Cetacean Breeding Bans
Does It Benefit the Animal? No.
Back in June of 2019, the Federal government voted to go ahead on a bill, Bill S203. This bill, basically “bans” the import, export, and breeding of cetaceans.
I can certainly say that importations from wild acquired animals do not occur anymore. SeaWorld has not brought a wild-caught animal in 35 years. Vancouver Aquarium since the 90s, Marineland since 2008. Breeding programs, instead, are vital for zoos and aquariums.
What is known is that animal transfers can still occur- with an emphasis on animal welfare. However, this means there are legal barriers- for Helen the Pacific-White Sided Dolphin, and Kiska the Orca. Not only that, a 2015 Provincial Orca bill essentially made a second barrier, specifically and ONLY to Kiska. Which is unfair to Kiska, and both laws are why she does not have a companion, nor has attempted to be moved. This means that regarding both animals, an emergency transfer permit, by the DFO must be issued in addition to paperwork.
What is extremely problematic with this bill is the ban of breeding. It targets the only animal that can mate. Marineland’s belugas.
From what is known about belugas, they are gregarious and in large groups, and on average have calves every 3-5 years. With Marineland’s case, they have significantly large and gregarious beluga groups, and except for three pregnancy gaps of 2 years, all beluga mothers at ML have their babies every 3-5 years. The three exceptions only account 5.17% of the pregnancies overall, which means 94.83% of the time mothers have healthy gaps between calves. These statistics do not account yet the 2019 and 2020 births. In addition, 100% of all pregnancies were conceived naturally.
A similar law was enacted in California- which prohibits import, export and yet again, breeding. But this time for orcas. The only facility that houses orcas. SeaWorld. With SeaWorld, their program started in 1985, with the birth of Kalina. At all three SeaWorld parks combined there were numerous pregnancies, with tremendous success.
The most recent orca calves in the past 10 years worldwide are Makaio (2010), Sakari (2010), Kamea (2013), Adan (2010), Earth (2010), Moana (2011), Luna (2012), Lynn (2012), Victoria (2012) Makani (2013), Keijo (2013), Amaya (2014), Kyara (2017) and Ula (2018).
Out of all these calves, Makaio, Sakari, Kamea, Makani, Amaya and Kyara were born under SeaWorld. SeaWorld was there to help with Adan, which later gave Loro Parque experience to care for Victoria and Ula. They even assisted with the A.I. process- which resulted in Moana. 50% of orcas born in the past decade were born at/assisted by SeaWorld and only 21% of these pregnancies were the result of A.I. (Makani, Moana, Kamea). Which means 79% of pregnancies are conceived naturally.
When it comes down to the breeding ban, essentially only 2 options exist. Birth control, or same-sex groupings. Birth control in the long-term has an affect on the ovarian cycle of the female cetacean and is not 100% foolproof. Such was the case when Ringer the Commerson’s dolphin, got pregnant, despite birth control, in 2017. In addition, it can only be given on a short-term period.
Same-sex groupings are also possible, however there’s problems with that too. With orcas, they are matriarchal, and the matriarch often will discipline the younger orcas if necessary. This means with separations- male orca groupings and their behavior will go undisciplined, which leads to more problems unless caregivers intervene as well. Over the years on social media, there has been documentation of issues among male orcas, at SeaWorld Orlando and San Diego. Their respective matriarchs, Katina and Kalia need to discipline and put them in place.
With belugas, same-sex groupings are observed, and males will often be apart from females when not in mating season. Which means the belugas congregate during mating season. With Marineland’s beluga gender-segregation, it partly mimics how wild counterparts are, from the sheer size to the current gender-separations.
Unfortunately, government bodies decided to dictate animal behavior, and made it a political issue. This was without consulting any of the aquariums and marine parks that house cetaceans, their caregivers, and their vets, who oversee every step of a pregnancy, birth, and rearing.
Not only that, important research on species’ pregnancies in human care- helps to better identify pregnant animals in the wild via photos and measurements.
I do not want to anthropomorphize or humanize the situation, but I will. Let us say the government says “Humans, you’re forbidden from having sex- whether to reproduce or for fun. We don’t have any concrete scientific reasons, only the fact we were influenced by a group of people who want to stop us from having sex”. Wouldn’t there be an outrage? My body, my choice, right?
The public, namely “activists” have been advocating for natural behaviors, but by banning breeding, that is basically preventing a natural phenomenon, courting, and mating in the cetacean population.
Cetaceans are known to be a very social-sexual species. They have sex for fun, to bond and to reproduce. A reproductive ban hinders the quality of life, as it separates sexes unnecessarily in addition to birth control risks. And since we can’t exactly communicate verbally with them- how are caregivers to explain it? Why are the animals being punished for what they do naturally?