Human chain of 150 volunteers guide 40 stranded pilot whales back to sea

Nina Hindmarsh and Skara Bohny22:19, Feb 22 2021

Volunteer Petra Juric of Nelson attends to a juvenile Pilot Whale, one of the 49 that were stranded.
BRADEN FASTIER/STUFFVolunteer Petra Juric of Nelson attends to a juvenile Pilot Whale, one of the 49 that were stranded.

A human chain made up of around 150 volunteers is guiding a pod of whales back out to sea in chest-deep water, after successfully re-floating them at high tide.

Roughly 38 of the 49 long-finned pilot whales that stranded Monday morning at Farewell Spit were encircled by the human chain from 6.30 pm, after being re-grouped by the volunteers.

As the high tide came in and the sun began to set behind the mountains, volunteers wearing wetsuits sat in seawater up to their necks and held the whales to stop them from swimming away.

Some were getting frisky and thrashing about, while baby whales darted around volunteers in the water, looking for their parents and family members.

Volunteers on high alert after pilot whale calf washes up on Christchurch beach
Dead whale towed to Farewell Spit tidal flats to decompose
Project Jonah helps volunteers prepare for strandings in Taranaki

Some volunteers had been with their whales for up to six hours, dousing them in buckets of water, digging holes around them to fill up with water, and covering them in wet sheets and towels.

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At 7.30 pm, the human chain was still slowly leading the whales back out to sea.

Department of Conservation whale stranding operations manager, Darren Foxwell, said first they had to re-float the animals and let them get their balance back. Time 0:31/Duration 1:17Loaded: 64.27% FullscreenNINA HINDMARSH/STUFFVolunteers are working to keep stranded whales alive until they can refloat them at high tide at Farewell Spit Whale.

“So they re-orientate, and we keep them together, otherwise there’s a risk of re-stranding if they take off on their own. 

“Then we let them go as a pod when they’ve all re-floated, and fingers crossed, they take off out to sea and don’t re-strand overnight.”

Foxwell said a local tour operator had discovered the 49 long finned pilot whales stranded at about 9.30am.

The scene was about 1.5 kilometres from the DOC carpark at the base of the spit.

“Volunteers started trickling in, and we’ve got enough for this part of the operation,” Foxwell said.

As the high tide came in on Monday evening, roughly 38 of the 49 long-finned pilot whales that had been stranded were encircled by the human chain, after being re-grouped by the volunteers.
NINA HINDMARSH/STUFFAs the high tide came in on Monday evening, roughly 38 of the 49 long-finned pilot whales that had been stranded were encircled by the human chain, after being re-grouped by the volunteers.

Foxwell said there was “rough, unofficial count” of 10 dead whales so far.

“But none have died since we’ve been here.” 

“Quite often, it might be one animal that is injured, and one of the theories is that it holds the other animals in, the tide goes out, and they get stranded.”

There were “no large adult whales [stranded] here, not like there can be”, Foxwell said.

“At high tide, we hope to have these guys refloated, orientated, and swimming out towards Separation Point.”

About 2pm, a woman who was standing close to the rear of one of the largest whales was struck repeatedly by its tail, when the animal began flapping violently in distress, breaking her ankle.

Some were getting frisky and thrashing about, while baby whales darted around volunteers in the water, looking for their parents and family members.
NINA HINDMARSH/STUFFSome were getting frisky and thrashing about, while baby whales darted around volunteers in the water, looking for their parents and family members.

The volunteer was seen crawling away and clutching her ankle, with others rushing to help, including a doctor who was also helping at the scene. 

She was driven to the base of the spit and treated by an ambulance crew.

Following the incident, DOC staff were walking around reminding volunteers to keep a safe distance from the whales, and to remember that they were “still wild animals”.

Puponga resident and volunteer, Carolina Brejchova, was caring for six whales at the site. 

65 volunteers are working to save the surviving whales after 49 stranded at Farewell Spit.
NINA HINDMARSH65 volunteers are working to save the surviving whales after 49 stranded at Farewell Spit.

“I’m just doing what I can, it’s not something I’ve done before and it’s not how I hoped to see whales. I just hope we can help them live and survive.”

Brejchova was caring for a baby whale “crying and communicating” to a larger one just a short distance away.

“There’s some sort of a bond between them, they are calling out to each other. It’s very sad.

“But as sad as it is, this kind of thing also brings people together.”

Auckland holidaymaker, Anna Taylor, was walking along the spit around lunchtime with her husband, when they saw groups of people arriving carrying buckets, bags and towels.

By 3pm seven of the 49 stranded long-finned pilot whales had died. Volunteers hope to refloat survivors at high tide at around 7pm.
NINA HINDMARSHBy 3pm seven of the 49 stranded long-finned pilot whales had died. Volunteers hope to refloat survivors at high tide at around 7pm.

“We thought it might be a stranding, so we just walked towards everyone, and used our towels [on the whales].”

It was her first whale stranding.

Taylor said they had just flipped a whale on its side. 

“Apparently they have no chance of survival if they’re on their sides, so we dug a hole and flipped it over. We just kind of dug and lots of water came up around it, which is good, but he’s blistering a bit on the tail, so we’re desperately putting our towels on and dousing it in water.”

“The baby ones are making lots of noise, it’s very sad. A few of them unfortunately, it’s too late.”

The volunteers at the scene included 50 Project Jonah trained marine mammal medics, who have completed the Project Jonah whale first-aid course.

22022021. News. Photo Nina Hindmarsh / Stuff
49 pilot whales have stranded at Farewell Spit, in Golden Bay, in February 2021.
NINA HINDMARSH/STUFF22022021. News. Photo Nina Hindmarsh / Stuff 49 pilot whales have stranded at Farewell Spit, in Golden Bay, in February 2021.

Project Jonah communications and volunteer co-ordinator Louisa Hawkes said the main concern for whales was overheating, because the whales were black, which attracted the heat, and they were covered in a layer of blubber.

“The priority is keeping them cool and wet.”

Temperatures were forecast to reach a high of 22.

Hawkes said anyone intending to help at the stranding should be prepared for the remote location and conditions. Project Jonah has a specific page of instructions for strandings in Golden Bay due to the high frequency of events in the area.

The last mass stranding at Farewell Spit was in 2017, when an estimated 600-700 whales stranded. About 400 were successfully re-floated, but approximately 250 died.

Eating Fish Is Killing Off 90% of This Ocean’s Dolphin Population

Eating Fish Is Killing Off 90% of Global Dolphin Populations

Global dolphin populations are on the decline and eating fish may be the reason why as the mammals are frequenty bycatch of the fishing industry.BY CHARLOTTE POINTING

Fewer dolphins are turning up in fishing bycatch. Initially, this might seem like a reason to celebrate. But what this actually indicates, according to a new study, is that the population has declined and there are fewer dolphins left in the oceans to be caught.

What Is Bycatch?

Bycatch is one of the leading causes of death for dolphins and other cetaceans around the world. It happens when the animals accidentally swim into nets intended for fish, usually tuna.

Between 1950 and 2018, the fishing industry unintentionally caught around 4.1 million dolphins, says Dr. Putu Liza Mustika, who worked on the study. The research team—led by Dr. Charles Anderson of the Maldivian Manta Marine organization—looked at bycatch rates in the Indian ocean to draw its conclusions.

They estimate that the dolphin population in the Indian Ocean stands at 13 percent of what it was in the 1980s. Mustika notes that the figures in the study are “ball-park figures,” and therefore have a lot of uncertainties. But what they do confirm is the magnitude of the problem.

“Millions of dolphins [were] accidentally caught between 1950 and 2018,” she told LIVEKINDLY. “Millions. Not just a few hundreds of dolphins.”

Experts predict Iran has the biggest bycatch rate. Indonesia, India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Oman, Yemen, UAE, and Tanzania follow.

“The study includes a number of dolphins (and whale species), including indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins, humpback, Risso’s, and common dolphins,” adds Dr. Sarah Dolman from Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC).

She told LIVEKINDLY, “the scale of bycatch is almost certainly impacting regional and local dolphin populations. The study states that although tuna catches are increasing, dolphin bycatch stagnated in the 1990s. [It] has since declined, and is therefore unsustainable and impacting populations.”dolphin population dropping

Dolphins often end up as bycatch.

The Problem With Gillnets

According to Mustika, gillnets—a wall of netting that hangs in the ocean—are particularly lethal for dolphins. They can vary in length, ranging from 100 meters to more than 30 kilometers.

“Gillnets used to be made of cotton or hemp,” Mustika says. “But in the late 50s, they changed it to stronger materials (monofilaments). And also smaller mesh size to catch more fish (to meet human demand).”

It’s not just dolphins that end up as bycatch. The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) says, “entanglement in fishing gear is the leading threat for whales and dolphins around the globe. [It’s] estimated to cause at least 300,000 deaths per year.

“Bycatch has led to the almost certain demise of the world’s smallest porpoise, the vaquita in the Gulf of California,” it adds. “Several more species are likely to follow if governments and fishers aren’t able to effective means to halt this unwanted and unnecessary cause of morality for cetaceans worldwide.”

According to Dolman, fishers caught 75 percent of odontocete species (toothed cetaceans)  in gillnets in the past 20-plus years. Sixty-four percent of mysticetes species (baleen whales) have ended up as bycatch in the same time period, as well as 66 percent of pinnipeds (that’s animals like seals, sea lions, and walruses).

Sharks can also be victims of the fishing industry. Angie Coulter—a researcher with the Sea Around Us initiative at the University of British Columbia—spoke to National Public Radio (NPR) about the dangers of sharks getting caught up in bycatch.

“Sharks are apex predators,” she explained. “They hold all of these food chains together. If we’re removing these sharks [from the ecosystem], they really can’t catch up and will decline more and more.”dolphin population falling

Fishers accidentally catch around 80,000 dolphins every year.

How Do We Save Dolphins From Bycatch?

Per 1,000 tonnes of tuna, the study estimates that 175 dolphins accidentally get caught in nets. At current levels, this means fishers accidentally catch about 80,000 dolphins every year.

“Bycatch is one of the main threats, if not the main threat to world-wide dolphin populations,” says Mustika. “If we can make fishing more sustainable, then we help dolphin populations.” She recommends that fishers use different gear, like a traditional pole and line.

Dolman notes that authorities have taken some action to mitigate the situation, including fishing bans and gear modifications, but more needs to be done.

“The countries who are fishing in the region and the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission is the Regional Fisheries Management Organisation that has responsibility for this issue, need to act,” she says. “There is much that can be done to better monitor, mitigate report, and enforce dolphin bycatch.”

She adds that the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) is currently producing best practice guidelines to prevent and reduce marine mammal bycatch. She notes: “this would be a good place to start.”

What About Tuna?

Dolphins, whales, and other cetaceans need urgent protection. But tuna themselves are at risk too. In 2018, fishers pulled nearly six million metric tonnes of tuna from the ocean.

Just like dolphins, some species of tuna are in decline. The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) says bluefin tuna is critically endangered.

“As the methods of catching tuna have advanced over the years, the conservation and management of tuna has not evolved as quickly,” says the WWF.

According to the FAO, most tuna stocks are “fully exploited” with “no room for fishery expansion.”

Shana Miller—the director of the Global Tuna Conservation Project—told NPR, “everywhere tuna swim, they’re being pursued by industrial fisheries.

Consider opting for vegan tuna, like Tuno.

Vegan Fish

One way to save the dolphins and the tuna? Avoid fish altogether and choose vegan fish instead. Brands like Atlantic Natural Foods’ Tuno and Good Catch offer plant-based alternatives to tuna.

“Overfishing is a global problem that is getting worse by the day,” Tuno founder Doug Hines told Forbes. “The number of illegal vessels and underreporting is rampant on the high seas. And governments tend to turn the other way.

Good Catch’s tuna features a six legume blend, but it still has that fishy taste, thanks to the addition of seaweed and algae extract.

CEO of the brand Chris Kerr told LIVEKINDLY, “our mission is to create delicious plant-based seafood options, giving people everything they like about seafood, but without the concerns about mercury and other pollutants, ocean harm or overfishing.

It Sure Looks Like Russia Sent Military Dolphins to Syria

Here’s what the marine mammals were likely guarding.

BY KYLE MIZOKAMIJUL 20, 2020aerial view of a large pod of dolphins swimming in blue waterVICKI SMITHGETTY IMAGES

  • Satellite imagery of the Russian naval base at Tartus in Syria shows pens used to keep marine mammals.
  • The marine mammals are likely military dolphins sent by Russia to guard its fleet in Syria.
  • Russia’s marine mammal arsenal includes beluga whales, one of which was sighted hanging around Norway last year.

Satellite photos of a Russian naval base in Syria depict pens typically used to hold trained marine mammals. The pens, which made a brief appearance at the Tartus naval base from September to December 2018, likely contained military dolphins. Both the U.S. and Russia use trained dolphins to detect mines and enemy saboteurs—and Iran might, too.READ THISDoes Iran Have Secret Armed Dolphin Assassins?

The pens, according to naval analyst H.I. Sutton, appeared in the same part of Tartus reserved for Russian submarines visiting Syria. Russian subs have repeatedly launched cruise missile strikes against opponents of the Russian-backed Syrian regime. Sutton believes the pens likely held dolphins trained to defend ships against enemy saboteurs.This content is imported from Twitter. You may be able to find the same content in another format, or you may be able to find more information, at their web site.

Russian military intervention in Syria is opposed by a number of sides in the conflict. Enemies of the Assad regime have launched several attacks against Moscow’s military forces, including a January 2018 mass drone strike against Tartus and Russia’s Hmeimim air base. Russia was likely concerned that enemy divers might attack warships in port and deployed dolphins as a response.

🐬 Dive deeper. Click here to read more stories like this, solve life’s mind-blowing mysteries, and get unlimited access to Popular Mechanics.

The pens only appear in imagery taken in the fall and winter of 2018. It’s not clear why the deployment was so short-lived, but Sutton speculates it may have been a test.

Marineland changes gears, won’t reopen this weekend

Jul 13 10:45PM -0400


By <> John LawReview

Mon., July 13, 2020timer1 min. read

Marineland is putting the brakes on plans to reopen this weekend.

After announcing last week it would open for its 59th season July 17, the
park issued a statement late Monday that it “decided to push back” its
opening date to July 24.

“The decision comes after the park’s efforts to make sure some, if not all,
of the most popular attractions can open with the park,” the statement

Marineland says the delay is meant to offer guests a “better experience in
the coming days,” and is in accordance with “recent updates” from the
Ontario government.

On Monday, Premier Doug Ford announced much of the province will move to
Phase 3 of its reopening Friday, but Niagara will remain in Phase 2.

According to the Reopening Ontario
<> website, waterparks and
amusement parks are to be closed in Phase 2, and they will remain closed
during Phase 3.

In its statement, Marineland says it is “working closely with health and
government officials to ensure that all health and safety protocols are in
place before the park opens to make sure the public can have a safe and
enjoyable experience.”

In its reopening press release, the park said its Polar Splash water park
would be open, with staff monitoring the number of guests allowed in.

It also said staff would be provided with face masks.

When asked about opening in light of the provincial guidelines, a parks
spokesperson said Marineland is allowed to operate under Stage 2 as a

In Monday’s statement, Marineland owner Marie Holer – wife of late owner
John Holer – said “we are lucky we are an outdoor facility with lots of room
for people to social distance while still enjoying the attractions.”


-changes-gears-wont-reopen-this-weekend.html> Marineland changes gears,
won’t reopen this weekend |

Marineland is putting the brakes on plans to reopen this weekend. After
announcing last week it would open for its 59th season July 17, the park
issued a statement late Monday that it “decided to push back” its opening
date to July 24. “The decision comes after the park’s efforts to make … <

Dolphins are learning smart fish-catching trick from peers, not mothers

By Katie Hunt, CNN

Updated 1:56 PM ET, Thu June 25, 2020

Dolphins learn this fish-catching trick from their peers

Dolphins learn this fish-catching trick from their peersCNN01:27/01:27Now PlayingDolphins learn this…

Source: CNNDolphins learn this fish-catching trick from their peers 01:27

(CNN)Only a very few animals use tools. Crows wield sticks to find food, chimps have fashioned primitive spears to hunt and dolphins in Australia have been spotted trapping fish in huge conch shells.Now, scientists have discovered just how these dolphins learn to catch their prey in this extraordinary way — using their beaks to bring the shells to the surface and then shake the fish into their mouths — similar to how we humans get at those last few chips at the bottom of a packet.”Our study shows that the foraging behavior ‘shelling’ — where dolphins trap fish inside empty seashells —spreads through social learning among close associates,” said Sonja Wild, who conducted this research for her doctorate at the University of Leeds.

It's not only humans who are right-handed. Dolphins also have a dominant side

It’s not only humans who are right-handed. Dolphins also have a dominant side“This is surprising, as dolphins and other toothed whales tend to follow a ‘do-as-mother-does’ strategy for learning foraging behavior,” she said in a press statement. Dolphin mothers and calves typically form very tight bonds, staying close to one another for at least two years learning social behaviors and feeding techniques.The findings provided more evidence of similarities between dolphins and great apes — chimpanzees, gorillas and humans — who have also shown a range of socially learned foraging behavior, the study, which published Thursday in Current Biology, said.close dialog

Receive Fareed Zakaria’s Global Analysisincluding insights and must-reads of world newsActivate Fareed’s BriefingBy subscribing you agree to ourprivacy policy.“Despite their divergent evolutionary histories and the fact they occupy such different environments: Both dolphins and great apes are long-lived, large-brained mammals with high capacities for innovation and the cultural transmission of behaviors,” saidMichael Krützen, director of the department of anthropology at the University of Zurich and senior author on the study.Using boats, the international team of researchers conducted surveys in the western gulf of Shark Bay, Australia, between 2007 and 2018 to evaluate how shelling behavior spread across the population.In 5,278 encounters with dolphins during that time, the scientists identified 1,035 different Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops aduncus). They spotted 19 dolphins in the act of shelling 42 times.This image shows a dolphin shelling in Shark Bay in Western Australia. This image shows a dolphin shelling in Shark Bay in Western Australia.Although shelling appears quite rare, both the number of shelling events and the number of individual “shellers” is likely to be an underestimate, according to the study, as the shell-shaking only lasts a few seconds, and is therefore hard to observe.”Some dolphins use shells quite regularly during foraging, while others have only ever been seen with a shell once,” said Wild.”So, while there may be other explanations, it’s possible that some dolphins have mastered the skill more than others.”

The social network

To find out how this way of foraging had spread from one dolphin to the next, the researchers looked at the influence of environmental factors, genetic predisposition and the dolphin’s social network.The model they developed showed that dolphins learn shelling from associates within their social group and they concluded that using the shells spreads primarily within — rather than between — generations, providing the first evidence that dolphins are also capable of learning from their peers, not just their mothers.

Male bottlenose dolphins form gangs to get a mate

Male bottlenose dolphins form gangs to get a mateShelling is only the second reported case of tool use in dolphins. Dolphins in the same area are also known to use marine sponges as foraging tools to help them catch prey, according to the researchers.Wild said that a marine heat wave in 2011 wiped out Shark Bay’s critical seagrass habitat and triggered a die-off of fish and invertebrates, including the gastropods — sea snails — that live in the giant shells. She said it was possible that the resulting abundance of dead giant gastropod shells may have made it easier for the dolphins to learn this behavior.A mother and calf swimming together in Shark Bay, Australia.A mother and calf swimming together in Shark Bay, Australia.”Our results show that dolphins are definitely capable, and in the case of shelling, also motivated to learn new foraging tactics outside the mother-calf bond,” Wild said.”Learning from others allows for a rapid spread of novel behaviors across populations, and it has been suggested that species with the capacity for learning from others in this way may be better able to survive,” she said.

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Japan’s decision to resume commercial whaling ‘disappointing’, Boris Johnson tells country’s prime minister at G7

A whale hunt in the Faroe islands
A whale hunt in the Faroe islands CREDIT: ANDRIJA ILIC/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

The Japanese Prime Minister’s decision to resume commercial whaling was described by Boris Johnson as “disappointing” at the G7 meeting.

The Prime Minister took the chance to raise the topic with Shinzo Abe when they met on Bank Holiday Monday.

The Telegraph understands he told Mr Abe that he was very disappointed with their decision to continue the practice, which has been condemned by animal charities for putting whales at risk of extinction.

Carrie Symonds, Boris Johnson’s partner, has campaigned for some time on the issue in her role as head of communications for the conservation NGO Oceana.

Ms Symonds attended an anti-whaling protest outside the Japanese Embassy in January alongside the Prime Minister’s father, Stanley Johnson.

She said at the time that the practice should be consigned to the “dustbin of history”, adding: “It’s cruel beyond belief. We have all seen the pictures of the sea turning red with blood, while a whale dies slowly in agony with a sharp metal implement pushed through its body. How can that be right?”

Carrie Symonds and Stanley Johnson at an anti-whaling protest earlier this year
Carrie Symonds and Stanley Johnson at an anti-whaling protest earlier this year CREDIT: JOHN STILLWELL/PA WIRE

It is understood Ms Symonds will be unable to attend as she will be in the United States for her work at Oceana.

Defra minister Zac Goldsmith is meeting with NGOs to discuss the issue of whaling next week.

He said: “Very pleased to hear that ⁦‪Boris Johnson raised Japan’s awful decision to resume commercial whaling with the Japanese PM today at the G7. Hope they will seriously rethink.”

Japan’s first commercial whale hunt since 1986 commenced in early July, after the country left the International Whaling Commission, which has a ban on commercial hunting.

The ban was put in place after whales were brought to the brink of extinction by hunting in the 19th and 20th century.

The creatures are hunted for their meat, and many coastal communities in Japan argue that it is an important tradition.

Boris Johnson has been pushing biodiversity to the forefront of the agenda at the G7 meeting, and he said: “We cannot sit back as animals and plants are wiped off the face of the planet by mankind’s recklessness. If we do not act now our children and grandchildren will never know a world with the Great Barrier Reef, the Sumatran tiger or the black rhino.”

Japan whaling town Taiji begins dolphin hunting

 KYODO NEWS – 17 hours ago – 15:00 | AllJapan

The hunting season for dolphins using a controversial “drive-hunting” method began Sunday in the whaling town of Taiji in western Japan, without any major protest from animal-rights groups.

While local police officers were on high alert for anti-whaling campaigns, 12 boats left the town’s port around 5 a.m., but all returned without any catch, according to a fisheries cooperative official.

The hunting method, in which fishermen herd dolphins and small whales into a cove before sealing the area with a net, has drawn fierce criticism from animal-rights groups at home and abroad.

As a member of the International Whaling Commission, Japan halted commercial whaling in 1988 but hunted whales for what it called research purposes, a practice criticized internationally as a cover for commercial whaling.

Japan had long sought to lift the moratorium and finally left the IWC on June 30 after the organization last year voted down its proposal to resume commercial whaling of species considered abundant, such as minke whales.

(Dolphin hunt off Taiji pictured in 2010.)

Hunting dolphins and other small cetaceans in waters near Taiji was not subject to controls by the IWC, although critics have said the technique is cruel and it has become the subject of an Oscar-winning documentary.

Ahead of the hunting season’s start, local authorities were anxious that there could be obstruction from international anti-whaling activists, but only about 10 members of a Japanese animal-rights group gathered at the port on Sunday.

The hunting season continues for about six months. An ad hoc police box has been set up near the port and, together with police officers, personnel from the Japan Coast Guard will be deployed around the area.

“Thanks to the security, we can do (hunting) with ease,” said Teruto Seko, head of the fisheries cooperative.

Sep 1, 2019 | KYODO NEWS

No ‘Free Willy’ moment: captive whales, dolphins exempted under Canada ban

WATCH: The Vancouver Aquarium started planning for a future without whales and dolphins in early 2018.

– A A +

Canada’s ban on captive whales and dolphins will not affect those already in captivity, meaning nearly 60 animals will likely live out their natural lives at Marineland and the Vancouver Aquarium.

The so-called ‘Free Willy’ bill passed in the Senate Monday will make it illegal to possess whales or dolphins — collectively known as cetaceans — for anything other than research or rehabilitation purposes. Offenders can be fined up to $200,000 under the Criminal Code of Canada, although whales and dolphins currently held in captivity are exempt. The bill also outlaws breeding cetaceans in captivity.

READ MORE: Whale and dolphin captivity banned by law in Canada

The bill’s grandfather clause will allow Marineland in Niagara Falls, Ont., to keep its nearly five dozen cetaceans until they all die. Among those cetaceans are five young beluga whales that could live up to 50 years — the expected lifespan of a beluga in the wild.

WATCH: Feds introduce measures to save endangered orcas

Marineland owns the vast majority of living whales and dolphins in Canada, according to the whale-tracking site Cetabase. The park has an estimated 51 beluga whales, five bottlenose dolphins and a 40-year-old killer whale at its facility in Niagara Falls, according to Cetabase data and media reports. The park has not confirmed those exact numbers.

Marineland says it remains confident that it complies with all aspects of the new bill, which is awaiting royal assent. The park claims the exemption for its whales “acknowledged Marineland’s role as a custodian for the cetacean populations that call Marineland home, and specifically acknowledged that Marineland Canada’s actions are not inherently animal cruelty.”

The bill passed by the Senate does not explicitly mention Marineland or animal cruelty.

WATCH: Crown drops animal cruelty charges against Marineland in 2017

“Marineland Canada continues to be a facility where children can learn about and be inspired by cetaceans without invading their natural habitats or disturbing cetacean populations that live in the ocean,” the park said in a statement on Monday. Marineland says it started evolving its operations “some time ago,” and it’s confident that evolution will keep it compliant with all aspects of the new bill.

Marineland did not provide Global News with the exact number of whales and dolphins in its care, nor did it say whether it will release any into the wild.

“Marineland will continue to provide world-class care to all marine mammals that call Marineland home,” the park said in a statement to Global News.

“With our current mammal population, we will be able to operate decades into the future uninterrupted.”

READ MORE: Ships must keep 400 metres away as part of new rules to protect killer whales on B.C. coast

Many aquariums around the world have faced intense criticism for housing cetaceans since 2013, when the documentary film Blackfish depicted the allegedly poor treatment of killer whales in captivity at SeaWorld in Florida. SeaWorld has described the film as inaccurate, misleading and exploitative.

Activists have been pushing for aquariums to divest themselves of their whales and dolphins ever since the film’s release.

The federal Green Party and its leader, MP Elizabeth May, applauded the ban as a ‘Free Willy’ law on Monday.

“These intelligent, social mammals will now get to live where they belong — in the ocean,” the party wrote on Twitter.

May sponsored the bill in the House of Commons, while Sen. Murray Sinclair sponsored it in the Senate.

The bill also leaves room for the Vancouver Aquarium to hold onto its only cetacean, a Pacific white-sided dolphin named Helen.

The Vancouver Aquarium started phasing out its whale and dolphin displays last year following public pressure over the deaths of two belugas. It sent another pair of its belugas to Spain in May, one month before the bill was passed. Those belugas had been living at Marineland Canada.

WATCH: Vancouver Aquarium says ‘toxin’ killed belugas in 2017

“The decision to move them was made in their best interest, not because of politics,” the Vancouver Aquarium said in a statement at the time.

Activists celebrated the law on Monday under the hashtag #EmptytheTanks.

The bill will come into effect once it receives royal assent.

Ottawa passes legislation that bans whale and dolphin captivity in Canada

Keeping whales and dolphins in captivity will no longer be allowed across Canada under legislation that passed Monday, drawing celebrations from activists and politicians who called it a significant development for animal rights.

The federal bill, which now only requires royal assent to become law, will phase out the practice of holding cetaceans — such as whales, dolphins and porpoises — in captivity, but grandfathers in those that are already being kept at two facilities in the country.

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“Today’s a really good day for animals in Canada,” said Green Party Leader Elizabeth May, who sponsored the private member’s bill that began its journey in the Senate in 2015 before moving on to the House of Commons.

“Many scientists testified to why it was critical that we stop keeping cetaceans in captivity. We understand why because they are obviously not akin to other animals, for instance, livestock. Cetaceans require the ocean, they require the space, they require acoustic communication over long distances.”

Gord Johns, the NDP critic for fisheries and oceans said the bill’s passage marked “a celebration for cetaeans, for animals rights, the planet and our oceans.”

The legislation, which had its third and final reading Monday, received support from the Liberals, NDP and Bloc Quebecois, with some Conservatives opposed.

It bans the capture of wild cetaceans, but does allow for the rehabilitation and rescue of the aquatic mammals. The bill also changes the Criminal Code, creating new animal cruelty offences related to the captivity of cetaceans. Breeding is also banned.

Imports and exports of cetaceans will also be banned under the bill, with exceptions only for scientific research or “if it is in the best interest” of the animal, with discretion left up to the minister, thereby clamping down on the marine mammal trade.

“This is a watershed moment for whales and dolphins, and powerful recognition that our country no longer accepts imprisoning smart, sensitive animals in tiny tanks for entertainment,” said Camille Labchuk, executive director of advocacy group Animal Justice.

Animal rights group PETA said it was “popping the champagne corks today as Canada makes history.”

“We look forward to a day when confining sensitive, complex marine mammals to tiny tanks is outlawed in every country around the world,” Tracy Reiman, the group’s executive vice-president, said in a statement.

Marineland in Niagara Falls, Ont., and the Vancouver Aquarium in British Columbia are the only two facilities in Canada that currently keep captive cetaceans.

The Vancouver Aquarium announced last year that it would no longer house cetaceans and has one dolphin left at its facility. That came after Vancouver’s board of parks and recreation passed a bylaw amendment in 2017 banning cetaceans being brought to or kept in city parks after two beluga whales held at the aquarium died.

Marineland, meanwhile, has told the government it has more than 50 belugas at its facility.

It recently received approval to export two belugas, both owned by the Vancouver Aquarium, to a park in Spain. It also applied to move five more belugas to facilities in the United States, but hasn’t received those approvals yet, a Fisheries spokeswoman said late last week.

The facility told the government it had problems with the way the whale and dolphin captivity bill was written, noting that it would be in violation of the Criminal Code when the law comes into effect since some of its belugas are pregnant and set to give birth this summer.

On Monday, it said it will comply with “all animal welfare legislation in Canada.”

“Marineland began an evolution in our operation some time ago, and as that evolution continues we are confident that our operations remain compliant with all aspects of (the bill),” it said in a statement.

The head of Humane Canada, an animal welfare group, said the legislation was needed.

“If the bill didn’t do something to end captive breeding, we could have ended up with a beluga farm in Marineland,” said Barbara Cartwright.

Phil Demers, a former whale trainer at Marineland who testified at hearings on the bill, said he was “elated” at it passing.

“Marineland could never be again, if it wanted to start today,” said Demers, a longtime critic of Marieland who is engaged in a legal battle with the facility.

Marineland, for its part, has long said it treats its animals well.

“Marineland Canada continues to be a facility where children can learn about and be inspired by cetaceans without invading their natural habitats or disturbing cetacean populations that live in the ocean,” it said Monday. “We’re proud of our work, and our contribution to research, education, and conservation.”