United to assess the future of captive marine mammals

It is not often that individuals and organisations with passionately held and sometimes profoundly disparate opinions get together, talk and then walk out of the room still smiling.  But at what could prove to be a landmark meeting in Miami organised by Virgin Unite, the charitable arm of Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin, that’s exactly what happened.  Twenty-five people representing marine parks that display performing cetacea (dolphins, whales, orca and porpoises), representatives from other aspects of the leisure industry, scientists, leaders from the animal protection movement, tourism trade associations and more, focussed their attention for 36 hours, trying to define what the future holds for captive cetacea.

And, of course,  they did not agree. But they did I think, come to the realisation that things are changing. In my opinion it is unlikely that the status quo, the continued presentation of dolphins, whales, orca and porpoises (some of whom originated in the wild) for public entertainment is a model that will persist long into the future.

The meeting explored important concepts – What do we mean by wild?  What is a sanctuary?  Can current captive facilities be environmentally enriched? Can captive bred dolphins be returned to the wild?  What does success look like?

We also discussed over-arching policy frameworks that placed the welfare of the animals at the heart of decision-making, while recognising that facilities that care for animals for the rest of their lives cannot run on fresh air and have to be built around sustainable financial models – not necessarily for profit – in order to  guarantee the highest levels of welfare, whatever the future may hold.

In my view it would be wrong to characterise all those who hold dolphins, whales, orca and porpoises in public display facilities are the bad guys.  It would be equally wrong to characterise all those who campaign against such forms of animal exploitation as animal rights extremists.  We are, each of us, to some extent, a product of our personal life experiences.  We are each on a journey of discovery and it is only perhaps sometimes through meetings, such as the one in Miami on 3rd – 4th June 2014, that we can take steps forward, learn and grow, and make better, more informed and, hopefully, wise decisions reflecting our evolving compact with the natural world.

Don’t get me wrong, Born Free will never abandon its clear principled position that wildlife belongs in the wild.  Nor will we cease to challenge those who continue to keep and exploit dolphins, whales, orca and porpoises for public entertainment and commercial gain – but nor will we shy away from opportunities to hold discussions that may lead to the fundamental change we wish to seek, however hard the journey.

As Winston Churchill said, “To jaw-jaw is always better than war-war” – to talk is good.

Blogging Off

P.S. A recent opinion poll revealed that 86% of people surveyed said they would not wish to visit a marine park to see whales and dolphins as part of an overseas holiday.

2 Responses to “United to assess the future of captive marine mammals”

  1. Richard Kingsley Says:

    I’m sure you make your Mum proud Will. Well done. (A friend of your Mums in Australia.)

  2. alison longdon Says:

    We love holidays to Florida but we feel its more important that animals should live free.
    If Richard Branson continues to promote $eaworld in the Virgin holidays, we will no longer book with them.
    I was so surprised to hear Richard Branson’s out cry at the killing of the dolphins in Japan, but then he continues to associate with $eaworld, so now my personal opinion of him is that he is two faced