It's the dawn of a new era for whales and dolphins retired by entertainment facilities or unlikely to thrive in the wild, thanks to a new, independent organization with plans to establish a model seaside sanctuary.
Launched on May 5 with generous support from Munchkin, Inc., The Whale Sanctuary Project is creating a seaside sanctuary where cetaceans—whales, dolphins, and porpoises—can live permanently in an environment as close to their natural habitat as possible and with full support for their well-being.
Whales and dolphins are highly intelligent animals who have complex social lives, and public opinion is increasingly opposed to keeping them captive in concrete tanks. The new non-profit fields a team of experts in marine mammal science and behavior, veterinary medicine, husbandry, engineering, law and policy, to lay the groundwork for the creation of permanent cetacean sanctuaries. This all-star team is tasked with producing a viable plan for construction and management of a North American sanctuary, and to select the most suitable location to ensure a better future for captive cetaceans.
The new non-profit organization is headed by Dr. Lori Marino, executive director of The Kimmela Center for Animal Advocacy; Dr. Naomi Rose, marine mammal scientist for the Animal Welfare Institute; and David Phillips, co-founder and executive director of Earth Island Institute and director of the International Marine Mammal Project.
"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, a neuroscientist and expert in animal behavior and cognition formerly on the faculty of Emory University. "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 planned sanctuary will primarily serve orcas, belugas and dolphins endemic to colder waters who are retired from entertainment facilities, and injured or ill animals rescued from the ocean. Rescued animals may be rehabilitated and returned to the wild, but those retired from the entertainment industry, who have never known life in the wild, are considered unlikely candidates for release and so would be given lifetime care. The sanctuary would be open to the public on a regularly scheduled basis, in a manner that avoids disturbing the animals, and would offer comprehensive conservation and education programs.
The Whale Sanctuary Project has received an initial donation of $200,000 from Munchkin, Inc., an award-winning, global baby product company. Munchkin, Inc. previously launched its "Orcas Live in Oceans" campaign to raise awareness of the plight of captive whales, and removed the orca toy from its popular bath toy collection. The company has also pledged a total of at least $1 million toward completion of the project.
"Munchkin has long favored a natural coastal ocean sanctuary as an alternative solution to maintaining orcas in captivity, so we are eager to support The Whale Sanctuary Project's efforts on behalf of cetaceans retired from the entertainment industry," said Steven Dunn, CEO and founder of Munchkin. "We are dedicated not only to these majestic mammals, but also to helping parents and children understand what they can do to help orcas and others live the rest of their lives happily and safely."
Funds from Munchkin will be used for an extensive site search, which involves studying the unique geographic, oceanographic and anthropogenic conditions of a number of possible coastal locations, and a strategic plan for building and operating the sanctuary as well as transport and care of the first animals.
Staff, board members and advisors of The Whale Sanctuary Project represent some of the world's most experienced scientists, clinicians, engineers, attorneys, business experts, and marine animal advocates. They include biologists, wildlife veterinarians, zoologists, university researchers and former trainers from marine animal parks.