Tag Archives: Atlanta

Google indoctrinates Title I students about marine mammal captivity

While I have come to expect that the Georgia Aquarium and other marine parks will come after our children in many ways, from discounted to free tickets, I was surprised to see that Google – an innovator and pioneer in searching on the internet – would participate in propping up the outdated concept of  marine mammal captivity.

The Georgia Aquarium gets them early with Toddler Time. Photo: Georgia Aquarium

The Georgia Aquarium gets them early with Toddler Time. Photo: Georgia Aquarium

From free admission for a toddler with a heavily discounted adult fare during “Toddler Time” to free admission on your birthday, the Georgia Aquarium finds many ways to attract children and their parents.  Now they, along with Google, are exploiting, not only marine mammals, but also those children who are, the theory goes, less likely to be exposed to the natural world.  The solution of Google and the Georgia Aquarium?  Take them to see captive animals on a “one of a kind field trip.”

Google sponsors a "one of a kind field trip" to the Georgia Aquarium

Google sponsors a “one of a kind field trip” to the Georgia Aquarium. Image from the Georgia Aquarium blog.

They may be right about that.  A “one of kind field trip.”  But what is that “kind”?  First and foremost, they are taking children to an unnatural experience but teaching them that it is natural.

No aquarium, no tank in a marine land, however spacious it may be, can begin to duplicate the conditions of the sea. And no dolphin who inhabits one of those aquariums or one of those marine lands can be considered normal.  – Jacques Cousteau

Marine captivity is not naturalWhat the Georgia Aquarium, and now google and educators, turn a blind eye to is the observation of one of the world’s foremost marine environment educators, Jacques Cousteau.  Cousteau knew, by virtue of experiencing the marine environment first-hand, that keeping marine mammals in captivity was not natural.

That the Georgia Aquarium continues to entice educators (because who doesn’t love a field trip) into thinking that they are witnessing the natural world when they see a beluga or dolphin or whale shark in a tank, it’s, well, it’s worse than a damn shame.  It is a lie.

One of the educators who, in good faith no doubt, brought her students to the Georgia Aquarium said,

One of the things that I’ve seen, and I’ve taught for 28 years, the biggest part I’ve seen is I can teach them all day and tell them about it, but actually experiencing it, seeing it and doing it, brings it to life. . . You catch ’em with a book, but you hook ’em with an experience.

And that is precisely the point.  The children have now been hooked into thinking – without realizing that their thinking has been hooked – that marine mammal captivity is natural, that it is acceptable – and this is the one view that all who support marine mammal captivity have in common.  Some may like the beluga whales more, some the dolphins; but they all accept tanks as part of the deal.

The human-nonhuman bond.  One has only to watch the Georgia Aquarium’s video of the #googleweek event to see the glee on the part of the students.  It was a field tip.  It was a field trip to see animals.  The connection, the bond, between human and non-human animals is vast and deep.  Humans are nearly always moved by an experience of or interaction with a nonhuman animal.  And now, the hearts of those students were “set” by that moving experience, and that experience taught them, at least most of them, that captivity is a wondrous thing.  While that “setness” is not irreversible, as many are coming to learn, so long as the aquarium industry has its way, it certainly will be.

The impact?  So, now that you know, watch the promotion of the event by the Georgia Aquarium and Google, and witness, firsthand, your own “field trip” to indoctrination into thinking that marine mammal captivity is natural, is acceptable, is good.

No education exists within the mind of man than can justify the enslavement of dolphins.

No education exists within the mind of man than can justify the enslavement of dolphins.

What is the alternativeCatch the inspiration in the children in the video below.  No exploitation involved. Google, in particular, should be able to appreciate that a technology that inspires without exploitation makes a better future for our children.

And hold onto your Inspire Hat for this one:

A field trip to your local wildlife rehabilitation center where they learn a true respect for wildlife is certainly a better, and ethical, alternative.

There is no circumstance in which one can take his or her children to see dolphins, whales or other large migratory marine animals in aquariums, marine parks or swim-withs without letting in the silent specter of “captivity is good.”

What you can do: Contact Google wherever you live and tell them that captivity for marine mammals is not okay and that it is unacceptable to exploit marine mammals under the guise of a field trip of exploitation masquerading as an interaction with nature.

A few Google locations:

  • Headquarters, Mountain View, CA: 1 650-253-0000
  • Ann Arbor, MI: 1 734-332-6500
  • Atlanta, GA: 1 404-487-9000
  • Austin, TX: 1 512-343-5283
  • Cambridge, MA: 1 617-575-1300
  • Chicago, IL: 1 312-840-4100
  • Detroit, MI: 1 248-593-4000
  • Irvine, CA: 1 949-794-1600
  • Kirkland, WA: 1 425-739-5600
  • Los Angeles, CA: 1 310-310-6000
  • New York, NY: 1 212-565-0000
  • San Francisco, CA: 1 415-736-0000
  • Seattle, WA: 1 206-876-1800
  • Washington, DC: 1 202-346-1100
  • Beijing: +86-10-62503000
  • Belo Horizonte: +55-31-2128-6800
  • Dubai: +971 4 4509500
  • Hong Kong: +852-3923-5400
  • London: +44 (0)20-7031-3000
  • Madrid: +34 91-748-6400
  • Mexico: +52 55-5342-8400
  • Moscow: +7-495-644-1400
  • Paris: +33 (0)1 42 68 53 00
  • Sydney: +61 2 9374 4000
  • Tokyo: +81-3-6384-9000

Light up Google switchboards and tell them to stop supporting this antiquated and exploitative partnership with the Georgia Aquarium.

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.

Pride at the Georgia Aquarium: an assault on humanity’s sense of ethics

As the Pride Festival gets into full swing this weekend in Atlanta, Georgia, its weekend events were kicked off yesterday at the Georgia Aquarium, described by the Atlanta Pride Committee on its website:

Th[e Georgia Aquarium] is always breathtaking and the décor is always an assault on your senses.

While Pride notes the decor and the assault on one’s senses, the contradiction between celebrating one’s freedom-to-be at a facility whose purpose involves denying those same freedoms to dolphins and whales (and other animals) is so obvious as to be embarrassing.

Atlanta Pride Kickoff Party at the Georgia Aquarium, photo www.atlantapride.org

Atlanta Pride Kickoff Party at the Georgia Aquarium, photo www.atlantapride.org

As has been repeated here and to Pride on numerous occasions, marine mammals are not suited – by their nature – to captivity.  These highly social and intelligent beings swim tens and even up to nearly 100 miles in a single day, use sound to interact with their world (to find each other, identify prey and danger and other curiosities), and live with their family/community groups, generally for life (that is, their relationships are far more permanent and daily-present than our own).

In obvious and inescapable contrast, in captivity, all of these basic characteristics of being a dolphin or whale are denied: they are put in concrete and steel tanks where sound is a confusing and stressful series of reflected and transmitted close-range noises, mostly human-caused, so much that they stop using sound in anything like the way they would in the wild.  They stop truly communicating with their world and become individual and isolated beings, notwithstanding “sharing space” with other, similar beings.  Their “families” aren’t families, their communities not communities, any more than a random assemblage of people makes a family or a community.  Denied access to living fish (their source of fresh water in the wild) as a daily staple of their diet, they no longer obtain the fresh water that is as essential to their healthy lives, and fresh water must either be supplied by a garden hose down their “gullet” or in cubes of gelatin (another product that they do not eat in the wild).  In addition to noise and diet, the aquarium industry further destabilizes them by moving them around dependent upon the needs of the industry and often takes the young away from their mothers to populate another park.

The noise was noted in 2011 by Dan Matthews, PETA Vice-President, after his first attendance at a Pride opening party,

As a veteran clubber, I’m used to big loud parties, but the music at the aquarium was so earsplitting that even before we entered, I could only wonder how it sounded to the most notable of the facility’s 120,000 inmates–the beluga whales. These marine mammals are so sensitive to pounding noises that the aquarium shipped them away during construction of the dolphin exhibit. Yet the thumping techno remix of Katy Perry’s “Firework” was as audible outside as a jackhammer.

Thus began the outreach to Atlanta Pride, which continues to the present.  Despite years of such outreach by PETA and its spokespersons (like Jane Lynch (2012) and Project Runway’s Tim Gunn (2013)) and other individuals, the Atlanta Pride Committee continues to ignore the body of work made available to it regarding the perils of captivity to marine mammals.

Have a great time this weekend at the Pride events.  It is just increasingly disappointing that the Pride leadership does not listen to the consistent outreach about why “Pride” and the “Georgia Aquarium” do not share values.

As long as Pride, whose main purpose is

to promote unity, visibility and self-esteem among lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, and transgender and queer persons and to promote a positive image in the Atlanta area and throughout the Southeastern United States through community activities and services[,]

continues to ignore the rights of other beings to be who they are, to have the freedom that life gave them, unaltered by an agenda of an exterior entity, corporation or government, Atlanta Pride will fail its mission.

One cannot build Pride on an assault of humanity’s sense of ethics.


Beluga whales have their lives taken away as a curiosity or weekend amusement. Photo by Brian Gratwicke

What you can do:

Thank you to PETA for not ever giving up on thiThank you to PETA, Georgia Animal Rights and Protection, and Atlanta's local

Thank you to PETA, Georgia Animal Rights and Protection, and Atlanta’s local activist community for not ever giving up on the dolphins and whales at the Georgia Aquarium. Photo by Katie Arth.



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What you can do:

Comment period closes, public opinion period opens with a full-court “press”

Well done, America.  Well done, World.

At 8,906, the Georgia Aquarium’s application to import 18 wild-caught beluga whales didn’t quite make it to . . . THE MOST COMMENTED-ON FEDERAL REGISTER NOTICE EVER. But it was most commented-on Federal Register notice of a National Ocean & Atmospheric Administration import permit at least as far back as 2000, according to Jennifer Skidmore, who is the NOAA Fishery Management Specialist managing the Georgia Aquarium’s import permit.  NOAA is, as of this week, still receiving comments the old-fashioned way, via the mail system, so the count is actually even higher.  Pretty rocking result.

But during this deliberation period, the infotainment machine keeps humming, turning out story after story that implies validity in the Georgia Aquarium’s efforts to import wild beluga whales from Russia.  In one such story and video by 11Alive News, Billy Hurley, the Chief Animal Officer for the Georgia Aquarium, discounts the deep objection that the people have to ever capturing whales and dolphins for the aquarium biz.  But of course he would.  He likes to point out the millions of people come into the Georgia Aquarium.  What he doesn’t say is that those millions are lured in by advertising, by telling them, like the little boy in the video shown on Friday, November 4, 2012,  that the Georgia Aquarium keeps them “safe”.  That little boy, like the millions, believe that.

Beluga whales in the ocean in their natural family group

Beluga whales in the ocean in their natural family group

In contrast to the aquarium industry’s story machine, Dr. Lori Marino, Emory professor, neuroscientist, and the Director of  the Kimmela Center for Animal Advocacy, commented on yesterday’s Atlanta Journal-Constitution article, reflecting the lack of understanding – on the part of either the reporter or Mr. Hurley – of the Marine Mammal Protection Act.  The article observes, inaccurately, that the “Marine Mammal Protection Act establishes that the display of belugas and other cetaceans can improve their welfare by educating the public about threats to the species, which can in turn promote conservation efforts. . .”  Not so.  The Act’s actual language – perhaps pesky for the Georgia Aquarium – states that permits may be issued, but only to those facilities that “offer a program for education or conservation purposes. . .” Whether the Georgia Aquarium’s dolphin show or exhibit fulfills the requirement of offering an educational or conservation program is a factual determination.  At least two aquariums, the National Aquarium and Sea Life Center, stated their objection to the issuance of the import permit to the Georgia Aquarium.

Becky Pugh, of Free the Atlanta 11, notes another of the fallacies in the Georgia Aquarium’s reasons for wanting the import, but about which the full-court press doesn’t inquire, “For example; why is it necessary to replenish the captive beluga stock in the U.S.? The U.S. has had belugas in captivity for decades. If they do so well, what would be the need to replenish them?”

Dr. Naomi Rose, a marine biologist, also commented on the article, pointing out that, “Respected marine mammal biologists oppose this import proposal, not based on emotion but because of concerns about the animals’ welfare during capture and transport, the impact of captures on beluga matrilines (family groups), and the disruption captures cause to the groups’ social relationships. More than 30 scientists submitted a comment to the National Marine Fisheries Service opposing this import proposal.”

Beluga whales in the wild

Beluga whales in the wild live in family groups, matrilines, that will be disrupted by the import. We just don’t know how much and no “tank” research can tell us that.

But if scientists know this, and more than 30 objected to the Georgia Aquarium’s import permit, why don’t Billy Hurley’s Millions know it?

Millions of people are lured by advertising into eating, drinking, smoking, and even wearing against their better interest.  Anyone who survived the 80s knows that we can convinced of just about anything.  80s hair?  Nuff said.  That

We were convinced that 80s hair was attractive

If they convinced you that 80s hair was cool, do you doubt they can convince you that keeping dolphins and whales in aquariums has value?

Mister Hurley finds attendance numbers indicative of anything other than 80s hair marketing tells me that, once again, he is not thinking about the marine creatures who have been entrusted into his care, but is looking at numbers and box office and return on investment for their “assets“.

So, what is the Georgia Aquarium teaching?  What is the 80s hair marketing, as pronounced at the Georgia Aquarium, teaching the public that crosses its doors?

By my count in the 11Alive news story, visitors at the beluga tank learned

  1. that whales jump up and go back down;
  2. that whales are playful, social and fascinating to watch;
  3. that the point is to have a “favorite” in the aquarium;
  4. that it is trying to ensure research and educational opportunities (maybe the definition of “research” is a little skewed here, too, if you get my drift);
  5. that aquariums keep the whales safe (I’m imagining that the Georgia Aquarium isn’t telling the story about the nearly 50% mortality of belugas in captivity in the U.S.);
  6. that whales in an aquarium translates to preserving their natural, marine environment

An older home video shot at the Georgia Aquarium, but no longer available, showed that the Georgia Aquarium experience taught children that dolphin ownership was okayand that wanting to own one, to have one in his own pool, was acceptable.  That’s what keeping whales and dolphins in captivity teaches our children – not conservation.

As to the Georgia Aquarium’s attempts to link research or conservation with this import, Dr. Rose pointed out in her comment ” . . . there is no logical link to [the Georgia Aquarium’s] support for research and this import proposal.  It can support field work and even captive research without actually displaying belugas itself.”

As we await the decision by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s decision on the Georgia Aquarium’s beluga whale import permit application, educate yourself about marine  mammal captivity.  Recognize that what people are learning is of insufficient value to offset the right of these self-aware creatures to continue to live in their families and community groups in the wide expanse of the ocean.

Continue to object to the beluga import.  Write letters to your local newspapers, wherever you live.  Leave comments on any newspaper articles – as did those who commented on the AJC article – so that the public has an opportunity to hear why the import permit is unacceptable.  Speak out. Be heard.  Or the full-court “press” will continue and Billy Hurley will throw you in with his millions, saying that you support keeping these majestic ocean-swelling beings in captivity.

Georgia Aquarium Beluga whales in the wild

The Public Opinion Period is wide open.  Write letters to your local newspapers world over, and let them know that you do not support the Georgia Aquarium’s import proposal and that it should never be acceptable for us to remove whales from their home to live in a concrete tank.



The Most Commented-on Federal Register Notice Ever – Part Deux

NOAA Beluga GA Webpage

NOAA has created a truly swell webpage with lots of information, links to the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the permit application and supporting documentation, & NOAA’s Environmental Assessment. Good reading.

Over two months ago, I urged an objective of having the Georgia Aquarium’s application to import 18 belugas caught in the wild, snatched from the Russian Sea of Okhotsk, be the most commented-on Federal Register notice ever.  Since then, so many people have written so many wonderful articles and blogs, giving great substantive advice on what is wrong with the whole notion of importing wild-caught beluga whales into the United States, for display in America’s aquariums.  Elizabeth Batt’s Op Ed: Public comment period opens for import of wild-caught belugas is packed with information and links to assist commenters with considering the import issue.

I’m not quite at “final comment stage” yet.  This little noodle is still noodling.

But what I will do is share the following:

As of September 11, 2012, over 1200 public comments had been submitted to the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) regarding the Georgia Aquarium’s permit application!

Pretty awesome, I’d say!  And keep those comments coming, folks.  Jump on the comment train.  Use your noodle.  Seek advice. Reach out to the experts.  Write a substantive comment.

Even though I’ve got more noodling (I am apparently enamored of the word ‘noodle’ today) to do, one thing you might include in your comment is a question to the Secretary of NOAA to explain, in his Response to Comments:

  • the specific factual record on which he made his determination that the capture of these 18 specific beluga whales was “humane.”

He really can’t step over that one.  He can’t assume that just because a beluga whale survived the terribly stressful act of capture, that the capture process was humane.  Nope.  The law doesn’t allow him that luxury.  And so it is reasonable for us to ask the basis for that determination.  Was he there to observe the capture of each of the 18?  Did they videotape every moment of every capture, of all 18?  Or does he base his determination upon a generic certification of a process but one which was, in this specific instance, unobserved by any other than those who gain from the import?  Well, that doesn’t seem to be a reasonable basis upon which the Secretary of NOAA should make an independent finding.  Jus sayin’.  Especially when we haven’t allowed this in OVER TWENTY YEARS and granting an import permit like this would represent a substantial change in direction in U.S. and U.S. aquarium policy and practice.

In contrast to a finding that capture is humane, the EXPERTS observe that the act of capturing these animals for the captivity industry is inherently violent, as shown in this capture footage excerpted from A Fall from Freedom, film by Earth Views Productions, as well as this video that shows capture of belugas by the same business that captured the 18.

So this citizen is very curious about the Secretary’s factual basis – how he determined that the violence shown in this capture footage did not, in fact, occur at the Sea of Okhotsk.  Hm.

Here’s the deal: the Secretary of NOAA must find, in making his decision, whether the capture process is “humane”, (16 U.S.C. §1374(b)(2)(B)); any capture must pass that threshold or the permit application be denied. It is, therefore, important that your comment request (1) how the Secretary made his determination that the capture was, in fact, humane, as to the specific 18 beluga whales, and (2) any records that were considered as documentation of humane capture and in making that determination. Further, while NOAA is not empowered to change legislation, a challenge to the reasonableness of the definition of “humane” under the statute is appropriate to be directed at both NOAA as well as your lawmakers.

And as a bit of a sidebar, despite the words at the beginning of the NOAA website for this permit application, which sounds all hearts and flowers about how the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) “allows” for the removal and import of marine mammals for the purpose of public display, the actual wording of the MMPA carries with it quite a different tone and objective.  The MMPA states, “There shall be a moratorium on the taking and importation of marine mammals and marine mammal products, commencing on the effective date of this chapter, during which time no permit may be issued for the taking of any marine mammal and no marine mammal or marine mammal product may be imported into the United States except . . .”  So, while one of the exceptions is importation for public display, when NOAA states that it is “allowed” instead of it is “prohibited, except,” that seems to suggest an allowing rather than a prohibiting-with-justification-for-exceptions kind of mindset. Instead of a Protection act, the NOAA website language suggests an Importation act.  Wouldn’t you say?

This link to the NOAA website, and specifically to the page that NOAA created for the Georgia Aquarium’s import permit application, includes background information and a link to submit your comment online, as shown in the picture below, just above the address of where to fax your comment, if you choose to fax, to a Ms. Skidmore, who is also credited for taking the picture to the right of the beluga whale at the Georgia Aquarium.

NOAA Beluga GA Webpage_2

See that hot link www.regulations.gov – click and comment, and make sure that it notes that you are commenting on Docket No. NOAA-NMFS-2012-0158 (File No. 17324)

So, keep your comments coming folks.  Keep them reasonable.  Keep them real.  So that NOAA’s response must explain how its decision is consistent with the law.  Make this the most commented-on Federal Register Notice ever.

Let’s compare two recent baby beluga stories

Beluga Whale Maris and Baby at the Georgia Aquarium

Maris and calf at the Georgia Aquarium, unattributed photo from Georgia Aquarium Facebook page







Two recent news stories.  Both involved beluga whale calves.  The first involved the birth and premature death of a calf born to Maris, a beluga whale who arrived at the Georgia Aquarium in 2005.

I have heard that the baby beluga was a full forty pounds underweight at birth.  Born underweight, not healthy.  Lived only five days.

Baby beluga whale, now at the Alaska Sea Life Center

Baby beluga whale rescued – can’t she be kept in a sea pen? Photo by Associated Press.

The second story involves a different baby beluga whale.  A baby beluga born in the wild.  And even though she was separated from her mother and cannot survive without nursing, this baby seems to be doing better than Maris’ baby.  Even with all those experts and blood samples taken from Maris’ baby.  But that’s another post for another day.

This second baby beluga whale was found in Alaska’s Bristol Bay, separated from its mother, perhaps in a storm.  A baby beluga whale nurses from the time it is born until it is approximately two years old.  But this baby beluga, at only two to three days old, somehow survived separation, however brief, from its mother.  And even being separated from its mother, this baby was healthier than the one born to Maris, in captivity.

Now, you may be thinking that it’s not fair to draw far-reaching conclusions based on two examples, where there are many variables, far more than any of us knows.  And I think you’d be right.

But I’m not drawing any conclusions based on these two examples.  I’m just relaying two stories.  I already know that captivity is inherently cruel, that captivity of these sentient creatures, even in a habitat larger than the far-too-small one at the Georgia Aquarium, is wrong.

I’m also sending out a plea to those in control of the wild baby beluga to put on your thinking caps to find ways to help the chances of her being released.

But two stories.  One of a little calf born to captivity that didn’t have much of a future.  But who died before she could live out that destiny.  The other of another calf, now destined for a lifetime of captivity.  Unless someone gives him access to the ocean, tries to find the little wild one’s mother and family now now now, cares for him in a sea pen where he can retain some ability, however slight, to communicate, he will end up, like Maris, being seen as someone’s broodmare or, like Beethoven, Maris’ deceased calf’s father, a stud.

Please, captivity industry.  Do better for this little rescued butterball than keeping him in a landlocked concrete box where it is less likely that he will be found to be releaseable.  Keep him in a sea pen near where he was found.  Listen for his family.  Let him try to communicate with them.

Thank you to all the workers and volunteers who work for these animals, trying to save them and restore them to freedom.

Who’s bullhooking whom? Universoul? Ringling? Atlanta?

Circus Elephant performing stupid trick Ban the bullhook

Disgusting performance of domination, photo from In Defense of Animals

A year ago, a bullhook could not be used in Atlanta.  A year ago, it was illegal in Atlanta to hit or jab an elephant with a bullhook.

I just want to say it again:  a year ago, a bullhook could not be used in the City of Atlanta, Georgia, to “guide” elephants to stand on their heads, to step on a cutely painted stool, or even to support The Lovely Viola.

Now, due to a joint effort of the usual suspects – Ringling Brothers Circus, Feld Entertainment, Universoul Circus, Mayor Kasim Reed and the Public Safety City Council Committee, et al., circuses are on the verge of, once again, being able to bullhook elephants in Atlanta to their very little hearts’ delight.

Unless you do something about it.  Like, now.

Here’s the City Council’s email address, if you’ve heard enough and want to start pounding your keyboard to tell the Atlanta City Council and Mayor Reed that we want our city to stand in a public policy that is based in more than a blood-soaked revenue stream:  atlantacouncil@atlantaga.gov.

But, lest you want more info, I’ll keep pounding mine.  So to speak.

The Public Safety Committee of the Atlanta City Council met today to consider an ordinance in which the bullhook ban will be removed.  The use of a bullhook in Atlanta has been, since June 1, 2011, outlawed, when Fulton County passed the ban. Because of the contract between the City of Atlanta and Fulton County in which the County provided the City’s animal welfare services, the City was bound by the Fulton County ordinance.

Bullhook hurts elephants

Hello. I am a bullhook. Ringling likes to call me a "guide". But you and I both know that I have one purpose, and that is to inflict pain. Oh, no, wait. Two purposes. One, to inflict pain and, two, to put in fear of imminent pain. But they like to call it "guiding".

As was Universoul Circus when they performed this past February.  That little factoid couldn’t seem to quell the enthusiasm with which Mr. Benjamin Johnson, a representative of Universoul, proclaimed that Universoul used the bullhook during its February 2012 performance, despite that little detail of its apparently being illegal.

While Ringling had the savvy, and the deep pockets with which to hire legal counsel from Troutman Sanders to put a temporary restraining order on implementation of the lawfully-executed ordinance so that Ringling could bullhook its elephants as much as it felt it needed to, Universoul must not have caught that little legal technicality.  Or perhaps they felt they had cover under the TRO.

But this isn’t meant to focus on Universoul.  I only mean to point out that the deep pockets of Ringling are here to preserve its right to bullhook.  No surprise there.  Most of the proponents of the bullhook, no, wait, ALL of the proponents of the bullhook who spoke at the microphone were from out of town.  The Atlanta residents who spoke were all, to a person, opposed.  The Public Works Committee doesn’t seem to have noticed that.  Well, except for C.T. Martin and Joyce Sheperd, who voted against the current draft of the ordinance.

Time out to let you watch some video by PETA of how the bullhook is wielded against elephants by Ringling.

So, I’ve finished pounding mine, and would like very much for you to Tweet (using the hashtag #bullhook would be good), share on Facebook, or write an email to the Atlanta City Council to urge the City to add the words “use a bullhook” to proposed City Ordinance Section 18-123(a).  A good place might be after the words “cruelly treat” and before “maim”.  Or maybe before “bruise.”  Putting a specific reference to bullhooking is just clearer that way.  Even though we know that the elephants are, in fact, bruised by use of the bullhook.  Otherwise, why use a bullhook.  The sole intention of a bullhook is to inflict pain.

No, that’s wrong.  There are two intentions.

The first intention is to inflict pain.  The second is to instill a fear of imminent pain.  That’s how this “guiding” works.  The bruising is secondary to the pain and the fear of pain.

Go on. Write your email.  If you’re feeling chatty, call Mayor Reed at (404) 330-6100.  Tell him to put Atlanta on the map for a policy based in a clear statement of ethics.  While bruising is good to prohibit, saying the City is against bruising, but won’t specifically call out the bullhook, is hypocrisy at its finest.

You can’t bullhook a hooker.  Or something like that.

For more information: Atlanta’s consideration of bullhooks to control elephants draws fire from PETA, which says they’re inhumane

and Atlanta committee approves ordinance permitting bullhooks

Baby beluga at Georgia Aquarium dies – despite Maris’ having “stood up to her end of the bargain”

I am almost speechless. So I’ll be brief.

Beluga Whale Maris and Baby at the Georgia Aquarium

Maris and “her end of the bargain” at the Georgia Aquarium, unattributed photo from Georgia Aquarium facebook page

Georgia Aquarium’s official statement, as quoted in the Atlanta Journal & Constitution, notes that the baby beluga whale, born on May 18, 2012, in the Georgia Aquarium, died today, despite Maris having “stood up to her end of the bargain.”

What bargain was that, Georgia Aquarium?

I’m just curious as hell. What was Maris’ bargain with you?

I have to say it again: Billy Hurley, Chief Zoological Officer at the Georgia Aquarium, said today, when interviewed about the death at the Georgia Aquarium of the baby beluga whale, “Maris stood up to her end of the bargain…”

The crassness of that statement – while not truly surprising, since Mr. Hurley doesn’t know the difference between dolphins, on the one hand, and dogs or horses, on the other – crossed the line.

What line is that?

It’s the line that reveals that the people who are entrusted with the care of these highly intelligent and sentient beings are incapable of appreciating this intelligence and sentience. It’s the line that reveals that the Georgia Aquarium views its dolphins, beluga whales and whale sharks as merely assets to grow a bottom line. It’s the line that reveals the aquariums’ willingness to tell only part of the story to preserve that “asset”. It’s the line that reveals the call for an immediate rehabilitation and release of these creatures to their god-given life in the wild.

If you had any doubt about these issues before, I trust that Mr. Hurley’s revealing comment got through to you and that you will sign a petition, sponsored by the Born Free Foundation, to end captivity for whales and dolphins.

So, to Mr. Hurley. Back to that bargain that you struck with Maris, what did you promise in return? Another chance to reproduce a baby that would either live its life in captivity, or die as your organization predicted it would? More captivity? Or did you promise something more lofty, like, you would continue to feed her in a small tank of salitified chlorinated artificially-cooled water?

That must be comforting to Maris, in this time of a mother’s grief.

I know, you and I are on the other side of that line, so I could stop there. But then Mr. Hurley said, after complimenting Maris on holding up her end of the bargain, “We will not give up.” Another question, Mr. Hurley. Not give up on what? Having Maris impregnated again, when you know the odds are against the baby’s, or babies’, survival?

Just sign the Born Free Foundation petition to end whale and dolphin captivity. You know he’s wrong.

What the Aquariums taught you while you weren’t looking

With the awesome release of Misha and Tom to the wild, due to the most absolutely awesome work by the Born Free Foundation [jumping up and down and laughing and crying and screaming and clapping. . .], I found myself reflecting on how it could possibly be that everyone wouldn’t celebrate their release and the news of Tom’s and Misha’s having outdistanced the tracking boats



within a very short time, as they literally sped toward their home waters [freaking painful facial smile muscles], with the jumping and clapping, if not the squealing and face-cramping.

Seriously, or not seriously.  Picture this.  These two free dolphins, having been held in captivity for years, are now swimming their asses off, on their own volition, to get home.  No one is pulling them.  No one is prodding them with dead fish.  No one told them where to go and gave them a map.  No one could tell them where to go.  We don’t know how to do that.  They knew and they freaking went!!!

So in this celebratory time, I was remembering a post I wrote a few months ago about the fact that aquariums, like the Georgia Aquarium, teach your kids that humans “owning” dolphins is okay.

Yep, they literally teach your kids – and you and us all – that wanting to own a dolphin is okay.

I’m gonna repeat a little.  Again, consider ownership of dolphins in the context of the release of Misha and Tom.  How did it happen that we thought it was okay that these two dolphins who are now swimming madly for home should be held in captivity?  How did the concept that it was okay to own them come to us?

Well, I say, we were taught.  Not by our parents.  Not by our schools.

You and I weren’t born “knowing” that it was okay to own a dolphin.  None of us were.  None of us thought much about dolphins at all, until we gained access to nature via a pair of nature-show-freak parents, or cool nature-book-reading parents, or unless we grew up with access to a shoreline and parents who would take us where dolphins can be seen.

Those shows, books and shorelines surely didn’t teach us that dolphin captivity was okay.  Or ownership of them.  We were not taught about dolphin captivity and ownership other than by the very institutions that stand to benefit financially if we believe that story.  We were taught by The Georgia Aquariums of this world.  The SeaWorlds.  And more recently, Mattel and Playmobil – no strangers to forming young minds – joined the cartel.  We were taught, in kindler and gentler terms, that ripping an animal out of its natural habitat just because you want to is okay.  Okay.  Okay to own another intelligent, independent being.  To assume full control and domination over their very survival.  And we didn’t even notice that they were teaching us that.

They have distorted what you and I collectively consider acceptable treatment of wild marine creatures.

Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain

Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain, manipulating your views about dolphin captivity

And we didn’t even notice.  We didn’t notice that we were learning this warped keeping-of-dolphins-in-small-concrete-tanks-is-acceptable lesson.  The lesson that obscured that it is an abhorrent manipulation of both nature and how we perceive nature.  Geez.  That was pretty slick.

So, let’s just track back through this:  those folks managed to rip dolphins out of their native habitat and have taught us to think that it is FOR ONE SECOND okay.  And they managed to get you to pay to see these beings who were ripped from their natural home and their natural community and family structures.

Without your catching on.  Wow.  Pretttttty slick.

Well, now you’ve thought.  You’ve caught the distorters in the act.

You have seen Misha and Tom, swimming free, racing home, without our “help”.  Look at the picture of Tom catching a fish in the wild for the first time in years [more squeals and shrieks], as noted in the article.  Know that all dolphins deserve to have freedom restored to them, like Tom and Misha.  All of them deserve to go home.

Clap and pledge never to go to the dolphin show.  And never again think that healthy dolphins can’t be rehabilitated for their very own trip home.

Cheers to the Born Free Foundation, Jeff Foster (who “trained” Tom and Misha to catch their own food again) and everyone involved in the effort.