Marineland welcomes the announcement of a study by the Ontario Government's Independent Marine Mammal Expert, Dr. Rosen, to resolve the lack of any scientific support for pool size standards proposed to the Ontario Government

Jul 07, 2015, 11:57 ET from Marineland

NIAGARA FALLS, ON, July 7, 2015 /CNW/ - Marineland welcomes the announcement, yesterday, that one of Canada's respected marine mammals scientists, and the Ontario government's appointed independent expert in this area, Dr. David Rosen, has agreed to initiate a feasibility study that will lead to a study by a team of independent experts, led by Dr. Rosen, to assess the adequacy of marine mammal facilities in Canada, and in particular, the adequacy of pool sizes for marine mammals.

The study seeks to provide definitive guidance to all marine mammal institutions and government on the issue of pool sizes for marine mammals, building on Dr. Rosen's initial report, which was received and accepted by the government of Ontario earlier this year.

Dr. Rosen's initial report, released in January of this year, made clear recommendations for marine mammal care standards that were accepted by the Ontario government.

His report was also clear that, at the moment, no scientific evidence is currently available that could support a reasonable standard of marine mammal care in relation to pool sizes.

The government of Ontario has not yet released proposed standards of marine mammal care. 

In the absence of clear scientific evidence to support an appropriate standard for pool sizes as a factor in marine mammal health, Canada's leading animal care institutions recognize their responsibility to provide leadership in this area and are proceeding immediately with the feasibility study as an initial necessary step prior to a study to resolve the issue clearly and with strong scientific support.

This study is also critical, as in connection with Ontario's policy review in respect of this issue, a small number of radical extremists have demanded that Ontario adopt unscientific, extreme and unrealistic pool size standards modelled on UK Standards implemented in 1986 for dolphins and killer whales. 

As set out below, the sole purpose of the extremists' demands is to force the closure of all marine mammal facilities in Canada through a distorted and harmful application of grossly outdated UK Standards to other species (such as beluga whales and walruses) through an unscientific application of standards that were themselves implemented without scientific basis, and which were never intended to apply to other species.

Adoption of unscientific and unrealistic standards proposed by extremists will throw thousands of people out of work, severely damage tourism in the Niagara Region, and fail to help the animals under care that are thriving at Marineland.

It is to be noted that of the 343 facilities in 63 countries, throughout some of the most progressive jurisdictions in Europe, North and South America and Asia and Africa, not one country, state, or legislative body have adopted modified UK Standards for pool sizes for the care of any species.

By way of background, on January 27, 2015, the government publicly committed to following the advice of Dr. Rosen's panel, set out in their expert report, in proposing standards of care for marine mammals in Ontario:

Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services

Improving Animal Welfare, Strengthening Enforcement

January 27, 2015

             Standards of care are based on recommendations made in a University of British Columbia Report on Standards of Care for Marine Mammals in Captivity, commissioned by the Ontario government. The report was prepared by a team of scientists led by Dr. David Rosen, a respected marine biologist.

Dr. Rosen's report made only three express recommendations, which all Canadian marine mammal institutions and the entire scientific community support, the most important of which is the adoption of the Canadian Council on Animal Care (CCAC) standards on marine mammal care.

 The CCAC standards took a decade to develop under the leadership of the Department of Fisheries included a diverse group of national groups and represent the most modern scientific peer reviewed standard in the world.  Dr. Rosen recommended, as Chair of the Committee:

3) We recommend the timely adoption of the Guidelines On: The Care and Maintenance of Marine Mammals established by the Canadian Council on Animal Care (CCAC) as a specific standard of care for marine mammals under the OSPCA Act.

It is critical to note that, in the report to the government of Ontario, Dr. Rosen expressly did not recommend adoption of the UK Standards for Pool Size or for any other purpose.              

Dr. Rosen did state that there is "No substantial scientific basis for adoption of one set of criteria [UK Standard] over another" for pool size.

Dr. Rosen clarified his recommendations by letter dated May 7, 2015 to the Legislative Committee and the Minister in which he clearly stated:

The Report I co-authored made a host of recommendations, many of which were based upon those developed (but not released publicly at the time) by the Canadian Council on Animal Care. These criteria were developed after extensive consultation with experts and stakeholders. For that reason, the Report recommended the adoption of the CCAC guidelines (with minimal modifications) as a specific Standard of Care for marine mammals under the OSPCA Act.

…the proposed UK regulations have never actually been implemented in any facility.

We did not provide the Government a specific recommendation [in relation to pool sizes] for two reasons. First, such a specific recommendation was outside of the scope of the Report. Second, insufficient scientific information exists on which to base any quantitative evaluation.

It is my opinion that, what is required is a set of Standards of Care based upon verifiable best practices, informed by quantitative data produced and analyzed in a scientific manner.

This would provide the basis of a study of existing pool sizes and physical parameters measured against impartial criteria of animal health and well-being.

In connection with the release of the report the government of Ontario appointed representatives from the independent scientific community, leading marine mammal facilities and activist groups to a Technical Advisory Group ("TAG").

The participants were advised that the TAG will be consulted on all of the proposed standards of care during the course of two day long sessions.

The TAG process collapsed at the very first meeting on February 20, 2015, when the animal rights groups failed to attend the first session, without notice, and despite the fact that representatives from leading institutions and independent scientists had travelled across the continent to attend. 

Those who attended (all the scientific participants, including Marineland), reiterated their full commitment to the TAG process and their willingness to re-attend promptly, despite the non-attendance of the animal rights activists.

Notwithstanding the foregoing, on March 9, 2015, as a consequence of the conduct of the animal rights groups, and apparently after consultation with the animal rights groups, to which Marineland and the other TAG members were not included, the government advised as follows:

"… we are now taking a modified approach to the TAG process….the Ministry is requesting that each TAG member provide the Ministry with a written submission. ... we need to receive your completed template by Thursday May 7, 2015."

The TAG committee never met and no discussions, as proposed, ever took place. 

The TAG process failed as a consequence of the orchestrated conduct of the animal rights groups' participants.

Following the deadline for submissions by the TAG members, Committee hearings were held on May 11, 2015 in relation to Bill 80, at which the issue of standards for pool sizes was directly addressed.

The Director of the Moncton Zoo and Past President of Canada's Accredited Zoos and Aquariums stated:

"In order to meet its self-appointed deadline the government has had to rely heavily on an outdated set of standards developed in the UK in the 1980s and to the best of our knowledge, not implemented anywhere in the world."

Dr. Lanny Cornell, one of the world's leading marine mammal scientists and marine mammal veterinarians, stated:

"There are proposals in some countries such as the UK to enlarge whale and dolphin facilities to such great sizes as to make them impossible financially for anyone to afford."

"These proposals are "feel good" proposals only and have no scientific basis.  They are designed solely to eliminate zoological facilities all together."

The UK Standards are based on the UK Report of 1986, which is now almost thirty years old and out of date.

The UK Standards have never been put into practice in any country or any facility in the world.

The imposition of the UK Standards forced the closure of all remaining marine mammal facilities in the UK.

The UK Standards are rejected by the 343 facilities and 63 countries, which currently house and legislate for the care and protection of marine mammals.

More specifically:

  • No legislative bodies in any of Europe, North or South America, Asia, or Africa have adopted the UK Standards in conjunction with legislation governing the care of marine mammals.
  • No internationally recognized scientific bodies, which regulate the care or treatment of marine mammals, recommend adoption of the UK Standards.
  • No national or international institutions of veterinary science or marine mammal veterinary science recommend use of the UK Standards.
  • No Canadian legislative bodies, veterinary colleges, marine mammal societies or marine mammal veterinarians recommend use of the UK Standards.
  • None of the scientific community who participated in the government's TAG recommended use of the UK Standards. In fact they unanimously rejected its use.
  • The government's own appointed experts, Dr. Rosen and his colleagues, reject the adoption of the UK Standards.

In fact, the UK Report, which is the foundation for the UK Standards, states unequivocally that, in making its recommendations on pool sizes:

1)     There is no scientific evidence whatsoever for pool sizes; and,

2)     Recommended, in the total absence of scientific evidence, that only a "reasonable proportion" of the pools for dolphins and killer whales be twice the adult length of the average marine mammal, not adoption of an "average" pool depth.

To be clear, the UK Report expressly states that there is no scientific evidence and therefore no scientific basis for its recommendations on pool sizes:

2. The various national and international standards for the housing and care of cetaceans are more or less agreed on all points except minimum pool dimensions and subsidiary pool provisions.

3. There is no research evidence whatsoever on the question of pool size or other pool requirements. Nor is there any research available on the social distances of the species, on their requirements for surface area and depth, or on the effects of training on exercise space needs.

4. Until such information is available, no true picture of the accommodation required can be obtained.

5. In the absence of specific information, the only guide can be general indications and practical considerations.

6. There is a general feeling (although disputed by some on practical husbandry grounds) that the bigger the pool the better. Whether this has any direct bearing on the health and welfare of the animals is unknown, but it certainly has a significant influence on the perceptions of concerned visitors.

The proposed UK Standard requires an "average" pool depth. 

The UK Report did not make that recommendation. In fact the UK Report recommended a "reasonable proportion" standard:

18. Although there is no evidence on depth requirements, wild animals do have access to a variety of depths. A reasonable proportion of each pool should therefore be at least twice adult body length deep.

The UK Standards mandate a pool shape that is cylindrical in design, which is contrary to all modern pool designs based on specie specific needs, all of which incorporate variable slopes to mimic natural environment to encourage natural behaviour, allow isolation, medical and training areas, and shallow pool areas for breeding and nursing and for natural behaviours such as rubbing.

The UK Standards for pools facilities are not only out of date, they are contrary to scientific development over the last thirty years and their adoption will harm the marine mammals they are supposed to help, particularly beluga whales and walruses.

The UK Report notes the danger of making decisions without evidence:

"Recommendations for particular environmental features on the basis of what people think may be best for an animal, without evidence to support this belief, might not be in the best interests of the welfare of the animal."

The UK Report only gave recommendations for pool sizes for Bottlenose dolphins and killer whales and noted that in the absence of any evidence the standards they propose for killer whales are simply derivative of the Bottlenose dolphin standards, as follows:

"At present standards for housing captive Bottlenose dolphins cannot be based upon scientific evidence as there is no information on their requirements.  However, there is an immediate need for guidelines in relation to existing captive animals.

At present, standards for housing captive killer whales cannot be based upon scientific evidence as there is no information on their requirements.  However, there is an immediate need for guidelines in relation to existing captive animals.

This implies that a reasonable proportion of pool area should be at least twice average adult body length deep."

The proposed pool size standards for beluga whales are, therefore, themselves derivative of UK Standards, as no UK Standards for beluga whales were ever proposed.

The Ontario Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services (MCSC) has advised that standards of care for marine mammals derived from UK Standards established in 1986 are still being considered for implementation by the government of Ontario.

Marineland advised the government that adoption of the UK Standards for pool sizes would force the closure of Marineland and force a thousand people out of work immediately and thousands more thereafter.

The UK Standards are notorious in the international community of marine mammal facilities and scientists as constituting forced closure by regulation.

In light of the foregoing, the scientific feasibility study that Dr. Rosen has agreed to spearhead is essential for the purpose of determining appropriate scientific standards for pool size for marine mammal facilities.

Canada's leading institutions, its scientists, and the thousands of people who are employed every day caring for our wonderful marine mammals, trust the government of Ontario will pursue a rational, scientific, and objective approach to the adoption of standards in relation to pool sizes and follow the recommendations of Dr. Rosen, which this study seeks.

SOURCE Marineland