How the anti-captivity movement kills wild cetaceans or the preposterousness of the Whale Sanctuary Project

In anticipation of rage from all five people who will read this post, let us be very clear: captivity is bad. No one in their right mind would argue otherwise. And here comes the but… but instead of being one of the issues facing cetaceans today it has become the one and only, the most important issue ever due to the amount of media coverage, the number of resources poured in to the cause, its widespread exposure and the number of people involved, including some clearly egomaniacal personalities.

Today wild cetaceans face enormous threats. They are still hunted; they are stranded all over the place and not rescued. Losing cultural knowledge and key individuals, their food sources have dwindled. By-catch is rampant, their habitat is polluted, and they are blasted by Navy sonar and Big Oil air guns. We have had numerous unexplained die-offs that were quickly forgotten. One factor contributes to this situation (directly or indirectly) more than anything else: human overpopulation. But this is not a hip topic to talk about, and you cannot attract a sponsor, such as an infant and toddler company for a cause like that. So instead, we open our Facebook feed and get the impression that captivity is really the only worthy cause to join, where a mother with her five children protests captivity insisting on making the world a better place for her five kids.

And boy, did people join. The documentary Blackfish was a true gift. The media campaign followed, and all kinds of celebrities and personalities tuned in, making it a daily CNN occurrence. It then appeared on TED talks and the enormous, all-encompassing movement was born. It became so big that it left virtually no room for any other causes. Meanwhile, it has been sucking in all available resources, cognitive, emotional and financial, making other causes and threats facing wild cetaceans less important and less visible.

Humans have very limited attention spans and once you start chanting “Free Lolita, Morgan and Tilikum” your brain closes to other causes, not because you don’t care, but because people have limited attention and cognitive, emotional and financial resources to invest. And the bigger and more bloated the cause is, the less resources are available to invest in other issues. So you have to become a hypocrite, as it is the only way to tune out other issues facing cetaceans today.

The bloated anti-captivity movement actually prevents people from becoming involved in causes at the local level. Our favorite example was an exchange with one activist from New Zealand who travelled to Japan to protest Taiji, while completely ignoring the fact that her very own NZ Department of Conservation has a dismal performance record when it comes to rescuing stranded whales and routinely shoots pilot whales en masse. In a similar manner, activists in Florida pass toxic and polluted Indian River Lagoon that kills numerous manatees and dolphins and do not blink an eye, as they are trying to not miss their next “Free Lolita” protest.

Our interest is in strandings, and we estimate that there are at least 800 live animals worldwide that are stranded on an annual basis. These animals include endangered whales, and lesser known, vulnerable species. The rescue rates globally are dismal, around 30% for whales, a bit higher for dolphins, and the public guerilla-style rescues are often responsible for higher success rates. The number one reason why nothing gets rescued is money; the number two is complete lack of exposure or public interest. Have you seen a documentary about whales that are denied the chance to live via euthanasia or ill-designed rescue efforts? Of course not. Have you seen any protests in Florida when a baby pygmy sperm whale was killed on May 4th without a second thought? We think not.

How about any protests or CNN interviews about 1441 dead dolphins on the East Coast that happened in 2013? While it was attributed to the morbillivirus, we do not agree entirely and have written about some aspects and inconsistencies that needed to be investigated. These are just few of many examples where cetaceans die horrible deaths, where key individuals are lost and cetacean societies are disrupted. Yet it gets no attention from the public, let alone any sort of protests, movement or involvement of any sort.

We have advocated the creation of rehabilitation facilities for stranded cetaceans for six years now, and had the whale sanctuary project been designed to give temporary shelter to stranded cetaceans to be treated and rehabilitated, we would have been the first ones to endorse Dr. Marino’s Whale Sanctuary Project. Sadly, this is not the case. They try to peddle the project as “a refuge for whales, porpoises and dolphins that have been retired from entertainment facilities or rescued from injury or sickness in the wild,” but let us be clear. Washington and BC have a minuscule number of live strandings compared to the East Coast. The choice of place alone indicates that stranded cetaceans are not the ones for whom this facility is designed. Furthermore, you cannot introduce a wild cetacean loaded with pathogens but also equipped with strong immunity to deal with them, to sterile orcas with naive and weak immune system within the same lagoon or sanctuary.

The amount of money (they need 200 million, really?) this project will be attracting along with attention and coverage will finish off all other causes that try to help wild cetaceans. It is a frivolous and extravagant project, the embodiment of corporate environmentalism that repackages the product (orcas in Sea World, never to be released versus orcas in the slightly larger sanctuary, never to be released) while still ignoring the actual and more profound threats and problems wild cetaceans have to face. It is also very telling that in the world where the human overpopulation is perhaps the biggest threat to wild cetaceans and, frankly, many other animals, it is a corporation that sells infants and toddlers products providing the corporate support for the Whale Sanctuary Project. Sure, this newly formed NGO does not meddle with corporations like Sea World; instead it meddles with other types of corporations, like that infant and toddler company.

The late Douglas Tompkins, someone we respect a lot, warned about this type of environmentalism saying, “Established organisations such as WWF and Greenpeace have become too closely enmeshed with corporations. When WWF started out, they were doing some good stuff. Now, they’re burning up money like crazy and they don’t really get too much done. Most all of these organisations grew too big for their own good and the small scrappy organisations are the ones who are really getting things done on the ground.”

The bottom line is that the anti-captivity movement grew out of control, became bloated to the extent that it usurped all available resources while making other causes less visible and less worthy. And because of that, wild cetaceans die without help or even basic public awareness of what has been happening to them.

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