Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Captive Cetaceans and the Law

In 1972, the United States enacted the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), which prohibits, with certain exceptions, the capture of marine mammals in U.S. waters and the importation of marine mammals into the U.S.

The capture of orcas from Canadian waters has been banned since 1975 and beluga captures have not been permitted since 1992 (although there is no formal ban). Still, Canada has no legal standards for marine mammals in captivity, either on the federal level or provincial level at this time.

Canada also has no specific legislation governing the import or export of live cetaceans, making it quite easy for Canadian facilities to acquire cetaceans from other countries. Any controls are regulated through the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which has a permit system to restrict the trade of certain species.

Endangered animals such as the blue, sperm and Right whale are listed in Appendix I of CITES and require both an import and export permit for trade. Other cetacean species, such as orcas, belugas and bottlenose dolphins are listed in Appendix II and only require an export permit. Between 1999 and 2005, Marineland imported 33 beluga whales and 10 bottlenose dolphins (as well as a number of walruses) from Russia through CITES.

According to Max Stanfield, director of Pacific, Arctic and inland fisheries, the federal government has no jurisdiction to restrict imports of cetaceans listed in Appendix II’ adding that the federal government can only intervene if there is inhumane treatment.

The Canadian Association of Zoos and Aquariums (CAZA), a conglomerate of zoos, safari parks and aquariums, is the only body in Canada with defined standards for marine mammals in captivity. CAZA members include African Lion Safari, the Vancouver Aquarium, the Metro Zoo (Toronto), the West Edmonton Mall, the Montreal Biodome and the Calgary Zoo.

Unfortunately, CAZA standards for animal welfare and human safety are developed and monitored by its members. Accredited facilities do not answer to any governmental agency and adherence to the rules is voluntary.

When animal protection groups criticized CAZA after accrediting Marineland in 2002, it responded by stating that the standards are open to interpretation and CAZA gives members a lot of latitude when making changes. CAZA said it could take a long time to address a serious deficiency, but, while acknowledging that some accredited facilities may be deficient in some areas, they might exceed in others.

Countries with Laws Protecting Captive Cetaceans

Since there are no international standards for keeping cetaceans in captivity, a number of countries around the world have taken it upon themselves to ban or severely restrict their captivity and trade, due to increasing public awareness and pressure. They include:

· Argentina (imports and orca captures are prohibited),
· Australia (live captures),
· Brazil (prohibits public display of cetaceans).
· Chile (imports and exports, live captures and public display),
· China (live captures, including Taiwan and Hong Kong),
· Cyprus (imports are prohibited),
· Hungary (imports),
· India (imports),
· Indonesia (live captures of Irrawaddy dolphins in the Mahakam River),
· Israel (imports and circus performances are prohibited)
· Italy (prohibits swim-with-the-dolphin programs),
· Laos (live captures of Mekong Irrawaddy dolphins),
· Malaysia (imports, exports and live captures)
· Mexico (imports and exports and live captures),
· Nicaragua (live captures),
· Singapore (live captures),
· Thailand (live captures),
· The Philippines (live captures),
· United Kingdom (prohibits public display of cetaceans).

In 1975, orca captures were banned from Canadian waters and ten years later the state of Victoria in Australia outlawed the capture and display of cetaceans. Several states and jurisdictions in the U.S. have also prohibited the display of whales and dolphins, including South Carolina and Maui County (which includes several islands) in Hawaii.

No comments: