Monthly Archives: October 2015

Maris died after being an experiment in life and death

The death of beluga whale Maris came as a shock to us all, including the Georgia Aquarium.  But the Georgia Aquarium knows what it rarely shouts from its tank-covering rooftops:  the beluga whale captivity industry is dying, just as surely as are “its” beluga whales.

Dying it is.  But becoming “extinct”?  Whether calculated to mislead the American public or not, the Georgia Aquarium has used the word “extinction”, generally known to characterize wild populations only, to describe the beluga whales in captivity.  It is obvious that this is a misuse of the term, but it is, however, true that the captive beluga whale industry is declining and dying, along with the 35 or so beluga whales now held in U.S. aquaria, and the only saving grace for this industry is, apparently, the influx of wild blood.

One need look no further for evidence of this industry’s death than the Georgia Aquarium’s own statement.

Because of the extraordinary, long-term care beluga whales receive at accredited zoological organizations like Georgia Aquarium, this birth is significant as it is the first viable calf to be born from parents who were born in human care. Maris was born at the New York Aquarium in 1994, and the father, Beethoven, was born at SeaWorld San Antonio in 1992.

Here the Georgia Aquarium revealed that there has not yet been a beluga calf successfully born in captivity who was born to parents who were both born in captivity.  I hope you got that.  Not one.  Not a single successful birth to a captive-born couple.

We’ll tell you the truth now. Even though the Georgia Aquarium was elated to announce that Maris’ second calf was considered “viable” – a significant milestone in the ongoing “experiment” to figure out how to breed captive beluga whale calves – the calf died after only 26 days in the tank at the Georgia Aquarium.  In the run-up to both of Maris’ calves’ births, the Georgia Aquarium spent far more time pointing out the high mortality rate, even among wild beluga whales, for first-born calves, and, as far as I can tell, told the public this significant factoid (that not once had a calf born of two captive-born beluga whales survived) only after they thought they had one who would survive.  So, why the consistent omission of this significant fact?  Notably, they did not mention it when the calf died, demurring to the “statistical probability of survival.”  Is this just another example of the “smoke and mirrors” that Judge Totenberg observed on the part of the Georgia Aquarium (Georgia Aquarium v Pritzker, at page 98)?

Maris giving birth on May 10, 2015, to her second female calf, considered viable. Neither are alive today.

Maris giving birth on May 10, 2015, at the Georgia Aquarium to her second female calf, who was considered viable. Neither are alive today.

Nowhere in the recent statements to the press does the Georgia Aquarium acknowledge this significant fact.

So, what to do? Capture! Import! It is little wonder, then, that the Georgia Aquarium took the unprecedented initiative to spearhead an effort to import 18 wild-caught belugas into the United States to add to the U.S. broodstock.  Eighteen: more than all the  wild-caught beluga whales currently-held in the United States.  To allow more successful breeding.  To maintain an industry.  To continue to feed the public the notion that it has a “right” to see them in tanks.  To “love” them so much that visitors will once again grace the turnstiles of the aquarium, season pass or no.

But right?  Entitlement?  As correctly and succinctly summarized by Judge Amy Totenberg in her Order in the case of Georgia Aquarium v Pritzker, at page 76:

In addition, Georgia Aquarium’s arguments presume that — contrary to the express purpose of the MMPA — the limited exceptions for public display and scientific research permits in section 1374 opened the floodgates for unfettered importation of marine mammals.  Nowhere does the MMPA “allow[] for the
continuing import of marine mammals for public display in the United States” or the unfettered right to such importation.  (Doc. 55-1 at 49) (emphasis in original).

The Georgia Aquarium knows that the beluga whale captive industry is dying in the United States, just as surely as have all the calves born to two captive born parents.  And now, the Georgia Aquarium has been schooled that it has no “unfettered right” to grab wild beluga whales to prop up the display industrym and it should stop sending any such signals to the public.

The future of the captive beluga whale industry is dying because United States aquariums hold only a handful of wild-caught beluga whales, and of these, only three are males.

  • Ferdinand, M, SeaWorld San Diego, caught 1975
  • Naluark, M. Mystic Aquarium, caught 1992
  • Imaq, M, SeaWorld Texas, caught 1990
  • Natasha, F, SeaWorld Texas, caught 1984
  • Mauyak, F, John G. Shedd Aquarium, caught 1984
  • Martha, F, SeaWorld Texas, caught 1988
  • Crissy, F, SeaWorld Texas, caught 1988
  • Allua, F, SeaWorld Texas, caught 1985
  • Kela, F, Mystic Aquarium, caught 1985
  • Naya, F, John G. Shedd Aquarium, caught 1992

This is certainly not the stable of studs and broodmares that the aquarium industry needs to build a genetically diverse, and therefore, robust, population of captive beluga whales, and the industry knows this.  For this reason, and perhaps others that only it knows, the Georgia Aquarium tried to import those 18 wild-caught beluga whales.  But its effort has failed, in failing to demonstrate that its import would not negatively impact the wild populations from which it may have hoped to extract fresh genes and better odds at reproduction.

It is impossible to speak about a dying industry without also coming to terms with the fates of 35 or so captive beluga whales in the United States.  As those in support of the Georgia Aquarium often say, “whales die.”  You just won’t hear me say, as they have done, “that’s life; get over it.”  I grieve for both the living and the dying captives.  But in particular, I grieve for the mothers who are used as part of a failing experiment to successfully breed a captive beluga whale born of captive-born parents.

So, how many more times must female captive-born beluga whales experience the death of a calf, being used as part of the aquarium industry’s Experiment in Breeding, before the public says, “enough is enough?”  Will the death of Maris and her two calves be enough?

I do not know if it will, but it should.

Rest in peace, Maris.

Rest in peace, Maris.

Rest in peace, Maris.

SeaWorld’s view of drive hunts: from “not illegal” to a “horror”

SeaWorld changes its position from being merely "not illegal" to a "horror"

SeaWorld changes its position from being merely “not illegal” to a “horror”

SeaWorld’s Chief Zoological Officer, Brad Andrews, has clarified – on its SeaWorld Cares page – its new position on dolphin drive hunts: they are a horror.  In the past, SeaWorld defended its obtaining false killer whales from a similar drive “fishery” in Iki Island, Japan.  Rather than being considered a “horror”, SeaWorld (either Mr. Andrews or its Director of Veterinary Service, Mr. Jim McBain) characterized SeaWorld’s import of these false killer whales as a “rescue”, “saving” or, alternatively, as being conducted under legal permits.  It also stated that while killing dolphins in a drive hunt was inhumane, taking the ones not killed (i.e., saving them) was humane.  In logic that would seem reasonable in a vacuum, when one has witnessed the drive hunt as have the Sea Shepherd Cove Guardians, every day during the drive hunt season since 2010 (and one would think that Mr. Andrews has availed himself of the archived footage of the drive hunts), he or she knows without a doubt that the killing is not the only inhumane aspect of the drive hunt process.

The drive hunt is a horror, in the truest sense of the word, because it is fear, it is panic and horror, that makes the process work.  The entire process is a horror: from the first sighting of migrating dolphins by the twelve “banger boats” to the miles of driving the dolphins by inflicting the cacophony of coordinated noise that is effected by repeated banging on the long metal poles, to the dolphins arrival at what is for most their final destination, the killing cove.   SeaWorld is right, now.  It is a horror.  And any institution that would pay, as SeaWorld has, to underwrite the horror is as well.  So, while Mr. Andrews’ new statement about the drive hunt is perhaps refreshing, it doesn’t go far enough.  The world deserves an apology for the years of blurring, distancing and denying.  The world deserves a statement that the images in the following video of the capturing of marine mammals in Russia reveal a horror.

So, thought I would write Mr. Andrews a short note:

Dear Brad Andrews:

This is what you need to know about the Taiji dolphin drive hunt: the world followed your very profitable business model, a business model that is built on exploiting marine mammals. But the rest of the world found out that how SeaWorld and other aquariums filled their tanks, up until passage of the Marine Mammal Protection Act (I love your interview in A Whale of a Business, by the way, Mr. Andrews) was still easily available to them, as it had been to you before Congress and the State of Washington said, “Not so much, Brad.”

So now you pride yourself on not importing drive hunt dolphins when it is, let’s be realistic, impossible in the U.S. (and hey, good move on saying that you wouldn’t take the beluga whales that the Georgia Aquarium is/was fighting to import when it looked like a doomed venture).

I understand that the public doesn’t understand the MMPA as well as you and I. But please stop taking credit for not doing something that would never be allowed in the first place.

And, by the way, we are waiting for an apology – not merely a change of heart – for SeaWorld’s having underwritten the horror, as you now call it.

Sincerely,

Mo Brock

Perhaps SeaWorld’s change of “heart” about drive hunts from being “legal” or a “rescue” to being a “horror” explains why SeaWorld refused to accept the beluga whales captured in Russia for the Georgia Aquarium.  Perhaps SeaWorld recognizes that the methods for capturing belugas and orcas and other marine mammals in Russian waters are like a distinction without a difference, instead of, as I suggest to Brad in my note to him, being merely a good move.  Perhaps we can soon expect statements from not only SeaWorld, but also the Georgia Aquarium, the Shedd Aquarium and the Mystic Aquarium that they no longer support the capturing of any wild marine mammal for inclusion in their displays or shows.  Even better, perhaps we will see statements from these and similar institutions that they intend to end the “display” model and to retire the marine mammals currently in captivity to ocean sanctuaries created specifically for that purpose.  Because the fact remains, marine mammal advocates from around the world will not stop demanding it until we have those statements, and until the law is revised to reflect that new, unequivocally humane, policy.

When SeaWorld does that, then we will have greater confidence that SeaWorld does, in fact, care.

Because this, going on right now, is a horror.

Dolphin trapped under the net during dolphin drive hunt in Taiji, Japan. Photo from Sea Shepherd Conservation Society Cove Guardians

Dolphin trapped under the net during dolphin drive hunt in Taiji, Japan. Photo from Sea Shepherd Conservation Society Cove Guardians

What you can do:

  • Write a letter to the California Coastal Commission objecting to SeaWorld’s tank expansion project and supporting passage of the Orca Welfare and Safety Act.  This one is time-sensitive.  Write by Monday, October 5.
  • Sign the petition to the California Coastal Commission opposing SeaWorld’s tank expansion project.
  • Write letters to the editor of your local newspapers and newspapers in aquarium locations demanding an end to the capturing of wild marine mammals for any purpose.
  • Write letters to your Congressmen demanding that the Marine Mammal Protection be updated to eliminate the exception for permits for capture or import of captured marine mammals or their progeny.
  • And never, ever (even to a wine tasting or corporate party) go to an aquarium with a cetacean, and better yet, any marine mammal, exhibit
  • Write to your local aquarium demanding that it end its marine mammal displays and that it embrace the creation of marine mammal sanctuaries for the retiring of those already in captivity
  • Support the efforts of marine mammal advocacy groups by making donations to support their efforts, both legal and policy-directed, to end the horror of marine mammal captivity.
  • Write to your relevant department of state to demand that the Taiji dolphin drive hunt be identified as inhumane and unsustainable.

For more information about SeaWorld’s role in the drive hunts, please read Op-Ed: SeaWorld’s Convoluted Logic on Taiji’s Dolphin Slaughter or SeaWorld’s Collaboration in the Wild Caught Industry, leading right back to Taiji.