face a fine of up to $150,000.
"Today is a really good day for animals in Canada," Green Party Leader Elizabeth May, who sponsored the bill in the House, said after it passed, according to the Huffington Post.
#Breaking: When we work together, good things happen. This is a combined effort from @ElizabethMay, Senators Moore… https://t.co/tRRHKB56ha— Green Party Canada (@Green Party Canada)1560187908.0
The bill was first introduced in the Senate in 2015 by Wilfred Moore, who retired in 2017 before he saw it passed. Moore said it was stalled by Conservative senators who used procedural tactics to keep it from advancing. It finally passed the Senate in October of 2018 after three years of debate, then cleared the House fisheries committee in April of this year, CBC News reported.
"Nothing fantastic ever happens in a hurry. But today we celebrate that we have ended the captivity and breeding of whales and dolphins. This is news to splash a fin at," animal rights group Humane Canada wrote in a tweet reported by CNN.
Nothing fantastic ever happens in a hurry. But today we celebrate that we have ended the captivity and breeding of… https://t.co/XwekjkQ76m— Humane Canada (@Humane Canada)1560184872.0
May said its passage was partly thanks to thousands of Canadians who wrote letters and emails in support of the measure. On two occasions, the Senate received so many emails that its servers crashed, Moore said, according to the Huffington Post.
"Canada is better for this," Moore said.
There are only two institutions left that keep whales and dolphins in captivity in Canada: the Vancouver Aquarium and Marineland, a Niagara Falls zoo and amusement park. The Vancouver Aquarium only has one dolphin left and announced in January it would no longer keep the marine mammals captive, CBC News reported. Marineland, on the other hand, owns around 61 cetaceans: 55 beluga whales, five bottlenose dolphins and one orca. The park had argued the bill would threaten both its conservation efforts and its attendance, jeopardizing seasonal jobs.
When Conservative politicians stalled the bill in the Senate, May joked that the park had "managed to hold Conservative senators in captivity for a remarkably long time," the Huffington Post reported.
However, the bill is unlikely to impact the park in the near future, because it includes an exception allowing facilities that already have animals to keep them. Marineland has five young belugas who could therefore live in captivity for another 50 years, Global News reported.
"Marineland will continue to provide world-class care to all marine mammals that call Marineland home," Marineland said in a statement to Global News. "With our current mammal population, we will be able to operate decades into the future uninterrupted."
The bill also includes exceptions for rescue, rehabilitation and scientific research, CNN reported.
"A person may move a live cetacean from its immediate vicinity when the cetacean is injured or in distress and is in need of assistance," the bill reads, according to CNN.
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The ghoulishly named ogre-faced spider can "hear" with its legs and use that ability to catch insects flying behind it, the study published in Current Biology Thursday concluded.
"Spiders are sensitive to airborne sound," Cornell professor emeritus Dr. Charles Walcott, who was not involved with the study, told the Cornell Chronicle. "That's the big message really."
The net-casting, ogre-faced spider (Deinopis spinosa) has a unique hunting strategy, as study coauthor Cornell University postdoctoral researcher Jay Stafstrom explained in a video.
They hunt only at night using a special kind of web: an A-shaped frame made from non-sticky silk that supports a fuzzy rectangle that they hold with their front forelegs and use to trap prey.
They do this in two ways. In a maneuver called a "forward strike," they pounce down on prey moving beneath them on the ground. This is enabled by their large eyes — the biggest of any spider. These eyes give them 2,000 times the night vision that we have, Science explained.
But the spiders can also perform a move called the "backward strike," Stafstrom explained, in which they reach their legs behind them and catch insects flying through the air.
"So here comes a flying bug and somehow the spider gets information on the sound direction and its distance. The spiders time the 200-millisecond leap if the fly is within its capture zone – much like an over-the-shoulder catch. The spider gets its prey. They're accurate," coauthor Ronald Hoy, the D & D Joslovitz Merksamer Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior in the College of Arts and Sciences, told the Cornell Chronicle.
What the researchers wanted to understand was how the spiders could tell what was moving behind them when they have no ears.
It isn't a question of peripheral vision. In a 2016 study, the same team blindfolded the spiders and sent them out to hunt, Science explained. This prevented the spiders from making their forward strikes, but they were still able to catch prey using the backwards strike. The researchers thought the spiders were "hearing" their prey with the sensors on the tips of their legs. All spiders have these sensors, but scientists had previously thought they were only able to detect vibrations through surfaces, not sounds in the air.
To test how well the ogre-faced spiders could actually hear, the researchers conducted a two-part experiment.
First, they inserted electrodes into removed spider legs and into the brains of intact spiders. They put the spiders and the legs into a vibration-proof booth and played sounds from two meters (approximately 6.5 feet) away. The spiders and the legs responded to sounds from 100 hertz to 10,000 hertz.
Next, they played the five sounds that had triggered the biggest response to 25 spiders in the wild and 51 spiders in the lab. More than half the spiders did the "backward strike" move when they heard sounds that have a lower frequency similar to insect wing beats. When the higher frequency sounds were played, the spiders did not move. This suggests the higher frequencies may mimic the sounds of predators like birds.
University of Cincinnati spider behavioral ecologist George Uetz told Science that the results were a "surprise" that indicated science has much to learn about spiders as a whole. Because all spiders have these receptors on their legs, it is possible that all spiders can hear. This theory was first put forward by Walcott 60 years ago, but was dismissed at the time, according to the Cornell Chronicle. But studies of other spiders have turned up further evidence since. A 2016 study found that a kind of jumping spider can pick up sonic vibrations in the air.
"We don't know diddly about spiders," Uetz told Science. "They are much more complex than people ever thought they were."
Learning more provides scientists with an opportunity to study their sensory abilities in order to improve technology like bio-sensors, directional microphones and visual processing algorithms, Stafstrom told CNN.
"The point is any understudied, underappreciated group has fascinating lives, even a yucky spider, and we can learn something from it," he told CNN.
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