Tag Archives: aquariums

SeaWorld’s cluelessness about anything “natural”

As SeaWorld describes on its own page, SeaWorld Cares, its President and CEO Joel Manby announced, “the company has initiated production on a new orca presentation for its San Diego park.”  The new presentation will showcase “more of the species’ natural behaviors.”

The new experience will engage and inform guests by highlighting more of the species’ natural behaviors.

SeaWorld has provided little to no detail on what is meant by this, but the following image from its website may provide some clues.

What does this picture tell the public about what SeaWorld has in mind for its new show format?

What does this picture tell the public about what SeaWorld has in mind for its new show format?  Image from SeaWorld Cares.

I guess that SeaWorld is attempting to make the point that because, in the wild, orcas breach, when SeaWorld trains the orcas in its collection (by using food deprivation) to jump out of the water, this is a natural behavior.

But if it isn’t exactly clear that this is what SeaWorld means, one can read further in its blog for tells.  Describing the following image, SeaWorld states that “[i]t’s going to be focused more on the natural setting, natural environment and also the natural behaviors of the whales.”

SeaWorld's next example of "natural behaviors." Image from SeaWorld Cares.

SeaWorld’s next example of “natural behaviors.”  Image from SeaWorld Cares.

So, yet another image of orcas leaping out of the water is provided, with the implication, again, that because orcas leap out of the water in the ocean, when they do so upon command in a concrete tank, this makes it a “natural behavior.”  Never mind that the wild orcas are not rewarded with frozen, dead fish or signaled “trick successfully completed” by the toot of the trainer’s whistle, or “bridge”.  SeaWorld is apparently telling us that this is natural behavior.

The concept of “natural behaviors” seems to be the focus, because nothing in SeaWorld’s presentation to stockholders on October 9 or on its SeaWorld Cares site would indicate that “natural setting” or “natural environment” is truly in the offing for its collection of orcas.  Quite to the contrary, SeaWorld has steadfastly refused to signal any support for the creation of actual natural settings or environments, like a marine sanctuary.  In fact Mr. Manby has reportedly stated that “doing so would only lead to the orcas to get sick, and likely die.”

But what might SeaWorld have in mind to make the tanks a more “natural setting” or “natural environment?”  Less blaring music as during the theatrical performances?  Some concrete formed to look like, um, the ocean bottom?  Since it has abandoned the Blue World project, it has apparently rejected the notion of an additional 14 feet in depth to make the tanks more “natural”.  But of course, this additional 14 feet would have done nothing, as in nothing, to make a tank a more natural setting.

The natural setting and natural environment of an orca. Image by Candace Calloway Whiting

The natural setting and natural environment of an orca. Image by Candace Calloway Whiting

While we wait to hear what SeaWorld has in mind for its mission of “naturalness”, it is clear that just as whatever trick SeaWorld entices the orcas to perform, or whatever it may add or subtract from its system of tanks, there is nothing natural about it.

Too bad that the entity responsible for 24 orcas in the United States is apparently clueless about this.

The parallels between this graphic that I made for fun and SeaWorld's own are striking. And disturbing.

The parallels between this graphic that I made for fun and SeaWorld’s own are striking. And disturbing.

Rehabilitation and release for marine mammals – a stacked deck

Imagine that you’ve experienced a significant trauma, like a car accident.

A traumatic injury begins a journey of rehabilitation for marine mammals

A traumatic injury begins a journey of rehabilitation

You are taken to a hospital, where the hospital finds that you require emergency care and a prolonged rehabilitation with physical and occupational therapy.

After two and a half years, you can finally walk again, and you are able to resume your normal life.

But imagine that the hospital staff, instead of discharging you, claims that you must stay in the hospital indefinitely because the decision about your future was made at the two-year mark and that there is nothing mandating that your condition be re-evaluated.

Spoon-feeding in the long run teaches us nothing but the shape o the spoon.  - E. M. Forster

Spoon-feeding in the long run teaches us nothing but the shape of the spoon. – E. M. Forster

Imagine that during those two years of rehabilitation, the hospital staff, instead of teaching you how to feed yourself, insisted on spoon-feeding you your every meal.  Imagine that the food they fed you wasn’t anything you’d ever eaten, but was merely what the hospital insisted on providing.  And, to add insult to injury, imagine that you could have fed yourself, but that the decision to spoon-feed you was based on nothing to do with you as an individual, but was based purely on hospital policy and practice, a practice that was a function of cost, convenience to and, perhaps, an ulterior motive of the institution, rather than a decision based upon your well-being.

That is the life of many stranded marine mammals, especially cetaceans.

So, there are several questions:

  • Who makes the recommendations and determinations regarding the releasability of stranded marine mammals?
  • What are the criteria of releasability and are these criteria being followed?
  • When is this decision made?
  • Once made, can the decision be changed (or is the deck stacked against release)?

Who? For marine mammals who have the (mis)fortune of becoming stranded and rescued in the United States, it is up to NOAA to determine whether they can be released to the wild.  The criteria for “releasability” are not well-defined in regulation and, like many federal programs, are better-defined in guidance issued by the agency.  NOAA’s guidance on releasability provides more detail, where it states that it is not NOAA that actually performs the evaluation or makes the recommendation, but rather,

The attending veterinarian and their Assessment Team (i.e., veterinarians, lead animal care supervisor, and/or consulting biologist with knowledge of species behavior and life history) representing the Stranding Network Participant, Designee, or 109(h) Stranding Participant will assess the animal and make a written recommendation for release or non-release.

Part if not much of the team performing the evaluation and making the recommendation to NOAA is often occupied by SeaWorld staff.   NOAA reviews the written recommendation and uses it to make its determination.  Contrast that with the trainer message in the SeaWorld video below, where the trainer seems to go to great lengths to suggest to its paying audience that NOAA, without assistance from SeaWorld or others in the network, makes the recommendation to keep marine mammals at SeaWorld.

What?  The evaluation criteria in the guidance states that “[b]ehavioral clearance also should include confirmation that the cetacean is able to recognize, capture, and consume live prey when such tests are practical” and that “[b]asic behavioral conditioning of wild cetaceans for husbandry and medical procedures may be necessary during rehabilitation as long as every effort is made to limit reinforced contact with humans.”  In contrast with the guidance, the predominance of husbandry and maintaining human contact are evidenced in the SeaWorld video below, where the trainer states to the audience, “So, we teach [Fredi] lots of behaviors.  A lot of the behaviors we first started teaching her are called “husbandry” behaviors.”

When?  Further, releasability is a determination that is conducted no later than six months after a stranding, continued, theoretically, during the remainder of the first two years after the event, and effectively terminated after two years.  In your case, as with marine mammals, if the “hospital” has you at two years, they likely have you for life.  Especially if they never teach you how to feed yourself.

Meet Fredi, Ace, Ava, and Piper.  They stranded in separate events.  Fredi stranded in 2011 and Ace, Ava and Piper stranded in 2012.  They were all deemed unreleasable by NOAA on recommendation by, you guessed it.

This is a video of the event in which Ace, Ava and Piper and members of their pod stranded on a beach in Fort Pierce, Florida.

Ave, Ace and Piper, as Fredi before them, were turned over to SeaWorld.

See how they were doing in 2013.  And how SeaWorld wants to “invite you all back over the next days, weeks, months, and years, to come back to see how these guys are growing, and learned over time, because hopefully, one day you’ll see these four pilot whales do their own segment in the Blue Horizons show.”

I think I can hear you, thinking, along with many others who are becoming aware of the many secrets of the aquarium industry, that it is less than clear that SeaWorld, as part of its rehabilitation program, made any effort to teach Fredi, Ava, Ace and Piper to catch their own fish.  And doesn’t it suggest that SeaWorld did not follow NOAA guidance in its program?

It’s hard to know.  Obtaining documents through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) (whining here) isn’t always successful, especially if your fact-finding is constrained by being able to afford the cost of the request.

A change is clearly needed that will end the deck-stacking in favor of “unreleasability.”  And that change will likely come only if we insist that the deck should not be stacked, it should be neutral, and cetaceans should be taught to hunt, with husbandry used only to administer procedures beneficial to the once-free, now captive marine mammals.

But if the deck should be stacked at all, shouldn’t it stacked in favor of freedom?  Just as with your car wreck, cetaceans no more than you should have to worry about becoming victims of a system that spoon-feeds, and then blames the one injured for it.

Shouldn't the deck be stacked in favor of release?

Shouldn’t the deck be stacked in favor of release? Image by Emmanuel Jose

What you can do:

Contact and call upon your legislators to update the regulations that implement the Marine Mammal Protection Act.  Some suggested updates:

  • Specify that if the institution who will be receiving the marine mammal is part of the display industry, it is not a member of the review and recommendation team (or a more straightforward but also more dramatic change – and one I like better – would be to remove all members of the display industry from being part of the review teams).
  • Specify the behaviors that must be taught, if practicable, including a requirement that natural feeding behaviors be taught during rehabilitation, with a directive to remove the animal if there is no effort to teach natural behaviors, like feeding and hunting.
  • Require that the two-year “rebuttable presumption” be removed in favor of a neutral evaluation of the animal at each independent time period.
  • Require that reports of the rehabilitation agencies be made publicly available on NOAA’s website (rather than enduring the – ugh – FOIA process).

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.

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 reprised its 1976 rhetoric to oppose 2014 legislation

SeaWorld has the potential either to earn the support or the opposition of conservationists.  It has the potential for conducting genuinely educational work, but the evidence to date suggests that the business rather than the educational interests are dominating management decision . . .

This statement of the Florida Audubon Society does not refer to California’s proposed legislation, AB2140, the Orca Welfare and Safety Act, proposed by Assemblyman Richard Bloom.  Rather, it was written in the Lakeland Ledger nearly 40 years ago when, as federal legislation was proposed in 1976 for the protection of orcas, SeaWorld took the same position then as now in opposition to legislation which would limit and even end the practice of exhibiting orcas.  SeaWorld’s familiar refrain is from the same songbook that we heard them consult during this week’s hearing in the California Assembly conference room, despite the evidence of increased mortality and health risks among captive orcas.

The effect of this legislation will be to prevent you and your children from experiencing, enjoying and learning about marine animals.  It would prohibit the valuable research and educational activities carried on by SeaWorld and other zoos and oceanariums. – SeaWorld flyer distributed to patrons

The Florida Audubon Society foretold this outcome, not as a prediction, but as a justification for the precautionary steps that supported the passage of the 1976 legislation:

If, despite careful veterinary care the whales die prematurely, as has happened at SeaWorld, the possibility should be faced that the Orlando area is not a suitable habitat for the species.

Unfortunately, we did not heed that warning.  Instead, the Congress did not pass the legislation and many lives have been sacrificed just so we could see an orca in a concrete tank.  The truth is, this only allowed 40 more years of SeaWorld teaching us to teach our children that we “deserve” to see them in the morbidly small and barren tanks, to teach humans that we have an “entitlement” to see them and have them splash us, as our innocent children giggle while being corrupted to accept without realizing it a worldview of domination and exploitation.

What is more disturbing in 2014 than in 1976 is that the last 40 years have borne out what we feared might be the case in 1976: increased mortality, ill-health and denial of a birthright to live in the ocean are the costs paid by an unwilling orca to line the pockets of SeaWorld with money and children’s mouths with cotton candy.

Not all the orcas on the following list were captured by SeaWorld.  They are included because they were either captured by/for or sent to United States aquariums.  But what if the legislation had been passed in 1976?  What if other countries had followed suit with similar protections in 1976 and the years preceding the captures of the ensuing years?

The following list includes those orcas captured in or after 1976 (information from Orca Home and Ceta-base) or born (including stillborn/miscarriage/fetus) to mothers or out of fathers captured in or after that year, who might not have been in captivity if the 1976 legislation had passed not only the Senate, but also the House.  For comparison, the oldest known orca living in the wild is Granny, the oldest member of the J pod, and is estimated to be 103 years old.  Deceased orcas are shown in bold text.

Dedicated to all the orca mothers and fathers, grandmothers, grandfathers, sisters, brothers who have found themselves in captivity and have lost children, parents and siblings, or seen them live only to be taken away and shipped to another tank in another city or country as a result of the morbid thing that is orca captivity:

  • Kenau (F, captured in 1976; died after 15 years of captivity)
    • Baby Shamu 2 (F, died in 1986 at 11 days old)
    • Kayla (F, born in 1988; has lived 26 years in captivity)
      • Halyn (F, born in 2005; died after 2.5 years of captivity)
    • Unnamed, unborn child  (both Kenau and her baby died in 1991 during Kenau’s 12th month of pregnancy)
  • Gudrun (F, captured in 1976; died after 19.5 years of captivity)
    • Taima (F, born in 1989; died after 21 years of captivity)
      • Sumar (M, born in 1998; died after 12 years of captivity)
      • Malia (F, born in 2007; has lived 7 years in captivity)
      • Stillborn child, in which Taima also dies during labor, 2010
    • Nyar (F, born in 1993; died after 2.5 years of captivity)
    • Unnamed stillborn child, 1996
  • Canuck 2 (M, captured in 1977; died after 4 years of captivity)
  • Kona 2 (F, captured in 1977; died after 10 years of captivity)
    • unnamed fetus discovered during Kona 2’s necropsy
  • Kandu 5 (F, captured in 1977; died after 12 years of captivity)
    • Unnamed stillbirth, 1986
    • Orkid (F, born in 1988; has lived 26 years in captivity)
  • Winnie (F, captured in 1977; died after 24.5 years of captivity)
  • Shawn(?) (F, captured in 1978; died after 1 year of captivity)
  • Katina (F, captured in 1978, has lived 36 years in captivity)
    • Kalina (F, born in 1985; died after 25 years of captivity)
      • Keet (M, born in 1993, has lived 21 years in captivity)
      • Keto (M, born in 1995; has lived 19 years in captivity)
      • Unnamed (Stillborn in 1997)
      • Tuar (M, born in 1999; has lived 15 years in captivity)
      • Skyla (F, born in 2004; has lived 10 years in captivity)
    • Katerina (F, born in 1988; died after 10.5 years of captivity)
    • Taku (M, born in 1993; died after 14 years of captivity)
    • Unna (F, born in 1996; has lived 18 years in captivity)
      • Unnamed (F, stillborn in 2006)
    • Ikaika (F, born in 2002; has lived 12 years in captivity)
    • Nalani (F, born in 2006; has lived 7.5 years in captivity)
    • Makaio (F, born in 2010; has lived 3.5 years in captivity)
  • Kasatka (F, captured in 1978, has lived 36 years in captivity)
    • Takara (F, born in 1991; has lived 23 years in captivity)
      • Kohana (F, born in 2002; has lived 12 years in captivity)
        • Adan (M, born in 2010; has lived 3.5 years in captivity)
        • Vicky (F, born in 2012; died at 10 months old)
      • Trua (M, born in 2005; has lived 8.5 years in captivity)
      • Sakari (F, born in 2010; has lived 4 years in captivity)
      • Kamea (F, born in 2013; has lived 5 months in captivity)
    • Nakai (F, born in 2001; has lived 13 years in captivity)
    • Kalia (F, born in 2004; has lived 9.5 years in captivity)
    • Makani (M, born in 2013; has lived 1 year in captivity)
  • Kahana (F, captured 1978; died after 12.5 years of captivity, six months after miscarriage of only child)
    • Unnamed child (died during miscarriage, 1990)
  • Kotar (M, captured in 1978; died after 16.5 years of captivity)
  • Surfer Girl (F, captured in 1979; died after 9 days of captivity)
  • Vigga (F, captured in 1980; died after 19.5 years of captivity)
  • Bjossa (F, captured in 1980; died after 21 years of captivity, originally captured by Vancouver Aquarium)
    • Unnamed (F, died in 1988 at 22 days old)
    • K’yosha (F, died in 1991 at 96 days old)
    • Unnamed (F, died in 1995 at 1 day old)
  • Ulises (M, captured in 1980; has lived 34 years in captivity)
  • Tilikum (M, captured in 1980; has lived 34 years in captivity)
  • Nootka 4 (F, captured in 1982; died after 12 years of captivity, originally captured by Marineland of Ontario)
    • Unnamed (M, died in 1992 at 33 days old)
    • Unnamed stillborn child, 1994
  • Haida 2 (F, captured in 1982; died after 19 years of captivity)
    • Kyuquot (M, born in 1991; has lived 23 years in captivity)
    • Unnamed (F, died in 1994 at 38 days old)
    • Unnamed fetus dies in 2001 with his mother in her fifth month of pregnancy
  • Samoa (F, captured in 1983; died after 8.5 years of captivity)
    • Unnamed near full-term baby dies in 1992 during labor with his mother
  • Splash (F, born 1989 to Nootka  5 (captured 1981) at Marineland of Canada; taken from her and transferred to SeaWorld of California in 1992, she died in 2005 after 15.5 years of captivity)

The shame of these lives and deaths should sit heavy on all our hearts.  When we have an opportunity to support legislation, whether federal, state or local, to limit and ban marine mammal captivity, we owe it to these and many other marine mammals all efforts to secure them as much of their birthright as we can.  We have denied it for far too long.

Sign to support the Orca Welfare and Safety Act.

orca

They each and every one of them had the right to live this life, but the captivity industry and its patrons took it away. Photo by the Center for Whale Research.

 

 

For Marius: an honest conversation about domination

Perhaps some of you are being accused of being ignorant in our objection to the execution-of-convenience of Marius by the Copenhagen Zoo.  Some accusations hurl the moniker “hypocrite” for objecting only to Marius when “this kind of things goes on all the time in zoos.” Others say the ignorance is of the very essence of animal husbandry in collections.

Of course it isn’t only about Marius; but just as clearly, if we don’t object to the execution of one, we lose the right to object to the execution of many, because then we have become like them. We will have lost sight of the individual and become a mere zookeeper ourselves, who judges when and how many it is acceptable to kill, or in perhaps the one accurate use of the word, to cull.

I will never defend zoos or aquariums, except to save a species; and only then if we are also waging the war to save their habitat, to push the humans off their land and out of their water, to have the humans stop cutting their trees, to criminalize the act of stealing another’s habitat.

To Marius and all the others, I apologize for our unhealthy ability to cloak our racist and ethnist expressions of domination in the control of you.

I highly recommend that you read the very interesting article by David Samuels in Harpers referenced in my blog post, Animal rights, animal captivity, slavery and racism, to end the real ignorance about zoos and aquariums: they are rooted in values that, if exposed to the light of day, no healthy person would want.

Marius at the Copenhagen Zoo. Photo credit Scanpix Reuters Denmark

Marius at the Copenhagen Zoo. Photo credit Scanpix Reuters Denmark

For Marius. It’s time to have an honest conversation about zoos and aquariums, about their roots in an unhealthy need for domination, an acceptance of distinguishing other beings as inferior, a willingness to exploit other beings, and begin a robust and aggressive conversation about actually preserving and restoring habitat for the wild ones so that we return to them what is rightfully theirs, not ours.

For Marius. For Jiyu. For the Longleat lions. For Anne. For the Southern Residents. For the dolphins who are dying in the Indian River and along the eastern U.S. seaboard. For all the creatures who died, and those who are trying to survive, in the Gulf of Mexico after the Deepwater/Corexit debacle.

For Marius. For Jiyu. Let’s have a conversation about replacing our current conversation based in domination with one based in respect and love.

Because as long as we just export to the rest of the animal kingdom – or even to the vegetable and mineral ones – our ability to distinguish-and-dominate, nothing is safe. No gay person, no person of color, no religious belief, no belief of any kind: NOTHING is safe.

For Marius. For Jiyu.  An end to zoos and aquariums as we know them.

What you can do:

Honoring another creature recognizes the divinity in all

Recognizing the divinity in all

For Jiyu, Faith, Hope and all the captives of the aquarium industry

Humans have created an unnatural world in which they, or some of them, think they can tell others who they are. It just isn’t true that humans have that power or that right: others aren’t food, aren’t clothing, aren’t entertainment, aren’t research projects. They are who they are. They are their birthright, not some small fraction of it that we say we have the power to allow them.

This is why Jiyu is so important to me. Jiyu was an individual. Jiyu was a failure in the human machine. Jiyu didn’t do what we told her to do. And Jiyu died because of the arrogance of man, that he thought he could control her.

I think of her and honor her life every day, as do others who worked to try to save her and continue to work to save the rest. Those on the ground working to save Jiyu were Heather Hill, Rosie Kunneke, Martyn Stewart and others whose names I do not know.

Heather Hill, whose image of Jiyu inspires me every day, has made this beautiful reminder of that very principle: The All-One – many call that God – tells them who they are, not we newcomers to this vast and wondrous Universe. Thank you, Heather, for this perfect tribute to those who would not go gentle into that dark, not good, night of captivity.

For Jiyu. Forever.

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.

Does the Georgia Aquarium understand “extinction”?

The Georgia Aquarium uses the term “extinction” in its recent petition to garner support for taking wild belugas out of the ocean and putting them into tanks.  Whether the Georgia Aquarium understands extinction is not clear.  But there are only two options:

  • A) It does; or
  • B) It does not
Will the Georgia Aquarium's use of the term "extinction" mislead the public?

Will the Georgia Aquarium’s use of the term “extinction” mislead the public?

In its petition, the Aquarium states, “Unfortunately, with fewer than 35 belugas in accredited aquariums in North America, this population of animals in human care is facing certain extinction.”

So, let’s walk through this statement in order to help us understand the message that the Georgia Aquarium is sending to the public:

Extinction: “In biology and ecology, extinction is the end of an organism or of a group of organisms (taxon), normally a species.” (From Wikipedia).

Population of animals in human care (in accredited aquariums in North America):  While the notion of “population extinction” is a credible component of species extinction, it was never intended to describe an artificial, man-made assemblage of animals extracted from wild populations and inserted into a captive display program.  As described in 1993 by Paul Erlich and Gretchen Daily, population extinction is most commonly viewed geographically and in two aspects.  These two aspects are a demographic unit and a mendelian population.  As noted by Erlich and Daily, a demographic unit is “simply an interbreeding group sufficiently isolated from other interbreeding groups so that changes in size do not greatly influence the size of nearby groups, and vice-versa.”  The other group, the mendelian population, “is, in essence, a genetically defined entity that can evolve independently of other such units . . .”

So, does the Georgia Aquarium understand that neither of these definitions was intended to encompass an artificial assemblage of captive animals in a “collection”?  I don’t know the answer to that.  In either event, however, this use of the term is inappropriate, and the Georgia Aquarium should resist its further use in its judicial challenge to NOAA’s denial, on its webpage, in tours at the Aquarium, and in petitions directed at a public who tends to learn much of what it knows about marine mammals from aquariums.  I will add, though, that I find it disconcerting to think that it actually might not understand extinction since it claims “conservation” and “education” as its goals.  Oops.

In the wide and wild world, there is but one beluga population that is, in fact, endangered, being listed on the United States’ List of Endangered Species as well as on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List.  That population is the Cook’s Inlet beluga whale group, which is a demographic unit and possibly also mendelian, whose ongoing plight was caused largely by “over-harvesting”.  Efforts are underway to protect that population, despite recent threats.

While it bears noting that some captive programs utilize aggressive breeding to prevent species-wide extinction where the wild populations are in danger, we humans should not extract wild animals from healthy, wild populations in order to preserve the captive one.  And where we do, we do not invent a fiction that we are doing so to prevent “extinction”.

From MarinelandCanada.com

From MarinelandCanada.com

Short sidebar:  The Georgia Aquarium’s petition notes that there are fewer than 35 beluga whales held in North American accredited aquariums.  This must exclude the 45 beluga whales held at Marineland Canada.  I didn’t realize that Marineland was not accredited.  I think we should leave this issue to the two aquariums to address.  Whether it should have been is another matter.

But back to the point, whether or not the Georgia Aquarium includes the Marineland whales, it would be inappropriate to consider the concept of “extinction” anywhere in this debate over whether the Georgia Aquarium should be allowed to invigorate the international capturing of wild marine mammals for the aquarium industry.

Don’t take the bait.  And I promise I won’t use the term “extinct” in my wish that all facilities that hold marine mammals go the way of the dinosaur.

Beluga Whales in Chukchi Sea, Alaska. Photo credit Laura Morse, NOAA

Beluga Whales in Chukchi Sea, Alaska. Photo credit Laura Morse, NOAA

 

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.