Background to The Whale Sanctuary Project

The Whale Sanctuary Project had its origins at a meeting at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver in August, 2015. The group, consisting of 23 people, discussed the potential for the development of a seaside sanctuary and the ongoing care of whales and dolphins who might be retired from entertainment facilities or rescued from injury or sickness in the wild. The group included marine mammal scientists, veterinarians and trainers, engineers and architects, marketing, public relations and fund-raising specialists, managers and relevant NGOs.

The meeting concluded with a first draft of the mission and goals for a future organization.

Public Workshop: In December, at the 2015 Society for Marine Mammalogy conference in San Francisco, Dr. Lori Marino, Executive Director of The Kimmela Center for Animal Advocacy, and Dr. Naomi Rose, marine mammal scientist for the Animal Welfare Institute, presented a day-long public workshop entitled Sea-Pen Sanctuaries: Progressing Toward Better Welfare for Captive Cetaceans.

The workshop focused on the key issues relevant to developing and maintaining a permanent seaside sanctuary in North America for formerly captive and injured/sick whales and dolphins. There are sanctuaries for other large highly social and wide-ranging mammals, including elephants and great apes, but there are none anywhere in the world yet for dolphins and whales.

The workshop included presentations from some of the most experienced scientists, veterinary clinicians, engineers, attorneys, trainers, business experts and advocates in this field.

Group Workshop: The following day, a group of 25 people with expertise of various kinds related to the creation of a seaside sanctuary met at the offices of Earth Island Institute in Berkeley, California, to discuss the formation of an organization and to agree on its mission and goals, which can be viewed here. There was discussion of legal and policy issues related to the location of a sanctuary and the best way to go about a comprehensive search in North America.

It was agreed that such a sanctuary would be primarily for orcas, belugas and dolphins endemic to colder waters being retired from entertainment facilities or rescued from the ocean. Rescued animals might be returned to the wild, but those retired from the entertainment industry, who have never known life in the wild, would be unlikely candidates for release.

The sanctuary would be open to the public on a regularly scheduled basis in a manner that avoids disturbing the animals, and it would offer a comprehensive conservation and education program.

It was agreed that the next stage of the project was to begin an extensive site search that would narrow possible locations to three or four sites that would need detailed, on-site inspection; and to draw up a strategic plan for the building of the sanctuary, for the transport and continuing care of the first residents, and for the funding necessary to enable all of this.

Incorporation: In April, 2016, The Whale Sanctuary Project was incorporated as a not-for-profit organization, and was granted 501c3 tax-exempt status in August 2016.