The first permanent sea sanctuary for whales and dolphins could be located in Vancouver, British Columbia, according to marine mammal experts who are also still considering other locations.
Interest in establishing a sea sanctuary for former captive cetaceans is ramping up, with a workshop on the matter to be held in December at the Society for Marine Mammalogy biennial conference in San Francisco.
“There are sanctuaries for elephants, primates, tigers, lions and other animals, but there is not a single one for dolphins and whales,” Lori Marino, who will be co-hosting the conference with Naomi Rose, told Discovery News.
Marino, who is the executive director of Utah-based Kimmela Center for Animal Advocacy, proposed that the sanctuary (otherwise known as a “sea pen”) be located in Vancouver.
“I mentioned that during the Compassionate Conservation Conference in July, but we are considering other sites as well,” she said. “There are possible sites all along the U.S. West Coast into Canada, and there are some good places along the East Coast too. Much depends upon the needs of the particular species, legal and policy issues, and whether or not there is local public support.”
The idea is still in its earliest phase of development, with Marino and others bringing together multiple interested individuals to discuss the plans. These include conservationists, veterinarians, engineers and — whenever possible — members of the marine park industry.
Marino and her colleagues are calling for a “shift in their business model” that moves away from entertaining people to putting the welfare of the animals first while also educating the public.
The biggest differences between an aquarium and the proposed sanctuary would be, according to Marino, that the animals would not be regularly (if at all) on public display, they would have more space, social opportunities, autonomy, natural stimulation, and would be able to catch their own food.
David Phillips, who is the executive director of the Earth Island Institute, directed the effort to bring Keiko the orca, made famous in the “Free Willy” movie, from near death in captivity to the whale’s home waters of Iceland. Keiko later died of natural causes while swimming in the fjords.
“While there are some captive dolphins and whales that can’t be released in the wild, there are none that can’t be successfully moved to a sea sanctuary,” Phillips told Discovery News. “It would have major and instantaneous benefits to their health andwell being.”
He added that without a seaside sanctuary, “captive orcas and dolphins are stuck with an unhealthy and bleak future. We can do better.”