Cetacean Society International

Whales Alive!

Vol. VIII No. 3 July 1999


Captivity Update

by William Rossiter, CSI President


A 350-pound, seven-foot orca was born to Kalina June 24th at SeaWorld Orlando, which is described to tourists and the media as a research and breeding facility. Kalina was the first killer whale born in captivity 13 years ago.

Katerina, an orca last kept at SeaWorld of Texas, died on May 6th, perhaps from an infection. Reported as a "dependable animal", Katerina had been born in Orlando's SeaWorld and was shipped to Ohio and finally Texas about 1994 in a practice common at SeaWorld facilities. A SeaWorld trainer interviewed for television said it was very sad to lose the 10 year old female, but "she lived a nice long life", adding that wild orca life-spans are unknown. CSI and many other organizations have long criticized self-serving longevity information from display facilities. For almost a decade of research on the very well known orcas of Puget Sound no females were known to have died at all, leading some pundits to speculate if they were immortal. More years of work have good estimates that wild female orcas can live 80 years surrounded by many family generations.

23-year-old Kasatka nipped, dunked and shoved a trainer during one of her thousands of regular performance at SeaWorld San Diego in June, ending the entertainment prematurely. Although allowed to continue with her performances Kasatka was scheduled for additional training to discourage aggressive behavior. She had also "tried to bite" a trainer in 1993; it was years before she was declared trainer-safe again. We suspect that if Kasatka really wanted to chew a trainer rather than simply communicate her gnawing frustrations she would succeed. Sometimes a few of these unscheduled events make it out of SeaWorld in the videos of horrified tourists, which the facility has tried to confiscate after some particularly traumatic events.

In 1995 the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) published proposed regulations to govern the conduct of "swim-with-the-dolphin" programs. It took APHIS more than three years to go through the public comments and amend the proposed regulations, while "swim-with-the-dolphin" programs remained virtually unregulated. In March Mirage Resorts Inc. and the Marine Mammal Coalition, an organization representing several marine parks and zoos, hired Washington lobbyist George Mannina, Jr. of O'Connor & Hannan to "seek a nullification of 1998 Department of Agriculture rules governing attractions that allow people to swim with dolphins." In April the U.S. Department of Agriculture complied without a fuss. CSI joins with the Humane Society of the United States in disgust that four years of painfully slow progress toward regulating an exploitative and potentially dangerous activity was nullified by money and influence. Should CSI name the APHIS officials who gave in? People make decisions, not "the government". Anonymous authority is a weapon in the hands of the wrong people.

Howard Garrett of the Tokitae Foundation has discovered in architect's drawings from 1969 an alleged error on the part of the USDA and the Miami Seaquarium in regard to the depth of the whale tank confining Lolita. If correct the current main and medical tanks violate the Animal Welfare Act. We are interested in APHIS' response, which might be a while coming, while Lolita continues her daily entertaining performances at the decaying facility.

The international market for cetaceans has slid further into travesty. ZOOLEX, the oldest and largest private company in Russia exporting and importing live animals for zoos, breeding farms, etc., began in 1996 to capture and export seals, walruses, dolphins and belugas. They advertise belugas for US$40,000, bottlenose dolphin for US$20,000, and a walrus for only US$17,000. "If you buy 4 animals or more we are ready to discuss a discount in price." While certainly not in the league of cheap nuclear warheads, CSI does have legitimate concerns about the care and maintenance of these poor creatures wherever they end up.

You may recall that we last reported a captive display study by much respected Canadian scientist Dr. Jon Lien, commissioned by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO). This still unreleased study is expected to recommend sweeping changes. New regulations following the study for the capture of whales in Canadian waters were expected to impact Marineland of Canada's application to capture wild belugas. The captures were to take place near Churchill, Manitoba. On June 1 the Mayor of Churchill wrote to urge the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans to reject Marineland's application and any future application for live beluga whale captures from the community. Marineland sidestepped regulations and Churchill's opposition by importing three beluga whales from the Russian source reported above about May 30th. In a bizarre twist almost normal for Marineland's owner, John Holer, the 10 hour flight from Russia arrived with a request that airport emergency services firefighters supply water for the three belugas who, to limit the aircraft's weight, had been transported in a minimum of supporting water. Marineland, with arguably the worst captivity record of any large facility in North America, documented substandard animal housing and overcrowding, and the target of a major investigation by Zoocheck Canada, in 1998 applied to capture six wild beluga whales from Canadian waters. Considerable opposition resulted from individuals and conservation organizations around the world, including Jean-Michel Cousteau and the producers of the Free Willy films. We were all hoodwinked. Importing whales into Canada requires little more than an export permit from the originating country. Why did only Holer know that? More to the point, why does Canada allow that?

The Lande Aquarium near Beijing now has eight surviving false killer whales and twelve dolphins in small display pools purchased from the other current captive cetacean marketplace, the infamous Taiji drive fishery in Japan. Taiji fishermen and U.S. consultants stage brutal and inhumane slaughters of cetaceans ostensibly because of competition with local fishing operations, but the drives have become a major international market for captive cetacean display. Hundreds of cetaceans are killed after a few are selected for clients who often order in advance. In keeping with China's attitudes towards captivity Britain's Daily Telegraph reported on June 29 that "Wild Animal World", an hour north of Beijing by the Great Wall, has a mini-coliseum where a calf is killed by lions. Even with an extra charge it is very popular.

Dolphinchile is a planned captive display facility and entertainment center planned near Santiago, Chile. After considerable exposure and criticism from a few courageous Chileans, and many international organizations like CSI, Dolphinchile has lowered its profile. Concerned with CITES violations and other problems with importing dolphins for display, the planners also have slowed construction of the facility. No plans are known for obtaining a new CITES permit when the current one expires July 26th. Dolphinchile's phones are not functioning, a suspected ploy to stop the barrage of protest faxes and calls. Veterinarian Victor Riveros is still linked to the dolphinarium, although Dolphinchile declared that he had been fired after concerns for his past record were publicized. Whether as part of Dolphinchile or not, Riveros is reportedly trying to get SERNAP permits to capture bottlenosed dolphins from the Humbolt Penguin National Reserve and Choros Island. A scientific study of the local dolphins is demonstrating the population's vulnerabilities but a Management Plan for the Reserve has been hindered by authorities who fear conservation oriented plans in general. Riveros is reportedly trying to exchange Chilean wild dolphins with Mexican trained dolphins. He is also searching for southern elephant seals, penguins, sea otters, and sea lions and is shopping for dolphins through the Japanese drive fishery and Russian ex-military sources in case the Mexican transfer fails. Although most Chilean NGO's are not interested in the captivity issue, and authorities are motivated to help people in power, there is a growing concern among the media for the negative image that Dolphinchile will bring to Chile.

Environmentalists have a tough time in many places in Latin America besides Chile. In Bogata, Columbia, people recently protesting the Acuarama traveling dolphin show were physically attacked by employees until a TV news reporter began to film them. Acuarama's two dolphins, Flipper and Sissie, may be in El Salitre as you read this. CSI is involved in an investigation of the sources for these and other dodgy displays that we hope to report and act on soon. The reentry of captive cetaceans into Brazil remains stalled, coincidental with strong protests from a consortium of international organizations including CSI. As always, the conflict is between powerful money and doing what's right or at least what looks right, with touches of corruption adding flavor. The portable dolphin shows from other countries are a concern, but investor pressures to develop display facilities are the major threat.

CSI is both excited and concerned with CERMAM (European Center for Marine Mammal Rehabilitation), renamed Cité Marine ("Marine City"), a European center proposing a potential rehabilitation opportunity for Europe's captive dolphins, and seals and dolphins stranded in France. Also planned as an education and information center, Cité Marine has wonderful potential. Following the lead of Britain's Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, CSI has concerns for the potential skin-deep beauty of Cité Marine covering up a profit-making display facility with a twist. Another concern is the trauma caused to stranded cetaceans shipped from long distances for rehabilitation. A rehabilitation facility in Europe is something to work hard for, and CSI will help to ensure that Cité Marine fulfills its promise.


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