Tag Archives: dolphin captivity

Handy Affidavit for supporters of the aquarium industry

A great white shark captured for display at the Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium, has died after three days in captivity.

This is not surprising, given the generally morbid conditions that exist in aquariums, conditions that do not come close to mimicking those in the wild.  But the aquarium industry, with its peaceful music in many displays – and despite the blaring music in others – has managed, over its relatively short existence, to persuade consumers of entertainment that watching wild marine creatures in concrete tanks, or even plastic-lined tanks in traveling shows and exhibits, is acceptable treatment of these magnificent nonhuman animals.

It is not surprising since the aquarium industry has been in control, until fairly recently, of the “captivity message” that is doled out like baby’s pablum to an unsuspecting, and already humancentric, population.

Day in, day out, the aquarium industry doles out its "captivity is good" message, despite its morbid record.

Day in, day out, the aquarium industry doles out its “captivity is good” message, despite its morbid record.

Large aquariums and marine parks, like SeaWorld and the Georgia Aquarium, use their public relations and training staffs to carefully craft the message to a public who hasn’t the sophistication or knowledge to know that the message is, at best, skewed by well-placed omissions, and, at worst, a cobbled-together rubric of self-serving misinformation.

Many aquarium-goers are still ignorant about the true nature of captivity for marine mammals and other wide ranging marine animals, largely because they get their information from only, you guessed it, the aquarium industry.  But this blogger is getting tired of giving aquarium-goers that “pass”.  Even aquarium-goers (and I was one once, at the age of eight), have an internal sense of ethics, regardless of what Madison Avenue or the aquarium industry says.  Even aquarium-goers can see with their own eyes that the tanks are:

  • made of concrete
  • infinitesimally small, compared to the ocean
  • devoid of any natural attributes

They may not know that dolphins and whales swim in family groups, many of

Shaka, wild-caught at estimated age of three in 1988, was moved from the Georgia Aquarium to its facility in Florida, where she has given birth to another "asset" of the Georgia Aquarium

Shaka, wild-caught at estimated age of three in 1988, was moved from the Georgia Aquarium to its facility in Florida, where she has given birth to another “asset” of the Georgia Aquarium

whom never change over their lifetimes, while aquariums treat individuals as assets to be moved into whatever column and location serves the needs of the aquarium (e.g., Shaka, a dolphin captured in 1988, was brought to the Georgia Aquarium in 2010, but never incorporated into the show.  She served as a football game predictor, so still handy for press opportunities.  The Georgia Aquarium moved her to Florida, where she has now given birth to an “asset” of the aquarium.).

Other aquarium-goers, on the other hand, are aware, fully aware of the disparity between life in a tank and a natural life for dolphins and whales.  They just don’t seem to think that dolphins and whales have a right to that life.  They seem to think that their own “right” to see a dolphin in a tank trumps the rights of dolphins and whales to have something more than a concrete tank, a diet of dead fish, fresh water and gelatin supplementation to stave off dehydration, and drugs in the event the dolphins become ill.

Especially for the latter category of aquarium-goers (and swim-with dolphin freaks), it seems fair to “keep it real” by at least acknowledging that they know that dolphins and whales are being denied their birthright, and frankly, don’t care about that as much as they do about satisfying the instant gratification bone by seeing them in tanks.  If aquarium-goers would acknowledge that they just don’t care, at least we could have a real conversation about what’s going on here.

So, for the aquarium-goers and swim-withers, I’ve provided a handy AFFIDAVIT below, which you can sign and turn in to your local aquarium on your next visit.  Better yet, if you have been an aquarium-goer, but you now sense that something is rotten in SeaMark, then sign the affidavit, but make the necessary marginal edits to show that you know better than to believe the pablum and you will never again turn their stiles.  Then turn it into your local aquarium.

For more information:

A handy affidavit for aquarium-goers to keep the conversation honest.

A handy affidavit for aquarium-goers to keep the conversation honest.  Please print out and take to your local aquarium.

 

The Georgia Aquarium and The Art of War

The Georgia Aquarium has announced that it will not appeal the decision of Judge Amy Totenberg in Georgia Aquarium v Pritzker.  Resounding huzzahs were heard in all camps of those opposing captivity.  Feelings nearing jubilation and celebration of victory were shared across social media.

The Georgia Aquarium fights to import wild beluga whales.

The Georgia Aquarium stands down on this phase to import wild beluga whales.

The Georgia Aquarium’s decision not to appeal, however, came as no surprise, and signals little more than that the management at the aquarium was listening to legal counsel.  Its chances of overturning Judge Totenberg’s decision were miniscule, if that.  And so the Georgia Aquarium merely decided that standing down on this permit appeal was the right decision in this war over marine mammal captivity.  The Georgia Aquarium claimed that the appeal would have been costly; this much is true.  It does not say that the appeal would have been futile, but that, too, is most likely true as well.

When the Georgia Aquarium acknowledges that continuing the appeal “would not be in the best interest of the animals in Russia,” it likely means something different than what marine mammal advocates consider “best interest.” Does the Georgia Aquarium intend to step away from its stated goal of creating “a sustainable population of belugas at accredited zoological facilities in North America?”  Notably, its statement did not go that far.

The Art of War by Sun Tzu

We are waging a war against captivity. The Art of War by Sun Tzu

So, to the celebrants I say, as we claim a tactical victory, study the art of war.  Consider where and how this announcement plays in the overall war.  Know that this victory came as a result of little more than the Georgia Aquarium’s arrogance and feeling of entitlement at stealing wild animals from the ocean and importing them into the United States and of the system of laws working.  Appreciate the possibility that the Georgia Aquarium learned something valuable to itself in this war and how to play in the next battle, a battle that may not invoke a “taking”, a battle that may not involve a “Near Threatened” species.

Prepare yourself for the next battle.

Because it will come.

Beluga Cousteau quote

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.

Aqua Vino is wine with a cause: marine mammal captivity

The Georgia Aquarium fights to import wild beluga whales.The Georgia Aquarium is promoting its 10th annual fundraiser, Aqua Vino Nights.  According to the Georgia Aquarium, the event offers an opportunity to “witness the remarkable behavior of social animals and socialites” for the ticket price of $150 to $325 (Georgia Aquarium members pay less), for a cause.  The Georgia Aquarium says that the cause is its important southern sea otter research conservation initiatives.  But what other cause does the event support?

Aqua Vino Nights: exploiting some marine mammals to "conserve" others

Aqua Vino Nights: exploiting some marine mammals to “conserve” others

If one traces the money trail for the Georgia Aquarium’s various “initiatives”, he may find a direct trail supporting the aquarium’s claims.  But what of the less direct (or, rather, less obvious) trail?  What does one find?  In the Georgia Aquarium’s own words, one will find “remarkable . . . social animals” held for a lifetime of captivity, doing tricks for a paying public.

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

Beluga WhalesOne will find the beluga whales and dolphins housed in concrete tanks, including the window in the Georgia Aquarium ballroom which allows guests to party down while watching the beluga whales.  These whales, who in the wild swim in family and community groups of tens to hundreds and traverse hundreds of miles in regular migration in Arctic waters, are relegated to a morbidly small tank. In its short operation time, four beluga whales have died (the link does not include the death in 2015 of Maris’ latest calf) in the Georgia Aquarium’s tank, and one, Nico, died in 2009 about three weeks after being transported to SeaWorld of Texas.

Despite its morbidity record, or perhaps because of it, the Georgia Aquarium is seeking to import 18 wild-caught Russian beluga whales.  The aquarium awaits the decision of Federal District Judge Amy Totenberg, following an August 14, 2015, hearing in which NOAA, the Georgia Aquarium and intervenors Animal Welfare Institute, Whale and Dolphin Conservation, Cetacean Institute International and others presented their arguments for summary judgment.

Georgia Aquarium would steal these lives

Beluga whales in Russian waters. The scale may difficult to grasp, but not so difficult that life in a tank is revealed to be a horrid life sentence.  Image from the Russian Academy of Sciences.

Anyone who has seen the beluga whales up close at the Georgia Aquarium will undoubtedly come away with a sense of wonder.  “Wonder” is exactly what its customers should be doing.  They should wonder why aquariums and marine parks exploit certain species while claiming that captivity and exploitation of “remarkable . . . social animals” are necessary to conserve?

The beluga tank serves as a backdrop to the Georgia Aquarium's ballroom.

The beluga tank serves as a backdrop to the Georgia Aquarium’s ballroom. Photo from the Georgia Aquarium flickr photos.

DolphinsAnd then there are the dolphins, another of the “remarkable . . . social animals” whom the Georgia Aquarium keeps captive.  The Georgia Aquarium currently holds 13 dolphins in its tank system, including five who were shipped from SeaWorld San Diego on May 13, 2014, but excluding

Shaka, wild-caught, shipped from the Georgia Aquarium to Marineland Florida on December 9, 2013.

Shaka, wild-caught, shipped from the Georgia Aquarium to Marineland Florida on December 9, 2013.  Photo from Dolphin Quest.

Shaka and Lily, who were part of the original eleven dolphins at the Georgia Aquarium, subsequently shipped to its Marineland location on December 9, 2013.

These 15 currently-alive dolphins tell only a thinly-veiled version of the story.  Behind that thin veil are the thousands of dolphins who have been captured (or bred from those captured) by the aquarium and marine park industry.  Marineland Florida, now owned by the Georgia Aquarium, was one of the first of such attractions in the United States.  Its 14 currently-living dolphins, including two who were captured in the early 1970s, mask a record of death that will shock anyone except the callous.  A 2004 report by the Sun-Sentinel noted that “Seaquarium has lost 64 of 89 dolphins since 1972.  Of those whose age could be determined, more than half died at 10 or younger, including 16 in their first year.”  And that was 2004.  (Because the required record-keeping (16 U.S.C. §1374(c)(10)) is unattached to any meaningful enforcement, one wonders whether it is reasonable to have confidence in the accuracy and timeliness of the records, which are accessible via the Freedom of Information Act.)

Capturing for the aquarium and marine park industry.  While the Georgia Aquarium fights to be able to import wild-caught marine mammals, other parts of the world do not have to wage the same fight to capture them.  Even killing them en masse, intentionally, during the capture process is permitted.  In Taiji, Japan, they do not capture beluga whales because Taiji is not located in the Arctic; they capture, and kill, the marine mammals that migrate in its waters.

On September 18, 2015, a community of 75 to 80 bottlenose dolphins were herded in a “drive hunt” into a small cove.  For two days, family members were ripped from one another, with the ones prettiest and deemed most suitable for displays taken for the aquarium and marine park industry.  Fifty, or approximately two-thirds of the community, was captured in a process that is neither humane nor sustainable.

Dolphins thrash in panic as the Taiji dolphin hunters attempt to separate dolphins into "takes" and "not takes." Photo credit: Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.

Dolphins thrash in panic as the Taiji dolphin hunters attempt to separate dolphins into “takes” and “not takes.” Photo credit: Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.

This photo and others taken by the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society reveal some of the terror that the capturing process causes in the dolphins.  While we do not know what dolphins “feel”, we do know that members of the closely-knit dolphin communities will fight to stay together, even at their own risk, during this process.  Yesterday’s image of the dolphin mother and calf being separated so that the mother could be taken into captivity is horrific to an ethical human.  The calf, not taken with his mother, is now condemned to whatever “life” can reasonably be expected, without the relationship with his mother that would have taught him survival skills.

Dolphins are trapped under a net in the process of capturing, subduing and separating dolphins for the aquarium industry. Photo credit Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.

Dolphins are trapped under a net in the process of capturing, subduing and separating dolphins for the aquarium industry. Photo credit Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.

Taiji Dolphin Drive Hunt quota. Image and data compilation from Cetabase on Facebook.

Taiji Dolphin Drive Hunt quota. Image and data compilation from Cetabase on Facebook.

But to an aquarium industry and its supporters (ticket-purchasers) this mother-calf separation is invisible.  The predictable death of the calf will not be noted in a statistic anywhere, certainly not in the quota allowed by the Japanese Fisheries Ministry.  His death and the fate of the pod decimated by the Taiji dolphin hunters will fade into oblivion.  It will certainly not be reported by the industry that will be profitable only so long as facts such as these remain hidden from view.

The entire aquarium and marine park industry is culpable.  The U.S. aquarium and marine park industry likes to proclaim, while it neglects to mention or even abandons the current effort of the Georgia Aquarium, that it no longer captures marine mammals from the wild.  Further, it attempts to distance itself from the Taiji hunt.  It does not want the paying public to connect the dots, but it is without question that the world aquarium and marine park industry has fashioned itself on the U.S. model of shows to attract the public to its turnstiles. The boom of U.S. aquariums that started in the 1950s and 1960s is only beginning in the rest of the world.  China, Japan, the Middle East, islands of the Caribbean and elsewhere are busy playing catch-up to the mature U.S. industry.

But what has been revealed in the 50-plus years since the U.S. boom is that dolphins and whales are not suited to captivity.  The statistics alone tell the tale.  But these statistics and the stories behind them have been distilled into films and books that make the institution of marine mammal captivity anything but the benign image portrayed by the display industry.  Films like Blackfish, A Fall from Freedom, Saving Flipper, A Whale of a Business, Vancouver Aquarium Uncovered, the to-be-released Born to be Free, and the Oscar-winning The Cove present the truth about an exploitative industry that should have been retired long before 2015.  Books like Orca: The Whale Called Killer, Death at SeaWorld, Beneath the Surface and Of Orcas and Men fill in more details than can be captured in films.  All of them reveal that the fascination with whales and dolphins in captivity is a morbid one

The aquarium and marine park industry is, however, profitable.  Highly so.  And as long as the public continues to pass through the cha-ching of the turnstile, the industry will continue to exploit dolphins and other marine mammals.  The world aquarium and marine park industry, modeled after the U.S., uses dolphins and other marine mammals as replaceable, fungible attractions, much as the U.S. industry did in its early years, in a cycle of unending capture.  In the U.S., aquariums and marine parks are beginning to feel the tide of history turning, thanks to the efforts of non-governmental organizations, authors and film-makers.  The National Aquarium, for instance, ended its dolphin shows in 2014, but rumors of its ending dolphin captivity have not come to fruition.  Yet.

Conservation is the new favorite word. In its efforts to “stay current” and face down the growing awareness of the horror of captivity for marine mammals, the U.S. aquarium and marine park industry is attempting to associate, in the public’s mind, captivity with conservation.  “We do good works” is the new mantra.  “Come to the aquarium and take part in conservation.” But the fact remains, and it is a fact, that it is the dolphin or beluga attraction that keeps the money flowing.  The advertisement for the Aqua Vino event at the top of this post makes this perfectly clear.  It is another fact, also born out by this event, that the conservation efforts of the aquarium industry are mainly focused on other species, not the main attractions.  The new message to the public is that we must exploit to do good.  But we are better and smarter than that.  We know that there need be no link between the two.  And we also know that if they are linked, the money for conservation is tainted with the morbid lives of sacrificed individuals.

Aqua Vino may be an event for a cause.  But that cause is marine mammal captivity.

Beluga Cousteau quote

Trailer for Born to be Free:

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).

Freedom from tyranny and the dolphin captivity industry

Fox New’s John Stossel will be airing a show (I’ve never used the word “mockumentary”, and I’m still safe; but gosh, was it tempting) from his Green Tyranny platform.

Whether you watch Fox News or not, but especially if you are a consistent purveyor of its broadcasts, and you watch the show, I would ask you to think from the tagline of this publication: “A Free Press For A Free People Since 1997” and realize that freedom is what is at the core of this issue.  Freedom for humans, and freedom for dolphins and whales.

Freedom for humans. Humans have been fed a line of nonsense about dolphins and whales since aquariums opened, but especially since the mid-1960s, when the aquarium boom started.

Our ability to distinguish the truth about whales and dolphins from the fiction about their captivity is minimal, since most of us are not marine biologists with a focus on studying the wild ones (instead of marine biologists who think that tanks facilitate their next research grant).  That inability to distinguish was complicated by the fact that in the 1960s, no one understood dolphins and whales very well.  Not marine biologists, not aquariums, and certainly not laypeople.

In the ensuing years, we have learned more about dolphins and whales.  We’ve learned about them by studying them in the wild.  What we’ve learned from those in captivity is that they are not suited to it.

So, freedom for a free people?  What’s the tyranny here?  Trying to spread information that corporations want hidden?  Or using a news platform as a shill for the aquarium industry to pass off more aquarium hype as fact?

Freedom for dolphins and whales.  This point is rather too obvious to make, but it would be missing to ignore.  What the “Freedom” tagline underscores is the arrogance of humans to think that we deserve it, but no other species does.  We deserve self-determination, but no other species does.  We deserve happiness (or whatever is our closest approximation), but no other species does.

The irony of that is that we don’t realize that we’ll never find ours, if we don’t encourage their finding theirs (or at least not do anything to prevent it).

Jiyu at Dolphin Base in Taiji, Japan

Jiyu, a dolphin captured for the aquarium industry in Taiji, Japan. Her emaciated appearance should be a bellweather for anyone who thinks that starvation isn’t a human value. Uncredited photo from ProjectAware.org.

Dolphin and whale rights activists have been encouraged by the public’s reception of the film Blackfish, and have promoted its message it via social media.  This film opened the eyes of many, mainly via its broadcast on CNN and its availability on Netflix.  Some have taken this new awareness and have read Death at SeaWorld by David Kirby and former SeaWorld trainer John Hargrove’s personal account as a trainer, Beneath the Surface.  Others have watched the PBS Frontline special, A Whale of a Business and A Fall from Freedom.

These are all good resources to learn about the morbid existence that whales and dolphins face by being exploited inside the captivity industry.  So if you watch Stossel’s show or if you don’t, I highly suggest watching these videos and reading these and other materials, so that we can avoid tyranny and embrace freedom for all.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Taiji: An unsustainable and inhumane dolphin hunt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What you can do to end the Taiji drive hunt:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A cultural monstrosity

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

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

So we’ve settled that bit.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A reconsideration of the human entitlement to gawk

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

choice

It’s up to you.