Dolphins and whales are highly complex, large-brained social mammals. To date, thousands are kept in concrete tanks in marine parks and aquariums around the world. A growing body of scientific data reveals that these animals cannot thrive under these circumstances – in fact, they experience chronic stress, illness, neurobehavioral abnormalities, and, sometimes, death. The recent loss of the orca Tokitae at Miami Seaquarium is a tragic example.
Almost all captive whales are born into the tanks and are not eligible for full release into the ocean. However, there is a growing global movement to provide an alternative to concrete tanks in the form of sanctuaries. Sanctuaries are large ocean enclosures where captive whales can feel the ocean for the first time in their lives and be free to explore a natural environment while under human care. There are sanctuaries for elephants, primates, big cats, and many other wild animals and whale and dolphin sanctuaries are now becoming a reality.
I will discuss the science behind the welfare of captive whales and the place, principles, and practices of an authentic whale and dolphin sanctuary. I will also present a description and photos of a seaside sanctuary for beluga whales and orcas being created by the Whale Sanctuary Project in Nova Scotia, its advisors, such as Jean-Michel Cousteau and Silvia Earle, and provide ways you can get involved.
Lori is the founder and President of the Whale Sanctuary Project. She is a neuroscientist and adjunct professor of Animal Studies at New York University and Executive Director of The Kimmela Center for Scholarship-based Animal Advocacy. Lori’s scientific work focuses on the evolution of the brain and intelligence in dolphins and whales (as well as primates and farmed animals), and on the effects of captivity on wildlife. She has published over 140 peer-reviewed scientific papers, book chapters, and magazine articles in these areas. Lori also works at the intersection of science and animal law and policy and is the co-director (with Professor Kathy Hessler) of the Animal Law and Science Project at George Washington University. She was also a senior lecturer in neuroscience and behavioral biology at Emory University for almost twenty years.