I recently attended the 2-day WhaleFest 2014 event in Brighton, UK – currently the worlds’ biggest celebration of whales and dolphins. This was a great opportunity to catch up with colleagues from around the globe that we work with on a daily basis but rarely have the opportunity to meet up with in person; I also met some colleagues for the first time which is always a delight. The festival was officially opened by Gok Wan, and both days were overflowing with talks on cetacean issues; ranging from where to see dolphins and whales around our shores, the keeping of these animals in captivity to the very distressing and urgent plight of the 50 remaining Maui’s dolphins off the coast of the North Island in New Zealand – this was especially harrowing as, if something is not done to protect this species, they will almost certainly become extinct – and that would be a disaster. There were also many fun activities for children to be involved with; from a fantastic inflatable humpback whale which you could actually go inside to face painting, drawing and dolphin sculpting. There were artwork exhibitions showcasing some amazing talent, amongst them Phil Coles, who has been a long-time supporter of the Marine Connection’s work. There was a special showing of Blackfish with the opportunity to ask questions from several of the contributors including Dr Naomi Rose and Sam Berg. The festival passed in a blur and was over too soon; but reminded each and every one visiting just why dolphins, whales and our oceans are so special, so vital to the future survival of our planet and why they deserve our protection.
19 March 2014
I write this with a very heavy heart, the drive hunts in Japan continue to supply the horrendous entertainment trade and recently I was horrified when the latest removal of dolphins from the cove in Taiji, included an albino dolphin calf. From the outset this dolphin was destined for captivity, given the appetite that the Japanese have for all things unusual/cute, that was never in question that this animal would probably be sold into the captivity overseas or retained in Japan which was proven to be the case, as the young calf is now alone in a pool at Taiji's Whale Museum. So, how can we stop the hunts - boycotts are not the answer for that only damages the millions of innocent Japanese traders who, we are sure, would not support these hunts. The only answer is to expose this ongoing horror and the damage this causes not only to the individual animals involved, but to the wild population of dolphins (and whales) which frequent Japanese waters. We also need to expose the facilities around the world that purchase dolphins from these hunts and turn a blind eye to how the animals are obtained. Working together with colleagues and concerned members of the public around the world we can do this. We will not give up until the seas around Taiji are safe for all cetaceans - free from capture, free from harm and free from fear.
27 January 2014
Artists signed to appear at SeaWorld Orlando’s ’Bands, Brew & BBQ’ event due to be held at the park on 15 February 2014 appear to be pulling out after having seen the movie Blackfish. Willie Nelson, Heart and Barenaked Ladies who were all signed to appear at the event have now cancelled. Barenaked Ladies drummer Tyler Stewart tweeted earlier this week saying the band were “looking at options” after seeing Blackfish and following that posted on Facebook “"This is a complicated issue, and we don't claim to understand all of it, but we don't feel comfortable proceeding with the gig at this time."
It would appear that after years of SeaWorld hiding the reality the effects of captivity has on these large, intelligent marine mammals, Blackfish has shown the world the truth behind the glitz - many do not like what they see and are voting by not supporting the brand. It is difficult for an artist, once signed, to pull out of a booking, but as these artists have shown, not impossible if you feel strongly against giving your support to the brand in question – could the tide be turning, we sincerely hope so for the sake of all captive marine mammals.
08 December 2013
For more than 160 years Dundee sent ships to the Arctic to hunt whales.
Although, thankfully, the city no longer sends whaling ships to sea it does have a whaling collection of national significance. The McManus Art Gallery and Museum, contains an extensive exhibition of photographs, documents and other artifacts reflecting Dundee’s whaling history. A new book Ancestors in the Arctic, by Malcolm Archibald has just been published and documents the city’s history with whaling and how, at the time, it was vital to the area’s economy. Whaling was a huge industry in the city from 1753 to 1914 and Dundee was the longest-lasting whaling port in Britain until in the early 19th century, when whales became scarcer in the Arctic and the jute industry — which had used whale oil for softening the fibers — turned to cheaper oils.
I do sometimes wonder whether it is a coincidence that I have been involved in dolphin and whale conservation for over 20 years or whether it’s simply pay-back for the work my great-grandfather used to do.
24 November 2013
After languishing in captivity for many months, two of the three remaining dolphins at Connyland, Switzerland have left the facility in special transport boxes and boarded a plane at Zurich airport (under police protection), before being flown to Dolphin Cove in Jamaica. Secret (2) who was born in captivity plus the wild-caught female Chicky (27) which was taken from the waters around Cuba have had a miserable existence in Connyland who kept the moving date secret. Angel (8), was also supposed to be transported however died at the facility just days prior to the move.
The importation of dolphins or whales to Switzerland was banned in 2012 and although these animals have been moved to another captive facility in the Caribbean, their move means that Switzerland is added to the list of countries which no longer has any captive dolphins. I can sympathise with the feelings of all who campaigned against Connyland as, after campaigning for many years to close the dolphinarium at Windsor Safari Park, whilst being overjoyed when the doors closed for the final time over two decades ago, I had mixed feelings as the dolphins were not given the opportunity of rehab or release, but were taken to Harderwijk in the Netherlands. However, we have to be grateful that the list of countries who will no longer accept dolphins in captivity continues to grow, and whilst we may not be able to obtain the release of these animals, steps are being made in the right direction; towards ending captivity of marine mammals, and for that - we are all delighted.
10 November 2013
I recently learned of the death of Francisco Mayoral, who for 40 years took researchers out to see the majestic gray whales that visit the Baja lagoons each year and was also a dedicated campaigner for the protection of the whales.
Nicknamed "Pachico" and "the grandfather of the whales” he was one of the most-experienced whale-watching guides around. The lagoons are an important breeding ground for gray whales marine so in the mid-1990s, when Francisco received the news of a joint plan by Mexican and Japanese commercial interests to build a salt-processing facility that would have seen Compania Exportadora de Sal expand their operation to the shore of San Ignacio Lagoon, he immediately contacted many environmentalists, alerting them to this. Fortunately, through a scientific study and a lengthy acrimonious campaign by groups and the public, Mexico's government cancelled plans for the salt plant in 2000.
Every winter, more than 20,000 California gray whales swim 11,000 miles from Alaska, along the western coasts of Canada and the United States to Baja California. Some go all the way south to Magdalena Bay, more than 600 miles southeast of San Diego, but most stop halfway down the peninsula, in or near the Guerrero Negro, Ojo de Liebre and San Ignacio lagoons. It’s not an area that I have personally been to yet but definitely on my list!
The family plans to bury Francisco in San Ignacio, near the lagoon he loved dearly.
24 October 2013
I recently attended an event at the Apple store in London’s Regent Street, to hear Blackfish director Gabriela Cowperthwaite speak about her new documentary movie ‘Blackfish’.
Gabriela explained what made her choose Tilikum, the performing killer whale at SeaWorld, Orlando as subject matter on which to base her movie. Tilikum has been responsible for several deaths whilst being held in captivity and Gabriela did say that she had initially approached writing the movie with little empathy for this whale¸ however that changed when she realised the truth behind the glitz promoted by SeaWorld and other marine parks. She had gone from someone who initially did not give any thought about the morality of taking her kids to SeaWorld to how she now feels about these facilities.
Every year thousands flock to SeaWorld parks, lured by the iconic symbol of happy ‘Shamu’ – the company’s top selling merchandise brand however the glitzy image hides a nasty truth. SeaWorld has just been fined $38,500 by OSHA for safety violations regarding trainers working with their killer whales. This comes after a three-year fight between OSHA and SeaWorld following the death by drowning of trainer Dawn Branchau by Tilikum in 2010. This led to Gabriela producing ‘Blackfish’ - an emotional, powerful documentary which I urge everyone to see, to learn the truth behind facilities such as SeaWorld and the suffering, indignity and boredom captive dolphins and whales endure day after day, year after year.