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Canada Passes ‘Free Willy’ Bill Banning Whale and Dolphin Captivity

Animals
An orca jumps out of the sea in Lund, British Columbia. Schaef1 / iStock / Getty Images Plus

By the end of June, it will be illegal to keep whales and dolphins in captivity in Canada, the Huffington Post reported Tuesday.


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.

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.

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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A volcano erupts on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island on Dec. 9, 2019. Michael Schade / Twitter

A powerful volcano on Monday rocked an uninhabited island frequented by tourists about 30 miles off New Zealand's coast. Authorities have confirmed that five people died. They expect that number to rise as some are missing and police officials issued a statement that flights around the islands revealed "no signs of life had been seen at any point,", as The Guardian reported.

"Based on the information we have, we do not believe there are any survivors on the island," the police said in their official statement. "Police is working urgently to confirm the exact number of those who have died, further to the five confirmed deceased already."

The eruption happened on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island, an islet jutting out of the Bay of Plenty, off the country's North Island. The island is privately owned and is typically visited for day-trips by thousands of tourists every year, according to The New York Times.

Michael Schade / Twitter

At the time of the eruption on Monday, about 50 passengers from the Ovation of Seas were on the island, including more than 30 who were part of a Royal Caribbean cruise trip, according to CNN. Twenty-three people, including the five dead, were evacuated from the island.

The eruption occurred at 2:11 pm local time on Monday, as footage from a crater camera owned and operated by GeoNet, New Zealand's geological hazards agency, shows. The camera also shows dozens of people walking near the rim as white smoke billows just before the eruption, according to Reuters.

Police were unable to reach the island because searing white ash posed imminent danger to rescue workers, said John Tims, New Zealand's deputy police commissioner, as he stood next to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in a press conference, as The New York Times reported. Tims said rescue workers would assess the safety of approaching the island on Tuesday morning. "We know the urgency to go back to the island," he told reporters.

"The physical environment is unsafe for us to return to the island," Tims added, as CNN reported. "It's important that we consider the health and safety of rescuers, so we're taking advice from experts going forward."

Authorities have had no communication with anyone on the island. They are frantically working to identify how many people remain and who they are, according to CNN.

Geologists said the eruption is not unexpected and some questioned why the island is open to tourism.

"The volcano has been restless for a few weeks, resulting in the raising of the alert level, so that this eruption is not really a surprise," said Bill McGuire, emeritus professor of geophysical and climate hazards at University College London, as The Guardian reported.

"White Island has been a disaster waiting to happen for many years," said Raymond Cas, emeritus professor at Monash University's school of earth, atmosphere and environment, as The Guardian reported. "Having visited it twice, I have always felt that it was too dangerous to allow the daily tour groups that visit the uninhabited island volcano by boat and helicopter."

The prime minister arrived Monday night in Whakatane, the town closest to the eruption, where day boats visiting the island are docked. Whakatane has a large Maori population.

Ardern met with local council leaders on Monday. She is scheduled to meet with search and rescue teams and will speak to the media at 7 a.m. local time (1 p.m. EST), after drones survey the island, as CNN reported.