SeaWorld has spent the last few years get absolutely slammed for their treatment of animals. They started off with good intentions… take in whales, dolphins, and any other sea creature that wasn’t able to survive in the wild, rehabilitate it, and let people ogle it for educational purposes. It was nice.
People opened their wallets, SeaWorld got rich, animals that would’ve otherwise died got a half-assed second chance at a not-so-great life. Better than the alternative, I suppose. Then it turned into a business, and shit hit the fan. Breeding programs, taking babies from their mothers, etc. It was all gravy, basically, until the film Blackfish came out, and a whole bunch of people realized at once that SeaWorld was basically Guantanamo Bay with clown makeup on. Maybe less waterboarding, but not a great place for an animal to live. After a few years of backlash, including a very public battle with the California Coastal Commission involving an attempt at a super shady deal to increase orca tank sizes if they were allowed to keep breeding whales, SeaWorld finally caved to public pressure and stopped bringing baby whales into a life in a pool. Long story short, the public won. But that still leaves the question of the orcas currently still in captivity–no one wants to see them there, but the fact remains that it’s very likely they’d die in the wild. So what to do? Well, a team of scientists has an answer… although SeaWorld isn’t really ok with it.
The team, including orca expert Naomi Rose, a couple of ex-SeaWorld trainers, and Lori Marino, the executive director of The Kimmela Center for Animal Advocacy, is planning on building the very first permanent sanctuary for whales and dolphins that aren’t able to survive in the wild, but shouldn’t be stuck in a tiny pool jumping through hoops for “educational” purposes.
The whole thing came about back in March, after SeaWorld made the announcement that they’d end their captive breeding program. Activists (and people in general) celebrated. But then came the question of what to do with the old whales–the ones that had spent years in crowded, tiny tanks, and still had years left. SeaWorld said that the whales were too weak from captivity to be released into the wild, a sentiment that Naomi Rose disagreed with.
A few days ago, the team made the announcement that they’d fired up plans for something called The Whale Sanctuary Project. As the name implies, they’re hoping to find a place where not only captive whales, but all cetaceans, can live out the rest of their days in relative normalcy. Right now, they’re looking for a suitable location. It will be in North America somewhere.
“There are sanctuaries for other large, highly social, and wide-ranging mammals, including elephants and great apes, but there are none anywhere in the world yet for dolphins and whales,” said Marino. ”Cetacean sanctuary initiatives are long overdue, and we now have the best possible team of experts to ensure an optimal quality of life and care for individual cetaceans.”
The CEO of a company called Munchkin, Inc, is on board with the idea. So on board, in fact, that Steve Dunn offered SeaWorld a million dollars to retire Tilikum to a sanctuary. No word yet on SeaWorld’s reaction, and they’ve been notoriously tight with their whales. It seems, though, that the public no longer wants to pay to watch intelligent creatures penned up for our enjoyment, and that’s a good thing. Maybe if they can get a massive payday out of the deal, it’ll work.