Friday, July 11, 2014

Voiceless film update: interview with Howard Garrett

In May, we headed out to Whidbey Island, WA to spend some time exploring, filming and interviewing. While unfortunately we missed the southern resident Orca (J,K,L,) pods on  this trip, we did get to witness and shoot some great imagery of baleen whales, (Minkes and Grays) off the coast.

It was thrilling and a complete privilege to be able to witness these creatures up close and personal. There are really no words to describe the feeling of being close to these massive, wild beings.

Most exciting, however, was the opportunity we had to interview Howard Garrett, co-founder of the Orca Network. We visited Howard and Orca Network co-founder Susan Berta at their picturesque home on Whidbey Island to film an interview that will be featured in our upcoming YouTube film campaign, Voiceless.

Getting to sit down and talk about Orcas with Howard was a great privilege for me, as in my early activism I read his papers and studies released through the Orca Network's website religiously, and gained much insight on what directions Blue Freedom should take based on the facts and statistics I discovered.

Katie Emmons, founder and president of Blue Freedom, and Howard Garrett, co-founder and president of Orca Network

In addition to our initial interview, we also talked with Howard about Lolita, her current situation and what actions are being taken now to urge for her humane return to her home in Washington waters.

Quoting from the Orca Networks website, here are some great and simple ways that you can participate in helping us reach the goal: Lolita's freedom from 40 years in captivity.

"Please contact Palace Entertainment and ask that Lolita be released back into the waters of her birth. Please be courteous and concise, and simply express your wishes for Lolita in a positive way. We are not aware of the intentions of the company, so this is to acquaint the new owners with the groundswell of public opinion in favor of Lolita's return to her home waters."
 Fernando Eiroa, President and CEO
c/o Palace Entertainment
4590 MacArthur Blvd., Suite 400
Newport Beach, CA 92660
Email: Fernando Eiroa

 or use the online comment form

Not sure what to say in your comments to Palace Entertainment? Here's a quick, simple but effective message:

Dear Palace Entertainment,
I am a concerned citizen, urging you to make the right decision in the case of Lolita the orca whale who has been held captive in Miami, FL for the past 40 years. 
Captivity of intelligent, sentient cetaceans is an outdated and unethical practice, and it is now viewed internationally in a very negative light. It is a thing of the past and not the future.
Please take this opportunity to shine as an innovative company by returning Lolita to her native waters for rehabilitation. It is the right thing to do, and I urge you to make this positive decision. 
Thank you.

Track updates about this project for Lolita's release here. Also, be sure to like up the Orca Network's Facebook page to stay up to date on this campaigns progress.

In addition to these updates, we also interview Howard about the upcoming film Fragile Waters, about the endangered Southern Resident orcas. "The film will create awareness of this fragile population of orcas, and inspire people to work together to help bring back our endangered orcas, and the endangered salmon they depend upon to survive." (Read more here.)

Our exclusive interview with Howard about the film should be up soon-- so keep your eyes peeled.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

event recap: Voice of the Orcas in Rochester, NY

From left to right: Samantha Berg, John Jett, Carol Ray, Jeffrey Ventre, Phil Demers, Diane DiGravio
screen shots from Katie's talk at the Blackfish Brigade symposium 

Interviewing former SeaWorld trainer Samantha Berg for 'Voiceless'

interviewing former SeaWorld trainer Carol Ray for 'Voiceless'

It's one thing to have knowledge on an issue or a topic. It's an entirely different thing to be able to take that knowledge and communicate it in a way that will actually make an impact and a change.

A few years ago, if someone had told me that at 19 I would be engaged in an education program that would have an expansive, international reach, and that I would be privileged to role as an educator in this program... I don't think I would have believed them.

I've always loved working with my generation, with middle schoolers, high schoolers, college students-- it's a web, woven intricately, and getting to work within that web and see my place within it, it becomes simple to see it's ability to impact the way our world works in really huge ways.

In many ways, I'm glad that I didn't know back when I was 15, where my involvement in humanitarian and environmental causes would lead, because for a kid with mild stage fright, I may have run from the idea. But looking back, I'm profoundly grateful that the experiences I had lead me to where I am today. I feel privileged to be able to be an example for other young people out there, of the fact that one person-- and more specifically, one kid can make a big impact. You don't need to have a degree or a title in order to understand truth and stand.

There are more resources available to us now than ever before. Quoting my friend and also former Sea World trainer, Samantha Berg M.Ac., Dipl.Ac. , "You can learn more about Orcas in five minutes on the internet than you will in an whole day at a place like SeaWorld".

That's how I started. Having been involved in ocean projects since I was about twelve, I naturally had questions when the fatal attack at SeaWorld occurred in 2010. I was able to wade into the details of the issue because of the resources available. I was able to become educated on the issue because of the resources available, and I was able to start a movement among my own generation, again-- because of the resources available.

Things aren't like they used to be. We can start using our own tools for change right now, right where we are.

It was an honor for me to be able to assist Mrs. Diane DiGravio, a science teacher in Rochester, NY and Martha Sullivan in organizing an educational symposium on the topic of cetacean captivity and student involvement, and it was also an immense honor to be invited to speak alongside former SeaWorld trainers Carol Ray MA, CCC-SLP, Samantha Berg M.Ac., Dipl.Ac., Jeffrey Ventre MD, DC, and John Jett, Ph.D., also former MarineLand trainer Phil Demers. It was awesome to be able to listen to them speak on this issue, and answer so many great questions from the audience.

It was also amazing to listen to the inspirational speeches given by several of Diane's amazing students. It was really amazing to hear about their dreams and goals and most of all their passion to make a difference.

It was incredibly special to me, to be able to have a chance after the symposium to chat with so many passionate and inspired young adults. I was deeply touched by how each one of them was impacted and inspired by my talk at the close of the symposium, and I can certainly say that the inspiration was mutual-- I was greatly inspired by them as well.

Getting to see first hand the passion embodied in my generation is a very special thing. So thank you to every young adult who was there that night, thank you to everyone who supported the event, who donated, who listened, who asked questions, and who made this event really super awesome. Thank you to Abbie, Ashlyn, Susan and everyone on the BF team for their astounding efforts.

Recommended resources: 

Monday, April 14, 2014

California Proposed Bill: An end to cetacean circuses?

There's been quite the buzz around the cetacean scene lately; OSHA denying Sea World's appeal for trainers to return to water work, the International Court of Justice declaring that Japan's “scientific whaling” is no longer authorized in the Southern Ocean, and legislation in California is seeking to ban the captivity of orcas for entertainment purposes.

This bill(AB2140), which was proposed by Assemblyman Richard Bloom, is aimed at ending the use of orcas for entertainment, specifically at the Sea World park in San Diego and, if passed, Sea World's famous killer whale shows would come to an end. Although voting has been postponed until 2015 as the committees involved take a step back to learn more, the “educational” whale circuses could very well be tanked(pun intended). In California at least.

Sea World lobbyist, Scott Wetch, implied that if the bill were to be enacted, the whales would be moved to different locations outside of California, not released into sea pens. Wetch seems to be under the impression that release into sea pens would mean “certain death” for the whales. I wonder what he thinks of the multiple death of orcas that have lived at Sea World parks? Perhaps he's forgotten that concrete tanks aren't the natural environment of whales and dolphins nor would release into a sea pen come without an in depth rehabilitation plan. Indeed, not every orca in San Diego is eligible for complete release, but the alternative is release into a netted off cove or bay. The public could still visit them, but they would be in their natural environment and not be coerced into doing circus tricks. But as Sea World is constantly reminding us, their facilities are state of the art; although that cannot be denied, one must ponder whether a cage that is gilded is any less of a cage?

In a release from his office, Bloom stated, “There is no justification for the continued captive display of orcas for entertainment purposes. These beautiful creatures are much too large and far too intelligent to be confined in small, concrete tanks for their entire lives. It is time to end the practice of keeping orcas captive for human amusement.” The Orca Welfare and Safety Act would eliminate performance-based entertainment and the captive breeding of the whales with the end goal being killer whale captivity being phased out of California entirely.

The legislation comes in the wake of the release of Blackfish, the controversial documentary depicting the events that lead to the death of Sea World trainer Dawn Brancheau in February of 2010. Since the documentary has been released, the public has grown more and more aware of the sheer intelligence of cetaceans and exactly how self aware they are. Blackfish remained disciplined in it's exposure of Sea World, but the events depicted in the documentary were enough to spur public interest and many have sought out answers to their questions on their own, pulling the dark history of Sea World even further into the light. Despite desperate claims from the marine park that captivity is necessary for cetacean conservation, it would seem that people are finally coming to the realization that the time for orcas and other cetaceans to be used for entertainment should be left in the past.

In my perfect scenario, the passing of this ban would jump start Sea World into being what they claim to be: an educational powerhouse at the forefront of marine conservation, minus the corruption and exploitation of sentient beings. If they want to return to being the poster child for family joy and education, perhaps they should start listening to the indignant cries of the public before they sink even further into the pit of being Public Enemy #1. In case they haven't dug the cotton out of their ears yet, I suppose I could spell it out:

-There is nothing educational about cetaceans beaching themselves on slide outs or doing tail walks like a synchronized swim team.

-It is incredibly behind the times and in denial of modern research to claim that a tank is an enriching environment for a whale or dolphin.

-The wool can no longer be pulled over anyone's eyes. The truth has come out. The public is waking up.

And I, for one, hope they never fall back asleep.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Captive Athletes: the link between the Olympics and the captive cetacean industry

          There is something special about watching the world come together to watch a live sports event. For a brief moment, all the happenings of the world become dim background noise as the audiences of each nation hold their breath, waiting to see who will earn one of the coveted medals. Athletes from all over the world compete against the best of the best until a few come out on top, crowning them victor in their sport of choice.

I think it's safe to assume you all know I'm referring to the Olympics.

Almost everyone enjoys the Olympics. It's exhilarating to watch top athletes try their hearts out to try to win a gold medal. We cringe at their mishaps, grieve when it costs them their winning chance, rejoice when they reach their goals, and become inspired when we see an underdog rise to the top. But what happens when the Games are over? We turn off our televisions and return to the “real world”, whether that be work or school or other daily activities. The athletes board a plane and go home to their families, with or without a medal, and continue to train for their next event.

But what if some of them didn't get to go home? What if they were left somewhere unfamiliar, isolated, and far away from their homeland? And what if that's where they were expected to spend the rest of their lives?
For two orcas, who were recently taken from the wild along with five others, this is looking to be a definite possibility. The Sochi Winter Olympics, hosted by Russia, is planning a grand display of these two orcas for their opening ceremony. In order to get to the planned display, they will have to fly across seven times zones, only to end up in a tank where they will spend the rest of their lives, away from their families and their home, suffering the same ill effects other captive cetaceans experience. While we humans enjoy rooting for our athletes, these two creatures, athletes in their own right, will be nothing more than entertainment, another means for monetary gain with not a second thought given to their welfare. No matter how well they perform, after the scores are given and the medals are handed out and the victors are named, they don't get to go home. The thought of that puts quite the damper on the Olympic celebrations.

To further my disgust, it's also been stated that they intend for a Black Sea Bottlenose dolphin(an endangered species, mind you) to take part in the Olympic torch relay. The intention is for a trainer to hold onto the fin of this dolphin with one hand while carrying the torch in the other. This is scheduled to happen in a small pool at the Black Sea resort on February 4th, three days before the opening ceremony. The degrading aspect of this aside, I can't help feeling like this is an accident waiting to happen. After all, fire isn't exactly on the list of things aquatic animals tend to encounter.

When I first heard about these plans, I wasn't sure what to feel, other than dumbfounded. How is it possible for humans, the supposed superior species, to continue to use these self aware and intelligent creatures for profit, despite all of the science and research that says captivity is detrimental to their well being? But then I remembered; sometimes greed takes the front seat instead of compassion.

Those in charge of the opening ceremony probably wish we would all ignore this little fiasco and look the other way. But, in all honesty, the only thing I'm looking away from is my TV screen. I'm not asking you to not watch the opening ceremony or to even boycott the Olympics. All I'm asking is that when you're watching the skiers take those daring leaps or the figure skaters displaying their fine tuned skill and grace, you remember the athletes that don't get to go home and don't win any medals. I know someone out there is likely wondering what the big deal is. It's just a few animals, why worry about them when there's the Olympics to focus on? To them I say:

If I don't worry about them, who will?

For those interested in contacting the International Olympic Committees with your concerns:

President Thomas Bach
Chateau de Vidy
Case postale 356
1001 Lausanne

Phone: +41 21 621 61 11
Fax: +41 21 621 62 16

Please sign the petition!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Tilikum: 30 years in captivity

Our message is simple: keeping a 12,000+ pound Orca whale in a pool, (that is less than a fraction of 1% of his natural habitat,) is simply illogical.
“Extracting” an animal from his natural environment, where he would normally swim vast distances, dive to extreme depths and spend his entire life with his close knit family pod is simply unethical.
To use a living, breathing, self-aware and extremely intelligent sentient being as a sperm bank in a forced captive breeding program, and as a part-time splash-machine for the enjoyment of the paying public is, considered by many, simply appalling.
To claim that this is ocean conservation is simply inaccurate and grossly misleading.
This Orca’s name is Tilikum and he has been living in a cement pool since he was taken from his mother’s side in the ocean at the young age of approximately 2 years old. He was captured in November of 1982.
Unlike other cetaceans living in captivity, Tilikum’s interaction with the SeaWorld’s trainers and with the other whales kept there is very limited because of his proneness to aggression.
SeaWorld, however, despite Tilikum’s obvious aggression, has thus far refused to humanely release him to a seapen for rehab, and instead continues to use him as their primary stud in their “superior breeding program”, not knowing whether his aggression will be passed on to his many offspring. (56% of SeaWorld’s Orca whales carry Tilikum’s genes.)
We believe that 30 years of forced breeding, splashing audiences, and performing for SeaWorld’s profit is enough.
Our goal is quite simple: we want to gather 1,000,000 signatures to free Tilikum.
If you agree that this situation is illogical and simply unethical, please add your name to this petition and help us reach our goal by sharing it with your friends.
By signing this petition, you’ll be sending a clear, responsible message to the leadership at SeaWorld and the Blackstone Group (the owner of SeaWorld)- a message that cries out for the release of Tilikum to a seapen for rehab.
It’s time to end the archaic use of these beautiful cetaceans for entertainment and profit. It’s time to free Tilikum!
We appreciate your voice as you help us take a stand for the voiceless.
Grab a Facebook cover photo:

Friday, October 4, 2013

Behind Blackfish: An exclusive interview with Gabriela Cowperthwaite

- What surprised you the most about the public reaction to Blackfish?
I always suspected that people were like me, that they didn't know the truth about SeaWorld and that we all patronized that place blindly. This turned out to be true. People were shocked by what they learned. And it's life affirming to know that if people are armed with the truth, they're capable of making the right decisions.

- What inspired you to create this documentary?
I went in with a question. I heard about the tragic death of Dawn Brancheau and wondered how a top trainer could have been killed by a killer whaleat SeaWorld. I didn't understand why a highly intelligent animal would have made the decision to hurt a trainer who was actively feeding him. I then read "Killer in the Pool" in Outside Magazine by Tim Zimmermann. Tim's comprehensive story, especially the information about the early orca captures, was eye-opening to me. I realized that this was a story that needed to be told.

- Blackfish is absolutely chock-full of information on the issue of Orca captivity. Tell us a bit about what the daily behind-the-scenes work on the filmed looked like.
My producer Manny Oteyza and I were constantly looking for footage. We never stopped researching. I tried to contact every single person, including SeaWorld, including trainers who had been in accidents, family members of people who had been killed, scientists, researchers, people who may've captured killer whales back in the day, and more. The door was closed in my face frequently and people backed out of interviews. But before strapping on a camera, we had to look under every rock because with a documentary like Blackfish, you're heading into some controversial territory. You had better tell this story comprehensively and truthfully otherwise why take the risk?

- It seems to be clear that one of the ways to put an end to this archaic and cruel industry is for people to not buy the ticket. Do you see any evidence that people are starting to get it?
I hear that SeaWorld's revenues have decreased 6% this year and that they have engaged in an unprecedented promotional campaign. I can only hope that people are starting to think twice about where to spend their next vacation.

- We know that profit is driving this industry, but do you believe that with films like Blackfish, conscience is going to kick in and help put an end to this industry?
I don't know. I do believe conscience is kicking in and that people are realizing that keeping killer whales in captivity is wrong. I also know that a 2 billion dollar a year industry will die fighting. I can only hope that with all those financial resources, they will be instrumental in evolving us out of the circus and into sea sanctuaries and rehab/release centers. It's clear that this is where we’re headed. But it will happen a lot faster if SeaWorld realizes it.

- What is the single most important message that you want people to take away from this film?
We need to bring an end to animals for entertainment. It is sooo last century.

- If you could be in a room with the SeaWorld and/or other marine park executives what would you say to them?
Unfortunately I'm not sure we can appeal to their ethical senses at this point. This doesn't mean they're bad people. It just means that they've become so good at telling themselves stories to justify what they do, it's impossible for them to even imagine there could be a better way.

I think would talk to them about the benefits of creating sea sanctuaries for killer whales and other marine mammals. These could be profit making endeavors - people would be seeing a killer whale being a killer whale, which is vastly more interesting than watching a killer whale do goofy tricks over and over again.
- If you were addressing a class of high school students, what would your main points be?
I would tell them they have a chance to do it differently.

- If you could put up 5 billboards, around Orlando, FL, what would each one say?
This is a tricky one. I read many one-liners about the plight of orcas in captivity when I was first beginning the film. They were designed to get your attention. And that's exactly why they didn't work on me. I wanted information and for me, attention-grabbing techniques tend to be all foam, no beer. And well.. I'm horrible at one-liners.
- What is your hope for the film?
I hope this film continues to do good work. I hope the film is durable enough to be passed onto future generations. I hope it serves as a reminder to always look behind the curtain.

- Do you have any plans for future projects on the plight of captive cetaceans?
The future is a question mark! 

Thank you, Gabriela, for taking the time to talk to us and answer our questions. We appreciate it! 

To learn more, visit the Blackfish website.  

Thursday, September 12, 2013

this album saves dolphins: interview with Austin Tofte

Inspired by the enigmatic beauty of wild dolphins and by the amazing work of Jacques Cousteau, Austin Tofte- singer, songwriter and sole creator of the band Swimming With Dolphins  -doesn't want his new album Catharsis to be just "another dude making music". Austin wants to use this new album to help save the creatures that inspire his songs. 

"There are only a few days left in this campaign." Austin updated on his fundraiser.  "For each & every contribution that comes in, I will be passing $1 of it forward to this wonderful organization: 
The money will go to support an upcoming short film they are making called "Voiceless", which will aim to raise awareness of the harms of Dolphins in captivity. 
I've added a $5 perk as well. This includes a hand written "thank you" from me, as well as a Blue Freedom bracelet - (these items will be included in every contribution $5 or higher).
I really want Catharsis to mean something more than just another Swimming With Dolphins album. Now is our chance to do that."

We were very stoked to get a chance to ask Austin a few questions about Catharsis, and about his oceanic inspiration.
from left: Austin Tofte and Adam Young
 of Owl City at a performance 

Blue Freedom: Your music and band name is obviously dolphin-oriented, what is it that inspired you about dolphins in particular?

Austin Tofte: Truly, it's more than Dolphins. I (and the world in my opinion) owe so much thanks to Jacques Cousteau and everything he did. There are shots in Odyssey, with him and the crew swimming out in the wild with dolphins (and all sorts of aquatic creatures they encountered for that matter) treating them as such magnificent creatures. Just watching someone who embraces the beauty of a moment shared with an animal in the wild like that - it's really amazing... I mean, come on, who doesn't want to swim with dolphins in the wild?
So, really the name derives from the imaginary experiences I've had while admiring Cousteau's work. It's like sounds to fit that feeling, I guess.

Blue Freedom: What inspired you to start a new album?

Austin Tofte:  I think a hunger for creativity in my life was really what inspired me to start a new album. Music is something that I'll never be able to live without, especially the creative side of it. A number of things in my life changed all at once and suddenly the opportunity presented itself to make another album, so I jumped on it.

Blue Freedom: Producing an album that also helps protect the animals that inspire your music is brilliant. What prompted you to connect your project to a cause?

Austin Tofte: Well, thank you, although, it just seemed logical to me. I'm a pretty big believer in the "pay it forward" concept. When you're given something, it's awesome, but after awhile it looses it's luster from just clinging to it & not sharing the joy of it with anyone else. I am lucky enough to have people that want to listen to the music I make, A way to pay forward & share what has been so generously given to me, is to contribute to a greater need in my opinion, which happens to be dolphins. 

Blue Freedom: What is your hope for the album?

Austin Tofte: My hope for this album is two-fold. On a personal level, Catharsis is a cleansing & redemptive effort. I feel like I missed the mark a bit with Water Colours and want to get my thoughts & feelings out, in song form, the most genuine way. On the other side, I ultimately want this project to mean something more to the world than just another dude making music. So, it's up to me to do something about that. 

"Until recently, I've always thought of Swimming With Dolphins as nothing more than just some songs I make when I have time, that a handful of overly-kind people think sound cool... or something like that, but as you all have proven to me with this campaign, that's not the case. Clearly, I have a "voice" and I was put on this earth to share my music with whoever wants to listen. In fact, we all have a "voice" or something we are called to do or make that speaks to others in an inspiring way and reflects who we are as individuals.

I'm so thankful for all of the generosity & attention given to this campaign for the making of Catharsis - I cannot wait to finish this album. However, I would really like to harness the rare opportunity of this moment in the remaining days of the campaign, and use my "voice" to support something that is much more important to this world than my music. That being the creature that greatly inspired the title of this project: Dolphins."

There are only a few days left- help make this album a reality:


Give here:

Follow the project on Facebook:
And Twitter:

#SWDCatharsis #GenerationBF