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Canada's "Free Willy" bill bans keeping orcas and dolphins in captivity

Effort to help critically endangered orcas

In a huge win for animal rights activists, Canada overwhelmingly passed a bill Monday making it illegal to hold dolphins, orcas and other whales in captivity. Those who violate the rule could face fines of up to $150,000.

The legislation, known as the "Free Willy" bill, is named after the 1993 movie under the same title. It now faces "royal assent" in which either the governor general or deputies to the governor general sign off on the bill.

The bill, which is expected to become law, took several years to pass in the House of Commons after it was initially introduced in 2015. It would penalize anyone who keeps a cetacean in captivity, breeds or impregnates a cetacean, or anyone who possesses or seeks to obtain reproductive materials of cetaceans, the bill states. The legislation targets anyone involved in holding the animals "for entertainment purposes" and bans the import and export of such animals.

"Nothing fantastic ever happens in a hurry," Humane Canada tweeted after the bill passed Monday. "But today we celebrate that we have ended the captivity and breeding of whales and dolphins. This is news to splash a fin at."

The Green Party of Canada celebrated in a statement, tweeting, "When we work together, good things happen."

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

However, the bill contains exceptions if the animals are being rehabilitated following an injury or state of distress. Animals being held for licensed scientific research are also allowed. It will permit cetaceans already in captivity to be be kept by their keepers.