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Marineland quietly imports three Russian whales

1st June 1999

Move sidesteps controversy & possible regulation
by: Zoocheck Canada

A mere three weeks away from a decision by the Honourable David Anderson, Minister of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO), on new regulations for the capture of whales in Canadian waters and Marineland's application to capture wild belugas, Marineland of Canada side-stepped possible regulation by importing three beluga whales from a Russian military facility over the weekend.

Government officials, including staff in Minister David Anderson's office, claimed to have no knowledge of the import.

Marineland's 1998 application to capture six wild beluga whales from Canadian waters generated considerable opposition from individuals and conservation organizations around the world, including internationally-renowned oceanographer Jean-Michel Cousteau and the producers of the Free Willy films.

According to Holly Penfound, director of Zoocheck Canada, "Marineland's move effectively sidesteps the enormous opposition its capture application produced. It may also allow them to circumvent the DFO regulations that may prohibit live captures altogether or allow them in only vaery limited circumstances. Importing whales into Canada requires little more than an export permit from the originating country, so it can be accomplished in relative secrecy. This situation should not be allowed to happen again."

According to Doug Cartlidge of the European Cetacean Organization, "A number of Russian facilities are known to capture wild dolphins and belugas for export to marine parks and aquariums around the world. The animals in Canada are probably recent captures as belugas haven't been used by the Russian military for quite some time. Were they captured for Marineland? Does Marineland want additional whales? These are questions that should be answered."

Over the last several years, Marineland has been heavily criticized for substandard animal housing and overcrowding. According to Zoocheck Canada director Holly Penfound, "Marineland currently has seven killer whales. The facility claimed its new Friendship Cove tank would provide them with more room. Once the new belugas are moved into Friendship Cove, the killer whales will be as overcrowded as ever."

Zoocheck Canada marine mammal project coordinator Brian McHattie adds, "It makes no sense. If someone in Canada finds it difficult to capture whales here, they can just go elsewhere. We'll certainly be requesting that the Honourable David Anderson implement measures to safeguard the welfare of all whales in Canada, not just those that have been captured here."