Marine mammals in captivity

Standards of care for marine mammals

Ontario is the first province in Canada to set specific standards of care for marine mammals such as cetaceans (dolphins, beluga whales), pinnipeds (walruses, sea lions) and sea otters. In addition, a prohibition on the acquisition and breeding of orcas (also known as killer whales) came into effect in May 2015.

Our new regulation under the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act sets out enhanced standards in areas such as nutrition, reproduction, light and noise exposure, water quality, enclosures and access to qualified veterinary care. The regulation also establishes administrative requirements to strengthen accountability through mandatory record keeping and enhancing animal management and care through the creation of an animal welfare committee, and individual animal welfare plans.

The regulation was enacted as of January 1st, 2016, and the comprehensive standards of care will come into force on May 1, 2016. Some standards, such as capital improvements, will be phased-in over two years to allow facilities time to make all necessary changes.

These new standards consider advice from an expert report (PDF - 1.17 mb) commissioned by the Ontario government, led by Dr. David Rosen, a University of British Columbia (UBC) marine biologist, as well as, input from a technical advisory group made up of veterinary, animal welfare, industry and enforcement organizations. The public were invited to provide comment on the proposed new standards of care up until September 14, 2015.

This is the final part of the government’s three-point plan to strengthen protection for all animals introduced in October 2012, which ensures that Ontario continues to have the strongest animal protection legislation in Canada.

This plan included: new animal welfare funding of $5.5 million for the OSPCA, establishing a registry of Zoos and Aquariums, and reviewing and improving regulations to protect marine mammals in captivity.

Highlights of the new standards include:

Animal Care Requirements

  • Food and feeding requirements that outline specifications on the range, quality and handling of food, as well as vitamin supplementation.
  • Rules regarding water quality and the regular monitoring of water conditions to ensure clean, healthy and circulated water.
  • Provisions about exposure to noise levels that when too high can cause auditory discomfort or distress.
  • Rules about sufficient enclosure space and ‘in and out’ of water features such as terrestrial haul-out sites for seals, sea lions, walruses and sea otters.

Administrative Requirements

  • Requirements to establish animal welfare committees. These committees will oversee animal care and the implementation of animal welfare plans to establish rigorous and comprehensive programs for animal care.
  • Rules about information and records management to promote operational transparency and accountability.
  • Requirement to provide preventative and veterinary care.
  • Rules about post mortem examinations to better understand the sources of illness and death of marine mammals kept in capacity.

These standards of care come into effect on May 1, 2016. Some, such as capital improvements, will be phased-in over two years to allow facilities time to make all necessary changes. Rules governing food and feeding, veterinary care, information management and records, water requirements, light and noise exposure, and the establishment of animal welfare committees come into effect on May 1, 2016. Animal welfare plans must be developed and implemented by May 1, 2017. Finally, infrastructure-related improvements must be completed by May 1, 2018.

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