BY: SAMANTHA TAPP
I think there was a collective sigh of relief worldwide as SeaWorld finally gave in and ended its orca breeding program and vowed to slowly but surely halt its killer whale shows all together. Animal activists, whale lovers, and good people alike celebrated this accomplishment in the battle against animal cruelty, but there were still some unanswered questions. Sure, no new aquatic mammals will face the sad reality of animal entertainment, but what about the current stars of the show?
One non-profit organization has come up with the answer. The Whale Sanctuary Project is a group of 23 people who have joined forces to develop a seaside sanctuary with ongoing care where whales, dolphins, and other large cetaceans who retire from showbiz, or are found injured in the wild, can live out the rest of their days in peace. Think of it as a retirement home for aquatic mammals, one that the world is in desperate need of.
From watching the terrifying documentary ‘Blackfish,’ we know that putting these animals in captivity is essentially a death sentence. These aquatic creatures are both incredibly intelligent and social animals, learning their life skills (hunting, parenting, defence) from other members of their species, rather than through the environment. By placing them in captivity there’s a good chance they’ll never actually learn these skills.
Due to the natural sociability of these animals, captivity has never had positive effects on them. “What the science shows is this: orcas and belugas do exceptionally poorly in the display industry,” Lori Marino, Executive Director and co-founder of the Project, told Atlas Obscura. “They just cannot make it. The mortality rate is through the roof, and they die at very young ages as well. By no means do any cetaceans thrive in these kinds of places.”
While releasing these mammals back into the wild after they’re deemed too old to perform sounds like the best option, it is not actually reasonable. Other than the massive amounts of funding that would be needed, the majority of animals wouldn’t even be able be to survive the reintroduction into the wild.
Enter The Whale Sanctuary Project, the next best option, and actually quite a good one. This will be the world’s first whale preserve, different from sanctuaries that are already in the ocean because this is not just one where whaling is illegal, but where the animals will receive individual attention and care.
The plan is to use a 26-hectare section of the ocean, which will be at least 49 feet deep and will accommodate between five to eight animals at a time. The area will be isolated and marked off with nets. According to CBC, the group is hoping for an area like the mouth of a cove, an inlet or a bay. With a list of criteria to meet, like the right temperature, an area away from boat traffic, and the right salinity, the group has narrowed it down to a few places: Nova Scotia, Maine, British Columbia and Washington. By mid-2017 the organization is hoping to have a shortlist.
The organization is focusing on the sanctuary having a minimal impact on the existing ecosystem and wildlife. The project also includes building an eduction centre on site where visitors will be able to enjoy and learn about the animals- from a distance, which will be a true experience with the wild.
Aquariums have yet to agree to use the sanctuary for their animals, but the organization believes once their animal entertainment businesses die down, the companies will lean more towards the sanctuary. The end goal is for the sanctuary eventually to go out of business because the animals are just out living in their natural habitats, but until then, this works.