SeaWorld’s Tank Size Questioned by Congress, Thanks to the Little Film That Could, “Blackfish”

(Courtesy Orca Network)
(Courtesy Orca Network)

According to (CNN), “Over three dozen members of Congress want the government to ensure the humane treatment of orca whales and other marine animals in captivity, following an outcry sparked by the documentary “Blackfish.””
“The letter, released Thursday and signed by 37 Democrats and one Republican to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, cites outdated regulations protecting those sea mammals and asserts that the current rules don’t reflect “updated science.””

“Our letter is asking USDA to update regulations for captive marine mammals under the Animal Welfare Act (AWA), which have not been revised since 2001. In May 2002, USDA proposed to update captive marine mammal standards for indoor facilities, outdoor facilities, water quality, space requirements, and swim-with-the-dolphin (SWLD) programs. During the comment period, USDA received numerous comments recommending changes to tank sizes and otherwise improving facilities for marine mammals. Yet twelve years after the public comment closed, USDA still has not finalized these regulations. Given the public interest in humane treatment of orcas and other marine mammals, especially in light of the death in 2010 of SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau by the orca Tilikum and the film Blackfish, it is incumbent on USDA to finalize this long-overdue process.”
(The entire letter can be viewed here.)

 

Protesters in Seattle seeking the freedom of "Namu", who died in captivity.
Protesters in Seattle seeking the freedom of “Namu”, who died in captivity.

After nearly a lifetime of watching the captive display industry exert power over and muffle the voices of anyone who tried to bring change to the orcas and other whales and dolphins suffering for entertainment I have been stunned by the changes that are on the horizon for these precious and sentient animals.
The documentary Blackfish, and the dedicated people who have worked tirelessly through the years to support the message that captivity is not viable for these animals, along with the reach of social media have come together to  reach the eyes, ears, and hearts of people the world over.
Among those who have come to understand the nature of marine mammal captivity are those who have the power to do something about it, and they are.
But most important of all are those of you the world over who stand up and speak up, and who refuse to support the amusement parks and aquariums that have shown indifference in the past. Because of you, aquariums are questioning the keeping of whales and dolphins in tanks of any size and are giving serious consideration to moving the animals that can’t be released into sea pens and lagoons, our Congress in the U.S. are stepping up to the plate, and countries such as India have banned the captivity of whales and dolphins entirely.

“Nothing is stronger than an idea whose time has come.”
       Victor Hugo (1802-1885)
French poet, novelist, and playwright

Argentina Empty the Tanks
Argentina Empty the Tanks

Below is a reprint of a post I wrote in 2010 a,  a week and a half before Dawn Brancheau was killed. I fills in background on this issue and explains Congress’s role in protecting the whales and dolphins entrusted to government oversight.
I could write for days about how difficult, frustrating, annoying, and depressing it has been for those who have worked so hard on this issue, but I won’t.  I’m in a celebratory mood, and feeling deeply grateful to all who have worked to bring this to the attention of Congress, and to all those Congresspersons who are now stepping up to the plate.

Captive L-pod Orca Is Caught In A Legal Quagmire

Posted on February 12, 2010 | By 

One of the Southern Resident orcas captured in 1971 continues to reside in captivity at the old and tired Miami Seaquarium. This lonely whale was given the unfortunate name “Lolita” and lives in a sub-standard pool without companions of her species. She is getting old, has to perform tricks for her dinner, and has no other orcas for company. There is nothing for her to do but to circle her pool or lie on the bottom when she is not being forced to perform.

Picture
Lolita performs for sparse audiences in a sad theme park.

This confinement is cruel for an animal species which has been shown to be bright and highly social – orcas have one of the strongest family bonds in the animal kingdom. They rarely sleep and they swim hundreds of miles a day.
Day after day, month after month, year after year…Lolita’s life never changes.

Picture
Creative Commons Photo

Gone are the days when we enjoyed seeing large animals in small cages, or marveled at the sight of an elephant chained to a post on a concrete pad…yet magnificent whales and dolphins are allowed to be kept like giant fish in small tanks and are trained to do dumb tricks for our amusement. If they are allowed to breed, the families are separated, sold, or traded.
Caring people have been trying to help Lolita (a member of L-pod) for decades – writing letters, protesting, raising awareness – but Lolita’s captors are indifferent and uncaring, and they hide behind loopholes in the laws designed to protect our rare and valuable wild animals.
I have talked to people in Senator Murray’s office, at NOAA, and the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife (Governor Gregoire’s office directed my information request to them). Senator Cantwell’s office has never responded to emails or phone calls, on any of the orca issues (salmon, vessel regulations, or captivity).
What it boils down to is that Lolita needs a lawyer, and a good one. Here is why:
First, Lolita was captured right before the Marine Mammal Protection Act was implemented.
Second, because she was caught ‘pre-act’, the powers-that-be decided she should be directly excluded from the status of endangered that protects the rest of her family (the document reads ‘any member of J, K, or L pods’ in captivity).
Third, Animal Welfare is under the jurisdiction of the Department of Agriculture. When it came to determining what standards a dolphin or whale should have in captivity, they asked the theme parks and aquaria to set the standards, not biologists.
Fourth, the Animal and Plant Inspection Service (known as APHIS) is required to inspect and enforce compliance with the pathetic standards set by the theme parks. It is up to them to interpret the measurements, and they consistently measure Lolita’s pool incorrectly.
And fifth… no one in any of these organizations with whom I spoke feels they can do anything to change the standards set for captive cetaceans. But people made the decisions that allow a handful of individuals get very wealthy in the mistreatment of these gentle (and in the case of Lolita; endangered) animals. So it would seem that people can also change those laws and remedy the situation.
Meanwhile, individuals and groups continue their efforts to improve Lolita’s life. In 2009 Shelby Proie and SaveLolita.com used the Freedom of Information Act to obtain inspection records and to have their complaints addressed. As far as I can tell by looking at the documents, it looks like APHIS denied some of the information on the basis that “it’s release would cause a clearly unwarrented invasion of personal privacy”. The results that they did provide were not remarkable, other than to state that Lolita has the company of Pacific white-sided dolphins, and they are “biologically related” to orcas. That is like saying locking a human up with a monkey for company is equivalent to a human companion. That may be true for the owners of the theme park, but it certainly isn’t true for most of humanity.
It may take an Act of Congress to make it right – but given the fact that Lolita is one of only 89 whales like her in the world, shouldn’t that effort be made?

Is This Funny? SeaWorld Doesn’t Think So…

This is not photoshopped.
This is not photoshopped.

While of course no one condones tagging or otherwise defacing property, there is something so creatively bold about this mischief that most people get a good chuckle. Naturally, SeaWorld fails to see any humor and alleges that this was done by animal activists, even though they don’t know who committed this craven crime. After all, it could have been done by a disaffected prior employee, for instance.
SeaWorld-sucks-e1401120275922 sw sucks

SAN DIEGO – Drivers heading south on Interstate 5 near Mission Bay Sunday may have noticed one of the highway signs was defaced by a critic of SeaWorld San Diego.
Someone apparently climbed to the top of the sign hanging over the middle of the busy highway and painted over it.
The vandal changed the exit sign to “Sea World SUCKS.”
The incident happened amid protesting outside SeaWorld over Memorial Day weekend. Protestors expressed their concern of the orcas being held in captivity.
It was unknown when Caltrans would remove the vandalism.
“This act of vandalism demonstrates that, once again, these extremists are more concerned with publicity stunts than actually helping animals,” SeaWorld San Diego spokesman Dave Koontz stated Sunday.
Read more: http://fox5sandiego.com/2014/05/25/vandal-modifies-seaworld-sign/#ixzz32rgi7Ur2

If you are wondering if SeaWorld has a sense of humor, the answer is yes.  It was a challenge, but I did find out that apparently they find mocking the orcas in their shows to be funny. What is with the white-face? Clown? Geisha? Is his face supposed to be part of the whale’s tail? Are those Asian characters on his shirt?

SeaWorld's self-deprecating humor.
SeaWorld’s self-deprecating humor.

The circus-like “Sea Lions Tonight” show has got to be embarrassing for the trainers and they dance with sea lions and a walrus, mocking the One Ocean orca show. And while it succeeds in being hilarious it is funny for all the wrong reasons – particularly if you have heard SeaWorld’s relentless claims that they are educational and conservation-driven in their captive programs.

Day or night, the message is there:  people want to see the end of animals used as amusement and circus clowns.
At the exit sign for SeaWorld, San Diego
At the exit sign for SeaWorld, San Diego

Posted on Facebook after this weekend’s successful Empty the Tanks events: “Hanging high above the 5 freeway at the $ea World exit. This is how we do it in $an Diego! Take that $ea World! I am the T.”

What Do These 21 Countries Have in Common? (Hint: Blackfish, Whales, Dolphins)

This Saturday, May 24th 2014, 52 events will take place in 21 countries to protest the captivity of whales and dolphins. And in case you are wondering what the fuss is about, CNN is airing the critically acclaimed film that exposes the dark side of captivity, Blackfish again on Thursday (6 and 8 pm EST) and Saturday (6 pm EST).

Japan
Japan

This worldwide event, #Empty the Tanks, is in its second year and is going stronger than ever.  The Voice of the Orcas recently interviewed the event founder and coordinator Rachel Carbary, where she speaks about the origins of the movement:

 

[Jeff Ventre]: You’ve participated directly at The Cove [in Taiji, Japan], and I presume you’ve seen Blackfish. Can you speculate how these two movies have “moved the bar” forward in regard to the animal justice movement?

 

[Rachel Carbary]: I have seen both movies multiple times and think they are both such incredibly important films for everyone to watch. I think both The Cove and Blackfish did a great job of just opening people’s eye up to the truth. 

 

Most people are so busy with everyday life and they do not stop to consider something as basic as the unethical decision to watch orcas doing circus tricks in a glorified swimming pool. They just see it as a family day out at the amusement park. Once they see these films their eyes are opened up to the truth. They see the dirty and bloodly truth behind the dolphin slaughters in Japan and they see what really goes on behind closed doors at the most well-known marine park in the world. These movies have inspired so many people to speak out against the dolphin slaughters and the captivity industry. They have created a movement towards ridding our world of marine mammal captivity.

 

Below are some sample posters/photos for the events, followed by links to all the events worldwide (and by the way, Rachel will be attending the Seattle event, while Jeff Ventre will either be in Seattle or Vancouver, Canada).  Seattle resident a former SeaWorld trainer Carol Ray will be in Chicago:
Mexico City
Mexico City
 
Hong Kong
Hong Kong

Bahamas
Bahamas

Vancouver, Canada
Vancouver, Canada

Turkey
Turkey

USA
USA

“The only money that has been spent on Empty the Tanks is my personal money for the website hosting. People are coming because they support this campaign and the freedom of whales and dolphins. Its compassion, not money that fuels Empty the Tanks Worldwide. I do not blame or hate the people who still want to “#standwithseaworld”. I just think they have yet to remove their blinders and accept the truth about what kind of place SeaWorld really is. SeaWorld’s bottom line is about profits, not conservation and animal welfare.”  Rachel Carbary (via Voice of the Orcas)
The current list of 2014 Empty the Tanks Worldwide locations:
SeaWorld San Diego, CA: https://www.facebook.com/events/373224429477448/?ref=2&ref_dashboard_filter=calendar&source=1
Six Flags Discovery Kingdom, CA:https://www.facebook.com/events/212114148965548/?ref_newsfeed_story_type=regular
SeaWorld San Antonio, TX: https://www.facebook.com/events/523550351067535
Mirage Hotel in Las Vegas, NV:https://www.facebook.com/events/343199092491406/
SeaWorld Orlando, FL: https://www.facebook.com/events/576288609119680/?notif_t=plan_edited
Shedd Aquarium, Chicago, IL: https://www.facebook.com/events/230345167132692/
Miami SeaQuarium, FL: https://www.facebook.com/events/640907295960078/?ref_newsfeed_story_type=regular
Cocoa Beach, FL – https://www.facebook.com/events/792309394127689/
Atlanta, GA – https://www.facebook.com/events/421008781332431/?ref_newsfeed_story_type=regular
National Aquarium, Baltimore, MD –https://www.facebook.com/events/232213556956573/?context=create
Indianapolis Zoo, Indianapolis, IN –https://www.facebook.com/events/201256223411501/?ref_newsfeed_story_type=regular
Salt Lake City, UT – https://www.facebook.com/events/282667245244696
Seattle, WA – https://www.facebook.com/events/201151990073998/?ref_newsfeed_story_type=regular
Boise, ID – https://www.facebook.com/events/273709569450025/?ref_dashboard_filter=calendar
Malibu, CA –https://www.facebook.com/events/647655765289597/
Brookfield Zoo, IL – https://www.facebook.com/events/376289869178584/
College of the Atlantic, Maine, –https://www.facebook.com/events/665597936828980/?notif_t=plan_user_invited
Sea Life Park, Hawaii – https://www.facebook.com/events/615242328568798/?ref_newsfeed_story_type=regular
Toronto, Canada – https://www.facebook.com/events/225826027578663/?ref_newsfeed_story_type=regular
Edmonton, Alberta – https://www.facebook.com/events/567401553371272/?ref_dashboard_filter=upcoming
Calgary, Alberta – https://www.facebook.com/events/242601319242379/
Marineland Canada – https://www.facebook.com/events/599980720088182/
Vancouver Aquarium, BC, Canada –https://www.facebook.com/events/753788941301503/#
Saskatchewan, Canada – https://www.facebook.com/events/308254409322737/?notif_t=plan_user_invited
Mexico City, Mexico – https://www.facebook.com/events/604817246260989/?ref_newsfeed_story_type=regular
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil – https://www.facebook.com/events/710753808943359/
Mar del Plata Aquarium, Argentina –https://www.facebook.com/events/235022000024398/?context=create&ref=5&source=49
Hotel Los Delfines, Lima, Peru –https://www.facebook.com/events/1493810994165845/
Dolphin Marine Magic, Coffs Harbour, Australia –https://www.facebook.com/events/399295376874287/?source=3&source_newsfeed_story_type=regular
Sea World Gold Coast, Australia –https://www.facebook.com/events/427322124065561/?ref_newsfeed_story_type=regular
Fremantle Esplanade, Perth, Australia:https://www.facebook.com/events/613519602077518/?ref_newsfeed_story_type=regular
Aqualand Tenerife – https://www.facebook.com/events/487509274683771/
L’Oceanogràfic de València, Spain –https://www.facebook.com/events/787685214575973/
Barcelona, Spain – https://www.facebook.com/events/598394230247619/
Mundomar, Benidorm, Spain – https://www.facebook.com/events/1396833297266729/?ref_newsfeed_story_type=regular
Loro Parque, Tenerife – https://www.facebook.com/events/1427914740796891/
Zoo de Madrid, Spain:
https://www.facebook.com/events/444774325629159/
Hong Kong, China –https://www.facebook.com/events/1411620919080221/
Tokyo, Japan – https://www.facebook.com/events/232004610336632/?source=3&source_newsfeed_story_type=regular
Marmaris Dolphin Park, Turkey –https://www.facebook.com/events/531875123576510/?notif_t=plan_user_invited
Nuremberg, Germany – https://www.facebook.com/events/253027218200704/?ref_newsfeed_story_type=regular
Duisburg Zoo, Germany – https://www.facebook.com/events/549408205138480/?source=1
Parc Asterix, France – https://www.facebook.com/events/522663881178085/?ref_newsfeed_story_type=regular
Otremare- Riccione, Italy – https://www.facebook.com/events/457486377730029/?ref_newsfeed_story_type=regular
Margitsziget in Budapest, Hungary –https://www.facebook.com/events/1398724610404021/?ref_newsfeed_story_type=regular
Dolfinarium Harderwijk, Holland:
https://www.facebook.com/events/652840221422588/?context=create&ref_dashboard_filter=calendar
Dolfinarium Brugge, Belgium: https://www.facebook.com/events/1390431027863663/?ref_dashboard_filter=calendar&source=1
London, UK – https://www.facebook.com/events/1422069764689028/
Jersey, Channel Islands, UK: https://www.facebook.com/events/266579213513969/
Dublin, Ireland – https://www.facebook.com/events/867002486648596/?notif_t=plan_user_invited
Dubai Dolphinarium, Dubai – https://www.facebook.com/events/1414636032132353/?notif_t=plan_user_invited
Bahamas – https://www.facebook.com/events/625379340871686/?ref_newsfeed_story_type=regular