It has been concluded by NOAA that baby beluga Tyonek, born in the wild to an endangered population, must spend the rest of his life within the confines of SeaWorld’s concrete tanks.
Tyonek, who was found stranded when he was a few months old, was taken to the Alaska Sealife Center in an attempt to save his life. The intention behind this move seemed pure, emphasizing the importance of the life of an individual, regardless of species.
Intentions became questionable, however, with the events that followed: staff from major aquariums began showing up, under the pretense of saving Tyonek's life. As we pointed out late last year, among these allegedly concerned individuals was SeaWorld’s marine mammal curator.
Things went further downhill when the Alaska Sealife Center began to publicly display - to exploit - this baby whale before a decision was reached as to whether he would be able to be released. Publicly displaying Tyonek likely decreased his chances for survival in the wild, thanks to increased exposure to humans.
The International Marine Mammal Project and In Defense of Animals submitted a letter to NOAA in December, requesting to take part in the assessment of Tyonek’s suitability to return to his home in the wild. The letter was signed by our Executive Director, David Phillips, who spearheaded the successful release of the orca Keiko, and Dr. Toni Frohoff, whose extensive body of work includes the first ever welfare studies conducted on captive cetaceans and studies of wild baby belugas. Needless to say, these voices would have made valuable contributions.
Unfortunately, NOAA declined our offer and refused to provide the information they and the aquarium industry were utilizing in their assessment of Tyonek’s chances in the wild.
As the Whale Sanctuary Project pointed out, there should have been a sanctuary option for Tyonek, not just SeaWorld’s exploitative tanks. Is a life of sexual violation, working every single day until the day he dies, and being forced to live with other belugas who are not family and who may be hostile, really an option that we should accept for this innocent baby whale? Unfortunately, NOAA and SeaWorld did not give qualified organizations, or the public, a say in their decision.
The fight for Tyonek’s life isn’t over. Stay tuned here for updates.
Header image credit NOAA.