About sea pens
Sea pens would work. The whales would get healthier, and would act more normal and the public would be better informed about orcas every day. Some might be able to be released into open oceans, with a care and feeding station available should they wish to return to it. The contrast between those in sea pens with remaining captives would be obvious, hastening the removal of more captives from the tanks, even in other countries, to sea pens. SeaWorld CEO Joel Manby is trying desperately to fend off the very harmonious demands from activists across the spectrum (see, we can sometimes speak forcefully with a unified message) to move the captives to sea pens. He's using unfounded arguments, saying we want to dump them in the oceans, and that the ocean water would be dangerous for them, etc. while Wayne Pacelle sits beside him quietly. I don't think this partnership will work out well for HSUS.
California bill AB 2305 would make it illegal to breed more orcas, which is good to have codified into law. The reqirement that SeaWorld begin moving their captive orcas to sea pens has, however, been stripped fro last year's version of the bill, but it makes sense that with no sea pens in existence it would be hard to require SeaWorld to send their whales to them. From California Orca Bill Watered Down After SeaWorld Breeding Notice
, Bloom's spokesman Sean MacNeil said: "after "exhaustive research" on the issue found current science does not support moving forward with that requirement."
From reading the Courthouse News article it sounds like the assemblyman was swayed to remove the sea pen clause, and it wouldn't pass the legislature, because, 1) jobs would be lost if the whales suddenly went into sea pens, and 2) current science does not support requiring SeaWorld to put their whales into sea pens.
Big employers come and go all the time and the economies of San Diego, San Antonio and Orlando would survive the transition to new theme park business models, which would be very gradual, so job loss is a weak argument from SeaWorld that has intimidated Bloom and the legislature.
But why does current science not support requiring SeaWorld to put their whales into sea pens? That's the job of activists and scientists like us, but apparently we haven't been clear enough about how sea pens would work.
Nobody seems to know what a sea pen would look like or how it would work. Granted, the obstacles in the way of SeaWorld moving any orcas to a sea pen are huge and complex, even though the basic concept is very simple: move whales to netted off areas of real oceans so they can swim greater distances in a natural environment. A suitable netted off bay would be healthy for them, a point not mentioned often enough because it's a much better argument than saying they would enjoy their freedom (although they would). Of course sea pens for SeaWorld whales would be very expensive. The funding and the business plan for such a sea pen would require a huge investment and long-range planning. It would need to accommodate many whales for many years, many of them needing constant medical care for decades, requiring veterinary services and a small army of staff and security until the remnants of captive populations finally expire in sea pens in 50+ years. The management of such a sea pen is also problematic. Would it be private, corporate, state or federal? If some kind of paid public admission is part of the plan, then a visitor's center and stadium would be needed, and much larger corporate or state or federal management would be required. These are all human issues that complicate the ability to just do the right thing for the whales by putting them into the ocean, but they are real impediments and will have to solved before sea pen use for SeaWorld's orcas can be mandated into law.
But there is a sea pen site already in the planning stages in an absolutely ideal location, that could be ready within a few months, specifically for Lolita/Tokitae. It's in a secluded cove that could be easily netted off, in a calm, pristine bay, tucked in the middle of the San Juan Islands. A legal strategy has been underway for almost five years involving multiple law suits and a petition to include Lolita with her extended family as a protected animal under the Endangered Species Act. These legal initiatives have now brought us to our suit vs. the Seaquarium for violations of the ESA, which will be heard in a federal district court in Miami beginning May 31, unless the parties settle the case beforehand. To win the case we will need to establish for the court that our proposed sea pen location and overall proposal for her transport and rehabilitation are biologically safe and sound for her and for her family in all phases, and that every foreseeable contingency has been considered and planned for. We believe it qualifies on all counts, but if anyone has suggestions to make it better please let us know.
For unknown reasons few people seem to know much about Toki's retirement home, or even want to talk about it. Even at a sea pen workshop at the Society for Marine Mammalogy conference in December, 2015, attended by myself and Ingrid Visser, who has developed extensive plans for a sea pen for Morgan and has presented an artistic concept of a sea pen complex for SeaWorld, no mention of either existing sea pen sites or Ingrid's concept was allowed to be heard. SeaWorld staff and the CEO of Munchkin Inc. who has pledged $1 million to construct a sea pen, were also in attendance, but they were not permitted to hear about our plans for Lolita or Morgan.
So we are introducing Lolita's Retirement Home to all of you. You can find the proposal and appendices along with a wealth of information here
The water in the cove is clear, clean seawater (an oyster farm operates about a mile from the cove) and is not subject to high winds or storm surge or tidal currents. Her host owns an experimental salmon hatchery on the site, and is currently raising 500 subadult Chinook salmon in a pond on his property to be ready for her when she arrives. The logistics of transport, and the infrastructure and protocols for rehab, have been done before and are not problematic. All that is needed are modest funding, professional management and staff. It's only one orca, and she is relatively healthy, so there is a probability that after a period of less than a year she would be free to roam around the habitat that she grew up in, possibly in the company of her family. The whole project is finite, with a predictable time line to completion, even if it entails continual care by a few professional staff. After she regains her health and stamina and begins freely ranging throughout her familiar habitat, a couple of care stations positioned in various locations would suffice if needed to make sure she stays healthy and out of trouble.
Our proposal to return Lolita/Tokitae to her home waters involves very few of the sorts of complications that are holding SeaWorld's whales in tanks. Funding would not be astronomical because it's just one orca who has a good chance of swimming free after a year or less. Infrastructure would involve temporary staff housing and a lab/prep room. Chinook salmon are available on the site. No public viewing would be allowed, so no buildings would be constructed. Expenses would largely be for veterinary services and professional caretakers. Security would also be needed by land and sea. The Center for Whale Research, which has conducted demographic field studies of the Southern Resident orca community (Lolita's extended family) since 1976, will provide boat follow training and followup monitoring. With the go ahead agreements in place the funding could be raised in a timely fashion. Permitting for a sea pen is without precedent so policy and political decisions need to be made before permits can be applied for. The management model will in large part depend on the funding to hire managers and staff and contract services. A call from a benevolent benefactor to talk over how to set up an organization to do the job could come any day. (I have faith because I answered the first call from Craig McCaw's office about Keiko on March 1, 1994.)
Retiring Lolita/Tokitae to a sea pen in the waters of her birth, with the eventual option of freely ranging in the waters where she was raised by her family, is not highly problematic, but support from the activist and scientific community could make a big difference by widening and strengthening a support system to to build confidence in the plan to make it happen. If we can make it happen, and she can be seen by the public in good health and vigor in her native waters as she explores her old neighborhood, the new public acceptance of the sea pen concept will expedite the scientific community's ability to figure out how to retire the SeaWorld orcas.
I hope this helps everyone know more about Toki's retirement home, and I hope we can talk about it here in a respectful, productive way.