CanadaSocial Issues

Marine Life Captivity and Conservation: A Canadian Issue

The haunting moan of a humpback whale is possibly one of the most beautiful sounds on the planet. The dolphin is arguably one of the most intelligent creatures beside humans to exist, even going so far as to save humans from danger and communicate amongst each other in complex ways. As a whole, marine animals consist of thousands of colourful, intricate and vital species who live underneath Earth’s blue world. Unfortunately, these animals are being threatened by man’s greed and appetite and are facing effects such as climate change that negatively impact their health and well-being.

With the world’s largest coastline in tow, one of Canadians’ most important resources is water. This is one of the reasons why Canadians are especially concerned with keeping our oceans safe. The other reason would be the fact that Canada is home to an endless amount of deep-sea creatures that deserve a clean and happy place to live, but are instead surviving in plastic-infested waters and are at risk of being accidentally swept up by fishermen as bycatch. Overall, marine life captivity and conservation is a Canadian issue that needs to be addressed to ensure that these species live to see a brighter future.

Marine Life Captivity and Conservation: A Canadian Issue

Canadian Threats to Marine Animals

In 2019, Canada’s infamous aquatic amusement park, MarineLand, was forced to discontinue breeding their captive marine life after the House of Commons passed a bill that banned whales and dolphins in captivity. Even after this, many other forms of marine life remain captive in often tiny enclosures that certainly do not compare to the vast, natural freedom that the ocean would give them. Despite several conservation efforts, threats to Canada’s marine animals continue to exist in the form of captivity, climate change, overfishing and pollution.

Aquariums are filled with several different kinds of marine life, from minnows to jellyfish to rare, vibrant fish. While most only contain smaller species of fish, select aquariums feature large mammals like sharks who thrive in far larger waters than a tank. Ripley’s Aquarium, in particular, located in Toronto, Ontario, allegedly hunted endangered sharks from the wild to be displayed in their tanks in 2012.

According to Save Our Seas, capturing endangered species, especially predators, for captivity can collapse entire marine ecosystems, as prey populations rise out of control. Forced into swimming endless circles, marine species receive far less varied stimulation than what they would receive from a natural environment. Ultimately, aquariums can be extremely harmful to marine animals who are not meant to exist in cramped, artificial conditions, and their health and life expectancy may decline a lot faster than it would in the wild.

Climate change is one of the most serious issues that Canada’s oceans face today. In accordance with Canada’s Changing Climate Report, there is a high likelihood that upper-ocean warming and acidification of ocean surface waters could be attributed to human impact (i.e. greenhouse gas emissions). With sea temperatures rising and waters becoming more acidic, ice caps are melting at alarming rates, and many vulnerable species suffer under its effects. Higher acidity may make it difficult for some marine animals to build their protective skeletons or shells. Above all, ocean species are facing extreme changes, including “declines in calcification, increased abundance of warm-water species, and loss of entire ecosystems (e.g. coral reefs).”

Marine Life Captivity and Conservation: A Canadian Issue

Overfishing is an issue that affects not only marine life but human life as well. As one of the most “significant drivers of declines in ocean wildlife populations,” millions of fish needlessly lose their lives every year due to careless fishing practices and beliefs that view marine animals as profit rather than individual lives. While several non-targeted marine species, including turtles and dolphins, face death as bycatch, as they are unintentionally caught in fishermen’s’ nets, the economy also suffers droughts from overfishing. For instance, 50,000 Canadians lost their jobs when Canada shut down the cod fishery in 1992, which collapsed due to depleted cod stocks, caused by the wrongful belief that our oceans hold an endless supply of fish. As is plain to see, changes to Canada’s fishing industry must be put in place to ensure that we do not see oceans in 2050 where plastic overruns fish.

Every year, Canadians throw away over three million tonnes of plastic waste — less than 10% of this is recycled. In turn, much of these single-use plastics, such as plastic bags, cutlery and straws, end up in the ocean and harm the bellies of birds and marine animals who mistake them for food. While Justin Trudeau plans to ban single-use plastics in Canada by 2021, in the meantime, Canadians need to step up and vote with their consumerism to minimize excessive plastic use to avoid threatening our oceans any further. This would involve refusing plastic cutlery and straws from fast-food restaurants and bringing your own reusable lunch ware, water bottles and mugs that a barista will gladly fill for you instead of a plastic cup.

What Canada is Doing to Help the Oceans

Besides banning the captivity and breeding of whales and dolphins, the Government of Canada (GOC) has done fairly extensive work on protecting our oceans. For one, according to GOC, the “Oceans Protection Plan is the largest investment ever made to protect Canada’s coasts and waterways.” This crucial investment aims to protect oceans from pollution, overfishing and climate change. GOC also makes it a priority to maintain healthier, safer coasts by restoring coastal marine habitats, conducting studies on marine ecosystems, keeping aerial surveillance to detect oil spills and working together to spread awareness on severe threats to whales.

Marine Life Captivity and Conservation: A Canadian Issue

Several organizations have also stepped up to demand the health, conservation and safety of marine animals in Canada, including the David Suzuki Foundation, Oceana and the Canadian Marine Animal Response Alliance (CMARA).

The David Suzuki Foundation was founded in 1990 to “conserve and protect the natural environment, and help create a sustainable Canada.” Their priority is keeping Canada’s oceans safe by setting long-term goals of a low-carbon future, protecting and improving biodiversity and establishing the legal right for all Canadians to live in a healthy environment. 

Oceana Canada is a non-profit organization dedicated to breaking the cycle of environmental ignorance to protect the world’s oceans. Some of Oceana’s Canadian campaigns have focused on rebuilding ocean abundance and declining marine populations, protecting marine habitat and ending the use of single-use plastics.

CMARA’s mission statement is to “conserve Canada’s marine animals by providing national leadership on marine animal emergency responses through support and guidance to the regional response networks.” This alliance aims to rescue marine animals in distress and emergency situations, such as animals caught in ropes or stranded on shores, and gather research on living or dead marine creatures through monitoring the location, behaviour or carcass to prevent future emergency incidents.

Together with numerous companies, organizations and foundations focused on giving marine animals full and healthy lives without human interference, Canada and the world as a whole may see brighter, cleaner futures. Overall, volunteers, donators and active citizens keep them afloat to continue the goal of environmental health for all Canadians and animals.

What Canada Still Needs to Accomplish 

Canada’s shorelines are some of the most beautiful in the world. However, many of these coasts are littered with garbage and discarded pollutants. According to the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup, an organization run by volunteers who pick up much of the litter-strewn across Canada’s coasts, over three hundred thousand pieces of tiny plastics or foam were found on shores last year. Alongside that, around 50,000 plastic beverage bottles and food wrappers were removed. The Canadian Wildlife Federation states that 90% of all ocean waste stays in ocean waters, where it “poisons breeding grounds, disrupts sea-loving creatures, harms humans, and ruins beaches.” In order to minimize this issue, Canadians need to be aware of the impact of their single-use waste and resolve to restore Canada’s aquatic coastal habitats.

Marine Life Captivity and Conservation: A Canadian Issue

In Canada alone, hundreds of marine species are listed as at-risk and endangered by the Species at Risk Act (SARA), including the beluga whale and the loggerhead sea turtle. While these species once roamed in Canada’s waters freely without much risk, they now face the constant threat of becoming extinct for good due to the many human-caused threats to their survival. By becoming better stewards of our planet and taking action to help our aquatic counterparts, we may be able to help reverse these effects and return these animals to safety.

The duty of all Canadians is ultimately to speak out against injustice against all forms of life. What remains for Canada to accomplish in terms of marine conservation is up to the citizens most of all and therefore, they must encourage all members of parliament to commit to providing more resources, funding and awareness for cleaner and healthier oceans in each new term. To do this, Canadians must consider voting for politicians who promise to prioritize marine conservation, while also writing letters to parliament and signing petitions expressing their desire for more protection for marine life, letting them know that it is an important issue to nearly all Canadians.

Alternatives to Supporting Marine Animals in Captivity

  • Go on a whale-watching tour. If you have never seen a whale before and it’s one of your dreams to see them, whale-watching is a great way to appreciate them from afar without threatening their freedom and well-being. In fact, this way can be even more fulfilling as you will see how whales thrive in their natural habitats — communicating, singing and swimming freely with their calves.

  • Visit marine exhibits and museums that do not have any animals on display. Instead of seeing them in person, watching educational videos and learning interesting facts on marine life can leave you more knowledgeable and aware of the aquatic issues we are facing today. In turn, our seawater ecosystem will thank you.

  • Embark on a submarine tour. This is probably the most exciting way to witness marine life without enclosures. In a submarine tour, you will be able to get up close and personal with all the different types of species that lurk down in the depths of the ocean. You may have encounters with stingrays, jellyfish and even large animals like sharks, which will help you gain a better appreciation for the hidden life that most of us don’t have much contact with.

  • Watch documentaries about sea life to learn more about different species. By becoming aware of the state of our oceans and gaining information on the negative impacts humanity has on it, you can learn ways to keep marine life safe and healthy. Consider documentaries like Blackfish, Chasing Coral and A Plastic Ocean to help you get started on your journey to protecting the blue world. 

  • Get involved with local and international marine protection organizations by signing petitions, volunteering, attending events and speaking up on ocean issues. You may even send a letter to Canada’s government by filling out Pacific Wild’s form, letting them know that marine conservation is important to you. Otherwise, take physical action in whatever way you can to help our sea creatures know they are loved.

Marine Life Captivity and Conservation: A Canadian Issue

Although there is much that Canada still needs to accomplish in marine conservation, the country has also made significant progress toward sustainability for sea creatures through the help of Canadians and organizations who wish to live in a world where oceans are free of pollution and its inhabitants are healthy. All in all, it is important to stay aware of news concerning marine life and find ways to help and contribute to this meaningful cause that affects everyone, so your grandchildren can have the opportunity to witness a clean ocean abundant in fish. 


  • Ashley Fernandes

    Ashley is a Canadian writer who specializes in various kinds of writing, from short stories and poetry to thoroughly researched articles.

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