Over the past several years, a ton of awareness has been raised regarding the living conditions of marine mammals, both those hunted and in captivity. From the harrowing 2009 documentary The Cove, to the 2013 CNN-backed documentary Blackfish, the ways in which these creatures interact with humans and the ethics centrally involved have increasingly taken center stage. And now, Canada's most populous province has taken a step toward a more ethical state of affairs — Ontario will ban the breeding and buying of orcas for captivity, striking a blow against the marine park industry.
As BuzzFeed's Tanya Chen details, it's the outcome of a robust, 100+ page report led by David Rosen, a biologist with the University of British Columbia. Rosen's report found that the conditions faced by Ontario's captive marine mammals aren't acceptable, even in the best of circumstances, leading Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services Yasir Naqvi to embrace a slew of reforms.
It'll reportedly go beyond just the buying and breeding of orcas, also protecting walruses, dolphins, and belugas, according to the CBC, and will institute new standards for tank size, sanitation, and appropriate socialization. In other words, the government of Ontario is going to make things a little better for these creatures, and that's cause for optimism, even if it might still fall short of ideal.
Naqvi explained the decision, both in the context of the province of Ontario, and of Canada's commitment to animal rights writ large.
This is something that Ontarians expect and these animals deserve. These higher standards of care, along with prohibiting any future breeding or acquisition of orcas in Ontario, are both the right thing to do and builds on our government’s ongoing efforts to have the strongest animal protection laws in Canada.
Suffice to say, this is pretty exciting news. Although the new requirements will obviously only have direct impact on marine parks in Ontario, it's perhaps more significant as a precedent-setter. When it comes to bringing about new moral and ethical standards relating to animals rights, slowly building new consensuses seems pretty important. We're all more or less trained from birth to view ourselves as both outside and above the animal kingdom, from the broad acceptance of consuming meat and other animal byproducts, to the observation of animals for fun and entertainment.
It's entirely possible to be opposed to the very concept of a marine park or a zoo — in essence, to oppose models based on captivity-for-profit — and still feel satisfied at this news. Everything, has to begin somewhere, after all. And in Ontario, it's beginning with the simple acknowledgment that these kinds of businesses have been treating their animals poorly and that something needs to change.
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