Saturday, August 1, 2009

"Whale Saves Drowning Diver"

While watching the local news the other day, I saw some pretty amazing footage of Beluga whales as they were interacting with a diver in their pool.

Beluga and Diver (Photo from the online Sun)
I was able to record the footage on my DVR, but I have yet to locate a clip to share here. I have watched it several times, because the event as reported doesn't really sit right with me and I'm not sure exactly why. I'm not at all surprised that the whales would come to someone's aid, but I am surprised that the diver, just trying out for the job, didn't freak out and have a heart attack when the whale grabbed her leg. And what a goofy test to see if the diver would qualify to be a whale trainer, it is more like she was trying out to see if she could qualify as an entertainer.

But once again, the issue of keeping these animals in captivity for our amusement has come to the forefront, and confronting the fact that this can be very dangerous for people is something we really need to add to the equation. An excellent discussion on the subject can be found here. Please keep in mind that even our dogs and other pets can become dangerous when mistreated and confined excessively.

Over the next week or so we'll look more deeply into the issue on captive whales and dolphins, so far our informal polls show that the majority of people are against keeping them captive, and those that support captivity believe that it is okay for small species or for research only.

Please vote on this issue, we will run the poll for about two more weeks.


  1. Candace,

    I voted, then felt a strong need to express how I felt about the vote. Call me weird. I did write, on my own blog, that I didn't think anyone would ever read. I did not see that I could leave a comment, or I would have left it here.

  2. BigTrav-

    Please do copy and paste your post into this spot. It is as well thought out as your previous posts, and we want these issues to be thought about and discussed, so we are not looking for agreement, just thoughtful discourse.

    You can also post comments on the other blogsite at the Seattle Post Intelligencer, Most of the entries are duplicates, but not always.

  3. The following is my pesonal thoughts about the current public poll on this website. As I said, I was moved on the day I voted and this is what I had to say (at that time, to no one):

    *(it all exceeds the max character count, so I have broken it into two posts)

    "I came across a very interesting poll on The Centre for Whale Research website. It asked a simple question: Should whales and dolphins be kept in captivity? Obvioulsy, pretty much everyone who reads that poll will be of the "I like whales and dolphins" persuasion. I would be surprised to even find even one person who felt contempt for cetaceans.

    There were 71 votes when I wrote this, including mine. There was the predicted 88%, or 63 votes for NO, 3 votes for YES, 3 votes for SMALL ONES ONLY (which I find particularily intreguing), and a respectable 15%, or 11 votes for RESEARCH ONLY. When I voted the one and only time I have voted, I was the first in the YES category.

    I understand why the people who frequent the Centre for Whale Research website would vote overwhelmingly for NO. I wonder how many have considered how much they themselves have learned from science that is currently being done at SeaWorld. I bet most of them have heard of Lolita the Orca. She lives in Miami. And the original Shamu. They both came from the waters near Friday Harbour, where the Centre for Whale Research is located.

    One of the reasons that the website's populous is so fanatical about their chosen subject is because of the photos, communications, science, research, x-rays, books, DVDs, and even Hollywood movies that captive animals have provided. We are equally captivated by the controversies, and the things that we disagree most strongly with galvanize us.

    I came first in contact with orcas in Victoria, BC, where there were several large orcas in a VERY TINY pool in Oak Bay. OMG!! As I think about it as an adult resident of the same city, that piece of water was pathetically small for those large beasts. I have been enamoured by whales and dolphins of all types as long as I can remember, as a result. I generally know more about the subject than the people I meet. I am happy to meet other "whale geeks". I am usually put to shame. ;)

    I am of the persuasion that should lead me to vote NO to keeping cetaceans in captivity, but I have considered how much I, myself, know of any creature. I have learned pretty much all of it from something captive; be it a hollywood movie, a National Geographic special, a reference book, the internet, or a lesson from a naturalist, either in an aquarium or zoo, or in a more open setting. It is the witnessing of the topic that creates the knowledge. The knowledge is required to be able to protect it.

    --- END PART I ---

  4. --- START PART II ---

    We have become more likely to be able to actually help an orca by having put them in cages in the first place. The first orca that was ever captured was not intended to be captured. It was intended to be KILLED. The harpoon did not kill the animal, it only stuck in it's muscle and blubber. They kept the whale alive for several weeks. Up until that moment, humans had ZERO understanding of "The Blackfish". There was no knowledge of their preferred diet, vocalizations, markings, family associations... nothing... until then! Humans suddenly had an opportunity to come within metres of a mercilessly tethered orca!!

    Until then, humans also had ZERO respect for orca. It was considered that the sea teamed with them and that they created problems to fishermen and they were basically invalid sea creatures. I think that the indigenous peoples probably had a more mystical and spiritual place for the creatures, but that they also had little to no real understanding of diet, vocalizations, markings, or family associations (but that whole spur is for a different rambling). My point is that when we actually CAPTURED the orca, that became the day that we began to understand the orca. It was only by breaking that threshold that we, as a species, were granted the ability to actually help the orca... and don't forget: we broke that threshold and CAPTURE was the easy way!! We had begun the journey to KILL the orca for science.

    SeaWorld is wonderful!! There are as many people in the state of California as there is in my entire country! If I think I can get a kid from Los Angeles to donate $1 to the Save the Whales Foundation, I had better be able to at least SHOW him a whale! If that has to be a photograph of Keiko, then it has to be a photo of a captive orca. I would prefer, that we, as a species, cared for the whales enough to keep them in a pen for our own purposes, so we could even begin to spread the teachings.

    I do not think that the animals who live in the pens have good lives. I wish there was a way to keep them in pens and let them be happy and live long and prosper. We do not yet possess that knowledge or will. It has only been less than 50 years that we, as a species, have been collecting data that will eventually allow us to become true "stewards" for the world that we live in. Unfortunately, the only way we can cultivate that knowledge is to keep parts of the world we live in captive, so we can study the ones we want to preserve.

    Humans are generally ignorant. We know only what we can experience. We have so much left to learn! Zoos and aquariums play a vital roll in the advancement of human-kind. Children are especially impressionable, but adults also need to be able to go to a place at some time and witness for themselves, the majesty of a being to become attached to it and to have a desire to learn about it. Only with easy access to creatures do we achieve knowledge of them. There are 6 billion people who NEED an education to save the planet. If the only way that 5 billion of them can ever develop any appreciation of the planet's other creatures is through video and television and entertainment, so be it. Just let them know of the creature.

    When I wrote this, there was still a month worth of voting. Here is the link so that you might vote also. If you don't get to vote, you will, at least, add to the the combined interest in orca."

    I am not leaving the URL for the poll, as it is in the top right corner of this page.

  5. To: Big Trav

    "The ones we want to preserve" sound to me that you are not interested in saving all of the Earth's species only the interesting one that can perform and amuse us. Your comment is somewhat true, yes Moby Doll (the 2nd captured orca ever) was what sparked interest in orcas but nothing that we know of the animal is based off of captive specimens. All of the things you mentioned diet, vocalizations, markings, family associations and all the other things you didn’t mention were gained from wild studies. The fact that orcas DO NOT live proper life spans are a sign that captivity is not good for them, a tiger in a zoo lives well beyond their years but only two orcas have lived to middle age in captivity. It would also be another thing if they were ONLY display animals like in a zoo. Zoos don’t ask their animals to perform useless tricks and shows and they make an effort to replicate the natural habitat of each animal which is something Sea World doesn’t do. It might have been the spring board but it is no longer necessary.

  6. Anonymous, Big Trav did sat that conditions in captivity aren't good, but he also said that it needs to be tolerated as we're still only learning how to keep them properly. Just remember that before whales were in captivity, they were considered just creatures whose lives didn't matter - hunted for food and oil. Now at least, they're not being killed in most of the world.
    This is a direct result of having captured them in the first place. Perhaps in a few more years, we'll be able to build proper tanks for them.
    Then they will be neither killed nor made to suffer. But for now, we're in an in between part of it, so we simply have to wait for technology and out understanding of them to increase enough (also remember that we can't simply make the tanks bigger since most places don't have that kind of budget).
    As for replicating the natural habitat, that's a bit hard when you consider the cleaning - can't put all types of live plants and stuff in tanks when it's only gonna foul up the water (which is worse for them than not having a natural tanks).
    I've had a fish tank with live plants. It was a huge pain to keep clean, and took a lot more effort than a clear tank would've. While it was manageable with a 40 Litre tank, it's not as manageable on a Killer Whale sized scale.

    In any case, SeaWorld's not capturing them any longer, and all of the whales there can't be released (they're born in captivity hence they won't survive in the wild - captivity is too easy, what with all the free food)
    For reference, see what happened to Keiko (the Free Willy whale) when they tried to release him, even though he was wild caught and hadn't been in captivity for that long.


Candace Calloway Whiting