A secret location alongside Nova Scotia’s southwest coast has been shortlisted as a possible website for the world’s first retirement residence for whales and dolphins raised in captivity.
The pioneering effort began two years in the past when the U.S.-based Whale Sanctuary Venture introduced it was taking a look at websites throughout North America to ascertain a big seaside enclosure.
“The writing is on the wall for all of those [marine parks and aquariums] that maintain cetaceans — dolphins, whales and porpoises,” says Lori Marino, president of the non-profit group.
“They’re actually going to wish to section this follow out in the event that they wish to win favour with the general public.”
Marino confirmed this week that the checklist of potential websites has been narrowed to 2 areas: Nova Scotia and Washington state — with a pair websites in British Columbia as backup choices.
Talks are ongoing with authorities officers, native residents, fishermen and First Nations, however the group has but to submit a proper proposal to Canadian or U.S. officers.
“It’s one thing that we’d be open to working with them on in the event that they resolve to proceed with this world-class mission right here in Nova Scotia,” provincial authorities spokesperson Chrissy Matheson mentioned in an e mail. “It will be a incredible alternative for Nova Scotia.”
The group plans to decide earlier than the tip of the yr, and the purpose is to have a 28-hectare sanctuary — in regards to the dimension of 40 soccer fields — working by 2020.
About $2 million has been raised for the $20-million mission. A fundraising drive is anticipated to start quickly.
“There’s a lot distaste for protecting these animals in tanks and asking them to carry out for their supper,” mentioned Marino, a neuroscientist and skilled in animal behaviour who has studied marine mammals for 25 years.
“There are animals proper now dwelling in concrete tanks who may stay for one other 20 or 30 years. The thought of them dwelling below these circumstances is de facto inhumane and insupportable. That is the answer.”
Public attitudes towards protecting the very smart and socially advanced animals in captivity have modified as researchers have realized extra about their lives.
“There’s a lot scientific proof that their welfare was very poor,” Marino mentioned, including that the 2013 documentary Blackfish helped expose the darker facet of the marine mammal leisure business by specializing in Tilikum, an orca concerned within the deaths of three folks.
In response to the Change For Animals Basis, there are at the least 2,300 cetaceans in captivity worldwide, together with about 2,000 dolphins, 200 beluga whales and 53 orcas, that are in any other case generally known as killer whales.
However these numbers are anticipated to drop within the years forward, notably in North America.
In January, the Vancouver Aquarium introduced it might now not hold whales and dolphins in captivity, saying the heated public debate over the difficulty was getting in the best way of its conservation work.
Final month, tons of of protesters gathered exterior the Marineland journey park in Niagara Falls, Ont., the place dozens of beluga whales and dolphins are a part of the present. The park is residence to Canada’s lone captive killer whale, Kiska.
‘Life within the tank’
In 2015, Ontario grew to become the primary province to ban the shopping for, promoting and breeding of orcas.
The next yr, business chief Seaworld Parks and Leisure introduced it might cease breeding orcas in captivity. And in Ottawa, a invoice tabled within the Senate would prohibit whales and dolphins from being saved in captivity.
Nevertheless, whales and dolphins raised in captivity cannot be returned to the wild as a result of they do not have the mandatory survival abilities.
Famend marine biologist Hal Whitehead, a professor at Dalhousie College in Halifax, is among the many Whale Sanctuary Venture’s many worldwide advisers.
“As we have realized extra about [whales and dolphins], it is clear that life within the tank may be very removed from how they’d usually stay their lives within the wild,” mentioned Whitehead, including there will likely be challenges when establishing a seaside enclosure.
“It isn’t a great life for any of those animals, but it surely’s a helluva lot higher than the place they’re now.”
Critics have mentioned the sanctuary plan is flawed as a result of it is going to be troublesome to comprise orcas that may weigh as a lot as 5,400 kilograms. As effectively, they are saying marine mammals raised in captivity can carry pathogens that might infect wild populations.
Whitehead mentioned these behind the mission plan to erect two nets to maintain the whales in, and he harassed that monitoring by veterinarians will scale back the danger of sickness.
“I’ve been impressed with the care and diligence with which the group has approached this,” he mentioned in an interview. “They’ve actually considered the problems they should cope with … to attenuate the dangers.”
Marino says her group’s panel of advisers has in depth expertise with holding nets, and she harassed that the areas chosen will likely be protected against the open ocean.
“The thought of escapes may be very, very distant,” she mentioned.