Monthly Archives: August 2013

Saving Japan’s Dolphins – Atlanta one of over 100 events worldwide

The Atlanta community is no stranger to dolphins.  But whether it is aware of the issues surrounding keeping dolphins in captivity or the hunting of dolphins for the aquarium industry is another matter.

The Georgia Aquarium houses 11 dolphins, and one, named Shaka, was caught in the wild.

The Georgia Aquarium houses 11 dolphins, and one, named Shaka, was caught in the wild.

The local animal rights community is always ready to stand up to provide the information, which is often lacking elsewhere, in support of the notion that dolphins should be allowed their lives in the wild.  Even before the 11 dolphins and four beluga whales currently held in captivity at The Georgia Aquarium (four beluga whales that have been housed at the Georgia Aquarium have since died) were brought to this land-locked city, activists have stood up for dolphins.  This coming Sunday September 1, they will join over 100 events worldwide and do so again.

The Cove: 2010 Academy Award for Best Documentary

The Cove: 2010 Academy Award for Best Documentary

Japan Dolphins Day is an event created by Save Japan Dolphins and organized this year by the Facebook community Save Misty the Dolphin.  Launched in 2005, Japan Dolphins Day, was an idea that preceded the release of the Academy Award-winning documentary, The Cove, but followed many years of efforts to make inroads into dolphin capture worldwide.

Why should Atlanta care about what happens in a small village in Taiji, Japan, especially since none of the dolphins at the Georgia Aquarium were caught in Taiji?  The most straight-forward answer to that logical question is that while dolphins have not been intentionally caught in U.S. waters for its aquarium industry in many years, the indirect connection between the U.S. industry and countries where wild dolphins are caught is obvious.

  • The aquarium industry of the rest of the world is recreating the aquarium model developed by that in the United States. One need only to look at the Georgia Aquarium’s own past (via its other property, Marineland) to see that the industry was built on capturing wild dolphins.
  • Members of International Marine Animal Trainers Association – soon to have its annual meeting in Las Vegas – work directly with dolphins captured in Taiji.
  • The Georgia Aquarium is spearheading an effort to import wild-caught marine mammals (beluga whales) into the United States.  Though its application was denied by NOAA, it remains to be seen whether the Georgia Aquarium considers the issue resolved.  It is up to the decision-makers at the Georgia Aquarium and its partners whether they will listen to both the public outcry and the decision of NOAA or will continue to listen exclusively to themselves.
  • As a world community, where dolphins know no borders, it makes little sense to impose our borders on activism.

One local activist, Vivian Liu, had, only a couple of years ago, a season pass to the Georgia Aquarium.  She has come to understand and to teach her children “why we no longer visit places where they hold captive animals for human entertainment. . . Children are innocent and will certainly become what’s being taught.”  This understanding was echoed by former SeaWorld orca trainer John Hargrove in the documentary, Blackfish, now playing at the Midtown Art Cinema, who said that he would never take his three-and-a-half-year-old to the orca show at SeaWorld.  What is being taught, more consistently than anything else at these establishments, is that captivity is cool.  Stephanie Voltolin, an instructor at Georgia Piedmont Technical College, “wouldn’t be anywhere else on September 1” because she knows that “we can make a difference if we can get this information to those who don’t know what’s happening.”

What you can do:

Atlanta location for Japan Dolphins Day

Atlanta location for Japan Dolphins Day September 1, 11:00am – 1:00pm

Pixar: How about another tweak to revised ending to ‘Finding Nemo’ sequel?

In a truly awesome announcement, we learned that Pixar reconnoitered with the Blackfish folks, including director Gabriela Cowperthwaite, to discuss revising its ending to the sequel to Finding Nemo, called Finding Dory.

Apparently, Pixar, having seen Blackfish, realized that captivity may not be all it has been, by the aquarium industry, cracked up to be, and reached out to Cowperthwaite.  The original ending, in which the lost fish and marine mammals would spend the rest of their days in captivity, would be revised to allow the animals a “choice” as to whether they stayed at the aquarium or returned to the wild.

While Pixar and others may feel that this revision is a welcome one, I continue to live up to my “fly in the ointment” status and ask, “Wouldn’t this revision teach children that animals make a choice about their captivity status? When they see animals at aquariums and marine parks, having seen this new ending, might they not make this association?”

One of the things the public learned in Blackfish is that not all that they hear at SeaWorld is necessarily true.  Life spans of orca longer in captivity? You’ll hear from SeaWorld that, yes, they are.  But the reality is quite the opposite, as reported today in China Daily.  Orcas live a demonstrably shorter life span in captivity.  Another of the lessons that can be learned every day at SeaWorld, is that the animals only perform tricks (called “behaviors” by the Spin Tank of the aquarium industry) when they choose.  In Blackfish, we watch former trainer Carol Ray struggle with the fact that, as a trainer, she regurgitated this “choice” spin to the public on a regular basis, just as the trainers were instructed.

So, Pixar.  Choice?  The animals “choose” to remain in captivity?

Animated films have educated children about animals since there has been animated film.  And while anthropomorphizing is part and parcel of this process, such anthropomorphizing is not, in itself, a problem.  In fact, it’s quite good and quite effective at delivering a message to children.  But please, Pixar, don’t use this tool or teach our children, in a theatrical sleight of hand, that animals have some say in their residence at marine parks, or else be just like SeaWorld, teaching that dolphins perform tricks when they “choose”.

Blackfish, distributed by Magnolia Pictures, is playing across the United States right now.  See it.  Join the meaningful conversation about the end of marine mammal captivity and how we must not teach our children something about this issue that is just not true.

In fact, here is where you can teach your children about orcas, while they listen to them LIVE on hydrophones off the San Juan Islands.  How awesome is that?!!

Take your children to see them in the wild, and teach your children the true awesomeness of life.

Take your children to see them in the wild, and teach your children the true awesomeness of life.

And while you listen to them live on the hydrophone network or plan a family vacation to the nearest shore to see wild dolphins (or even river, where there are river otters and beavers), sign a pledge by Save Japan Dolphins not to see them in captivity and contact Pixar.

Pixar Contact information:

  • Pixar Animation Studios
  • 1200 Park Avenue
  • Emeryville, CA 94608
  • Telephone: (510) 922-3000
  • Facsimile: (510) 922-3151

Edited to add the following AWESOMENESS:  Earlier today there was an amazing occurrence recorded on the hydrophone network when a SUPERPOD graced us with their magnificence.  Selena Rhodes Scofield put together this excerpt and points to new vocalizations at 5:35 – 5:43.  Get ready for audio wonderfulness, not to be heard at any aquarium anywhere.

 

Atlanta’s ‘Blackfish’ audience recognizes the “pink dolphin in the room”

It was clear that Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s documentary, Blackfish, struck a chord with the Atlanta audience when the manager of the Midtown Art Cinema had to use a gentle nudge more than once to stop the questions in last night’s special appearance by Emory Senior Lecturer Dr. Lori Marino, to allow the 9:30 showing to begin even close to “on-time.”

Members of the packed house at the Midtown Art Cinema last night were visibly moved by the journey that they had just witnessed, a journey of not only the orcas who were captured by an industry intent on using them for their commercial value, but also of the trainers who were used in much the same way.

Blackfish takes the viewer on a journey, both  human and orca

Blackfish takes the viewer on a journey, both human and orca

Whether they came to “training” as a calling or on a college-age whim, what was striking was that the trainers’ journeys were not unlike Tilikum’s own.  Trained and rewarded for appropriate behaviors and shunned for missing a “bridge” is a method employed not just on the non-human charges.  While this method is not restricted to the aquarium industry, what is restricted to that industry is the maintaining in captivity of marine mammals who do not thrive in those conditions and using “trainers” to keep that captivity machine running.

Blackfish joins Death at Seaworld by award-winning author David Kirby, the Cove and A Fall from Freedom as important repositories of information about how our society treats marine mammals

Blackfish joins Death at Seaworld by award-winning author David Kirby, The Cove and A Fall from Freedom as important statements about how our society treats marine mammals

What is also clear in the film is the nearly-inevitable stress-response that results and how that stress-response is an individuated process, both for human and non-human.  For a thinking being who in a natural setting makes both individual and group choices, merely having this choice removed may induce a stress-response.  The continual exposure to a lack of control will, once it reaches a point of saturation, express.  Learning, as we do in the film, that the brains of orcas have an extremely developed brain structure related to communication and emotion, this lack of control and the inability of echolocators to fully “express” themselves in concrete sound-bouncing chambers, it is little wonder that orca-human interactions are bound to “go wrong.”

The humans involved, too, react to this inherent, systematic and institutional ignoring of marine mammal requisites for a full life.  John Jett’s statement in the film that he remained a trainer “for” Tilikum, and his question, “who would take care of Tilikum,” revealed a growing awareness that things were not right for Tilly.  Carol Ray shares her first inklings that the welfare of the orcas was less important than their survival and distribution among parks.

While Tilikum has nowhere to go to address the “flight” in “fight or flight stress-response,” it is heartening that certain trainers and others around the world recognize the horrors of marine mammal captivity and are taking on the fight for their freedom, in their own way, on their own journey.

What was also clear to the moviegoers was the “pink dolphin in the room,” and one brave young woman gave voice to it, when she asked whether what she had seen in the movie applied to dolphins and whales, as at the local Georgia Aquarium, which holds 11 dolphins and four beluga whales and is seeking more.  Marino’s answer, born of her own research on dolphins, was unqualified in its response: dolphins and whales are not suited to captivity.

For more information about Tilikum and the facts revealed during the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s enforcement action at SeaWorld, I highly recommend the very readable Death at SeaWorld, now in its third printing in just over a year.

What you can do: