By Nina Wu
Local protestors took part in an international Empty the Tanks event on Saturday, May 24, across the street from Sea Life Park to raise awareness over marine animals in captivity.
It was the second annual Empty the Tanks event, with this year's protest represented by organizations including the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, PETA, Ocean Defender Hawaii, Pangea Seed and Deep Ecology Dive Center.
The movement is gaining momentum after the release of the documentary, "Blackfish," by Gabriela Cowperthwaite, which screened at Kahala Theatres last August and on CNN. It's amazing how this low-budget documentary has made an impact on people, prompting lawmakers in California to consider a bill banning Seaworld orca shows.
My first thought upon seeing the documentary, was, "Well, we don't have orcas in captivity in Hawaii." We have a multi-million-dollar tourism industry centered around observing Hawaiian humpback whales in the wild, with federal regulations in place to protect them. But we do have dolphins and pilot whales in captivity at Sea Life Park on Oahu. And dolphins at resorts for the popular DolphinQuest swim-with-dolphins programs that I've had friends and family rave about.
What makes that any different? I'm not so sure, really.
Before "Blackfish," another documentary (Academy Award winning) called "The Cove" came out in 2009, detailing the annual, bloody slaughter of dolphins in Taiji, Japan, where some are captured and sold to amusement parks. Former Flipper dolphin trainer Ric O'Barry is a convert, telling people not to support any of these programs. I think before "Blackfish," people tended to say, "Oh, it's those animal rights people" again. But now it's more mainstream. If anything, there's more awareness.
The thing is that people go to see dolphins and whales because they're curious about them, and from a distance, also, because they love animals. If these marine mammals can't go back into the wild and survive, though, where could they stay and how would that be funded? Philanthropical foundations?
Sea Shepherd crew member Deborah Bassett said in a press release: "I have been to the infamous killing cove in Taiji, Japan to oppose the brutal slaughter of dolphins that take place there annually. People need to make the connection between dolphin captivity and the slaughter, an issue that was highlighted in the Academy Award winning film 'The Cove.' The message we want to get across to both locals and tourists here in Hawaii is do not buy a ticket to these shows or support any establishments with captive whales or dolphins, including Sea Life Park. After all, nature has given us the great fortune of seeing these amazingly intelligent animals across our island chain; there is simply no justification for this type of enslavement here or anywhere on the planet in 2014."
Sea Life Park issued the following statement through their public relations firm:
"As a member of the Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums, we are dedicated to the highest standards of care for marine mammals in order to provide an enriching educational experience for our park guests. Our animals receive constant attention and affection, and the best food, shelter and veterinary care, including on-site professionals and world-renowned experts who are on retainer to the Park. None of our dolphins on display at Sea Life Park have been acquired through drive hunts. The majority of our dolphins were born in captivity through a responsible breeding program."
True, Sea Life Park, which has been around 50 years, does a lot of educational programs and has a green sea turtle breeding program which regularly releases baby turtles into the wild. I wrote about it once. And once, a few years ago, I went to Sea Life Park as part of an Earth Day event after a beach cleanup.
But I think twice about it now. What do you think about dolphins and whales in captivity?