We were not expecting this. Like many, we first found out about this announcement when Star reporters started to tweet out their front page (A1) coverage last night and like everyone else we found out the substance of the changes in news coverage this morning. This is a lot to digest, on a short timeline, and a lot of people have questions. Also, the process itself is very convoluted, and it is easy to stray from what was said and actually being implemented.
A quick history on where these changes began – on August 15, 2012 the Toronto Star published testimony of seven former employees at Marineland who alleged substantive issues within the facility. On August 23, 2012 the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (OSPCA) announced they were launching an investigation into the “state of the facility.” That investigation ran until spring 2013 and out of frustrations over capacity, conflicts between the Provincial Liberals and the OSPCA over interpretation and jurisdiction, and an overwhelmingly negative public response, the Liberals announced that they would trigger a consultation process for the Province’s first ever captive marine mammal regulations. All of this happens before the release of the documentary film “Blackfish” – for perspective. That internal process that was created is the Rosen Report – delivered to the Liberals in May 2014 and the substance of many of the changes announced today. At the same time the Rosen Report was being made, the Canadian Council for Animal Care (CCAC) and the Canadian Association for Zoos and Aquariums was organizing a similar industry panel to draft up new regulations and guidelines for care. Their reports were delivered in December of 2014. Most likely, the Liberals were holding off this announcement until the CCAC had finished their process.
Ultimately, although the CCAC report and the Rosen Report differ on key points, it is the recommendation of the Rosen Report that both be accepted into law and added onto the OSPCA Act. This would mean regulations would be a combination of the industry regulation process, alongside the independent scientific report. The most notable discrepancies between the CCAC report and the Rosen Report are much stronger language and barriers against the importation of wild caught animals, and the development of a publicly accessible inventory for births and deaths of animals. Both reports stress the importance of developing Animal Welfare Committees as well as developing standards on tank sizes, interactions, environmental stressors, etc.
On top of those recommendations, and independent from them as they were not suggested by either, Community Safety and Correctional Services Minister Yasir Naqvi announced today that he will be tabling a bill to prohibit the acquisition and breeding of captive Orca’s in the Province. This can be read in two ways; either this is a symbolic controlled burn as Marineland only has one Orca left and they looked unlikely to be able to ever attain another, or this is a serious barrier in place that could trigger Marineland transitioning their “collection.” Marineland has signalled that they oppose this and claim that wild capture is dealt with through international treaties. Although Marineland only has one Orca left, they also have the market share of captive belugas in North America. Parks like the Georgia Aquarium have been denied permits to import wild caught belugas and many parks across North America are interested in obtaining belugas from Marineland. If Kiska becomes a zero asset with this announcement, this may force Marineland into packaging some of their belugas and excepting that their long term viability does not exist. We will see.
The specific focus on Orcas is troubling for many advocates who want to know why other marine mammals are left out. For those people I would highly suggest reading the section on wild capture in the Rosen Report. The formula set out within it, which they believe a facility should meet, is very strict and a serious barrier for Marineland to import ANY animals. They would have to prove that the animal is necessary beyond just “building a collection,” they would have to show that the capture would not have negative impacts on wild populations, and they have to show that they have done everything possible to first source that animal from an already captive/captive bred situation. This will be tough for Marineland to meet, if not impossible.
The most troubling part of the announcement today is that there will be another committee and another 6 months before implementation. This is a already a two and a half year process to this point and adding on any more time and more committees just leaves more room for the industry to try and lobbying these regulations back towards the CCAC guidelines and away from the stronger points of the Rosen Report and Naqvi’s bill. Marineland has two lobbyists at the Provincial level, both with strong ties to the Liberal Party – Bob Lopinski and John Beattie. This gives them 6 months to do work. It is incumbent upon all advocates to keep following this issue, continue to contact Naqvi and to continue to advocate and counter this influence. Do not let up, keep coming to demonstrations, don’t let them slip something watered down through 6 months down the road.
For others with an interest, we live tweeted our reactions to the first section of the Rosen Report with the hashtag #RosenReport. Check that out for more analysis and chime in yourself. One step should only have us focused on the next one. For 54 years Marineland has been able to run without regulations for captive marine mammals. Today, that ended. Let’s keep going!
Marineland Animal Defense