Tag Archives: beluga whale

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dear Brad Andrews:

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

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

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

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

Sincerely,

Mo Brock

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

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

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

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

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

What you can do:

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

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

Georgia Aquarium accuses NMFS of “bobbing and weaving” while “cooking the books”

The tone of yesterday’s hearing on the question of whether the federal government erred in its decision to deny a permit to the Georgia Aquarium to import 18 wild-caught beluga whales was “educated”.   As counsel for both parties, the Georgia Aquarium and the Department of Justice on behalf of the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), and intervenors Animal Welfare Institute, Whale and Dolphin Conservation and Cetacean Society International, made their cases in 45-minute arguments, Federal District Court Judge Amy Totenberg, after congratulating all participants on the quality of the briefs, demonstrated that she had identified what she considered lingering questions, as she honed aspects of the arguments that would be important in her determination.

The Georgia Aquarium fights to import wild beluga whales.

The Georgia Aquarium fights to import wild beluga whales.

The Georgia Aquarium opened its strongly-worded argument by claiming that NMFS’ decision, in denying the permit, was arbitrary and capricious and not in accordance with law by, in a “feast of failures,” having invented new standards in makings its determination, having manipulated data, which it suggested amounted to “cooking the books,” and having “changed its mind” without explanation about the issuance of the permit. The Georgia Aquarium added the claim that NMFS, in its decision, was amending the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) by “extraterritorial application” of another country’s laws.

In a nutshell, the Georgia Aquarium sounded as “whiny” as a child on a school playground, claiming that it wasn’t picked for the winning team.

Much of each Party’s time was spent responding to Judge Totenberg’s questions about data and how it was used by NMFS in its determination. The Georgia Aquarium argued that NMFS had erred by not considering the Potential Biological Removal (PBR) Level, which is defined as the maximum number of animals, not including natural mortalities, that may be removed from a marine mammal stock while allowing that stock to reach or maintain its optimum sustainable population. It wondered aloud that if NMFS did not use PBR as its “standard” in making its determination, then what standard it did use and welcomed being “thrown into a briar patch” discussion of standards. Judge Totenberg observed that this “if not this, what” approach was a Draconian framing of the question and recognized that the PBR does not have the status of the “sole litmus test” that the Georgia Aquarium seemed to be “edging toward.”  Judge Totenberg observed that the PBR is one of several tools used by the Agency and noted that, in contrast to the Georgia Aquarium’s assertion, NMFS had, in fact, considered PBR.

Beluga whales captured and held in tanks in Russia awaiting their "disposition."  Photo credit M. Lanovoy

Beluga whales captured and held in tanks in Russia awaiting their “disposition.” Photo credit M. Lanovoy

NMFS responded by recounting data that showed that the PBR had, in fact, been exceeded, but urged the Judge not to make her determination upon this one finding, because there was other evidence that supported its decision to deny the permit. NMFS had found, for instance, evidence of human-caused beluga mortalities due to subsistence hunting in the Sakhalin and Shantar Bays, bycatch during fishing operations, and the live capture process itself that were not properly taken into account by the Georgia Aquarium’s application. It also pointed to significant uncertainty in the data that constrained the ability to develop a meaningful trend over the twenty year time period that it evaluated. Further, NMFS stated that the PBR is not something that NMFS normally uses in reviewing permit applications but is, instead, a quantity that the Agency is directed to prepare for evaluation of United States stocks of marine mammals.

As to whether the Agency had changed its mind, Justice recounted that there were many different levels within the Agency involved in reviewing the permit applications and the significant comments that were provided by the public during the comment period, and that the Georgia Aquarium is in error in suggesting that there was a “mind” to have been “changed” until the final permit decision.

As to making its decision based upon other nation’s laws and whether this amounted to amending the MMPA, Justice answered easily that it was the act of “import” that was under consideration in light of standards that must be applied under U.S. law, but reiterated that the actions of other entities, in this case a Russian beluga-capturing operation, and whether those actions would place beluga populations at risk, were issues being asked and answered.

The technical nature of the data is beyond the scope of this writing because, frankly, I do not understand it all. But I will rest easily knowing that the decision will be made by a judge who will not fall for assertions of “book-cooking” and “bobbing and weaving,” but will make her decision on the basis of the record that she noted was argued well and long by both sides.

Or at least one.

Judge Totenberg could render her decision in as little as two months.

The Georgia Aquarium wants 18 more beluga whales

The Georgia Aquarium wants 18 more beluga whales, but someone doesn’t want you to know about it.  At least not yet.  Or maybe it’s just one of those computer glitches that I don’t even pretend to understand.

A Google search earlier today regarding the Georgia Aquarium and beluga whales revealed the following links and more:

Georgia Aquarium want to import 18 beluga whales

Seek and ye shall find on Google.

See that one, pretty much right at the top of the bottom third of the page, the one entitled, “Georgia Aquarium plans to bring more belugas into the country.”  Well, when you clicked it, it took you here.

Georgia Aquarium want to import 18 beluga whales

Unless it’s a page that has been taken down since it went to the search engines

Page could not be found.  Well, crap.  That’s a mystery.  The link indicates that, mere days after the Georgia Aquarium saw the death of Maris’ five-day-old beluga whale calf, it is announcing the plan to get more belugas.  That is, to bring them into the country.

Well, not really announcing.  More like, announcing and then unannouncing.  Or accidental press releasing.  Or something.  I don’t pretend to understand.

Oops, is all I’ll say.  I didn’t realize that catching and bringing beluga whales into the United States was, well, allowed.

And I’m thinking somebody hit the “Publish” button instead of the “File Save” button before they could submit it for editing.

Did I say, “Ooooops.”

Dang.  Woulda loved to have read that story.

Oh, wait.  I can.  I did.  And so shall you, thanks to the computer sleuthing skills that I wished I had.  Can I just say, Deep Throat.  Or Smoking Man?

Here, via the awesomeness of a really smart individual and Google cache, or some such, is the rest of the story.  This time, I’m not ruining it for you.  Yet.

Georgia Aquarium Plans to Bring More Belugas Into the Country

But, geez.  Is that legal?  I’m not saying it.  But you’re thinking it.  I suspect that, strictly speaking, it may be.

But is it right?  The time is now to stop this silly make-up-a-story-to-get-more-highly intelligent-beings-into-captivity business.  Yes, business.

When you read the article, they might have almost convinced you that they’re doing this for the belugas.  But you’re smarter than that.

Georgia Aquarium wants to import 18 beluga whales

“Georgia Aquarium plans to bring more belugas into the country.” Into the country. Into the country.