A new bill has been introduced in the US Congress that could lead to the end of whales kept captive in US aquaria and marine parks. If passed, the “Strengthening Welfare in Marine Settings Act of 2022 (S.4740 ) will amend the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 and the Animal Welfare Act to prohibit the taking, importation, exportation, and breeding of certain cetaceans for public display, and other purposes. It was introduced on 2nd August 2022 by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Reps. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., Jared Huffman, D-Calif., and Suzan DelBene, D-Wash.
The bill is not a total ban on keeping cetaceans in captivity, but with time it may lead to the abolition of at least whales’ captivity. It aims to ban exports of any orca, beluga whale, false killer whale, or pilot whale except for the transport of such species for release to the wild, or to a marine mammal sanctuary with a determination by the Secretary that the transportation to such sanctuary is in the best interest of the individual marine mammal. The term ‘sanctuary’ is defined in the bill as a place of refuge where marine mammals live in a captive setting as close as possible to their natural environment, and where individuals are prioritised with respect to well-being and autonomy, and are not used for profit or breeding for the purpose of public display. Under this definition, it will be difficult for a public aquarium to masquerade as a sanctuary and continue to keep cetaceans.
Regarding imports from other countries, the bill states that the “Secretary may not issue any permit that authorizes the taking or importation of any orca, beluga whale, false killer whale, or pilot whale for the purpose of public display.” The bill also amends the Animal Welfare Act by adding “It shall be unlawful for any person to breed or artificially inseminate any orca, beluga whale, false killer whale, or pilot whale for purposes of using the progeny of such species for public display.” This means that, if no whales are imported or bred, once all those that are captive have died, they will not be replaced. However, none of these provisions affects other types of cetaceans, such as dolphins, which would continue to be exploited until a total ban is passed.