"The intent of our legislation will be to make sure that we don't have orcas in captivity in the future," Yasir Naqvi, Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services, said on Tuesday.
"They are unique animals that cannot be replicated in captivity."
The announcement followed the release of a report the government commissioned in October 2013, when it announced increased power and funding for the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (OSPCA).
The 128-page report by David Rosen, a marine biologist with the University of British Columbia, made a number of recommendations, including setting new standards on pool sizes, noise limits around marine mammals such as whales, dolphins and belugas, water quality and appropriate social groupings.
In his report, Rosen criticized the inadequacy of the OSPCA when dealing with marine mammals, including the lack of specialized training for their agents. He also noted that the OSPCA Act does not include regulations specifically for marine mammals.
"It is our opinion that the current standards of care for marine mammals in display facilities are insufficient," the report stated.
Allegations of animal abuse and neglect at Marineland Canada — which has the only killer whale in captivity in Canada — prompted the OSPCA to launch an investigation in 2012. After the eight-month probe, the OSPCA issued six orders that Marineland complied with and the theme park said no evidence of animal abuse was found, media reports said.
Marineland said on Tuesday it "welcomes and fully supports" the report's recommendations.
"There is no greater priority for Marineland than the health and welfare of all of its animals, including its marine mammals," it said in a statement.
Other recommendations in the report include:
— Suitable social and environmental enrichment programs at each facility.
— Establishment of an animal welfare committee and animal management plan.
— A provincial inventory of marine mammals in display facilities.
— Strict rules regarding the importation of marine mammals.
— Rules surrounding the handling of marine mammals, including water quality.
Rob Laidlaw, executive director of the animal welfare group Zoocheck, said Ontario would be a leader in animal welfare laws in Canada if it implemented all of the recommendations in the report.
"We certainly applaud the government wholeheartedly in moving to finally put a nail in the coffin of killer whale keeping in the province," Laidlaw said, urging the government to take the same approach with other marine mammals.
Laidlaw said, however, that the health of other animals in zoos and aquariums remains a concern.
"What we need in this province, which many jurisdictions have, is an upfront licensing program and some public accountability," he said.
In 2013, Ontario introduced a voluntary registration for zoos and aquariums, subject to twice-a-year inspections from the OSPCA. In his report, Rosen wrote about the "perception that a lack of transparency exists in the way that marine mammals are managed," which could be mitigated by a public inventory of marine mammals.
In response to the report, the government said Tuesday it is setting up a technical advisory group composed of veterinarians, animal welfare groups, industry, and enforcement partners to help with the implementation and provide advice for the new standards.
The advisory group is expected to report back to the province within six months, but a government spokesman said the new legislation will be introduced this spring.
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