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.


  1. Although it would give the marine mammal park industry one more thing to ridicule and criticize, I think there should be a short film---a computer animation---that explains what a sea pen is and how it could work for captive killer whales.

    The presentation could be visually compelling---detailed---and offer side-by-side comparisons of coastal sea pens to concrete enclosures in an amusement park.

    I’m thinking of the wonderful video on YouTube entitled “What is the cove?” Whoever made “What is the cove?” should make “What is a sea pen?”

  2. “Israel: The Royal Tour” hosted by CBS travel editor, Peter Greenberg with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

    A one-hour PBS special offering a look at Israel through the eyes of its prime minister.

    One stop on the tour was Dolphin Reef located at Eilat, in the southern tip of Israel on the Red Sea.

    Peter Greenberg emphasized once or twice—maybe even three times---that the dolphins were wild and free, not captive. On his official website, Greenberg again emphasizes that none of the dolphins in the program were captives.

    The location was beautiful. A helicopter flew over showing an aerial view of a group of dolphins swimming in the ocean. They certainly looked wild and free to me. I saw no barriers or nets or tanks or anything like that. It was convincing.

    So I Googled the Dolphin Reef Eilat and this is what I found:

    ( Diving and snorkeling with dolphins is offered for a fee, as well as a therapy program for special-needs children.

    ( An inventory of 8 dolphins is listed, with names and data on each one. Two came from the wild; six were born in captivity.

    ( “The Truth About Dolphin Reef, Eilat, Israel.” They wrote:

    “Dolphin Reef, Eilat situated in the Red Sea is a captive dolphin facility which claims to offer something unique. It claims to be an 'ecological site' where people can 'observe dolphins in their natural habitat' and where the dolphins choose to be with people. Sadly, this facility is far from unique. There are many facilities like Dolphin Reef around the world claiming to be unique but each facility has the same fundamental basics - the confinement of several dolphins in a small area totally detached from their natural environment, even if a pen in the sea, where tourists can observe and swim with them.

    One crucial similarity of all of these facilities, and the one which drives them, is revenue.
    A sea pen is still a captive facility. A dolphin which would normally travel hundreds of miles throughout oceans and dive hundreds of feet is, at Dolphin Reef, contained in a shallow bay a tiny fraction of the size of the usual area it would have to explore and hunt.

    Dolphin Reef is not an 'ecological site', it is in no way a dolphin's 'natural habitat'; it is, plain and simple, a captive dolphin facility. A dolphin's 'natural habitat' extends throughout whole oceans, to the sea bed with live fish to hunt and an endless, diverse environment to explore using their echolocation skills. To call this an 'ecological site' is a contradiction. The dolphins at Dolphin Reef are not native to the Red Sea.”

    A TripAdvisor reviewer wrote:

    “The Dolphin reef tries to keep their reef as natural as possible to allow their inhabitants a normal dolphin life. You can swim with the dolphins and even scuba dive with them, but you need to make reservations ahead.”

    Another TripAdvisor reviewer wrote:

    “Dolphin Reef is part beach, part closed-off area with a floating dock and dolphin area. The dolphins used to be free to come and go (which I prefer and thought still happened), but harassment from boaters and tourists put an end to that. There are feedings five times per day and it's up to the dolphins if they want to show up or not. People can pay to snorkel in the dolphin area.”

    Your thoughts on Dolphin Reef Eilat and Peter Greenberg’s claim that it is not a captive dolphin facility?