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How the 'Free Willy Bill' could bring retired show whales to Nova Scotia

On June 11, the Canadian Senate passed Bill S-203, the Ending the Captivity of Whales and Dolphins Act -- a.k.a. the Free Willy Bill
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Since 2016, the Whale Sanctuary Project has been trying to find a viable site off the coast of Nova Scotia.

"The concept is to create a natural seaside sanctuary for beluga whales in Nova Scotia, an area of less than a half a square kilometre of water space," says the project's executive director Charles Vinick.

Vinick has been working with whales his whole life, from British Columbia to Nova Scotia, and last year even saving 97 whales in illegal captivity in Russia.

"I'm just one of a number of people who are working diligently to change the way in which we treat the whales and dolphins that are in captivity now, and that we no longer provide the kinds of lives for them that they have in these facilities," he explains.

On June 11, the Canadian Senate passed Bill S-203, the Ending the Captivity of Whales and Dolphins Act -- a.k.a. the Free Willy Bill.

The new legislation means that Canadian marine parks will no longer be able to breed the animals they have, or purchase new ones. It applies to all cetaceans, a species of animals that includes whales, dolphins and porpoises.

"With the passage of this bill Canada is truly leading the world in protecting cetaceans. I can't tell you how pleased we are," Vinick tells NEWS 95.7's The Sheldon MacLeod Show.

Vinick says the largest park affected by the bill is Marineland, located at Niagara Falls.

"That organization is grandfathered under the bill to be able to continue what they're doing but they may no longer breed the beluga whales that they have," he explains. "That means their business model does have to begin to change."

He hopes that his organization can work with Marineland and others like it.

"We would look to do it cooperatively with them so that there's a place for their animals to be moved that is a more humane environment for their marine animals," Vinick says.

One of these sanctuaries could potentially be off the coast of Nova Scotia.

Vinick's group held public consultations in several communities earlier this year, including Dartmouth, Liverpool, Port Hawkesbury, Sherbrooke, and Sheet Harbour.

He says the turnout, especially in the latter two coastal communities, was impressive.

"For 100 people to show up at a community meeting in March, is tremendous in these small communities," Vinick says. "We were gratified to see how the communities responded to these meetings, how much support there truly is."

Vinick says it was made clear to communities that the group isn't looking for any monetary help.

"We're looking to do this completely through philanthropic donation," he explains. "[There will be] real benefits for the community in terms of jobs, in terms of an educational program on cetaceans for the children and for the adults in the area."

But at the heart of it are the belugas the group hopes to provide a better life for.

"It sets the stage for how Canadians throughout the country think about having cetaceans performing in marine parks," says Vinick. "They're detrimental to their health and their wellbeing, and I think the public now shares that view."

The Whale Sanctuary Project hopes to select a location for the sanctuary by the end of the year.

Victoria  Walton

About the Author: Victoria Walton

Victoria is's weekend editor and a Halifax-based freelancer. She is originally from Nova Scotia's Annapolis Valley.
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