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Anti-Zoo Group Still Shopping for a Whale “Sanctuary” in Nova Scotia

In the continuing midst of a pending a bill that could “ban” the keeping of cetaceans in marine zoological facilities in Canada, Nova Scotia could end up seeing the creation of a double standard thanks to the Whale Sanctuary Project.

Nalurak interacting with a young girl at Mystic Aquarium in 2015. 

If the Whale Sanctuary Project gets its way, then Nova Scotia could end up creating a double standard in the midst of a pending ban against the keeping of cetaceans in marine zoological facilities in Canada. The radical anti-zoo extremist group, which is led by activists Lori Marino, and Charles Vinick, plan to hold town meetings over a ten-day period to pick out a seaside town where they could shop for an area to serve as an “official” home to a beluga whale facility that would be marketed off as a “sanctuary.”

This move comes almost a year after the group announced its desire to build a sea pen-based sanctuary in the Canadian maritime providence that later received opposition from local fishermen. However, this time, the group claims that consultation from local communities in order to get their way.

Yet, there are a lot of issues that surround this sea pen-based facility if it were to become a reality down the road.

Where are the belugas going to come from?

The Whale Sanctuary Project claims that the belugas are likely to come from other facilities. However, while this does sound very simplistic to acquire animals from other facilities, it does not seem very likely that a scientifically accredited facility would send its own animals over to an activist-owned facility. This is because while they may practice the same kind of husbandry practices that any zoo or aquarium would use to ensure the health of their animals, they may not always have the animal’s best interest in mind. This is especially if these facilities may not encourage them to be able to meet all of their needs to ensure they not only have a comfortable life in human care but also encourage their natural behaviors as well.

If the animals are not going to come from a scientifically accredited facility, then are they going to take in the animals that are living at poorly-managed facilities in Russia, China, or in other Asian countries where facilities don’t make twelve percent the income that a modern facility makes? This is something that the people behind the project need to start addressing when they are considering where they plan to adopt the animals from.

In addition, they also claim that some of the belugas would be rescued and rehabilitated, but so far, the only concept art for the “sanctuary” that has been released to the public shows an enclosed pen and a viewing area for visitors. It did not show any hospital for where sick, injured, or orphaned cetaceans would be rehabilitated for an extended period of time. If this facility does plan to use parts of the “sanctuary” for rehabilitation, it would be better to build an animal hospital that would be specialized for that purpose so that there would no risk of having the sick animals potentially expose any diseases, nor viruses to the healthy resident animals.

Where are the funds going to come from?

Although the Whale Sanctuary Project plans to market its proposed beluga whale facility as a “non-profit,” they are going to need an estimated $20 million to keep this “sanctuary” operating for a long period of time. Last summer, they did announce that they only had raised $2 million but needed $17 million more to enable the project to happen. So, the question still remains as it did a year ago? Where is the rest of the money going to come from?

  • Celebrities?
  • Local officials?
  • Private donors?
  • Other radical activist groups?
  • The public?

Once again, they did not appear to have addressed this concern when you can consider that it would cost them $300,000 a year to give these beluga whales the world-class care they are going to need during their time at the “sanctuary.” This would include the basics like veterinary care, environmental enrichment devices that would stimulate them throughout the day, adding a filtration system to keep this pen clean, and habitat maintenance that would be aimed at keeping the pen from all the potential damage it could face from natural disasters, and from the animals accidentally getting entangled in the netting.

Another major concern in regards to funding is, the possibility of the funds running out altogether if God forbid, the “sanctuary” starts struggling financially. Would these belugas be sent to other facilities? Or, would they end up having to be euthanized?

Questionable Welfare of the Potential Resident Belugas

Like I have said in the past, I have no real issue with sea pens, but ever since I first heard about Whale Sanctuary’s plans to build sea pens that have some sort of anti-zoo agenda, I have had many concerns about the welfare issues it could have on the potential animal residents.

One such issue is that this particular facility, like all marine mammal facilities, would require the use of an effective filtration system that would keep the pen both clean and healthy throughout the year for it is required by law for such facilities to have one in place. Yet, since the activists don’t seem to act like they have some sort of concern over the health of the resident animals, it can be assumed that they have a superficial, image of animals arriving at the pen being as being “healthy” upon coming into contact with natural seawater.

Another issue that this sanctuary would face is the fact that the pen, being netted around an area where would the belugas would be housed, would see a lot of insufficient outcomes if storms were to hit the area that the pen is located in. Let’s say that a storm hits Nova Scotia and the sanctuary took a major beating from it, the animals could accidentally escape from the pen if the netting gets damaged. If that were to happen, there would need to be an effort to rescue the animals and relocate them to another facility until the netting’s repaired. So, it would be very important that the Whale Sanctuary Project would have an effective emergency plan in place if a storm were to hit the area.

As far as veterinary care is a concern, It is nowhere mentioned in Whale Sanctuary Project’s press release about its plans for a beluga facility. The press release, pretty much like its website, only talks about how sea pens could “benefit” animals that have lived in human care, how raising marine mammals at inland facilities are “bad,” and so on. It makes no mention of how, or if the animals would receive veterinary care. In addition, it also makes no mention of the animals would have access to their regular training, and enrichment sessions that would keep the animals stimulated, healthy, and active throughout the day. This makes me even more worried about the fact that these activists are more concern about image rather than on the welfare of the animals that would be brought into their care.

If there is anything that these activists often mention in previous press releases regarding their proposed “sanctuaries,” it’s the fact that they do plan to place all of their animals on birth control in order to prevent them from breeding. This is problematic because it would require the staff to conduct daily controlled administration in fish that would be given to the females while separating them from the males in the process. However, they should really keep in mind that belugas, like all cetacean species, are sexual animals and separating males from females could result in aggression relating to sexual frustration. So, since female belugas do not form bachelorette pods out in the wild, and no form of birth control is considered to be one hundred percent effective, it would be wise for potential staff to allow the animals to be able to breed, while only be separated if sick, or while raising calves under a year old.

Double Standards?

Currently, Canada has a bill that is being passed by it's Senate. The bill is dubbed by the public as “Bill S-203.” If this bill gets signed by the governor general, not only would it be illegal for Canadian zoological parks to house cetaceans of any species in their care, but also, it would make it very difficult to carry out rescue and rehabilitation efforts on any wild cetacean that gets sick, injured, or orphaned. Yet, the same people who claim to not like any zoo or aquarium that houses cetaceans are the same people who seem to have no issue with activist-operated sea pens that would operate the same way that a modern facility does.

This would create a double standard by enabling Canada to allow animal rights extremist groups to build their own facilities despite having very little, to no expertise in animal care while forbidding zoos and aquariums that are accredited by scientifically-based organizations from housing and caring for cetaceans at their own facilities.

In the past, activist groups with agendas that were similar to that of Whale Sanctuary’s have made multiple attempts to build sea pens in the Meditteranean without success, due to European Union laws that were created to protect local wild dolphin populations that continue to be threatened by pollution, loss of food source by overfishing, entanglement in fishing nets, and the ongoing effects of climate change.

Meanwhile, Nova Scotia often serves as the summer home to endangered North Atlantic right whales that often come to the waters off the Maine-Canada Broader to feed and raise their calves. These endangered marine mammals are currently threatened by the effects of pollution, and other forms of human activity that continue to threaten their recovery. For example, Nova Scotia has a number of seaside areas that have been declared “critical habitats” for right whales that are now being threatened by potential oil drilling by BP (you know, the same oil company responsible for the Deep Horizon Oil Spill in the Gulf Coast back in 2010?) If an oil spill were to happen in Nova Scotia, it would cause more problems for right whales as they continue to struggle to recover to pre-whaling numbers. Reading about the Nova Scotia plan for belugas on the Whale Sanctuary Project’s website, I saw that they made no mention about evacuating the animals from the pen if an oil spill were to occur.

Conclusion

At this point, if efforts are to be placed on marine mammals in human care, more focus should be on improving already existing facilities by looking for better ways those facilities can better provide for their animals rather than just send them into these sea pens that more focus on promoting an animal rights agenda rather than the welfare of the animals they claim to care about. The activists who are behind Whale Sanctuary Project have little to no expertise in animal care and using sanctuaries as a way to gain control over the marine zoological community through a series of double standards that may come in the process.

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Anti-Zoo Group Still Shopping for a Whale “Sanctuary” in Nova Scotia
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