Saturday, October 26, 2013

Blackfish explores the capture and treatment of killer whales in marine entertainment parks; (Japan: 4 captive Orcas); ocean sanctuaries as a way forward...

Blackfish, a new documentary film by Gabriela Cowrperthwaite explores the inhumane capture and treatment of killer whales by marine entertainment parks. 

Because of a huge response to initial broadcasts, CNN is airing encores of this program: Saturday at 7:00 p.m. ET / 4:00 p.m. PT and on Sunday at 9:00 p.m. ET / 6:00 p.m. PT/

The documentary takes the viewer on an emotional roller coaster ride starting with breathtaking footage of orcas swimming in the wild then shifting to the cruel capture of orca babies. In their natural habitat, these magnificent sea mammals swim 100 miles a day. In captivity, they are barely able to move around, damage their teeth on metal railings, and act out aggressively towards each other...

Interviewee John Crowe cried as he describes the legacy of orca capture for entertainment purposes, spotlighting the notorious Penn Cove captures in 1970 by scientists in Washington state.  Mothers and mature family members refused to leave the babies behind in the nets; several adult whales died.  The scientists then cut the whales open, filled their bodies with rocks, sinking them, to destroy of evidence of what they had done.  Orcas' brains are much more developed emotionally and socially than those of humans; they live in social groups called pods; males never leave their mothers, so separating members from their pods is an act of emotional and social violence.

Blackfish explains how killer whales become deformed (their tails bend in a weird way); their teeth and health are compromised, and why their life span is reduced (from that of human lifespan equivalent to 25-30 years) in captivity. 

Sadly, Japan has followed the US model of marine entertainment parks; eight of the 48 orcas held captive worldwide are in two Japanese sites: Kamogawa SeaWorld  (4 orcas) and Port of Nagoya Aquarium (4 orcas).  In the past, an animal park purchased orcas from the Taiji dolphin/whale kills, but none of these survived
Live orcas and other small cetaceans have also been offered for sale in Japan. Certain collectors working with the Japanese have defended the capturing of cetaceans there for the same reasons as for Iceland - that the animals are being killed anyway and that local respect for live whales and dolphins may well result. But California marine mammal veterinarian and dolphin collector Jay C. Sweeney, filmed in Japan overseeing dolphin captures, seemed uncomfortable working around the Japanese fishermen and tried to deny he worked with them.

The workers were fishermen who practice "oikomiryo", the drive fishery that has killed thousands of small whales and dolphins over the years at Taiji and Iki Island. Environmental groups have questioned the integrity of marine parks buying cetaceans from a country that engages in the killing of small whales and dolphins along its coast and continues to fight the world-wide moratorium against whaling. For at least some species, the captures of small whales and dolphins in Japan have been accomplished in a much more casual fashion, with mortalities during and soon after capture. Of course, the dolphins, pilot whales and false killer whales (another species in the same family as orcas) captured alive and sent to Japanese marine parks or exported world-wide, would have been sent to the fish market for slaughter.

The number of orca captures in Japan stands at thirteen, and no marine park outside of Japan has purchased orcas there. And Kamogawa Sea World, the main longstanding marine park to exhibit orcas in Japan, has usually turned to North America or Iceland for their orcas, although it would be cheaper to buy locally, and easier, without import permits or long-distance transport. Recently even Shirahama World Safari, which had bought four orcas from Taiji fishermen, two of which died within two months of capture, decided to buy Icelandic orcas in the spring of 1990 - despite the cost of flying the whales 7,500 miles (1@,000 km) to Japan. The better marine parks do not want to be associated with the Japanese captures, partly because of the inexperience of the captors with live animals, but perhaps also, because of the international stigma attached to the slaughters in the annual drive fishery.
In 2011, Nami, a female killer whale died from ulcerative colitis at the Port of Nagoya Public Aquarium. She was the last surviving orca captured in Japanese waters (Taiji). The Orca Project describes her life:
In October of 1985, Nami (also known as Nami-chan) was barely 3 years old when she was captured off the coast of Taiji, Japan along with Goro, a younger male orca, and both were sent to the Taiji Whale Museum. One month after their capture, Goro was sold to Nanki Adventure World in Japan where he spent 19 years in captivity until his death from pneumonia on January 21, 2005.

Nami remained at the Taiji Whale Museum for 24 years in an enclosed sea pen at the seaside marine park until June 19 of last year when she was sent by barge on a 23-hour journey to the Port of Nagoya Public Aquarium to become a part of a breeding program in conjunction with Kamogawa SeaWorld.

The only other orca to reside at the Port of Nagoya, a female named Ku, arrived on a breeding loan from the Taiji Whale Museum in October, 2003. She died nearly 5 years later on September 19, 2008 from heart failure. She never bore a calf via artificial insemination (AI) during her time at Nagoya.

Nami was to take over where her former tank-mate Ku had left off. It is unknown if the planned attempts at AI began prior to Nami’s death. Unfortunately, her life was cut short and her death shows the lengths marine parks are willing to go to in their attempt to keep the marine mammal entertainment industry alive and profitable…
Cowrperthwaite, who had regularly taken her children to Sea World (and was not an animal activist) prior to starting this film, and other captive marine mammal advocates say there's a win-win in this sad situation: marine entertainment parks should open oceanside sanctuaries Because of health conditions resulting from captivity, orcas (and others) cannot be set free.  However, oceanside sanctuaries would let them live the remainder of their lives in more humane, more natural conditions; marine parks could still sell tickets and make profits; people would feel uplifted from witnessing kind treatment of wild animals; the world would be a better place.

This would also be a way out for Taiji. The cove could be transformed into a sanctuary and happy educational tourist venue.  The Japanese government could subsidize this endeavor the way it subsidizes whale and dolphin kills. This would be a lot more profitable on every level, from image, to revenues, to karma.

Such would also be sanctuaries for humans: places of respite and healing from the innumerable forms of everyday violence that we are all subjected to and sometimes complicit with...In such sanctuaries, we could foster the imaginings of a kinder future for all life...

- JD

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