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Senate passes bill that would ban whale, dolphin captivity in Canada

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After a multi-year legislative battle, a bill to outlaw keeping cetaceans like whales and dolphins in captivity has cleared the Senate — all but ensuring the end of a once-popular theme park attraction in Canada.

S-203 — first introduced by now-retired Liberal senator Wilfred Moore in December 2015, with the backing of Green Party Leader Elizabeth May — would ban keeping and breeding these marine mammals in captivity through amendments to the Criminal Code.

Fines of up to $200,000 could be imposed on parks flouting the law — a sum set deliberately high as a deterrent.

I have been there. I have been to the Vancouver Aquarium. I see the joy on these cetaceans faces’ — on the belugas’ faces — when they come out and get food.– Conservative Manitoba Sen. Don Plett

The bill finally cleared the Red Chamber Tuesday night after nearly three years of debate and study. It now will be shuttled through the House of Commons by May.

The bill has the support of MPs from across the political spectrum, including Liberal Nathaniel Erskine-Smith, Conservative Michelle Rempel and New Democrat Fin Donnelly.

Conservative MP Michelle Rempel supports Bill S-203, which would ban keeping or breeding cetaceans in captivity. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

The bill’s passage in the upper house comes after years of advocacy work by animal welfare advocates, who have long argued that holding these highly intelligent creatures in concrete tanks is a cruel and perverse form of entertainment.

The fight for cetacean rights picked up considerable public support after the release of the 2013 documentary film Blackfish, which documented some of the perils involved in holding whales, dolphins and porpoises in parks like Sea World.

The Senate bill really has two targets in mind: the Vancouver Aquarium and Marineland in Niagara Falls, Ont.

The Vancouver Aquarium once defended holding these mammals in captivity on both scientific and educational grounds, but recently said it would no longer display whales or dolphins at its facility as protests over captivity have become a “distraction” for the business.

Marineland has been a vocal opponent of the Senate bill, saying it would devastate attendance — and threaten conservation efforts — at theme parks where these animals are on display. It has also said the bill threatens the seasonal employment of hundreds of local residents during the summer months.

Marineland’s owner, John Holler, testified at a Senate committee before his death last summer, asking senators to halt the bill. Today, Marineland issued a statement calling S-203 anti-science.

“Bill S-203 was not supported by the relevant ministries or the credible scientific community,” says the statement. “Sadly, it impairs legitimate scientific and research programs and is explicitly targeted to close Marineland.

“The bill and the debate around it (have) been highly emotional, lacking in fact-based or science-based analysis and mired in unnecessary conflict incited by radical animal rights groups from the United States.”

The Senate bill would, through the breeding ban, phase out captivity over time. That means Marineland would still be able to keep its current stock of some 55 cetaceans even if the legislation is passed by the Commons.

The hope of many activists is that some or all of the marine mammals currently in captivity in Canada eventually would be moved to an open water seaside sanctuary in either B.C. or Nova Scotia.

The bill would also prohibit the importing of cetaceans, or their sperm, tissue cultures or embryos.

Holler had an ally in Conservative Manitoba Sen. Don Plett, who has steadfastly opposed the Senate bill. Plett continually sought to put off a vote through the creative use of some parliamentary procedure.

The Senate fisheries committee, of which Plett was a member, studied the bill for some eight months over 17 committee meetings with more than 30 witnesses — considerably more time than a Senate public bill typically spends under scrutiny at committee.

Conservative Manitoba Sen. Don Plett poses for a picture with John Holer, the owner of Niagara Falls’ Marineland. (Twitter)

Plett relented Tuesday night — but not without defending the record of these facilities.

“I asked the sponsor of this bill, Sen. Moore, and other members of the fisheries committee whether any of them had ever made a trip to Marineland to inspect this ‘horrendous’ facility that everybody is talking about — to inspect this small little bathtub that these whales are swimming around in,” he said.

“I have been there. I have been to the Vancouver Aquarium. I see the joy on these cetaceans faces’ — on the belugas’ faces — when they come out and get food.”

Meanwhile, another Manitoba senator, Independent Sen. Mary Jane McCallum, painted a vivid picture of these parks as terrible places for marine mammals.

“An adult female beluga whale lying motionless below the body of her dead baby calf; an orca lying motionless on her side, floating towards the top of the tank, heavily sedated from an accidental overdose of Valium; a sharp, rust-coloured, steel-edged grate covered in blood, the result of carelessly transporting a beluga whale between tanks,” she said.

“Finally, an indoor tank lacking both natural light and quality air ventilation, and now a sickly green colour caused by a breakdown in the disinfection unit …

“These disturbing visuals I have painted for you are actual photographs submitted to the standing Senate committee on fisheries and oceans by a former marine mammal trainer.”

Senate passes shark fin ban

The Senate passed another animal welfare bill Tuesday: S-238, which will ban the import and export of shark fin products.

Conservative Nova Scotia Sen. Michael MacDonald, who tabled the bill, has said the practice has done vast damage to the world’s shark population — which has declined nearly 80 per cent over the last 50 years.

Canada is the world’s third largest importer of shark fins, surpassed only by mainland China and Hong Kong, where shark fin soup is a popular delicacy among the wealthy. In 2015 alone, Canada imported over 144,000 kilograms of shark fins.

“Tens of millions of sharks are left to die every year for nothing but the prestige associated with a bowl of shark fin soup,” MacDonald said.

That bill will now be sent to the Commons for further debate among MPs.

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Top 5 Analytics Trends That Are Shaping The Future

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Digital transformation is increasingly becoming the focus for many CIOs around the world today—with analytics playing a fundamental role in driving the future of the digital economy.

While data is important to every business, it is necessary for businesses to have a firm grip on data analytics to allow them transform raw pieces of data into important insights. However, unlike the current trends in business intelligence—which is centred around data visualization—the future of data analytics would encompass a more contextual experience.

“The known data analytics development cycle is described in stages: from descriptive (what happened) to diagnostic (why did it happen), to discovery (what can we learn from it), to predictive (what is likely to happen), and, finally, to prescriptive analytics (what action is the best to take),” said Maurice op het Veld is a partner at KPMG Advisory in a report.

“Another way of looking at this is that data analytics initially “supported” the decision-making process but is now enabling “better” decisions than we can make on our own.”

Here are some of the current trends that arealready shaping the future of data analytics in individuals and businesses.

  1. Growth in mobile devices

With the number of mobile devices expanding to include watches, digital personal assistants, smartphones, smart glasses, in-car displays, to even video gaming systems, the final consumption plays a key role on the level of impact analytics can deliver.

Previously, most information consumers accessed were on a computer with sufficient room to view tables, charts and graphs filled with data, now, most consumers require information delivered in a format well optimized for whatever device they are currently viewing it on.

Therefore, the content must be personalized to fit the features of the user’s device and not just the user alone.

  1. Continuous Analytics

More and more businesses are relying on the Internet of Things (IoT) and their respective streaming data—which in turn shortens the time it takes to capture, analyze and react to the information gathered. Therefore, while analytics programspreviously were termed successful when results were delivered within days or weeks of processing, the future of analytics is bound to drastically reduce this benchmark to hours, minutes, seconds—and even milliseconds.

“All devices will be connected and exchange data within the “Internet of Things” and deliver enormous sets of data. Sensor data like location, weather, health, error messages, machine data, etc. will enable diagnostic and predictive analytics capabilities,” noted Maurice.

“We will be able to predict when machines will break down and plan maintenance repairs before it happens. Not only will this be cheaper, as you do not have to exchange supplies when it is not yet needed, but you can also increase uptime.”

  1. Augmented Data Preparation

During the process of data preparation, machine learning automation will begin to augment data profiling and data quality, enrichment, modelling, cataloguing and metadata development.

Newer techniques would include supervised, unsupervised and reinforcement learning which is bound to enhance the entire data preparation process. In contrast to previous processes—which depended on rule-based approach to data transformation—this current trend would involve advanced machine learning processes that would evolve based on recent data to become more precise at responding to changes in data.

  1. Augmented Data Discovery

Combined with the advancement in data preparation, a lot of these newer algorithms now allow information consumers to visualize and obtain relevant information within the data with more ease. Enhancements such as automatically revealing clusters, links, exceptions, correlation and predictions with pieces of data, eliminate the need for end users to build data models or write algorithms themselves.

This new form of augmented data discovery will lead to an increase in the number of citizen data scientist—which include information users who, with the aid of augmented assistance can now identify and respond to various patterns in data faster and a more distributed model.

  1. AugmentedData Science

It is important to note that the rise of citizen data scientist will not in any way eliminate the need for a data scientist who gathers and analyze data to discover profitable opportunities for the growth of a business. However, as these data scientists give room for citizen data scientists to perform the easier tasks, their overall analysis becomes more challenging and equally valuable to the business.

As time goes by, machine learning would be applied in other areas such as feature and model selection. This would free up some of the tasks performed by data scientist and allow them focus on the most important part of their job, which is to identify specific patterns in the data that can potentially transform business operations and ultimately increase revenue.

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Waterloo drone-maker Aeryon Labs bought by U.S. company for $265M

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Waterloo’s Aeryon Labs has been bought by Oregon-based FLIR Systems Inc. for $256 million, or $200 million US.

The acquisition was announced Monday. 

Dave Kroetsch, co-founder and chief technology officer of Aeryon Labs, says not much will change in the foreseeable future.

“The Waterloo operations of Aeryon Labs will actually continue as they did yesterday with manufacturing, engineering and all the functions staying intact in Waterloo and ultimately, we see growing,” he said.

“The business here is very valuable to FLIR and our ability to sell internationally is a key piece of keeping these components of the business here in Canada.”

Aeroyn Labs builds high-performance drones that are sold to a variety of customers including military, police services and commercial businesses. The drones can provide high-resolution images for surveillance and reconnaissance.

The drones already include cameras and thermal technology from FLIR. Jim Cannon, president and CEO of FLIR Systems, said acquiring Aeryon Labs is part of the company’s strategy to move beyond sensors “to the development of complete solutions that save lives and livelihoods.”

‘A piece of a bigger solution’

Kroetsch said this is a good way for the company to grow into something bigger.

“We see the business evolving in much the direction our business has been headed over the last couple of years. And that’s moving beyond the drone as a product in and of itself as a drone as a piece of a bigger solution,” he said.

For example, FLIR bought a drone company that builds smaller drones that look like little helicopters.

“We can imagine integrating those with our drones, perhaps having ours carry their drones and drop them off,” he said.

FLIR also does border security systems, which Kroetsch says could use the drones to allow border agents to look over a hill where there have been issues.

“We see the opportunity there as something that we never could have done on our own but being involved with and part of a larger company that’s already providing these solutions today gives us access not only to these great applications, but also to some fantastic technologies,” he said.

Aeryon Labs has done a lot of work during emergency disasters, including in Philippines after Typhoon Hagupit in 2014, Ecuador after an earthquake in 2016 and the Fort McMurray wildfire in 2016.

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Inuvik infrastructure may not be ready for climate change, says study

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The Arctic is expected to get warmer and wetter by the end of this century and new research says that could mean trouble for infrastructure in Inuvik.

The study from Global Water Futures looked at how climate change could impact Havipak Creek — which crosses the Dempster Highway in Inuvik, N.W.T. — and it predicts some major water changes.

“They were quite distressing,” John Pomeroy, director of Global Water Futures and the study’s lead author, said of the findings.

Researchers used a climate model and a hydrological model to predict future weather and climate patterns in the region. They also looked at data gathered from 1960 to the present. 

If greenhouse gas emissions continue at their current rate — which Pomeroy said they are on track to do — the study projects the region will be 6.1 C warmer by 2099 and precipitation, particularly rain, will increase by almost 40 per cent.

The study also found that the spring flood will be earlier and twice as large, and the permafrost will thaw an additional 25 centimetres. While the soil is expected to be wetter early in the summer, the study said it will be drier in late summer, meaning a higher risk of wildfires.

John Pomeroy is the director of Global Water Futures. (Erin Collins/CBC)

“The model’s painting kind of a different world than we’re living in right now for the Mackenzie Delta region,” Pomeroy said.

He noted these changes are not only expected for Havipak Creek, but also for “many, many creeks along the northern part of the Dempster [Highway].”

Pomeroy said the deeper permafrost thaw and a bigger spring flood could pose challenges for buildings, roads, culverts and crossings in the area that were designed with the 20th century climate in mind.

He said the projected growth of the snowpack and the spring flood are “of grave concern because that’s what washes out the Dempster [Highway] and damages infrastructure in the area.”

Culverts and bridges may have to be adjusted to allow room for greater stream flows, Pomeroy said. And building foundations that are dependent upon the ground staying frozen will have to be reinforced or redesigned.

Pomeroy said the ultimate solution is for humans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“This study is the future we’re heading for, but it’s not the future we necessarily have if we can find a way to reduce those gases,” he said.  

“It’d be far smarter to get those emissions under control than to pay the terrible expenses for infrastructure and endangered safety of humans and destroyed ecosystems.”

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