Category Archives: Dolphins and Whales

Are two calf deaths enough, Georgia Aquarium?

Another captive-born baby beluga has died at the Georgia Aquarium, and the Georgia Aquarium welcomes your “positive thoughts and support.”

Georgia Aquarium beluga calf died

Follow the bouncing focus: on the Georgia Aquarium.  The baby’s death is a loss “for the entire Aquarium.”

While I do not doubt that the Georgia Aquarium staff and other “experts” worked around-the-clock at trying to save this baby, pardon me if I am less than likely to send my condolences and kind words to an institution that bred two beluga whales for the sole purpose of building its stable of slaves.

But lest Maris’ loss be confused with human couples who continue to attempt to have a child, even in the face of miscarriage, let me say to you, do not go there.

I repeat, do not go there.

Maris shares nothing, as in, zippo, zilch, nada, with a human couple who chooses to attempt to bring a child into the world, and who has the full suite of choices in giving that child the best life possible.  Maris and Beethoven, who the Georgia Aquarium reports conceived naturally, had no such choices.

Maris didn’t have a choice in the 25 to 40 minutes per day that the baby nursed.  She didn’t have a choice when staff stood between her and her baby.

Georgia Aquarium Maris beluga calf dies

Unnamed baby girl at the Georgia Aquarium. Photo from AJC.

She didn’t have a choice in the formula that the Georgia Aquarium fed her baby, the one that “mimicked” beluga milk.

Maris didn’t have a choice in anything at all, and neither would the baby girl, had she survived.

Make no mistake, Georgia Aquarium.  Those who are opposed to captivity are grieving for Maris’ loss, but we do not grieve for yours.

What you can do:

Stand with us at Empty the Tanks to call for an end to the institution of marine mammal captivity.

  • When: Saturday, June 6, 2015; noon to 3pm
  • Where: Georgia Aquarium, 225 Baker St., Atlanta, GA

NOAA learns the Marine Mammal Protection Act

What some may consider a trifling matter, I find to be a “tell” of the thinking at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), National Marine Fisheries Service.  One cannot say with certainty what this “tell” indicates, but since NOAA is responsible for defending its decision to deny the Georgia Aquarium a permit to import 18 wild-caught beluga whales, I can’t say whether I find the tell comforting or disturbing.

The Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) states that

There shall be a moratorium on the taking and importation of marine mammals . . . during which time no permit may be issued for the taking of any marine mammal . . .. except in the following cases . . . MMPA Section 101, 16 U.S.C. §1371.

In contrast with the above text (that is, what the MMPA actually states), the MMPA does not state that there shall be a system to allow the importation of wild-caught cetaceans, which will be denied in only limited circumstances.   The gap between the actual language and this contrasting, but nonexistent, version highlights the purpose of the MMPA:  to protect marine mammals in their homes, in their habitats, with a primary objective to “maintain the health and stability of the marine ecosystem.” 16 U.S.C. §1361.

So, consider the two contrasting images of the NOAA webpage for the Georgia Aquarium’s request to import 18 wild-caught Russian beluga whales, the first taken on March 1, 2015, and the second, taken during the 2012 public comment period on the Georgia Aquarium’s import application.

NOAA website, image captured March 1, 2015, with an opening statement that is consistent with the MMPA.

NOAA website, image captured March 1, 2015, with an opening statement that is consistent with the MMPA.

Text in the above image correctly highlights the prohibitive nature of the MMPA, which provides “limited exceptions” for the taking of marine mammals.

Look, however, at the following image of NOAA’s opening statement on the same webpage, captured on September 6, 2012, during the public comment period of the Georgia Aquarium’s import request.  Perhaps you might agree that the message of the NOAA website reveals a basic misunderstanding of the MMPA, even if it correctly reflected that of, at least, the NOAA webmaster.

NOAA webpage, image captured September 6, 2012.  The opening paragraph paints a rather more permissive system of cetacean importation than the one defined by law.

NOAA webpage, image captured September 6, 2012. The opening paragraph paints a more permissive system of cetacean importation than the one defined by law.  Paints an “allowing” system, rather the existing “prohibitive with exceptions” system.

It is in these kind of details, or tells, that the mindset of government is revealed.  But lest I appear ungrateful, let me be clear that I am glad that NOAA is learning the MMPA.

I just  hope that it wasn’t too late for any one of the 18 beluga whales who were snatched from Russian waters.

We await the decision of the Federal District Court, heard in August 2014.

If marriage is about domination, then propose at the Georgia Aquarium

D. Geller & Sons has a new “marriage proposal tip” and has picked what it touts as the perfect venue for a marriage proposal.  Geller’s new ad promotes the Georgia Aquarium, where both the “ring and the proposal” will be “breathtaking”.  Interesting choice of words, since life for the beluga whales, dolphins and other captives who live their lives in a tank, is anything but.

If one considers the foundations of marriage, the Georgia Aquarium should be the last place for a proposal of a lifetime of love and respect, since the aquarium has been spearheading the effort to reverse 20 years of U.S. aquarium policy and practice by attempting to take wild beluga whales and relegate them to a lifetime of captivity.  NOAA, which is empowered to administer the Marine Mammal Protection Act, denied the Georgia Aquarium’s import application in 2013 and the Georgia Aquarium promptly filed a lawsuit to have this decision overturned.  The Court decision has not yet been announced.

If marriage is about respect and love, and I think that we all believe that to be true, the Georgia Aquarium shouldn’t even make the long list, let alone the short one, of venues to start that life-long relationship.  If, however, marriage is about domination, deprivation of one’s birthright, exploitation, and keeping your spouse locked up in one room with no key, then . . .

I recommend that D. Geller & Sons rethink this ad, and pull it.

For more information: https://awionline.org/cases/protection-beluga-whales

 

Taiji: An unsustainable and inhumane dolphin hunt

Between September 26 and September 28, in Taiji, Japan, an entire family of pilot whales was eradicated from the face of the planet.

Pilot whales fighting for their lives and losing, in Taiji, Japan.  Photo by Sea Shepherd Conservation Society Cove Guardians

Pilot whales fighting for their lives and losing, in Taiji, Japan. Photo by Sea Shepherd Conservation Society Cove Guardians

UnsustainableThis kind of removal of entire components of a gene pool is unsustainable, and is addressed under the laws of certain countries, if not Japan’s.  Under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, 16 U.S.C. §1361- 1421 (MMPA), the term “population stock” or “stock” means “a group of marine mammals of the same species or smaller taxa in a common spatial arrangement, that interbreed when mature.”  Under the MMPA, stocks are protected.  The term “strategic stock” means “a marine mammal stock . . . for which the level of direct human-caused mortality exceeds the potential biological removal level.”  The Taiji hunters exceed this mortality level in nearly every single encounter they have with dolphins during hunt season, because they are the proximate and direct cause of the kill and capture of significant portions of, if not entire, stocks of dolphins, even if some of the cause is less visible.

While the US law, and its notion of “strategic stock,” does not impact how the Taiji hunters conduct the drive hunt, it does impact U.S. aquariums.  The concept of “strategic stock” clearly prevents the importation into the United States of any dolphin captured in Taiji because the capture techniques there violate the concept of “stock”, and no animal so caught may be imported into the United States.  So, it is convenient for a U.S. aquarium that the public is largely unaware that such importation into the United States would never be permitted (assuming the proper decision is rendered by the permitting agency) when it “denounces” such drive hunts.  One wonders how the U.S. aquarium industry would view such hunts if it had a prayer of obtaining a dolphin from one.

Inhumane. For purposes of humaneness, the way in which this family was eradicated fails by any measure:

  • Two of the younger ones were taken for a “life” of captivity in the aquarium/marine park/swim-with industry either in Japan or internationally.  The life of a wild dolphin when it is restricted to a concrete tank or even to an “encounter cove” is so far removed from a natural life – devoid of natural family units, natural hunting behaviors, natural food and water, natural movement in straight lines over many miles and to much more varied (greater) depth – that it would be recognized in any ethics-based evaluation as “inhumane”.
  • Fifteen were killed, and their flesh sold as food. Whether food for humans or for some other, the flesh is recognized to contain toxic levels of contaminants, chiefly mercury and PCBs. The knowing and volitional spread of such contamination within Japan or to citizens of other nations is a reckless endangerment to others, and it must end.
  • Approximately 10 were driven back out, after two days of being traumatized by noise, food and water deprivation, watching family members taken from them and others killed, as the “survivors” watched.  These 10 or more pilot whales, likely the smaller whose bodies wouldn’t fetch poundage sufficient to include in the “kill/capture” quota, are believed to have become trapped in the Taiji harbor nets, having been unseen since they neared the nets. These air-breathing mammals would have then drowned. So killed they were, and should be accounted for in the “kill/capture” quota.

We can hope that the “survivors” will be spotted today, but even if they survive the immediacy of drowning in the nets, their chances for survival, without the matriarch and the other mature members of the family, are significantly diminished. The young have lost their protectors, their mentors, all the members who hold the majority of necessary survival skills. So whether they survive the nets, they have been, at least decimated in the short term, and quite likely eradicated in any meaningful, longer view.

Include all in the kill/capture quotaAn immediate call can and must be made by a decision-maker to include all the casualties, all captures, whether killed or “released” in the quota.

Caroline Kennedy got it right. The U.S. State Department backed her up.  But it's been crickets since then.

Caroline Kennedy got it right. The U.S. State Department backed her up in its January 21, 2014 briefing.  But it’s been crickets since then.

After Ambassador Kennedy made this statement, she was supported by the U.S. State Department.  But there has been no word since the eight months since.

Excerpt from U.S. State Department briefing, January 21, 2014.

Excerpt from U.S. State Department Daily Press Briefing, January 21, 2014.

What you can do to end the Taiji drive hunt:

Reach out to the U.S. State Department, requesting that it clarify what it promised on January 21, 2014: to find out at what levels the U.S. government is having discussions with the Japanese government; main phone number (202) 648-4000.

Fax the Japanese embassies and ask if the Prime Minister has been briefed on the faxes, phone calls, letters and emails that the Japanese embassies and consulates around the world are receiving.  Include what you know about the inhumaneness and unsustainability of the drive hunt.  A selection of Japanese Embassy fax numbers:

US: 202-328-2184
Canada: 613-241-4261
Australia: 2 6273 1848
Malaysia: 03-2145 0126
India: 00-91-11-2688-5587 (trouble getting through 9/27)
Philippines: 02 551-5780 (trouble getting through 9/27)
Singapore: 6733-1039 (trouble getting through 9/27)
Solomon Islands: 677 21006
Chile: 2 2232-1812 (trouble getting through 9/27)
Costa Rica: 2231-3140
Trinidad & Tobago: 622-0858
UK: 020 7491 9348
Ireland: 01 283 8726
Germany: 030/21094-222
Russia: 495 229-2555
Denmark: 33 11 33 77
Sri Lanka: 11-2698629 (trouble getting through 9/27)
Thailand: 02-207-8510
Bangladesh: 2-984-1591
Peru: 463-0302 (trouble getting through 9/27)
Venezuala: 0212 262 3484,

All other Embassy and Consular info: http://www.mofa.go.jp/about/emb_cons/mofaserv.html

Fax Service (allows two free faxes per day, with restrictions): https://www.gotfreefax.com/

An excellent summary of what you can do to help end the Taiji Dolphin Drive Hunt, including other phone numbers, email addresses, in addition to other actions that you can take: http://www.seashepherd.org/cove-guardians/what-you-can-do.html

Follow the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society Cove Guardians on Facebook, Twitter and on their livestream for current and accurate information every day of the six-month Drive Hunt, scheduled to end on February 28.

A cultural monstrosity

A blogger has written an Op Ed that attempts to support the notion that those who kill animals or benefit from the killing by partaking in its repast – whether by eating animals or, I presume, by going to dolphin shows or “swim-withs” where one leaves with a selfie as she kisses or hugs a dolphin – are not “monsters”.

In the first instance, any pretense of discussion of name-calling can be answered quite readily without pretending to have a rational discussion of psychological pathologies.  The ready answer is, be polite.  Most humans were taught at a very early age, sometimes with the aid of soap-in-the-mouth, that name-calling is not polite.

So we’ve settled that bit.

 Thinking people will recognize that his argument is based in a “because lots of people do it, it cannot be monstrous” position.  But let’s be clear:  that a monstrosity is cultural makes it no less monstrous.

There are obvious and numerous examples of acts that are no more acceptable just because many can do it in their sleep while chewing gum.  Most of us living in 2014 would need but a second or two to recognize and list examples of past and culturally-accepted behavior that violate our current sense of ethics:

  • Slavery/human trafficking
  • Genital mutilation
  • Stoning of women
  • Hysterectomies to address, you guessed it, hysteria
  • Rape
  • Foot-binding

to name just a few.  These all have in common that each had a time when it was accepted as a social norm.  Some cultures have modified the practices to be more palatable in a “rational” and “ethical” world.  All of these remain acceptable practices in some cultures.  All of them share something else: the need to be considered and eradicated without attempting to assuage the consciences of those who either cling to them or took part in them in the past.

Objectification of animals shares something with human slavery: they were both once accepted as ethical. Photo by Murky1

Objectification of animals shares something with human slavery: they were both once accepted as ethical. Photo by Murky1

Any attempts to assuage those consciences should be outed as nothing more than a red-herring.  None who genuinely work for a more ethical, sustainable world are motivated by or interested in making someone feel bad for something they did in a state of ignorance.  And it is undeniable that, nearly without exception, all who considered these practices acceptable were ignorant to the reality that the practices were never ethical, in the sense of ultimate ethics.  The best that one can do to justify any of these activities is found using some amalgam of relative and cultural ethics, where ethics are justified or even created by the circumstances.

But I invite you not to go down the rabbit hole of some red-herring debate of whether someone is a monster by virtue of his killing or exploiting an animal, or is, rather, merely “punching a clock” like any Average Joe.

If one avoids joining a discussion on whether or not someone is a monster for his acts, he can spend more time doing the good work of examining his ethics in the light of day instead of in the dark tunnel of justification.  He can, then, make informed choices.  Rather than justify behaviors while taking a heavy dose of cognitive dissonance kool-aid sweetened by speciesism with more than a dash of relative ethics, examine.  Read about speciesism.  And examine again.  Don’t waste time feeling bad in the “blame game.”  Make choices and move on, as many of us consistently invite the Taiji or Faroese dolphins hunters to do.

Monsters?  I don’t know and don’t care.  Some of them may be.  Some may actually revel in the taking of a life.  But monstrous, Mr. Smith?  Yes, indeed, the acts that you describe are monstrous.  Without exception.

It is . . . our collective culture of objectification, not some subculture of food on one island or in one theme-park-based city, that is responsible for this act.  This culture is the vestige, however powerful in forming our opinions, of ancient misunderstanding that all of us must throw off.  We must throw it off because it was never true in the first place, and it will kill the planet and most of the creatures that found their lives formed here.  – A reconsideration of the human entitlement to gawk

A reconsideration of the human entitlement to gawk

I grew up in a world that objectified nonhuman animals, a world that had captured and displayed these other animals since we began exploring the world in our new boats, a world that encouraged humans’ infantile fascination with a “new world” of wild animals.  I grew up in a human culture with a convenient capacity to enslave, encouraged by a religious zeal to reproduce with abandon at the top of some mythical dominance pyramid, to consider that other animals were here “for” us.

In that world, humans taught me to think that this little nonsense rhyme by Gelett Burgess was funny:

I never saw a Purple Cow,
I never hope to see one;
But I can tell you, anyhow,
I’d rather see than be one.

That world is the one in which a family of Rissos dolphins was just slaughtered in Taiji, Japan, and in which humans drive pilot whales onto a bloodied shore in the Faroe Islands.  It is that world, our collective culture of objectification, not some subculture of food on one island or in one theme-park-based city, that is responsible for this act.  This culture is the vestige, however powerful in forming our opinions, of ancient misunderstanding that all of us must throw off.  We must throw it off because it was never true in the first place, and it will kill the planet and most of the creatures that found their lives formed here.

A family of 8-9 Rissos dolphins killed on September 16, 2014, in Taiji, Japan.  Photo by Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, Operation Infinite Patience.

A family of 8-9 Rissos dolphins killed on September 16, 2014, in Taiji, Japan. Photo by Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, Operation Infinite Patience, on Facebook and Twitter.

The cloak of this entitlement can be thrown off.  It can, because many of us have learned to abandon a sense of entitlement to seeing any of them, even as we acknowledge the wonder at being in their presence. It can and must be left as a relic of the misinformed past if we are to advance into the promise of humanity.

So I’m rephrasing Burgess’ poem, and hoping that this resonates with a few of you and that we grow a world in which our greatest aspiration is to leave the wild ones in their homes, unharassed by our prying eyes:

Be the purple cowI never saw a Purple Cow,
I never hope to see one;
But I can tell you, anyhow,
I’d rather BE than SEE one.

I don’t advocate literally never seeing them.  There are many opportunities for interacting with the wild ones, many of whom feed and rest in our gardens, who dig nests to bury their eggs right in our yards.  There are many as close as the nearest park or mountain trail.  There are others, like orca, who can be viewed from shore, although it is quite true that one loses some of the “front row seat of the theater” convenience when doing so.  But we also lose our dangerous entitlement.

I adopt this position because I don’t yet trust humans to understand their impacts on the others, even with the ever-increasing numbers of humans who choose a vegan lifestyle.  Even with veganism, humans still have a desire for love and a curious bent.  When these two attributes are coupled, the other animals can pay too high a price.

Join me in a life of choice, of imagining what it is to BE rather than SEE a purple cow, or an orca or other dolphin, or wolf, or bear, or box turtle, and give them a wide berth, their berthright and birthright.  Find out what you can do to raise your voice in support of an ethical world based in respect.

choice

It’s up to you.

SeaWorld is coming for your children

SeaWorld is coming for your children.

SeaWorld's Fairy Kingdom

SeaWorld uses cute pictures to create a happy sea wonderland. Who could resist? Hmm. How about YOU!

It will use pop music and pretty, clapping, spandex-clad youths riding and standing on captive wild creatures to create a living fairy tale that only a few of your children will understand is actually a lie.

Don’t let your children become a trussed up Hansel & Gretel to a dressed up, but very hungry, witch.

And lest one imagine that it is any better at other aquariums with captive marine mammals, stop it.  You’re about to enter the fairy tale again. Which is exactly what they want.  The Georgia Aquarium expressly entices you with the promise of magic:

It’s Broadway theater. With dolphin stars! Original music! Amazing choreography! And soaring action!

Be part of something magical.

Only at the world’s largest, most magical aquarium. Georgia Aquarium, where imaginations go to play.

I might have added, “And belugas go to die” if I didn’t want to extract you from that “most magical” wonderland of dolphin domination and alternating cycles of sensory deprivation/sensory overload. Take a moment to think about that. Just a moment.  You can handle it.

Dolphins in barren concrete tanks, where they have ceased using much of their echolocation because it bounces around the concrete in a confusing manner that does not occur in nature.  Alternate that with the aquariums’ cueing their horrific music. Every day. A never-ending cycle of silence-loud-silence-loud-silence-loud. “Three shows daily!” For the rest of the dolphins’ restricted and unimaginably empty lives.

At the risk of losing you to the “most magical” kingdom, here is the Georgia Aquarium’s ad to lure us in with our children, not to mention our secret and just-as-innocent inner child.  Remember, it is not true. It is a constructed, “most magical” facade of domination and deprivation.  Deep breath – now go on in.

Ugh. I suspect that you can see that it is hype, very well-made hype.  But please, see behind that hype to the horrid existence for captive dolphins and whales and know that you’ve been had for your entire life if you thought that dolphin shows were okay. Had. Conned. By hype. To believe that you were doing something good for dolphins if you went to their show. Guess again.  You weren’t. You were had.  We were all had.

Georgia Aquarium Dolphin Tales

There are so many things wrong with this picture. How many can you find?

But don’t let them have your children.  Take a pledge that you will not go to the dolphin show.

And if you see this post in time, watch Blackfish on CNN this Sunday, February 9, at 9pm and 11pm ET.

The Taiji dolphin drive hunt is not a “cull”: ALERT THE MEDIA

The Taiji dolphin drive hunt is not a cull.  Alert the media.

If the captivity industry found that they had “bad breeding stock” and decided to kill the bad ones in order to “improve” their stock, that would be a cull.

If SeaWorld decided that it needed to separate orca mothers from calves, the chief husbandry officer might, indeed, “cull” his collection.  But of course, SeaWorld says that it doesn’t do that. <WINK>

If a “wildlife manager” found that one species was diseased or was truly overtaking another species, that might be a cull.

The Taiji drive hunt has nothing to do with removing dolphins for the fishing industry, rumors by the dolphin hunters to the contrary.  AND EVEN IF IT WERE TRUE that they were killing dolphins to restore fish stocks, it is human overfishing that has impacted the fish stocks of Japan, not the activity of dolphins.  And the response of humans to restore a balance among wildlife that we caused (when we really need to stop the offending human actions) should not be termed a “cull”.

Even if properly used, the term “cull” is just another of those words we’ve made up to insulate ourselves from the reality of our actions.  “Cull” is just another name for “kill” when we don’t want to see the blood on our opposable-thumbed hands.

Striped dolphins captured, not culled, for the aquarium industry.  Photo credit: Sea Shepherd Conservation Society Cove Guardians

Striped dolphins captured, not culled, for the aquarium industry. Photo credit: Sea Shepherd Conservation Society Cove Guardians

But, of course, the reality of the drive hunt is that it is financed, underwritten and generally made lucrative by the large sums paid by the aquarium industry for a few men to capture, kidnap and otherwise steal dolphins, to prop up a 20th Century industry that should be dying and dwindling, instead of swindling us all by taking the lives of the wild ones.  ALERT THE MEDIA.

SeaWorld’s impact: Teaching children that captivity is okay, since 1964

I’m not a screenwriter, so I don’t know the technical names and symbols, but as I watched SeaWorld’s latest commercial, I imagined how the script might have looked:

[Fade in]

[Cue soft, soothing music]

[Underwater shot, ethereal light shining down through digital image of water]

[Cue caption: “Kelly Flaherty-Clark Head Animal Trainer at SeaWorld, Orlando]

[Voiceover]

Ms. Clark:

What does SeaWorld mean to me? SeaWorld is my life, has been my life. It’s been my family.

[Inspirational flash of light (IFOL)]

[SeaWorld, beside orca tank; day]

[Two trainers wearing spandex in water (aka dry work) in background working with orca; Ms. Clark in foreground, wearing same spandex, “bridge” whistle around neck]

[Medium Close up Ms. Clark, pan right; Ms. Clark gesturing convincingly for emphasis]

Ms. Clark

There’s nothing [arm gesture] in the world [arm gesture] that compares [pan left] to having a rapport, [arm gesture] and a relationship [arm gesture] with an animal like this

[gestures toward orcas in small concrete tank; trainer in water with orca pats orca]

[Close up Ms. Clark]

But there’s also [arm gesture] nothing [arm gesture] that compares [arm gesture, eyes lift, camera pan right] to watching the impact that that relationship that you have, [body gesture toward orca] has [gesture open arms toward camera] on the public. [smile]

[Medium close-up Ms. Clark] 

It’s as exciting and inspiring for me [trainer in water (dry work) in background continues to rub orca] to watch a baby killer whale be born [gesture toward orcas in concrete tank] as it is to watch, you know, the six-year-old or the ten-year-old in the audience. [another IFOL]

From SeaWorld's video advertisement "The Bond . . "

From SeaWorld’s video ad “The Bond . . “

[Fade, medium close-up of two orcas on slide-out, trainers in matching spandex continue to rub orcas; make sure female trainer has top knot and orcas (use Kayla and Nalani if available) don’t have much flacid dorsal fin syndrome, aka dorsal fin collapse disorder]

I’ve had people tell me that their children, uh, were so affected [arm gesture toward orca and backside of trainer leaning over orca] by what they saw that they wanted to [Swish pan to close-up Ms. Clark] learn more about whales . . . where do they come from.

[Extreme close-up]

And when they find out they’re from all [voice emphasis] oceans of the world, then they care about all of the oceans of the world.

[Medium close-up]

So that what they see here and how it impacts them, [background female trainer uses bridge to cue orca to splash tail in water] changes the way they behave, outside of SeaWorld.

[Cue final credits; use “truth” in title]

[Fade out]

So, what did all that spandex and music and panning and orcas’ getting patted mean? It means that SeaWorld teaches your children that captivity is okay.  Moreover, I think it tells us that SeaWorld is intentional about that.

If your child went to SeaWorld in the last year, ask her about what oceans she’s thought about protecting.  And then ask her when she wants to go back to SeaWorld.  Then show her Blackfish and ask her again.

Title asks whether Taiji may be causing problems for SeaWorld

The Texarkana Gazette has published (and pulled, much like what happened when the Atlanta Journal-Constitution wrote a story about the Georgia Aquarium’s plan to import 18 wild-caught beluga whales), a story about SeaWorld’s triggering with admission prices as a demonstration that it really does not care about profits.

Pulled from online publication is a story in which SeaWorld looks to ways to salve its recent wounds

Pulled from online publication is a story in which SeaWorld looks to ways to salve its recent wounds

Since the story has been removed, we are left wondering why it was out there to begin with and why it was pulled.  In the case of the Georgia Aquarium’s pulled story, the same story was, indeed, slipped out for publication exactly as it had been written in the “pulled” version, so if like the Georgia Aquarium case, it may be eventually printed that “Fred Jacobs VP of Communications at SeaWorld Entertainment Inc. says they are about to ‘waive all admission fees until July 31st 2014 at their San Diego, San Antonio and Orlando locations. It’s our way of proving SeaWorld does not place profits above the care of its whales and dolphins.'”

As if straight out of The Onion or something from my generation, Mad Magazine, this text is the stuff of which satire fans’ dreams are made.  And since I am a generally snarky writer, one might expect me to be sitting here shaking my head, chuckling, at what is, if true, merely the latest misjudgment of SeaWorld.  But since I am far bigger than that (don’t believe it for a moment), I’m not.  Okay. I am.  It truly never ceases to NOT amaze me when I see how SeaWorld just does not get it.  It isn’t about the money.  We, or at least I, don’t give a flip if SeaWorld makes cabillions of dollars.

We just don’t want it to be at the expense of animals.

The truth – not opinion – is that marine mammals, that is, dolphins and whales, do not belong in concrete tanks.  Not for entertainment.   Not for education.  Not for research on their communication.  Not as bomb finders. They belong in the ocean. Period. Human beings have the remarkable talent for thinking that anything they can do, they should be allowed to do.  We know this isn’t true.  We can exterminate human beings on a massive scale.  Because we can does not imply that we should.

But as delicious, however expected, as it might be to see another SeaWorld misstep, it is the catch-line of the article that is the most notable.

Troubles in Taiji

It asks, “Are troubles in Taiji to blame?” for SeaWorld’s potential of “sinking”.  The erstwhile article doesn’t touch this subject (which leads me to believe that it was prematurely published), and merely points to SeaWorld’s troubles being linked to the award-winning documentary, Blackfish.

What “troubles” the reporter means in reference to Taiji, Japan, I am wondering and have sent a message for clarification.  Meanwhile, since this is a blog, I can just muse what those might be.

Could the troubles be:

  • The statements of the U.S. Ambassador, the UK Ambassador, and the ambassadors of Italy and Germany who all stated that they have concerns about the drive hunt;
On January 17, U.S. Ambassador Caroline Kennedy sent the "tweet heard round the world"

On January 17, U.S. Ambassador Caroline Kennedy sent the “tweet heard round the world”

  • The letter from Yoko Ono to the fishermen of Taiji requesting that they cease killing the dolphins;
  • The incredible amount of media attention from CNN, HLNTV, Jane Velez-Mitchell, Anderson Cooper, Piers Morgan, Reuters, BBC, ABC, CBS, NBC, the Daily Mail, and many others; or
  • The involvement of the “star” factor, where people with significant name recognition, and ethics, are voicing their concerns and objections to the Taiji Drive Hunt, including Moby, Susan Sarandon, Ricky Gervais, Kirstie Alley, William Shatner (OMG! Sorry, other stars, but William Shatner is Captain Kirk!!!!!!), Wynonna, Hayden Pannetierre, Alyssa Milano, Shannen Doherty, the band Nickleback and others (see this reported in the preceding link).

The real and immediate troubles in Taiji are not for SeaWorld.  The human arrogance of imagining that Taiji is more a problem for SeaWorld than it is for the lives that aquariums worldwide exploit is the root of the problem: of imagining that Taiji is more of a problem for SeaWorld than for the 52 bottlenose dolphins who were forcefully removed from their immediate family and the greater community that defines them and upon which they looked for all of what it means to be a dolphin over five horrific days; of imagining that Taiji is more of a problem for SeaWorld than it is for the 41 who were brutally and painfully killed by a metal pike that severs the spinal cord with no guarantee of immediate death, but merely paralysis to allow the transfer of their motionless bodies to the butcherhouse, while some of them drown during transfer; of imagining that Taiji is more of a problem for SeaWorld than for the 250 bottlenose dolphins in this community who were harassed by “banger boats” into a dead-end killing cove, only to have that community ripped apart by death and capture and to have a remnant of the community driven, splintered, fractured, traumatized, back into the open ocean, where they could attempt to regroup and survive; of imagining that Taiji is more of a problem for SeaWorld than for the entire family of striped dolphins that was killed while the entire world watched; of imagining that Taiji is more of a problem for SeaWorld than for over 1,000 dolphins who have been driven into the Taiji Cove this year alone and all the dolphins who have the current misfortune of migrating past Taiji, where the Isana Fishermen’s Union leaves port daily to catch dolphins for aquariums, the “seaworlds” of this planet: this is human arrogance at its clearest if not finest.

There are life-threatening problems in Taiji.  And the world needs to know that aquariums, “seaworlds” everywhere, are likely the biggest cause of those problems.

So when the Gazette queried whether Taiji was a source of problems for SeaWorld, it is fitting that the question be asked and the connection be made, the connection between the fact that aquariums need dolphins for their ridiculous, exploitative, uneducational shows, and that aquariums get many of them from Taiji.

But SeaWorld’s problems? Not ticket problems.  Not revenue problems. Not stuffed-toy-sales problems.  The problems that SeaWorld has are ethical ones.  Since SeaWorld has more orcas (the largest species in the dolphin family) in captivity than any other aquarium in the world, and since SeaWorld pioneered the unnatural holding of these beings in tanks that don’t even approximate a sufficient habitat, the responsibility is on SeaWorld to genuinely revisit its 50-year-old business model cum inspiration for the world aquarium market and turn away from its heretofore lucrative exploitation of these animals.

The good news for SeaWorld is that if it desired, it could rehabilitate itself, its image, its ethical foundation by genuinely engaging with the marine mammal experts to begin a program of rehabilitating the dolphins and whales in its control and preparing them for life in a sanctuary or, in some cases, perhaps many cases, for a life as free as she may remember in her youth.

Tokitae (Lolita)One sidebar about Lolita: on January 24, NOAA published the Proposed Rule to “revise the endangered listing of the Southern Resident killer whale distinct population segment to include Lolita.”  The public is now invited to submit, by March 28, 2014, its comments on the Proposed Rule.  Wouldn’t it be a class move if SeaWorld and the Miami Seaquarium both submitted comments that they will support efforts to evaluate the prudence of retiring Tokitae to somewhere other than the horridly small tank in which she has been held for 40 years.

So troubles? Yes, there are troubles.  For the dolphins and whales.  SeaWorld, should it choose, could rehabilitate and restore them to a better life, and in so doing, rehabilitate its image like no Public Relations firm can do.

In the meantime, while we wait for SeaWorld to recognize that we don’t hate it, but that we fully expect that it has the wherewithall to do the right thing and to remain profitable, please learn more about the dolphin hunt, find out what you can do to help, and sign a pledge not to go to the dolphin show.

Update January 27:  In art imitating life (I know it’s the other way; come on!), the story snafu has been claimed to be the work of a hacker, says Texarkana newspaper editor Les Minor, in this report by My San Antonio.  But what if this newest report is the work of a hacker?  Oh, the pain.  The pain!  Will we ever be able to distinguish the real missteps of SeaWorld from satires of their infamous moves?