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New Documentary on Captive Orcas Exposes Brutality

By The Maritime Executive 2019-07-22 18:51:46

The July 17 release of “Long Gone Wild,” a documentary about the ongoing trade in wild-caught orcas, highlights the intensifying controversy over confining cetaceans in barren concrete tanks in marine theme parks.

The film is timely in light of Virgin Holidays’ announcement on July 15 that it will end the sales and promotion of tourism attractions involving captive cetaceans. The move follows holiday giant Thomas Cook’s decision last year to stop promoting trips to SeaWorld and other marine entertainment attractions that confine orcas. Last month, Canada banned the public display of captive cetaceans.

Among the experts featured in the film is Dr. Naomi Rose, marine mammal scientist at the Animal Welfare Institute (AWI), who is at the forefront of a global movement to end captivity of cetaceans. “While we’ve made a lot of progress on helping captive cetaceans in the West, the situation is not as promising in the East. Russia and China have an ongoing trade in orcas and beluga whales from the Okhotsk Sea. The suffering of these intelligent, social beings when ripped from their families is immense.”

Director William Neal, said: “My goal is to raise awareness of the current state (and fate) of captive orcas around the world and to motivate animal lovers everywhere to speak up and make their voices heard. These magnificent animals belong in the ocean, not in barren concrete tanks.”  

Earlier this year, AWI and World Animal Protection published the fifth edition of The Case Against Marine Mammals in Captivity. The report explores the behind-the-scenes realities of zoos, aquariums and marine theme parks that display marine mammals, which - despite the facilities’ assurances - for the most part fail to provide essential or even accurate conservation or education resources. What’s more, marine mammals, with their aquatic ecology, suffer physical and mental health problems as a result of being confined in small, barren enclosures, says Rose.  

Released this month through a number of video-on-demand services in advance of Shark Week (beginning July 28), “Long Gone Wild” documents a high-stakes Russian operation to capture and funnel wild orcas into an exploding Chinese marine theme park industry (82 parks and counting). The price tag: a staggering $7 million per whale.

More than 1,000 captive cetaceans of 13 different species are currently held in China. Very few of China’s facilities have adequate conditions or expertise to handle these marine mammals, and the mortality rate is high, says AWI.

Striking a more optimistic note, the documentary also showcases the visionary Whale Sanctuary Project which is working to develop a seaside sanctuary for retired orcas and belugas. Rose is a member of the project’s board of directors.

Branson notes the work of the project saying: “Based on this vision, in 2017 Virgin Holidays agreed to support the pioneering dolphin sanctuary project of the National Aquarium in Baltimore, an ambitious plan to relocate their captive population of bottlenose dolphins to a much larger, more natural coastal sanctuary, which is set to open in 2021. Others, like the Whale Sanctuary Project, have also been making fantastic progress, and I feel strongly now that sanctuaries are the best solution to improve the situation of current captive populations, while changing the way tourists interact with whales and dolphins for good.” 

Virgin Holidays also has a partnership with the World Cetacean Alliance to support its new Guidelines for Responsible Whale and Dolphin Watching with a series of global workshops for local boat tour operators. “Ultimately, Virgin Holidays plans to offer customers a world class, wild whale and dolphin tour portfolio meeting the highest ethical standards for the animals while creating a richer animal encounter experience for customers. I will certainly sign up for that,” says Branson.

SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment issued a statement on Virgin Holidays decision to no longer sell tickets to facilities with dolphins, whales, and porpoises on Monday, saying:

“It is disappointing to see Virgin Holidays succumb to pressure from animal activists who mislead and manipulate marine mammal science to advance their agendas. Virgin’s own corporate mission is having a measurable purpose that positively impacts communities and the environment. SeaWorld is the epitome of that mission. With more than 35,000 animal rescues and decades of meaningful scientific contributions, we are proud to be a recognized global leader in marine mammal science, education and, in particular, providing preeminent care to all of our marine mammals.

“With rising threats to our oceans and their inhabitants, supporting independently accredited zoological facilities is more important than ever. No company does more to protect marine mammals and advance cetacean research, rescue and conservation than SeaWorld.”