Saturday, July 14, 2007

Captive Whales in Canada - An Introduction

Killer whales splashing excited spectators with their powerful fins, trainers riding bottlenose dolphins like water-skis and friendly beluga whales kissing wide-eyed youngsters – these are the images we conjure in our minds when we think of marine parks and other facilities that keep cetaceans.

But behind the carnival music and brightly coloured stages of the traditional whale or dolphin show lurks a dark history of exploitation, death and misery. From capture to transport to their final destination, cetaceans suffer and die in unnatural and terrifying conditions.

Forcibly removed from their homes and families, wild whales and dolphins that survive the capture process and subsequent trip to the marine park are then deposited into small and barren concrete tanks filled with chemically treated water in an attempt to replicate ocean conditions. Now unable to feed themselves, they must depend on park staff to provide sustenance. Animals must adapt to a completely new and alien way of life or die.

Captive breeding programs, justified by the industry as necessary for the survival of certain species, are in fact whale and dolphin ‘mills’ forcing them to breed and inbreed with other animals. This ‘stockpiling’ ensures a steady flow of replacements for those who succumb to the stresses of captivity.

Misleading the Public

Entertainment is peddled as education, conservation or scientific research. Capture and captivity are defended as necessary actions to protect whales and dolphins from the rigors and dangers associated with freedom in their natural habitats; dangers such as water pollution, whaling and predation from other species.

If people are not allowed to see these animals in a captive environment, the display industry argues, they will not care about animals in the wild. Marine parks also claim that whales and dolphins live better lives in captivity while affording the public the opportunity to learn about ocean life through ‘animal ambassadors.’

These arguments however, do not hold up to serious scrutiny. They are simply clever advertising strategies designed to mask animal exploitation. And like any other business, marine parks exist to make money. Profits always come before animal well being; the animals are simply a means to an end.

An Unnatural Life

It is impossible to provide whales and dolphins with their biological, behavioural and environmental requirements inside a concrete tank. Indeed, the trauma of capture and transport is almost as fatal as their captivity. The monotony of performing, the prevention of natural behaviours and the stress of captive life take its toll on the individual, often resulting in illness, disease and premature death.

Captive whales and dolphins are not suited for life in captivity and often develop abnormal behaviours, aggression towards other animals (including humans) and health problems directly linked to inadequate equipment, poor conditions or the careless actions of unsupervised visitors.

A Global Movement

These concerns have started a mass movement towards ending the capture and confinement of whales and dolphins. The more people learn about cetaceans, the more they find it unacceptable to imprison them. There are now several worldwide campaigns calling for an end to such practices.

Predictably, those who exploit animals for commercial gain will fight back harder than ever to retain control of their enterprises and profits. Marine parks will continue to justify their actions with pseudo-science and slick marketing ads while lobbying all levels of government, insisting that jobs will be lost and the economy will suffer if laws are passed to protect whales and dolphins from capture and display.

"No aquarium, no tank in a marineland, 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 marinelands can be considered normal." - Jacques Cousteau

Friday, July 13, 2007

Canadian Marine Mammal Facilities

At least seven facilities in Canada have kept whales, dolphins and other marine mammals in captivity for various lengths of time. They include Marineland of Canada, the Vancouver Aquarium, the West Edmonton Mall and Sealand of the Pacific.

Marineland of Canada

Located in Niagara Falls, Marineland opened in 1961 with three sea lions on one acre of land and soon acquired bottlenose dolphins, seals, fallow deer and sea turtles. By the end of the 1970’s it had expanded to 1000 acres and housed bears, elephants, bison, lions, tigers, crocodiles, several species of birds and orca whales, among other animals. Most of these species had gone missing from the park by the mid-eighties.

In 1998, Friendship Cove, a $20 million whale habitat opened. At the same time, Marineland applied to the federal government to capture beluga whales in Manitoba’s Churchill estuary but was denied. The following year, Marineland imported three beluga whales from a military facility in Russia. Over the next four years, additional belugas, bottlenose dolphins and walruses were imported from Russia to the park.

In 2004, Arctic Cove opened as the new home for Marineland’s belugas. Future works include a shark and stingray exhibit, an interactive dolphin habitat and a number of aquarium complexes. Marineland also features a number of amusement park rides.

Over the years, the park has been found in violation of a number of environmental regulations and the owner was charged and fined $10,000 by the National Marine Fisheries Service for importing dolphins into the U.S. illegally.

Marineland’s animals have injured numerous people over the years, including a trainer who was dragged around a pool by an orca in 1986 and an 11-year-old girl who was bitten by a beluga in 2001. Countless children have reportedly been trampled, kicked and bitten by many of the park’s several hundred deer.

Currently on display are four orcas, eight bottlenose dolphins and twenty-five belugas, as well as walruses, sea lions, deer, bison, elk and bears. At least 40 cetaceans are believed to have died at Marineland since the early sixties. It is not known how many other animals have died there over the years.

Vancouver Aquarium

The not-for-profit facility opened in 1956 in Vancouver’s Stanley Park. In 1964 a sculptor was hired to find and kill an orca so it could be used as a model for the Aquarium’s whale sculpture. A young male was harpooned but survived. ‘Moby Doll’ was then put in a makeshift pen in Vancouver Harbour but died shortly after from complications brought on by the low salinity of the harbour water.

In 1967, a female orca and two beluga whales from Alaska arrived at the aquarium; three years later, six narwhals were captured for the Aquarium. All six narwhals died within four months.

There are currently four Pacific white-sided dolphins and five beluga whales at the Vancouver Aquarium. It is estimated that twenty-five cetaceans have died at the Aquarium over the years.

West Edmonton Mall

Billed as the world’s largest shopping center, the West Edmonton Mall in Alberta had four bottlenose dolphins captured off the coast of Florida in 1985 for display. Five additional dolphins were born at the WEM in 1992, 1993, 1996 and 2002, respectively, with all of them dying during or shortly after birth. By 2003, all the dolphins except one, Howard, were dead.

In 2004, under pressure from national and international animal protection groups to relocate the remaining dolphin and permanently close the dolphin lagoon, the WEM moved Howard to an aquatic park in the Florida Keys, to live out the rest of his life in the company of other captive dolphins. A year later, Howard died.

Sealand of the Pacific

The now defunct Sealand of the Pacific opened in 1967 in Victoria, British Columbia. It held several bottlenose dolphins around 1969 and 1970, and the first orca captured for Sealand was Chimo, a female albino in 1970. Nine other orcas were captured for the park between 1970 and 1992, with two births occurring at the facility.

In 1991, a part-time trainer slipped and fell into the whale pool after a performance. Three orcas, Tillikum, Nootka IV, and Haida II, dragged and repeatedly submerged the 20-year-old until she drowned. The park closed the following year when the city refused to renew its license.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Live Captures of Whales and Dolphins

The process of capturing cetaceans for the aquarium and marine park industry is cruel and invasive. Removal from their natural habitats requires chasing them with motorboats, netting and restraining them, and hauling them out of the water, all while the animals struggle to escape.

Seine-net captures is the most common way to catch dolphins. Small speedboats chase the animals until they are corralled and confined within the net. They are then placed in slings or onto stretchers and lifted out of the water by several people and into the boat.

Others are caught as they “bow ride” or swim in front of the boats. A pole attached to a collar and net is lowered over the head of the dolphin. Once the collar is around the animal the net attachment is broken. The animal swims away and becomes entangled.

Some animals become trapped in the nets and drown. Studies measuring changes in blood chemistry, stress protein levels and other factors have been directly linked to dolphins being pursued, surrounded and caught in the nets. Heart lesions have also been found in dead animals, which researchers link to stress.

Captives are deposited into small holding areas, sometimes no more than a wooden box with plastic tarpaulins, before they are transported by truck or plane to the aquarium or marine park. The journey may take several hours and their chances of dying from shock or stress-induced illnesses increase. According to a 1995 study, death rates for newly captured bottlenose dolphins shot up six-fold during their first five days of confinement.

In 1977, Marineland of Canada attempted to transport eight wild-caught bottlenose dolphins from Mexico to Canada when the plane illegally landed in Texas. U.S. officials seized the dolphins, releasing six of them into the Gulf of Mexico. They had been in transit for over eighteen hours and were reportedly going into shock before release.

The remaining two dolphins were handed over to Marineland and flown to Canada. The dolphins arrived at the park approximately thirty-six hours after their initial removal from Mexican waters. One of the dolphins died en route.

Orcas and belugas fare no better. Video taken in 1999 by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) shows Russian whalers rounding up belugas for the aquarium industry. The whales are seen thrashing about in nets, the water red with blood.

Some of the animals are hauled out of the water and lowered into boxes not much bigger than the whales themselves while tractors drag the others across the beach by their flukes (tails). The animals are then dumped on the floor of the aircraft, without support or restraint, to the aquarium or marine park.

Impacts on Wild Populations

The removal of animals from the wild can have negative impacts on the remaining individuals. A 2004 study on bottlenose dolphins indicates that certain animals are responsible for keeping their communities together. The loss of key members can be detrimental to the group.

Removing females may also cause the deaths of their dependent young. Research on wild orca populations show that when the mother dies, the young males have been known to die shortly after. Historically, captures have focused mainly on females; approximately two-thirds of all bottlenose dolphins captured have been females.

Captures of belugas, which take place in the summer when the animals travel into the shallow estuaries to feed, have been known to separate mothers and young, and cause strandings. Spontaneous abortions by pregnant females have also been recorded during capture attempts (one study revealed that 54% of females in Hudson Bay were pregnant, lactating, or both).

Discarded animals also suffer from the hunt and it is unknown how many die from the ordeal. Marine Animal Productions in Mississippi, who once rented dolphins to Canada’s Wonderland, estimates that for every dolphin taken, “three to four are encircled, handled, evaluated and released.” The numbers are even higher for belugas:

· In 1984, a joint Mystic Aquarium and New York Aquarium operation captured fourteen white whales to obtain four.
· In 1985, the Mystic Aquarium captured ten to obtain two.
· In 1987, the National Aquarium in Baltimore and the New York Aquarium captured ten to obtain three.
· In 1988, Sea World captured eighteen to obtain four.
· In 1992, Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium captured twenty-four to obtain four.

Although captures from North American waters have declined over the years, they are increasing in other parts of the world. Russia and the Caribbean still remain significant sources of wild cetaceans for marine parks and aquariums in the United States and Canada.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Life in a Tank

To a wild whale or dolphin, everything in captivity is strange and unnatural, including separation from their natural habitat; forced idleness; direct control by humans; loss of life in normal social groups; drugs, medication, fertility control and caging – a total alien environment with artificial diets, unusual noise, strange odours and the unnatural proximity of both alien species and the human visitor.

A concrete tank is a poor substitute for the ocean, and it is impossible to recreate a whale or dolphin’s natural habitat; the ocean is infinitely too complex. Pool size, shape, depth and design are dictated by budgetary constraints and by satisfying the needs of the public instead of meeting the needs of the animals.

Animals that are accustomed to traveling up to 150 kilometers (90 miles) a day are forced to live in an area thousands, if not millions of times smaller. On average, a dolphin or whale tank is only six or seven times longer than the length of the animal itself. It only takes a few seconds for the animal to reach the other side of its ‘world.’

Chlorine and other chemical disinfectants are added to artificial seawater to keep the pools clean and clear, making it even easier for visitors to see the animals. This results in a barren, sterile and impoverished environment, yet aesthetically pleasing from the visitor’s point of view.

Compare this to a world made up of coral reefs, forests of kelp and seaweed, sand, rocks and ice. Wild animals are also able to enjoy the effects of storms and rolling tides while interacting with other ocean species. Life in a tank - sterile, smooth and devoid of everything that makes life interesting and challenging - is anything but natural.

Captives are also unable to achieve the necessary exercise they need for their physical, mental and social growth. Enrichment tools such as BoomerBalls, hoops, heavy ropes and Frisbees can stimulate mental and physical processes while reducing stress.

They also increase physical activity, which can have a positive effect on appetite, respiration and muscle function as well as providing the animal with some control over its environment. Unfortunately, enrichment tools are absent from most marine parks.

Inappropriate Social Conditions

While animals are isolated during their initial capture, transport and arrival, they are also separated from other animals during routine medical tests, pool cleanings and training sessions. Premature separation of calves from their mothers also puts stress on the animals and interrupts the natural process of learning skills necessary to survive. Some animals have been kept partially or completely isolated from other animals for years.

Others have even attempted suicide. Baby Jane, a pilot whale at Marineland of Canada, was reported to have “suicidal tendencies” after she began charging head-on into the metal bars of her holding tank a month after arriving at the park. According to eyewitnesses, she repeatedly smashed into the wall of her tank, blood gushing from a gash in her head.

A number of other whales have also been known to intentionally smash themselves into observation windows and the sides of their tanks. Sea World’s Kanduke (originally acquired from Marineland) was reported to occasionally beat his head against the gate until it bled.

Unnatural social groupings also lead to aggression among animals that are unable to avoid each other in a tank. Kanduke, a Pacific orca, and Kotar, an orca from Iceland, frequently exhibited aggressive behaviour towards each other. In 1987, Kotar bit Kanduke’s penis, turning the pool water red with blood and causing damage serious enough to cancel performances for the next two days.

In the wild, orcas do not solve their problems aggressively. Killer whales travel in kinship groups or clans and they do not have aggressive interactions. If other whales come along from a different group, they simply avoid each other. In a tank, this is quite impossible.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

At the Mercy of Humans

Captive whales and dolphins are forced to interact with humans on a daily basis, in the form of trainers, veterinarians and visitors. According to a former dolphin hunter, the animals are required to acknowledge the presence of, and eventually accept, contact with humans.

In the wild, animals have some control over various elements of their lives, for example, feeding, social interactions or pursuing a mate. In captivity they do not; the keepers and trainers choose and control everything. If the animals do not obey their masters, they may be isolated from the other animals, food may be withheld or unappetizing food (usually fish-heads) may be given instead as punishment.

Routine veterinary care, still relatively primitive, can be stressful to the animals and may actually harm them. Captive animals are regularly given antibiotics and other drugs, yet pneumonia - triggered by stress or a compromised immune system - is the most commonly cited cause of death in whales and dolphins.

Whales and dolphins, accustomed to hunting, catching and eating live prey, must learn to accept dead fish from their keepers. Eating dead fish instead of chasing down live ones is a tremendous change - dead fish are not recognizable to them.

Sometimes it is necessary to force-feed the animals through a stomach tube to keep the animal alive until it learns to accept an artificial diet. Some animals refuse to eat and eventually starve to death.

Vitamin and mineral supplements for the whales and dolphins are hidden inside the dead fish they’re given, which indicates that their diet is deficient in some way. Frozen fish is, in fact, lower in nutritional quality than live fish. The lack of dietary variety may also contribute to behavioural and other problems.

The careless actions of visitors are also a threat to the animals’ health. Autopsies reveal that a large number of dolphins and orcas have swallowed rubber toys, fishing buoys, rocks, coins and other objects, which may have contributed to their deaths.

The coffee shop at the Vancouver Aquarium, located next to the beluga tank, had to stop handing out straws with served beverages after it was discovered the belugas were choking on straws discarded by customers.

Petting pools can found at other facilities around the world, but Marineland is believed to be the only one that permits contact with orcas. While this encounter may be exciting for the guests, it can be extremely stressful to the animals, forced into the situation whether they want it or not.

Visitors who wish to pet and feed the animals are instructed by staff to remove all jewelry and watches first (to avoid ingestion and prevent the animals from accidentally hooking onto an object and pulling someone into the pool). This however is rarely enforced, and visitors regularly touch the animals with their jewelry on.

This puts both the public, and the animals, at risk. Human safety and animal welfare are compromised to provide the “unique thrill” of petting a whale or dolphin.

Training Methods & Performances

In captivity, cetaceans are trained to perform various tricks so they can entertain audiences. To properly train captive whales and dolphins, food is the key. Since the animals are unable to secure food from other sources, they must do whatever their trainers want. This gives the trainers considerable control over the animals.

When an animal performs a trick correctly, it receives a reward of fish (thus the purpose of the trainer’s whistle, to indicate to the animal that it has performed properly). When the animal does not perform to the trainer’s satisfaction, food is withheld. Known as operant conditioning or positive reinforcement, it’s really food deprivation.

Training can be very strict, and has been compared to the military method used in training soldiers. Captive animals are exposed to a lot of stress as a result, which they release through depression, aggression, or sexual activity.

Watching whales and dolphins perform various tricks may be exciting for the spectators, but they are abnormal behaviours to the animals. Wild cetaceans do not play basketball, tail walk or do water ballet. Nor do they propel humans into the air from their heads or allow people to ride on their backs as if they were surfboards.

Training whales and dolphins to perform these abnormal behaviours is the manipulation of an animal’s abilities - reinforced with the animal’s knowledge that food will be withheld if it doesn’t perform satisfactorily.

Unfortunately, whales and dolphins, without proper nurturing, or the opportunity to execute normal, natural behaviours on a regular basis, will gradually lose their foraging abilities. This has been known to manifest itself into aggression and other abnormal behaviours.

Monday, July 9, 2007

Shortened Lives in Captivity

Does captivity cause the premature death of cetaceans? This question has been debated for nearly as long as whales and dolphins have been on display. Marine parks and aquariums maintain that captive animals live just as long, if not longer, than animals in the wild.

Belugas and bottlenose dolphins can live up to 30 and 50 years, respectively while the latest estimates put the average life expectancy of wild orcas at 50 years for females and 29 years for males. The maximum life span for orcas is believed to be 60 years for males and between 80 and 90 years for females.

Of the 185 orcas held in captivity since 1961, only 26 have survived more than 20 years, and only two have survived for more than 35 years.

While comparative data between the longevity of wild and captive animals is limited, there have been some significant studies conducted showing captive animals live shorter lives than their wild counterparts.

For example, a 1997 study conducted by the International Marine Mammal Association (IMMA) compared survival rates of captive and free-ranging bottlenose dolphins, orcas and belugas. The information came from the United States Marine Mammal Inventory Report (MMIR) and data collected from studies conducted on free-ranging populations between 1973 and 1994.

Although the available data on free-ranging belugas was inadequate for comparison with captive animals, annual survival rates (ASRs) from both captive bottlenose dolphins and orcas were significantly lower than free-ranging animals.

These findings are disputed by an industry that continues to tell its visitors that bottlenose dolphins only live 30 years, an industry that has failed to improve survival rates for captive dolphins, even though this species has been kept in captivity for over 70 years.

Marine parks also underestimate orca longevity, claiming the average life span of orcas to be between 20 and 35 years. However, a 1994 study by the Center for Whale Research found that almost 65% of the 94-plus orcas in Washington waters were over 45 years of age. Field researchers in the Pacific Northwest also found, after more than two decades of studies that not one female between the ages of 12 and 25 had died.

Birth Rates

When a whale or dolphin is born in captivity, it is used by the industry as proof that the animals are happy and healthy. Most animals however, even those kept in less-than-satisfactory conditions, will breed if they are given the chance. The problem with captive-born animals is that they don’t live very long in captivity.

Birth rates for captive-born orcas, after more than 40 years in captivity, have been at best, no better than in the wild and have almost certainly been worse. Of the 185 orcas in captivity and 74 known pregnancies, only 33 calves have survived past the first year.

Captive-born dolphins are no better off, even though this species has been kept in captivity even longer, approximately 70 years. Still, the captive display industry continues to state that high numbers of infant mortalities are normal, as they also occur in the wild.

This position however, contradicts the industry’s argument that the animals are better off in captivity, protected from the dangers of an otherwise harsh environment.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Canadian Cetacean Mortality Rates

Over forty whales and dolphins have died at Marineland since the early sixties – with an estimated twenty-two animals dying between 1998 and 2005. Still, Marineland claims that its animal welfare record is better than any other facility in North America.

Mortality rates for animals captured from the wild are difficult to calculate since the exact birth dates are unknown. However, captive births and deaths are reported by the media and occasionally by the display facility itself.

· Of the eleven orcas born at Marineland, ten are dead. The average age was 4.8 years. At the Vancouver Aquarium, all three captive-born orcas died within 3 months.
· Only two dolphins have been born at Marineland, one in 2001 and the other in 2003. The former died fourteen days later; the latter is currently alive. All five dolphins born at the West Edmonton Mall died at, or shortly after birth. No dolphins have been born at the Vancouver Aquarium.
· Four belugas have been born at Marineland, two in 2002 and another two in 2003 (in which one died at birth). Of the three belugas born at the Vancouver Aquarium, two have died, the average age: 1.6 years (Qila, born in 1995, is still alive).

Including the mortality rates from the Vancouver Aquarium, the average age of captive-born orcas in Canada is approximately 3.75 years, far below the display industry’s own estimates.

Causes of Death

Marine parks and aquariums often state that captive cetaceans are safer than ones in the wild. The industry contends that marine mammals in controlled environments are spared many of the problems affecting their counterparts in the wild, including such things as parasites, predators, natural toxins, natural disasters such as freezing, pollution, variations in the availability of food, and the need to compete with man for food.

However, necropsy results on captive animals include parasites, chlorine toxicity, zinc poisoning and possible toxic fish accounting for some of the deaths. At Marineland, the Vancouver Aquarium and the West Edmonton Mall, whale and dolphin deaths have been attributed to parasites, pneumonia, twisted intestines, as well as “rare diseases” and “undetermined causes.”

In January 2002, a Pacific white-sided dolphin known as Whitewings underwent a “routine medical procedure” to remove debris such as stones and pinecones from her stomach. According to the veterinarian, an employee with a long, skinny arm reached down the dolphin’s throat into her stomach to remove the debris. The dolphin died shortly after.

Other “official” causes of death include old age, and illnesses or injuries the animals may have acquired before coming to the facility. Parasites were blamed for the death of Marineland’s first beluga whale, Paige. The park claimed she died from liver failure caused by parasites that the animal obtained some time ago in the wild and that she was quite old and at the end of her life expectancy. Paige was only 4 years old.

Causes of death for captive bottlenose dolphin calves include lack of maternal skill (on the part of the mother), lack of proper fetal development and abnormal aggression from other animals due to the artificial social environments and confined spaces.

If captivity is better than facing the day-to-day challenges of living in the wild - no predation, round-the-clock veterinary care, and the “best diet and medical care available,” then captive cetaceans should enjoy the same, if not longer, life spans, compared to those in the wild. Clearly they do not.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Health and Safety Risks at Marine Parks

While marine parks and aquariums are reluctant to release incidents of human injuries caused by their animals, it is difficult to suppress when several hundred spectators are watching.

Accounts of whales and dolphins injuring, attacking and even killing members of the public also surface periodically in local newspapers, or are caught on film by park visitors and released to television stations.

Over the years, Sea World trainers in the United States have sustained numerous injuries while performing with the orcas, including bites during feedings, ruptured kidneys, lacerated livers, fractured bones, and near drowning. In a 2004 report to the United States Marine Mammal Commission (MMC), the University of California found that captive animals had injured more than half (52%) of marine mammal workers.

Numerous injuries have also taken place at Marineland. In 1986, an orca dragged a trainer around the pool by his leg after he fell into the water during a stunt. An 11-year-old girl required four stitches to close a wound on her thumb after a beluga bit her during a petting session in 2000. In 2002, an orca fell out of its tank during a staff Christmas party. Luckily, no one was underneath the whale when it came crashing down, but the potential for injury was there.

In a joint Canadian Federation of Humane Societies/Zoocheck Canada report written in February 1999, concerns about human safety at Marineland were highlighted and submitted to the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans. The following observations were documented:

· Children leaning over the plexi-glas barrier in order to pet the orcas at Friendship Cove,
· Adults holding their infants entirely over the pool (with the dorsal fin of one of the orcas hitting one of the child as the whale swims away),
· Visitors touching the blow holes of the whales,
· Young children sitting on the concrete wall at the deep end of the pool.

According to the Canadian Association of Zoos and Aquariums (CAZA) Standards of Animal Care and Housing, “security must be provided to safeguard the animal collection and the general public,” while the public “should be prevented from directly contacting potentially dangerous animals by use of double fencing or other barriers.”

Unfortunately, the standards set by CAZA for its members (which includes Marineland and the Vancouver Aquarium) are only voluntary. Because marine parks and aquariums encourage its visitors to feed and touch its cetaceans, accidents and injuries will continue to occur.

The Tragic Death of Keltie Byrne

The drowning of Keltie Byrne is perhaps an example of the worst that can happen. In 1991, the 20-year-old University of Victoria marine biology student and part-time trainer slipped and fell into the orca pool at Sealand of the Pacific. One of the whales took her into its mouth and dragged her around the pool, most of the time holding her underwater.

The champion swimmer broke free and tried to escape, but the three orcas prevented her from exiting the pool. At one point Byrne tried to climb out but the whales pulled her back in. The girl was screaming as other staff members tried to distract the orcas but nothing would work.

Keltie Byrne drowned as she was held underwater, caught inside the mouth of one of orcas as it swam around the pool. It took several hours for her body to be recovered. Sealand closed in 1992.

Communicable Diseases

People who come in contact with whales and dolphins are at a high risk of contracting infectious diseases. According to the MMC report, 18% of respondents reported respiratory illnesses, including diseases such as tuberculosis, while working with marine mammals. Workers exposed to marine mammals for more than 50 days a year were three times more likely to contract a respiratory infection.

It is often difficult to diagnose and treat infectious diseases contracted from whales and dolphins; physicians may be unaware of the signs and risks, and the diseases may go unnoticed. Regular and prolonged contact with cetaceans increases a person’s chances of contracting a disease.

Curiously the West Edmonton Mall prohibited contact between the public and the dolphins, not only because the animals become stressed when forced to interact with strangers, but because the risk of disease transmission between species was too great.

As long as the public is allowed to touch wild and exotic animals, they and the animals will be exposed to unnecessary risk.

Friday, July 6, 2007

Victims of Captivity


Perhaps the world’s most famous orca, Keiko’s life began in the North Atlantic, off the coast of Iceland, in 1977 or 1978. In 1979, the young orca, barely two years old, was caught in a herring fish net, separated from his pod and taken to Saedyrasfnid, an Icelandic aquarium.

In 1982, Keiko was sold to Marineland in Niagara Falls. One of six orcas at the park, he was the youngest and most timid. By 1985, Keiko started to develop skin lesions and it was evident that his health was failing. Marineland sold him to Reino Aventura, an amusement park in Mexico City for $350,000. There he was forced to perform five shows a day, in a small tank, alongside bottlenose dolphins and sea lions.

In 1992, Warner Bros. began filming Free Willy with Keiko as the lead. The film, about a boy, a whale and an attempt to rescue it from the marine park, was an instant success, especially with millions of schoolchildren, when it was released the following year. Moviegoers were asked to call a toll-free number, displayed at the end of the movie, demanding Keiko’s release. More than 300,000 people from around the world did so.

With his health further deteriorating, steps were taken to find Keiko a new home. In January 1995, the Free Willy Keiko Foundation was formed and millions of dollars were raised to move Keiko from Mexico to a new rehabilitation facility at the Oregon Coast Aquarium in the United States, which took place the following year. It was the first time Keiko had experienced real seawater in fourteen years.

By the end of 1996, he had gained over 1,000 pounds, could hold his breath for over 13 minutes, had lost most of his skin lesions, and was mentally alert and engaged. In August 1997, Keiko was catching and eating live fish.

In September 1998, he was flown to a protected holding pen in Klettsvik Bay off the coast of Iceland. There, his rehabilitation continued although he was suffering from a possible liver ailment and respiratory infection.

Over the next few years, Keiko’s progress continued, surprising everyone as he ventured out to sea, interacted with wild orcas and competed with other animals for food. Keiko was behaving just like other wild whales.

On December 12, 2003, Keiko succumbed to pneumonia and died. As the marine park industry is quick to point out, animals, whether in the wild or in captivity, will succumb to illness. Critics have suggested that perhaps Keiko wasn’t the best candidate for release. Nevertheless, Keiko died with dignity and spent the last years of his life free.


Another Icelandic orca, Kandu was born around 1978 and captured for the marine park industry in 1984. He was brought directly to Marineland and kept in a small concrete tank until Friendship Cove, the “world’s largest whale habitat” was completed 14 years later. Kandu was transferred to Friendship Cove shortly afterwards but was kept isolated from the other orcas, except for breeding purposes.

On December 21, 2005, Kandu died of unknown causes. He was 27 years old, half the normal life expectancy of wild male orcas. He spent most of his last years by himself, floating motionless; his dorsal fin flopped over. Kandu sired all the captive-born orcas - eleven in total - at Marineland. Except for Athena, they are all dead.


In November 1980, three orcas were captured off the coast of Iceland and taken to the Vancouver Aquarium. Vigga was sent to California a year later but Bjossa and Finna remained together for 17 years, until Finna died from a bacterial infection in 1997.

Bjossa gave birth to three calves over the course of her life. The first died because Bjossa could not nurse it properly. Her second calf survived for three months before succumbing to a brain infection. The third died moments after birth from labour complications.

In 2000, Bjossa was taken from public display after she contracted a respiratory infection and later the next year was sent to Sea World in San Diego. Bjossa became seriously ill and on August 20th had a “near-death experience” but survived. On October 8, 2001, Bjossa died of a chronic lung infection. She was 21 years old.


For more than four years an Icelandic orca named Junior lived in a small, indoor tank at Marineland, devoid of sunlight, fresh air and normal companionship. It was reported that the park was trying to sell the whale for $1.2 million but there were no takers. In 1994, the surplus whale that nobody wanted died.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Captive Whales as Education

Like zoos, marine parks claim their purpose is to educate the public about wildlife. Only by seeing captive animals up close, the industry says, can people really develop an understanding and deep appreciation for them.

It has also been suggested that without viewing whales and dolphins in captivity, the public would not be able to care about what happens to ones in the wild.

As Marineland has stated: “While books and films are great, nothing compares with seeing a real live dolphin, beluga or killer whale up close. Seeing these animals up close arouses people’s concern for, and curiosity about, these animals so that they care about what happens to them in the wild.”

Statements such as these however, are designed to increase attendance; there are no facts to support them. Indeed, millions of children spoke out against keeping whales in captivity after seeing the film Free Willy. On the contrary, large numbers of people, after seeing these animals in tiny enclosures, come to feel sorry for them; they become concerned about what happens to them in captivity.

Rarely, if ever, are visitors reminded that the very animals they are seeing in captivity have been removed from their natural homes in the wild to be put on display so people can ‘connect’ with them. Indeed, if people were aware of the brutal method of taking whales and dolphins, the shortened life spans and the effects of captivity on the individual animals, many of them would not visit marine parks and aquariums.

If it were impossible to care about wild cetaceans without seeing them in captivity first, then no one would have given a second thought about Humphrey. In 1985, a young humpback whale, dubbed Humphrey by the media, became trapped in San Francisco Bay. The outpouring of concern to help the animal find his way back to sea was enormous and the story made news all over the world.

This event was repeated in 2005 when a female humpback whale became trapped in 20 to 30 commercial crab pot lines off the coast of California. Several rescuers were able to free the whale while news of her rescue circled the globe via the Internet yet nobody has ever seen a humpback whale in captivity.

The popularity of dinosaurs, especially with children, is another case in point. The fact that children love dinosaurs – despite never having seen real live ones – is another example that you don’t have to see them up close to care about them.

Even Dr. Randy Wells, considered to be the world's leading authority on wild dolphin populations, grew up in the American Midwest and claims he learned and became interested in studying dolphins by watching Jacques Cousteau documentaries on TV.

So what exactly does one learn from seeing whales and dolphins in captivity? Aside from the knowledge that these animals can be taught to do circus tricks and stunts, all people really learn is the size, shape and colour of the animals, and various facets of their life in captivity.

Some studies by the captive display industry even suggest that the overwhelming majority of visitors do not increase their knowledge of the natural world or their empathy for it by seeing wild animals in captivity. Critics of such facilities see ‘education programs’ at marine parks as feeble attempts to fool, or perhaps placate audiences into believing they are supporting a worthy enterprise.

Despite the propaganda from those who would have the public believe their facilities are great learning establishments, it’s worth remembering that people go to zoos and marine parks to be entertained, not educated.

According to Randy Brill of the Chicago Zoological Society: “of all our endeavours, the ‘shows’ reach the greatest number of people and provide the greatest portion of the revenues necessary to keep our facilities running. Dad and mom and the kids are not looking for a technical lecture on cetaceans. They are spending their money and they want to be entertained.”

As the Humane Society of the United States points out, exposure to live captive animals does exactly the opposite of what the industry claims: instead of sensitizing visitors to marine mammals and their habitat, it desensitizes people to the inherent cruelty of removing these animals from their natural habitats and holding them captive.

Public perceptions have changed a lot since the sixties and seventies and a growing number of people are finding it unacceptable to capture and imprison animals purely for entertainment purposes. This has forced the marine park industry to reinvent itself, at least from a public relations perspective. It is now quite common for places that display whales and dolphins to promote themselves as not only amusement parks, but as educational institutions as well.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

The Conservation Myth

Today, whale and dolphin performances are portrayed not only as education, but even conservation, with marine parks and aquariums saving animals from the brink of extinction.

The captive display industry cites water pollution, predation from other species, starvation and competing with humans for food as justification for taking them out of the wild.

Those who suggest that captive whales and dolphins should be released back into the wild are scoffed at by the industry. In a statement by Marineland’s owner: “It is ironic, considering all the public understanding created by (the park), that well-meaning individuals with little knowledge of the subject criticize conditions at Marineland and suggest that dumping these animals into the wild is a viable or even preferable alternative.”

In 1992, when the Vancouver Aquarium was pressed to release its two orcas, Bjossa and Finna, the aquarium responded by saying: “To banish them from their home to fend for themselves, in order to satisfy some theoretical concept of ‘freedom’ would be cruel.”

The irony is that places like Marineland and the Vancouver Aquarium have no problem with removing these animals from the wild, but consider it nonsense, even cruelty, to return them to the wild. Nevertheless, captive whales and dolphins have been successfully released back into the wild, even after many years, so this should not be ruled out.

The fact is that none of the whales or dolphins at these marine parks is not on the endangered species list, so conservation should not be used to justify taking animals out of their natural environments and keeping them in artificial ones. Dangers have always existed in the wild. Predators kill to survive and prey animals are killed for food. It is not our place to interfere with the natural balance.

Ultimately, real conservation requires habitat preservation. So far, very few zoos have made meaningful attempts to preserve animals in nature, and most zoos spend more on publicity and public relations than they do on programs involving animals.

Public display facilities point to their captive breeding programs as evidence of their commitment to conservation. But this is used simply to bolster the facility’s reputation and increase its revenue by gaining the support of a relatively naive public.

Captive breeding should not be mistaken for conservation. The World Conservation Union Species Survival Commission stresses that without a companion program of reintroduction, “such programs have little value toward genuine conservation.”

If an animal’s habitat is being destroyed or if a species’ numbers are declining rapidly, there may be a moral justification for bringing animals into captivity. This however, has not been the case with the whales and dolphins currently on display in Canada.

In 1999, after Marineland had been denied permission to remove a number of beluga whales from Canadian waters, the marine park wrote to the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans explaining why it had imported nine female belugas from Russia: “This breeding program is essential for the preservation and longevity of beluga whales at Marineland. Secondly, these animals will enhance and significantly contribute to Marineland’s continuous improvement program of business development and future growth of its facilities and animals for worldwide visitors.”

For such places, captive breeding programs appear to be more about business growth and customer satisfaction than conservation, and to guarantee that they will not run out of performing animals.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Captive Cetaceans and the Law

In 1972, the United States enacted the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), which prohibits, with certain exceptions, the capture of marine mammals in U.S. waters and the importation of marine mammals into the U.S.

The capture of orcas from Canadian waters has been banned since 1975 and beluga captures have not been permitted since 1992 (although there is no formal ban). Still, Canada has no legal standards for marine mammals in captivity, either on the federal level or provincial level at this time.

Canada also has no specific legislation governing the import or export of live cetaceans, making it quite easy for Canadian facilities to acquire cetaceans from other countries. Any controls are regulated through the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which has a permit system to restrict the trade of certain species.

Endangered animals such as the blue, sperm and Right whale are listed in Appendix I of CITES and require both an import and export permit for trade. Other cetacean species, such as orcas, belugas and bottlenose dolphins are listed in Appendix II and only require an export permit. Between 1999 and 2005, Marineland imported 33 beluga whales and 10 bottlenose dolphins (as well as a number of walruses) from Russia through CITES.

According to Max Stanfield, director of Pacific, Arctic and inland fisheries, the federal government has no jurisdiction to restrict imports of cetaceans listed in Appendix II’ adding that the federal government can only intervene if there is inhumane treatment.

The Canadian Association of Zoos and Aquariums (CAZA), a conglomerate of zoos, safari parks and aquariums, is the only body in Canada with defined standards for marine mammals in captivity. CAZA members include African Lion Safari, the Vancouver Aquarium, the Metro Zoo (Toronto), the West Edmonton Mall, the Montreal Biodome and the Calgary Zoo.

Unfortunately, CAZA standards for animal welfare and human safety are developed and monitored by its members. Accredited facilities do not answer to any governmental agency and adherence to the rules is voluntary.

When animal protection groups criticized CAZA after accrediting Marineland in 2002, it responded by stating that the standards are open to interpretation and CAZA gives members a lot of latitude when making changes. CAZA said it could take a long time to address a serious deficiency, but, while acknowledging that some accredited facilities may be deficient in some areas, they might exceed in others.

Countries with Laws Protecting Captive Cetaceans

Since there are no international standards for keeping cetaceans in captivity, a number of countries around the world have taken it upon themselves to ban or severely restrict their captivity and trade, due to increasing public awareness and pressure. They include:

· Argentina (imports and orca captures are prohibited),
· Australia (live captures),
· Brazil (prohibits public display of cetaceans).
· Chile (imports and exports, live captures and public display),
· China (live captures, including Taiwan and Hong Kong),
· Cyprus (imports are prohibited),
· Hungary (imports),
· India (imports),
· Indonesia (live captures of Irrawaddy dolphins in the Mahakam River),
· Israel (imports and circus performances are prohibited)
· Italy (prohibits swim-with-the-dolphin programs),
· Laos (live captures of Mekong Irrawaddy dolphins),
· Malaysia (imports, exports and live captures)
· Mexico (imports and exports and live captures),
· Nicaragua (live captures),
· Singapore (live captures),
· Thailand (live captures),
· The Philippines (live captures),
· United Kingdom (prohibits public display of cetaceans).

In 1975, orca captures were banned from Canadian waters and ten years later the state of Victoria in Australia outlawed the capture and display of cetaceans. Several states and jurisdictions in the U.S. have also prohibited the display of whales and dolphins, including South Carolina and Maui County (which includes several islands) in Hawaii.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Changing Attitudes and Alternatives to Captivity

Since the mid-sixties, when huge numbers of orcas were rounded up for capture in the Pacific Northwest, people have debated the ethics of keeping whales and dolphins in captivity.

In 1975, groups like Greenpeace began protesting at Marineland and public outcry grew in the eighties as captures became more visible and more people learned about the complex social lives of whales and dolphins.

The movie Free Willy and the plight of Keiko brought the issue to the world stage in the nineties, with a number of politicians, movie stars and millions of children calling for an end to whales and dolphins in captivity.

Since then, several facilities have re-evaluated their position on keeping cetaceans in captivity. In 1998, the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society (WDCS) reported that at least 20 amusement or marine parks in North America had permanently closed or discontinued keeping cetaceans.

The Monterey Bay Aquarium in California, specifically designed to educate and delight visitors about the wonders of ocean life without exploiting whales and dolphins, joins over 70 other facilities in North America that have decided not to display cetaceans.

The Montreal Biodome in Quebec, after announcing plans to exhibit beluga whales, relented in 1995 after a successful public awareness campaign by Canadian animal protection groups. Today the Biodome shows films instead, educating the public about the impacts of water pollution on the St. Lawrence River beluga population.

Documentary films and live satellite hook-ups to animals in the wild also offer students in the classroom the chance to learn about the natural behaviours of whales and dolphins in an informative and non-invasive way.

Whale watching tours, a significant source of revenue for coastal communities, allow people to view cetaceans in their natural habitats, allowing the animals to approach them, if they choose, and on their own terms.

Public Opinion Polls

Surveys and public opinion polls have been used by the display industry to justify the keeping of whales and dolphins in captivity. Industry-sponsored polls are designed to support that industry’s agenda and should always be viewed with that in mind.

According to Marineland, a 1998 research study cited over 90% of its respondents as supportive of the role of marine mammal parks as a “major educational vehicle for learning about marine mammals” and for “heightening the awareness of the importance of preservation/conservation.” The following year, a second survey was conducted at the park. Some of the questions asked included:

· Do you have a greater appreciation for marine mammals as a result of your visit to Marineland today? (Yes: 92.3%);
· Do you feel that personal interaction with marine mammals (ie. Observation, touching) gives you a better understanding of marine mammals than reading a book or watching a TV program about them? (Yes: 93.8%);
· Do you believe that keeping marine mammals in captivity is acceptable if the results are greater public awareness, education and appreciation of marine mammal species? (Yes: 88.6%); and
· In your opinion, are the marine mammals you’ve seen here today well cared for? (Yes: 91%).

These results however, are disingenuous and the answers predictable. By polling only park visitors, Marineland is certain to get the desired responses. People who are against keeping marine mammals in captivity would not be there in the first place.

Furthermore, the opinions of the general public (in regards to cetacean physiology and behaviour) should not be cited as proof of proper animal husbandry practices, or of practices that take place behind closed doors.

In contrast, a 2003 public opinion poll of the Greater Vancouver area by the national research firm R.A. Malatest & Associates found that:

· 74.3% of respondents felt that the best way to learn about the natural habits of whales and dolphins is by viewing them in the wild, either on TV, in movies, via internet, etc., or on whale watching tours,
· 71.1% thought that the physical and behavioral needs of whales and dolphins cannot be met in captivity, and
· 68% felt it is not appropriate to keep whales and dolphins in captivity.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Marine Parks - Frequently Asked Questions

1) Aren’t whales and dolphins in captivity tame?

No. According to the National Marine Fisheries Service, dolphins are wild animals that have not been domesticated, even if they are in captivity and have been trained to be around people. Dolphins are large, powerful predators that can inflict serious harm on people.

2) Do marine parks put the public’s safety at risk?

Yes. Whales and dolphins at marine parks have seriously injured a number of people including children. Places like Marineland in Niagara Falls also display other animals such as bears, elk and deer, which have been known to bite, kick and trample small children. Animals at marine parks can carry zoonotic diseases as well, which put the public’s health at risk when petting and feeding of the animals is encouraged.

3) Aren’t marine parks and aquariums educational?

Yes and no. Marine parks exist to entertain, not educate. Some aquariums have an educational component, but places that feature whale and dolphin shows simply teach people that these animals can be trained to perform basic tricks in exchange for food. The public does not learn about the animals’ foraging instincts, social dynamics, etc., and since captive cetaceans do not behave like their wild counterparts, any education is distorted because the animals are behaving unnaturally and in an unnatural environment.

4) Don’t captive cetaceans live longer than wild ones?

That depends on whom you ask. Some public display facilities teach that dolphins only live to 30 or 35 years in the wild while it has been documented that wild dolphins live into their fifties. Others claim that captive animals live longer than wild ones because captive animals are regularly fed, and safe from predators and water pollution. The truth is that captive cetaceans, with very few exceptions, live shorter lives than free-ranging animals. Quality of life is something that has to be considered too.

5) Aren’t most whales and dolphins born in captivity?

No. Whenever a whale or dolphin is born in captivity it is used as ‘proof’ that captive breeding works. Unfortunately, the animals don’t stay alive very long. At Marineland, the average age for captive-born orcas is less than 5 years while all captive-born orcas at the Vancouver Aquarium died within three months. Because of this, it is necessary to continue to take animals out of the wild.

6) Don’t whales and dolphins receive good veterinary care?

No. Although most captive whales and dolphins receive food (dead fish) on a regular basis and routine medical check-ups, it is still very difficult for veterinarians to keep the animals healthy and alive. One has only to look at the death record of captive cetaceans to gauge the efficacy of veterinary care at most marine parks and aquariums.

7) If the animals aren’t abused, why is it cruel to keep them in captivity?

Cruelty comes in many forms. Knowing these animals are far ranging, highly social and incredibly intelligent beings, it is cruel to capture, confine, isolate and condemn them to a life of servitude and monotony. Removing them from their homes and families and subject them to unnecessary stress also shows a lack of respect for the animals.

8) What are the alternatives to visiting marine parks?

There are a number of ways to entertain or educate people without visiting places that keep whales and dolphins captive. The Montreal Biodome and whale-watching excursions are just two. National and provincial parks are also wonderful places to experience other kinds of wildlife in their natural environment. Viewing wildlife should not come at the animals’ expense.

9) If marine parks are so bad, why aren’t they shut down?

Just like circuses that compromise animal well being for human entertainment, marine parks flourish because there are no laws to protect these animals. Governments are satisfied to leave animal welfare issues up to the marine park industry, which regulates itself while local humane societies lack the resources, expertise and authority to protect whales and dolphins. In Canada, the federal government can only intervene if there is proof of unnecessary pain and suffering, which is incredibly difficult to prove.

10) Didn’t marine parks serve to end negative stereotypes about killer whales?

According to a Marineland press statement, the owner’s “pioneering efforts played a major role in creating the understanding and love that people now feel toward them. … these gentle giants were considered marauding pests. They were hunted routinely, with a bounty on each whale killed.”

It’s true that in the 1960’s orcas were considered pests. But most marine parks, including Marineland, didn’t acquire orcas until the early 70’s, when public awareness and sympathy for them was already strong. Still, this is no reason to continue to capture and display them, nor is it reason to capture and display belugas and dolphins, which were never considered pests.