The Whale Sanctuary Project http://www.whalesanctuaryproject.org Back to Nature Tue, 21 Nov 2017 19:00:31 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.7.7 The Blackfish Effect http://www.whalesanctuaryproject.org/2017/11/19/the-blackfish-effect/ http://www.whalesanctuaryproject.org/2017/11/19/the-blackfish-effect/#respond Sun, 19 Nov 2017 21:21:07 +0000 http://www.whalesanctuaryproject.org/?p=2137

It’s coming up five years since the movie Blackfish premiered at Sundance. How has the landscape changed for whales and dolphins in captivity?

Jeff Beal, who composed the music for the documentary, has put together this short video including several of the people who appear in the film and were once trainers at SeaWorld. They talk about how public attitudes have changed, how the captivity industry has changed, and how their own lives have changed.

“You can’t help but open your heart when you see this movie,” says former trainer Samantha Berg. “And when you start to think about the lives of the killer whales and the kind of suffering they go through in captivity … some part of you gets activated and you want to do something.”

Samantha says that people who see the movie often ask her, “What can I do?”

So what can you do?

“Whatever you can do to get the message out, that’s what’s important.”

The answers is very simple, she replies. “What are you good at? Do that. If you’re good at posting on social media, do that. If you’re a writer, write about it. If you’re a dancer, bring that into your art. Talk to people about it. Whatever you can do to get the message out, that’s what’s important.”

Former trainer Carol Ray adds that “the recent announcement of the Whale Sanctuary Project is really exciting. With the development of sanctuary spaces, there’s going to be no more excuses for keeping captive orcas in tanks.”

And Dean Gomersall, another former trainer, notes that while orcas who have been living in concrete tanks can’t all be released back into the wild, “getting them into a sea sanctuary would give them the kind of space they need and the other benefits of being out in the ocean [like] hearing the ocean and feeling the ocean.”

Thank you, Jeff Beal, for putting this video together. It’s something worth sharing during Thanksgiving Week.

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Sanctuary Groups Share Info at Marine Mammal Conference http://www.whalesanctuaryproject.org/2017/11/02/sanctuary-groups-share-info-at-marine-mammal-conference/ http://www.whalesanctuaryproject.org/2017/11/02/sanctuary-groups-share-info-at-marine-mammal-conference/#comments Thu, 02 Nov 2017 18:55:03 +0000 http://www.whalesanctuaryproject.org/?p=2121 WSP-sanc-concept

Concept drawing of a seaside sanctuary for orcas and belugas.

Last week, in Halifax, Nova Scotia, the Whale Sanctuary Project presented a workshop at the conference of the Society for Marine Mammal Biology.

The society’s conference is held every two years. And what a difference two years makes! At the last conference, in San Francisco, the idea of creating a sanctuary for whales and dolphins who might be retired from captivity at marine parks and aquarium was met with considerable skepticism by many people.

This year, the workshop, entitled “Sanctuaries: The New Seascape for Captive Cetaceans,” was greeted enthusiastically in a packed room. And the three main speakers gave updates on three separate sanctuary projects that are making steady progress.

WSP Workshop Halifax 2017

Naomi Rose introduces Lori Marino, Colleen Weiler and John Racanelli at the workshop.

Lori Marino, President of the Whale Sanctuary Project, explained some of the chief characteristics of a sanctuary:

  • It’s about the wellbeing of the whales and dolphins; not for the entertainment or convenience of humans
  • It’s a place where the residents can thrive
  • It’s a place where we can model change – a change in our relationship with these animals
  • It’s about giving back to them some of what’s been taken from them

Overall, at an authentic sanctuary, she said, there’s no exploitation, no invasive research, and no breeding.

While the Whale Sanctuary Project is exploring cold water locations in the Northwest and Northeast, the National Aquarium is planning to move their bottlenose dolphins to a warm water sanctuary they’re creating in Florida.

“The U.S. public has moved to a majority sentiment against keeping dolphins and whales in captivity.”CEO John Racanelli talked about the need to provide them with “a higher level to thrive than we’re able to afford them in a setting like [what we have] in Baltimore.” That setting is a 1.3-million-gallon tank that was state-of-the-art when it was built in 1990. “However, that era has passed, and we now need to do better.”

While the Aquarium moves forward with its plans, the dolphins are being prepared for their new life. Visitors are surprised to see algae growing on the walls of the tank. (Life in a natural setting, after all, doesn’t take place in sterile, manufactured saltwater!)

Racanelli also described the surveys the Aquarium has done to gauge public attitudes toward keeping dolphins in captivity:

“The U.S. public has moved to a majority sentiment against keeping dolphins and whales in captivity for any reason. Public interest in creating seaside sanctuaries is strong and growing.”

Colleen Weiler of Whale and Dolphin Conservation talked about the sanctuary they’re planning for beluga whales. It’s a joint project between WDC and Merlin Entertainment, one of the world’s largest operators of theme parks. Merlin recently took over a theme park in Shanghai that was displaying three beluga whales, and has partnered with WDC to create a sanctuary for them.

WDC’s preferred location is in Icelandic waters, in Klettsvik Bay on the island of Heimaey in the Westman Islands. This is the same location that was used for the rehabilitation of Keiko almost 20 years ago, as part of his reintroduction to the wild.

During the Q&A that followed the presentations, one of the questions was about what we mean by an “authentic” sanctuary. Dr. Marino talked about the fact that there are wildlife sanctuaries that do not have as their priority the wellbeing of the animals. Also, much of the “education” that’s offered at marine parks is designed to convince people that the animals are happy living in a tank and being trained to perform for audiences. By contrast, she said, we need to be fully transparent about the fact, for example, that whales belong in the ocean and that even a seaside sanctuary is still, however benign, a form of captivity.

At an authentic sanctuary, there’s no exploitation, no invasive research, and no breeding. Another question was about the cost of building and running a sanctuary. Shouldn’t that money be used for conservation instead? The answer is that there is no single “pot of money” that can either be used for a sanctuary or for conservation. People give to both causes, and to many more. More broadly, conservation programs are about protecting populations of animals; sanctuaries are about caring for them as individuals. Each complements the other.

Overall, it was heartening to have all three sanctuary organizations working together and sharing information. And it was clear to anyone who had attended the conference two years ago that there is now a growing movement toward retiring all captive whales and dolphins to seaside sanctuaries.

The next conference of the Society for Marine Mammal Biology will be in two years’ time in Barcelona. And perhaps, by then, the first whales and dolphins to have been retired from marine parks and aquariums will have moved to their new homes.

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Will Canada Ban Captivity for Whales and Dolphins? http://www.whalesanctuaryproject.org/2017/10/20/will-canada-ban-captivity-for-whales-and-dolphins/ http://www.whalesanctuaryproject.org/2017/10/20/will-canada-ban-captivity-for-whales-and-dolphins/#comments Fri, 20 Oct 2017 19:41:28 +0000 http://www.whalesanctuaryproject.org/?p=2097 Beluga Marineland - Western Newyorker

Canada has taken another step toward retiring whales and dolphins from captivity in marine parks and aquariums. The Coastal First Nations of British Columbia are calling on senators to vote in favor of Bill S-203, which would not permit any more whales or dolphins to be put on show.

Marilyn Slett, president of an alliance of nine First Nations in British Columbia, has written to senators about the importance of protecting whales and dolphins “while keeping them in the wild where they belong.”

“Why are whales and dolphins still forced to perform tricks for our amusement?”She adds that whale watching and ecotourism businesses provide “a compelling alternative vision for more respectful ways of appreciating and living with some of the most magnificent wild animals on the planet.”

The bill would amend Canada’s animal cruelty laws, but still allow for rescuing and rehabilitating injured whales and dolphins. It would also allow owners of currently captive whales and dolphins to keep them but not breed them.

The bill is strongly opposed by the captivity industry, in particular by Marineland in Ontario, which currently has one orca and 50 beluga whales, and the Vancouver Aquarium, which has one Pacific white-sided dolphin and one pseudorca, all of them languishing in concrete tanks for the amusement of visitors.

don-plettIn committee hearings, Senator Don Plett has been leading the charge on behalf of the captivity industry. And while most of his arguments have been consistently refuted by expert witnesses, he has continued to claim that the bill is not in the interests of First Nations people.

But the Coastal First Nations have now come out firmly in favor of ending the use of whales and dolphins as entertainment.

Another senator, Elizabeth Hubley, has written a compelling op-ed for Canada’s Guardian newspaper, saying that it’s time for marine parks to go the same way as circuses that used to have wild animals performing:

Many people believe that it’s unacceptable to make wild animals entertain us, forcing them to do stunts so far outside their natural behavior. We’ve gotten rid of the traditional circus as a result. So why are whales and dolphins still forced to perform tricks for our amusement?

Elizabeth HubleySen. Hubley quotes Whale Sanctuary Project President Lori Marino, who testified at one of the hearings about having studied dolphins at an aquarium earlier in her career as a neuroscientist. While Dr. Marino learned a lot about their self-awareness and cognitive complexity, she said that more importantly this led her “to really think about what life would be like in a small, concrete tank, going around and around and around, if you were a self-aware being.”

As for the people who testified against the bill, Sen. Hubley writes that all of them had a vested interest in keeping whales and dolphins in concrete tanks:

In the end, I could not ignore that the witnesses who testified against the bill were those working at aquariums, or with them to do research. Other well-respected researchers and experts in animal behavior and marine biology urged us to pass S-203. Thousands and thousands of Canadians from across the country sent me emails urging the Senate to pass the bill.

The opposition continues to throw up roadblocks and other tactics to stall the bill. But Sen. Hubley concludes:

Times change and the entertainment value of watching whales and dolphins swim circles in concrete tanks should be ending. Just like this legislative circus.

The committee is due to meet again next week to consider the bill.

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Dental Damage and Decay among Orcas at Marine Parks http://www.whalesanctuaryproject.org/2017/10/12/dental-damage-and-decay-among-orcas-at-marine-parks/ http://www.whalesanctuaryproject.org/2017/10/12/dental-damage-and-decay-among-orcas-at-marine-parks/#comments Thu, 12 Oct 2017 21:58:36 +0000 http://www.whalesanctuaryproject.org/?p=2080 orca teeth- Jett Ventre study

A new study, “Tooth Damage in Captive Orcas”, is the first comprehensive, peer-reviewed, quantitative assessment of how extensive tooth damage is among orcas at entertainment facilities. It documents the effects of living in concrete tanks on their teeth, and consequently on their overall health and wellbeing.

It’s already well-known that orcas in entertainment facilities wear down their teeth and break them by chewing on the concrete walls and on the gates that separate their pools. Eventually, these teeth have to be drilled out and then flushed daily to prevent infection.

For the new study, former SeaWorld trainers John Jett and Jeff Ventre and fellow researchers examined photos of the mouths of 29 orcas and scored the teeth for coronal wear, wear at or below the gum line, fractures, bore holes and missing teeth. Among their conclusions:

  • Dental damage was commonly observed across all captive whale cohorts, with damage beginning early in a whale’s captive life.
  • Forty five percent of whales exhibited “moderate” mean mandibular coronal wear, and an additional 24 percent exhibited “major” to “extreme” wear.
  • Sixty-one percent of the orcas who were studied had endured a “modified pulpotomy,” in which a hole is drilled into the tooth and the soft pulpy tissue inside is removed in an effort to prevent a deadly abscess forming in the jaw.

Taima-teeth-orca-project-crop corky-orca-teeth-orca-project-crop
Taima (left) and Corky, showing damage to teeth and jaw. Photos from Orca Project.

When humans have a similar procedure (a root canal), the drilled-out hole is filled and capped. But for the orcas, it’s kept open for the rest of their lives and requires daily flushing with chemicals to prevent infection.

“These fractured and worn-down teeth are indicators of serious, chronic psychological stress.”
– Lori Marino

The whole procedure makes the teeth weaker and subject to further fracture in the stressful conditions of life in a concrete tank.

The various pathologies begin at a young age and are likely the direct result of fighting and biting on the hard surfaces of their captive environment as a result of stress from their confinement.

Ventre and Jett say they suspect that two well-known whales, Tilikum and Kasatka, who were featured in the movie Blackfish, died prematurely due, in part, to antibiotic resistant infections brought on by the need for constant medication.

Neuroscientist and President of the Whale Sanctuary Project Dr. Lori Marino says that just as dental pathology is associated with increased infection rate in humans and all other animals, it likely contributes to the infectious pathologies and shortened lifespan that’s commonly seen in captive orcas. She adds:

These fractured and worn-down teeth are indicators of serious chronic psychological stress and pathology. So, above and beyond the physical problems associated with poor dentition, the condition of these orcas’ teeth makes it clear that there is considerable psychological stress in orcas held in entertainment parks.

The complete study is available with subscription or for individual purchase at Science Direct.

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Sylvia Earle & Jean-Michel Cousteau Join the Team http://www.whalesanctuaryproject.org/2017/09/28/sylvia-earle-jean-michel-cousteau-join-the-team/ Thu, 28 Sep 2017 20:24:48 +0000 http://www.whalesanctuaryproject.org/?p=2064 Sylvia-Earle-Diving-at-Cabo-Pulmoc-KipEvans-360pxA big welcome to two new members of our Advisory Committee: Sylvia Earle and Jean-Michel Cousteau.

Marine biologist, explorer, author and lecturer Sylvia Earle is a tireless advocate for the oceans and all marine life. She has been a National Geographic explorer-in-residence since 1998. She was the first female chief scientist of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and was named by Time magazine as its first Hero for the Planet in 1998.

(Her bio is here, and you can see her 2009 TED talk about protecting the oceans here.)

JMCousteau2_crop-Tom Ordway- Ocean Futures SocietyOceanographic explorer, environmentalist, educator, and film producer Jean-Michel Cousteau is the founder of the Ocean Futures Society, which documents the critical connection between humanity and nature, and celebrates the ocean’s vital importance to the survival of all life on our planet.

(His bio is here, and you can see his 2012 TED talk about protecting the oceans here.)

As we go about creating the first seaside sanctuary in North America for orcas and belugas, the knowledge and experience of our two new advisors in relation to marine life and the oceans will be of enormous value. Many thanks to both for being part of this work.

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Conversations with Aquariums and Marine Parks http://www.whalesanctuaryproject.org/2017/08/31/conversations-with-the-aquariums-and-marine-parks/ http://www.whalesanctuaryproject.org/2017/08/31/conversations-with-the-aquariums-and-marine-parks/#comments Thu, 31 Aug 2017 16:52:07 +0000 http://www.whalesanctuaryproject.org/?p=2050

Aquarium and zoo industry people don’t often get together with animal protection groups to talk realistically about the future. But it happened when Ron Kagan, Director of the Detroit Zoological Society’s Center for Zoo Animal Welfare, invited leaders from all animal-related interests and all parts of the world to discuss issues of ethics and the future of zoos and aquariums.

The panel discussion in this video included Lori Marino of the Whale Sanctuary Project, John Racanelli of the National Aquarium in Baltimore, Courtney Vail of the Lightkeepers Foundation, and Naomi Rose of the Animal Welfare institute. Among the issues they discussed (along with their timings):

2:17 – Lori Marino talks about how the large and complex brains of whales and dolphins, with their extraordinary cognitive abilities and self-awareness, make them especially vulnerable to the stress of living in concrete tanks. They know who they are and they are fully sensitive to the artificial circumstances they are forced to live under.
They know who they are and they are fully sensitive to the artificial circumstances they are forced to live under.

3:35 – Naomi Rose and John Racanelli follow up by saying that certain marine animals can do quite well in captive habitats, including real kelp forests, that replicate their natural environments. By contrast, marine mammals do particularly badly since it’s impossible to replicate a natural environment.

8:10 – Racanelli says that while the very hygienic conditions of a concrete tank may keep whales and dolphins alive longer, it’s unnatural and not much of a life. There are many more variables in a sanctuary than in a sterile tank and that means more risk but a better life. Sterile, ‘clean’ tanks are not necessarily good for the animals. They need to be exposed to different elements.

Right now, in fact, the Aquarium is introducing some of those variables, like letting algae grow in the tanks (to the surprise of visitors!) to help the dolphins acclimatize to what will be their new surroundings.

9:32 – Courtney Vail notes that there are about 500 bottlenose dolphins at marine parks and aquariums in the United States. They’re not all going to be able to be moved to sanctuaries soon, and so the animal protection community and the zoo industry have an obligation to work together to come up with workable solutions for them.

13:48 – The panel discusses the “slippery slope” issue. (If it’s whales and dolphins today, will it be fish next and then shrimp, and then all the aquariums are closed?) The whole panel agrees that this is not the big issue it’s often made out to be. Racanelli notes that some animals do well in aquarium habitats. (Check out what he says about Calypso the sea turtle.) On the other hand, we’re learning a lot about octopuses that leads us to believe they don’t do well in a captive environment.

Marino adds that when we keep the needs of the animals as the priority, questions about who needs to be in a sanctuary situation begin to answer themselves. And Rose says she’s been very heartened, all through the conference, to hear the same kinds of animal welfare discussions going on within the zoo community that she’s more used to hearing in the animal protection world.

22:23 – The discussion moves on to whether you can do the kind of research at a sanctuary that’s typically done in close captivity. Marino says you can do very good observational research, which is critical, in any case, to keeping them healthy and helping others to create sanctuaries successfully. But, at a sanctuary it’s the nonhuman animals who come first, and so their wellbeing, not their availability for research, is the priority.
It’s “unconscionable” to continue to collect whales and dolphins from the wild.

29:03 – One area in which the zoo and animal protection communities are working hand-in-hand is in the last-ditch attempt to save the vaquita porpoises from total extinction in the Gulf of California thanks to illegal gill nets. Rose talks about how everyone is doing all they can, but she’s not optimistic about there being a good outcome.

44:15 – In closing comments, Racanelli says that knowing what we know about their cognitive capacities, it’s “unconscionable” to continue to collect whales and dolphins from the wild (like at the horrific Taiji dolphin hunt, just getting under way again at this time of year).

Marino says that the wider purpose of sanctuaries is to enable us to change how we relate to nonhuman animals, and to give them back something of what’s been taken away from them.

Rose focuses on the need for practical solutions that work for all parties: the whales, the general public and the zoo and aquarium industries.

And Vail says that while there are fears that the zoo and aquarium industries will become obsolete, there is a critical role for them. She says we can work collaboratively and that none of us needs to be afraid to speak our mind.

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Caring for Orcas at a Sanctuary http://www.whalesanctuaryproject.org/2017/08/24/caring-for-orcas-at-a-sanctuary/ http://www.whalesanctuaryproject.org/2017/08/24/caring-for-orcas-at-a-sanctuary/#comments Fri, 25 Aug 2017 01:45:31 +0000 http://www.whalesanctuaryproject.org/?p=2041

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.

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A Whale and Her Family http://www.whalesanctuaryproject.org/2017/08/17/a-whale-and-her-family/ http://www.whalesanctuaryproject.org/2017/08/17/a-whale-and-her-family/#comments Thu, 17 Aug 2017 18:49:44 +0000 http://www.whalesanctuaryproject.org/?p=2007 Kasatka-Hargrove

Kasatka in 2001 with former SeaWorld trainer John Hargrove.

Following the sad news yesterday about the death of killer whale Kasatka at SeaWorld San Diego, SeaWorld wrote that she had been “part of our orca family.”

But Kasatka was never part of their family. Quite the opposite: she’d been captured and taken from her true family off the coast of Iceland in 1978 when she was about a year old and still just a baby.

During her life, Kasatka was transferred from one aquarium or marine park to another, and then to another, 15 times. Over the years, she was artificially inseminated, including from Tilikum, who, like her, was captured from Icelandic waters at a young age. She gave birth to two daughters and two sons, and she had six grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. The youngest of the grandchildren, Kyara, died last month when she was just three months old.
“If you truly love somebody, set them free.”

SeaWorld posted a memorial to Kasatka, calling her “The Matriarch.” If she had grown up with her family in the ocean, Kasatka might indeed have become the matriarch of her whole extended family, which, as far as we know, is still swimming the waters of the North Atlantic as a unified pod.

In the wild, an orca baby is surrounded by her family: her mother, aunts, grandmother and often great-grandmother, who play an active part in raising the calves and who carry the knowledge and culture of the whole social group. Instead, the family to which Kasatka gave birth in captivity is spread across three marine parks, separated by thousands of miles – an unnatural, indeed tragic, matriline.

kasatka-infection.jpgKasatka was first diagnosed with pneumonia in 2008, and was being treated for a recurring bacterial respiratory infection ever since. (Her last calf was conceived in 2011, when she was already suffering from this infection.) A recent photo on the Voice of the Orcas website shows a deformed lower jaw and some serious skin problems.

Kasatka’s trainers and caregivers talk and write about how much they loved her. But there’s little evidence that she felt loved or that she reciprocated their feelings. While she generally behaved as required in exchange for food, she sometimes fought back against her captivity, once attacking a trainer, Ken Peters, and dragging him to the bottom of her tank.

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about that incident, however, is that, rather than drowning him, she let him up for air, took him down again, and then let him go. Apparently, she felt she’d made her point.

The saying goes that “if you truly love somebody, set them free.” So, if the people at SeaWorld truly love the whales in their concrete tanks, now would be a good time to take these words to heart. And while Kasatka’s family have never seen beyond the walls of their concrete tanks and cannot just be set free and released into the ocean, there is certainly a good alternative: retiring them to seaside sanctuaries.

Just as the National Aquarium in Baltimore is planning to retire its dolphins to a warm water seaside sanctuary, marine parks would do well to start the necessary planning for their captive whales to be retired to a cold-water sanctuary of the kind that the Whale Sanctuary Project is creating.

This would make it possible for them to live out their lives in an environment that’s as close as possible to their natural habitat while still receiving the very best of human care.

The whales have given their lives to entertaining people and bringing profits to the marine parks. It’s time to return the favor by giving them back as much as possible of what has been taken from them.

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SeaWorld Attendance Still Falling http://www.whalesanctuaryproject.org/2017/08/13/seaworld-attendance-still-falling/ http://www.whalesanctuaryproject.org/2017/08/13/seaworld-attendance-still-falling/#comments Sun, 13 Aug 2017 17:04:19 +0000 http://www.whalesanctuaryproject.org/?p=1999 orca-encounter-SW-SD
The new Orca Encounter at SeaWorld San Diego

Attendance at SeaWorld parks has fallen yet again, dropping 4 percent during the first half of this year. On August 8th, shares in the company sank to another low, $12.28.

On a conference call to investment analysts, CEO Joel Manby explained the slumping attendance in San Diego as being due to what he called “public perception issues” driven largely by audience response to the movie Blackfish.

Two years ago, in response to those “public perception issues,” SeaWorld decided to stop breeding orcas, to begin replacing its Shamu theatrical shows with a new and more educational “Orca Encounter” productions, and to mount a major advertising campaign that it hoped would turn around the negative image.

joel manbyBut that hasn’t happened, and Manby explained on his conference call that the company had cut back on its advertising campaign too soon and is still being plagued by people’s negative view of keeping whales in concrete tanks.

“In a brand turnaround, we’ll continue to have to maintain a strong message about perception issues there that aren’t true that we need to continue to fight, and that’s what we had hoped to back off and we can’t now,” he said.

The numbers speak for themselves. For the second quarter, ending June 30, SeaWorld recorded a net loss of nearly $176 million. Total visitation for the first six months was 8.9 million, down from nearly 9.3 million in the same period last year. And Moody’s Investors Service has changed the company’s outlook from stable to negative.

In San Diego, the new “Orca Encounter” opened at the end of May, billed as the “world’s first live documentary,” an edutainment show surrounded by a Pacific Northwest-themed set featuring faux trees and man-made waterfalls.

But the L.A. Times called the show “boring, joyless and bogged down by scientific artifice.” Audiences seemed to agree: attendance is still down overall.

SeaWorld-Orlando-Kraken-VR
Virtual reality on the Kraken ride

Two new attractions have been doing well, however: Ocean Explorer, which includes a three-minute mini-submarine ride; and Orca 360, a stereoscopic video created for virtual reality.

Orca 360 allows up to 10 people at a time to enter the “Simlab”, a futuristic-looking laboratory with large, eggshell-shaped chairs that swivel and recline, and where visitors don virtual reality goggles and a headset to be immersed in a 7½ -minute movie about orcas.

SeaWorld is also experimenting with VR at its Orlando park, where it has transformed its Kraken roller coaster into a virtual reality experience.

With more and more people coming to understand that whales and dolphins cannot thrive in concrete tanks, the days of keeping them on display are clearly numbered. And SeaWorld appears to be seeing its long-term survival as depending on technology rather than captivity.

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Canada Considers Ban on Captivity of Whales and Dolphins http://www.whalesanctuaryproject.org/2017/07/26/canada-considers-ban-on-captivity-of-whales-and-dolphins/ http://www.whalesanctuaryproject.org/2017/07/26/canada-considers-ban-on-captivity-of-whales-and-dolphins/#comments Wed, 26 Jul 2017 21:07:52 +0000 http://www.whalesanctuaryproject.org/?p=1989 Ottawa Hearing Marino Whitehead

The Canadian Senate is currently considering an amendment that would make it illegal to keep whales or dolphins in captivity.

Six team members of the Whale Sanctuary Project were invited to testify at hearings. You can watch the complete videos below.

March 3rd, 2017: Lori Marino, President of the Whale Sanctuary Project President, and Hal Whitehead, Professor of Biology, Dalhousie University:

Dr. Marino’s testimony focused on the false claims that research with captive dolphins and whales is necessary for conservation work. She also discussed her public findings showing no compelling evidence that animal displays in zoos and aquariums have educational value.

Dr. Whitehead spoke about the value of studies done with wild cetaceans, and he discussed a number of studies of behavior in wild populations and how these have more merit for conservation than studies in captivity.

April 4th, 2017: Naomi Rose, Marine Mammal Scientist for the Animal Welfare Institute, and Rob Laidlaw, Director of Zoocheck:

Dr. Rose offered science-based arguments that dolphins and whales cannot thrive in concrete tanks.

And Rob Laidlaw argued that the bill (S-203) merely codifies a trend away from displaying healthy cetaceans in captivity in Canada and will have minimal impact on conservation.

June 1st, 2017: Ingrid N. Visser, Founder and Principal Scientist of the New Zealand-based Orca Research Trust, and Kathryn Sussman, Consultant to the Vancouver Humane Society and to Zoocheck:

Kathryn Sussman countered the argument that since the bill would ban cetaceans from being kept in captivity, it would impact the rescue of stranded whales.

And Dr. Visser provided forceful scientific evidence that the welfare of cetaceans is severely compromised when they’re held in concrete tanks.

The amendment is currently at committee stage in the Senate of Canada and consideration will resume in September.

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