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Position Statement on Marine Mammal Welfare

Welfare of marine mammals

The BC SPCA recognizes the complex needs of these highly sentient and social animals. Marine mammals face numerous threats to their welfare from direct human activities such as captivity, ecotourism, research and hunting, and indirectly from pollution and overfishing. The BC SPCA strives to improve the lives of marine mammals through education and advocacy.

Captivity

The BC SPCA is opposed to the capture, confinement and breeding of marine mammals for entertainment or educational display. Institutions, facilities and businesses that currently house marine mammals must aim to provide the animals with the Five Freedoms and meet the highest professional accreditation standards. The BC SPCA supports the phasing out of such programs as the full provision of the Five Freedoms is not possible for wild animals who require large and diverse aquatic habitats to live.

Ecotourism

The BC SPCA supports whale-watching and other marine mammal viewing in their natural habitat from land or water, as one way to educate the public in developing a better understanding and appreciation of these highly intelligent and social creatures. Land-based watching, where appropriate, is preferable as there is less risk to the animals. Marine-based viewing should be conducted to the highest industry standards by regulated operators, with special attention paid to the issue of proximity as the animals are very vulnerable to disturbance, especially during feeding, breeding, birthing and nursing.

The BC SPCA opposes activities involving the direct interaction of humans with marine mammals, such as swimming with dolphins and feeding of all marine mammals, as such activities are in direct interference with the species’ natural behaviour.

Research

The BC SPCA is opposed to the capture, permanent confinement and captive breeding of marine mammals. Only non-invasive and non-lethal research that temporarily confines the animals and directly benefits the species is acceptable. The Society believes that appropriate pain control should be administered for procedures such as branding and other painful monitoring techniques; and that anaesthesia, analgesia, tranquilization and euthanasia only be conducted by trained technicians or researchers as per the BC SPCA position statement on Animals in Research.

Hunting – Whaling

The BC SPCA is opposed to the hunting or any non-subsistence killing of all cetaceans, including the killing for supposed “scientific research” that is carried out by some nations through an exemption in the international treaty but against a global moratorium on whaling. Standard practices of killing these animals using harpoons or standard firearms result in a lingering, painful and inhumane death. Although the meat and parts may be sold for use following such supposed “research projects,” the principle of killing healthy animals and exploiting their products or parts for profit is inconsistent with the BC SPCA position statement on Hunting.

Hunting – Sealing

The BC SPCA is opposed to the commercial hunting of seals because the principal purpose of the activity is to supply pelts for the fashion clothing industry, which is inconsistent with the BC SPCA position statement on Animals Used for Clothing, Fashion and Art.

Further, the BC SPCA is opposed to the killing of seals because current standard methods have not proven to consistently result in a quick death with minimal suffering. In the immediate term, the BC SPCA supports mandatory on-site third-party supervision of seal hunts in Canada to ensure humane practices are followed. At a minimum, sealers should be expected to meet the same standards of humane killing required by law of other animal slaughter industries or should cease the practice.

In addition, the BC SPCA is opposed to culling marine mammals for population control (unless these animals are suffering due to health concerns), to protect fish farms, or to improve the viability of fish stocks without scientific evidence that demonstrates fish stock recovery is entirely dependent on marine mammal predation. If culling does occur, humane practices must be followed.

Approved by the Board of Directors – October 2011

Background

The BC SPCA has historically opposed the commercial seal hunt in Canada, but we also recognize other direct activities that negatively impact marine mammals nationally and internationally, in the wild and in captivity.

Further, we recognize some aboriginal communities who hunt for subsistence purposes have few alternatives to the products harvested from marine mammals. However, large scale commercial harvesting of marine mammals by aboriginal communities under the guise of subsistence hunting is not supported. Subsistence hunting in these communities should only be carried out by qualified and experienced hunters, and only in a way that is humane, responsible and sustainable. Techniques which minimize the infliction of pain or suffering and cause instant death must be employed as in accordance with the BC SPCA position statement on Hunting.

Background Updated – October 2011

Definitions

Marine mammals: Mammals who are ocean-dwelling or depend on the ocean for food and include, but are not limited to, whales, dolphins, porpoises, seals, sea lions, walrus, otters and manatees.

Cetaceans: Marine mammals included in the order Cetacea (whales, dolphins and porpoises).

Five Freedoms: A concept first developed in 1965 by The Brambell Committee, formed by the UK government to examine the conditions on commercial farms. Now internationally recognized, the Five Freedoms are considered applicable to all animals.

The BC SPCA’s Five Freedoms (adapted from the original list) are:

  1. Freedom from hunger and thirst;
  2. Freedom from pain, injury and disease;
  3. Freedom from distress;
  4. Freedom from discomfort;
  5. Freedom to express behaviours that promote well-being.

The BC SPCA’s Five Freedoms form the basis of the Society’s Charter and describe conditions that must be fulfilled in order to prevent the suffering of all animals in human care. The Society acknowledges that these freedoms are not enforceable and that absolute provision of these freedoms may not be possible, but strongly encourages all animal guardians to strive to provide them.

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