By Dr. Lori Marino, President of the Whale Sanctuary Project
When you’ve watched whales in the wild, it’s hard to imagine what it must be like for their captive cousins who spend their lives in small concrete tanks performing at marine parks.
More and more people are uncomfortable with the thought of these magnificent animals being kept on display in artificial conditions. But change is in the air, and one organization, the Whale Sanctuary Project, is working to create the first seaside sanctuary for orcas and beluga whales who are retired from concrete tanks in the coming years.
The key difference between a sanctuary and a marine park is that sanctuaries exist primarily for the benefit of the animals who live there, while display facilities exist primarily for the entertainment of the people who visit them.
So, our mission is to establish a model seaside sanctuary where whales and dolphins can live in an environment that’s as close as possible to their natural habitat while still being cared for.
The organization was formed last year after a group of marine mammal scientists, former trainers, veterinarians, attorneys and other experts began considering what it would take to create a seaside sanctuary, transport the first whales, and care for them while giving them the best possible opportunity to live their lives as close as possible to what nature intended.
A survey of more than 100 possible locations – coves, inlets and bays – was soon underway, and the list was narrowed to 20 places in Washington State, British Columbia and Nova Scotia. Right now, we’re beginning to evaluate these at a detailed level, including site visits to measure depth, water volume, tidal range, tidal flows and other factors; along with environmental impact studies and local and governmental meetings.
Our major sponsor, the Munchkin Corporation (maker of fine babies’ and children’s products!), is helping to fund the site search, and has offered to match every donation this year up to $300,000 so we can complete the site selection by the end of the year.
Imagine when the first-ever whales to be retired from their concrete tanks are given a new life at a seaside sanctuary!
For more information, visit the Whale Sanctuary Project at www.whalesanctuaryproject.org.