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.