Whale sanctuary projects receive a wave of support

Orcas, also known as Killer Whales, swim in and around Puget Sound with the Seattle skyline in the background. (Credit: NOAA)

An effort to create the world’s first whale and dolphin rehabilitation sanctuary is moving forward, but now the hard part begins.

Today marked the official launch of the Whale Sanctuary Project, a non-profit organization that aims to identify and build a refuge for whales, porpoises and dolphins that have been removed from entertainment facilities or rescued from a injury or disease in nature.

Munchkin Inc., a California-based baby products company, made an initial contribution of $ 200,000 to begin researching potential sites for a seaside sanctuary and to develop a strategic plan for the first phase of the operation. Another million dollars has been pledged to complete the shrine once the site is selected.

“Munchkin has long favored a natural coastal ocean sanctuary as an alternative to keeping killer whales in captivity, so we look forward to supporting the Whale Sanctuary Project’s efforts in favor of cetaceans removed from the entertainment industry,” said the founder and Munchkin CEO Steven Dunn. A declaration. “We are not only dedicated 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. “

A decision on the site could be made within six to nine months, according to the project’s outreach coordinator, Michael Mountain. Coastal regions of Washington State and British Columbia are among the locations studied, along with Maine and Nova Scotia on the east coast. Once a site is selected, Mountain said it could take another 18 months or more to prepare the sanctuary for its first resident, depending on funding.

Marine mammals regularly pass through protected waters such as the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, but the Whale Sanctuary Project would create dedicated spaces, using nets or “marine pens,” to contain cetaceans that cannot survive in the sea. nature. For more than 20 years, Washington-based Orca Network has proposed to create such a sanctuary at Eastsound on Orcas Island in the San Juans.

The best-known case of cetacean rehabilitation involves Keiko, the “Free Willy” (aka Killer Whale) who was released in the late 1990s and eventually returned to her native waters off Iceland. He never fully integrated with wild whales and died of pneumonia in 2003.

Since then, orcas from SeaWorld San Diego have been implicated in three human deaths, adding to the controversy over captive marine mammals. Documentaries like “Blackfish” and “The Cove” have energized the opposition. In March, SeaWorld announced it would stop breeding orcas and eventually phase out their use in shows.

For now, SeaWorld plans to keep the orcas it has in its facilities. However, the organizers of the Whale Sanctuary Project hope that the animals will eventually find refuge in their homes.

“There are sanctuaries for other very social and far-reaching large mammals, including elephants and great apes, but there are none in the world yet for dolphins and whales,” the said. project leader, neuroscientist Lori Marino, in today’s announcement. “Cetacean sanctuary initiatives are long overdue, and we now have the best team of experts possible to ensure optimal quality of life and care for individual cetaceans. “

Marino is the Executive Director of the Kimmela Center for Animal Advocacy. During her time as a researcher at Emory University, she published a series of studies suggesting that dolphins and killer whales have significant cognitive ability.

Munchkin’s money is expected to give the Whale Sanctuary Project a boost, but in a report released today by the journal Science, some experts questioned the project’s success. Shawn Noren, physiologist and killer whale researcher at the University of California, Santa Cruz, said “staggering” challenges lie ahead.

According to some, the cost of establishing the shrine could potentially run into tens of millions of dollars, if not hundreds of millions.

“I would prefer that this money be spent to protect marine areas and conduct basic scientific research,” said Richard Connor, animal behavior specialist at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth.


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