This is my third post in my series of instances in which SeaWorld has went against conservation efforts. The subject is quite lengthy so I have decided to split it up into several posts containing one or two interesting situations.
In this case I would like to highlight SeaWorld’s influence on cetacean slaughter, and the capture of wild animals for unethical reasons.
In the year 2011 SeaWorld San Diego made an absolutely appalling decision. Despite the uproar from conservationists, the park captured (or in their own words “acquired”) ten emperor penguins from their home in Cape Washington, Antarctica. To make matters worse, the penguins were just babies and completely dependent of their mothers. Cath Wallace of the Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition said that “plucking” the baby birds from their natural habitat showed the difficulty of managing wildlife in Antarctica. "Antarctica is a reserve for science and nature, not a place for [taking] things from their homes." Bob Tait director of the conservation group Friends of the Earth agrees, "We strongly object to the removal of the penguins from their colony, and subjecting them to the ordeals of lengthy jet travel, and condemning them, for profit-driven reasons, to live out the rest of their lives separated from their real colony in an alien environment at SeaWorld, California.” David Koontz, communications director for SeaWorld, claimed that the birds were being "acquired" by the park for "valuable research" in an independent research facility. He also confirmed that the emperor penguins would be a part of the marine park’s Penguin Encounter exhibit. The first question raised was why SeaWorld had to acquire wild emperor penguins when they have a successful breeding program at their own park? When presented with this question Koontz answered, “most of SeaWorld’s penguins are too old to undergo anesthesia, which would be required as part of the research.” With a successful breeding program, I find it hard to believe that there were no young emperor penguins residing in their exhibit. I also have to inquire why the penguins could not be released after the research. Tait confirmed that the park had no intentions of releasing the penguins.
The summer of this year (2012) SeaWorld applied for a permit. The permit was to capture (or again in SeaWorld’s own words, “obtain”), import, or export, 20 cetaceans or pinnepeds for “scientific research.” The permit explains, “For live animals, unlimited specimens would be collected for import or export from not more than 20 individual animals per species per year. Specimens may be taken at anytime of the year and in all areas worldwide where pinnipeds and cetaceans are found.” The document goes on to read, “Specimens from dead animals, located solely within the jurisdiction of the U.S.A. or Canada, would be collected under the following circumstances: Legal subsistence harvesting; killed incidentally to fishing or other operations; found dead at sea or beached; or that died of natural causes.” The specimens listed include “Several species of dolphin, pilot whales, beluga whales, killer whales, South American sea lions, Steller sea lions, and Hawaiian monk seals. Including but not limited to reproductive cells and organs, urine, feces, teeth, skin, saliva, ocular and nasal secretions, and whole blood taken from dead or captive individuals.”
The permit SeaWorld applied for is quite shocking for a variety of reasons, but the main reason I’d like to focus on is the idea of acquiring beluga sperm for the park’s captive breeding program. As you can see in the permit, SeaWorld is allowed to obtain sperm under "legal subsistence harvesting." Subsistence harvesting is the brutal, inhumane, slaughter of endangered beluga whale. In many ways it is similar to the Japanese drive fisheries. In another recently published document SeaWorld states, “Systematic banking of spermatozoa for long-term storage from 33 trained cetaceans has been accomplished by our group and collaborators (bottlenose dolphin: n = 21; Pacific white-sided dolphin: n = 4; killer whale: n = 6; beluga: n = 1) and from wild beluga (n = 4) in conjunction with native subsistence hunts.” On page two of this document SeaWorld shows deep concern for the dwindling wild beluga population. They blame subsistence hunts as the reason the animals are endangered. “…a subpopulation of beluga, whose habitat is the Cook Inlet in Alaska, has been classified as critically endangered in response to multifactorial impacts of habitat change and subsistence hunting.” Ironically SeaWorld has already confirmed in two separate documents that they are collaborating with subsistence hunters.
For a corporation that “strives to conserve wildlife” I find it surprising that they can sleep at night. SeaWorld supporters I urge you to consider this information.
In a seperate post I’d like to explain SeaWorld’s relationship with the Japanese drive fisheries and their responsibility in the endangerment of the southern resident orca population.