Caring for Orcas at a Sanctuary

An interview with Charles Vinick, Executive Director of the Whale Sanctuary Project

In this video, Charles Vinick, our Executive Director, talks about how attitudes are changing toward keeping whales and dolphins in captivity.

Charles brings a wealth of experience to the Whale Sanctuary Project. He worked closely with Jean-Michel and Jacques Cousteau; he served as director of the Keiko Project to reintroduce to the wild the captive orca who was made famous through the Free Willy films; and he has extensive experience in ocean and environmental policy. (You can read more about him here.)

Charles addresses the charge, often voiced by marine parks, that whales and dolphins won’t be able to get the same standard of health care at a sanctuary that they receive in their concrete tanks:

“Why wouldn’t they be able to have the same level of care that they receive in a marine park while receiving it in a natural environment where their sounds aren’t reverberating back to them as they ricochet off the concrete walls, but rather are absorbed into nature?”

So, will they receive absolutely the best care possible?

“Of course. They’ll be under human care 24/7/365 for all of their lives.”

As to whether the Whale Sanctuary Project might ever partner with one of the marine park companies to care for the animals at a seaside sanctuary, he says “Absolutely, yes.”

“There could be nothing better than for the parks who hold orca and belugas now to decide that they want to create true sanctuaries and move all of their animals from concrete tanks to netted enclosures in habitats that are natural. We would applaud them, we would welcome them to work together, and we have already reached out to many of them.”

“The people who work at marine parks want what’s best for the whales. But they’re conflicted by the need for commercial gain.”

Charles talks about Corky and Lolita – the only two orcas captured from the Pacific Northwest who are still alive at marine parks in the United States – and whether they could be released back to the wild.

It’s certainly a possibility since we know the whereabouts of both of their families, but he notes that Corky and Lolita are quite old and have been in captivity for more than 49 years. So we need to consider what is best for their health first, and evaluate whether potential release into the wild is in their best interests.

He also talks about his experience as director of the Keiko Project: building the infrastructure, keeping the team together over many years of hard work, and creating a suitable environment for Keiko in a natural habitat before he was able to swim freely in the ocean:

“All of that is applicable to what we’ll do going forward. It is, of course, 20 years later, so, along with that prior experience, we’ll have the benefit of the best advice and knowledge and experience we can bring to bear on the new sanctuary.”

Finally, he talks about how he sees the captivity industry changing over the coming years:

“I think that the people who work at the marine parks sincerely love these animals, they care about them deeply, and they also want what’s best for them. But they are conflicted by the need for commercial gain.”

Change is already happening, however. One example of this is that the National Aquarium at Baltimore is creating a warm-water sanctuary in Florida or the Bahamas, and will be moving all their dolphins there.

“That’s terrific news that we should all applaud. That’s what we want to see other institutions doing, as well. And I believe we’ll continue to see that as the industry responds to public pressure and to how our relationship to these animals is changing.”

The video is also available on YouTube here.

5 Comments On “Caring for Orcas at a Sanctuary”

  1. Wow !!!!!! That’s great news. I sure pray it can happen.
    Those pools are just to little for those huge wales.

  2. Great video, I can only pray for my dream to come true that all marine mammals are given a chance to thrive in sea sanctuaries

  3. Wonderful explanation of how the sea sanctuary would work! About how many acres would the area be? 60 – 70 acres, more??? I think folks need to know that in order to make the comparison between concrete tank and the ocean which can obviously accommodate their large size.

  4. Brilliant interview, so informative!! thank you so much. I have tweeted and shared and FB

  5. In the progression from the pre 1972 U.S. Marine Mammal Protection Act Days days of leaving summershow dolphins to die miserable deaths on the the side of highways back to Florida & Gulf of Mexico waters for winter after the summer show was over, the ultimate shutdown of that concept thanks to marine mammal advocates of the 1980 & 90’s, the burgeoning but as yet unrealized dream of emptying tanks and transferring marine mammals to Sanctuaries is a logical step to ending forced captivity of healthy dolphins & whales who never should have been incarcerated in the first place.

    Captivity’s only saving grace in my opinion is the knowledge gained in care giving & potentially releasing stranded marine mammals to mitigate the horrible human impact that we have & likely always will visit on these super human intelligent beings who have survived longer, lived better & far exceed human ability to live a peaceful coexistence with each other & their environment. Yet we insist on forcing, slaughter, toxic pollution of their air & water, incarceration for entertainment, profit & military madness on marine mammals like we know best!? May God, Neptune & whatever other powers on which the universe depends dispatch appropriate justice for the naked cruelties sub humans mindlessly perpetrate & for those who allow them to perpetuate these atrocities.

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