Dolphin Trainer’s Death Linked with Huge Aquarium Bids in Spain and Georgia

On the morning of March 3, Jose Luis Barbero Hernandez kissed his wife goodbye, stepped into his Peugeot, and drove from his home in the town of El Toro on the Spanish island of Mallorca to a meeting at which he never arrived.  Out of concern that he had reported death threats following the release of an accusational video on YouTube and to the media, The Spanish National Police and Civil Defense mounted a search for Barbero, head animal trainer at Marineland Mallorca, utilizing helicopters, boats and foot power around and throughout the island.  Four days later, Barbero’s body was found inside his car in a parking garage at the Palma Airport.

According to Barbero’s complaint with Spanish authorities, the picture and sound of the video, which allegedly shows he and other Marineland trainers punching and kicking dolphins during off season training sessions and using abusive and threatening language towards the animals, “had been maliciously tampered with, leading to a result that does not correspond to reality.”

I’ve reviewed the video in question.  It is extremely grainy in nature and contains a number of rough cuts.  It is fairly impossible, as Marineland’s investigators determined, to tell who’s in the video.  The verbal reprimands allegedly made by the trainers carry across edits between scenes, so as to make it difficult to tell which point of action they belong to.  Frame rate in the video has been sped up.  When viewed at a lower frame rate, due to the graininess of the image, it becomes difficult to tell if actual punches and kicks are taking place, as suggested when viewing the faster frame rate, or if the trainers are utilizing conventional and accepted hand and foot commands.  My assessment is based on my 20 years experience working with IMAX and other cinema technologies, combined with extensive authorship on those technologies, frame rates, and image resolution.

A second video, at higher resolution was released, but suffers from the same issues – not enough resolution to discern the individual trainers’ faces, sped up frame rate, and the inability to tell if the abusive dialogue, which in this new video has migrated to a different scene, is authentic or has been overdubbed.  The one thing I was been able to confirm, by comparing the tank configuration and background elements with overhead satellite photography, park maps, and visitor videos of shows at each Western European dolphinarium, is that the video indeed was shot at Marineland Mallorca from two different angles – one a residence adjacent to the park and the second from what appears to be within the dolphin stadium itself.

The video was posted by SOS Delfines, a project of la Fundación Asesoramiento y Acción en Defensa de los Animales, or FAADA, one of Spain’s largest animal rights groups.  SOS Delfines has stated that it targeted Marineland Mallorca by making the video public out of concern for the dolphins’ welfare. However, timing suggests that the target may be much bigger.


Marineland Mallorca is one of sixty parks and attractions operated by Madrid-based Aspro Parks.  The company’s portfolio includes aquariums, theme parks, waterparks, a zoo, and five dolphinariums throughout Western Europe.  Most recently, Aspro added the Aquarium Harderwijk in the Netherlands, completing its purchase in January from Compagnies des Alpes.  Aspro will soon announce a new director for Harderwijk, as its current director, Marten Foppen, is leaving in April to run the Spoorwegmuseum (winner of a 2014 Thea Award for De Vuurproef).

Aspro is part of a partnership vying for the management contract of L’Oceanografic in Valencia, Spain, Europe’s largest combination aquarium and dolphinarium.  With Parques Reunidos opting not to continue its contract (with suits and countersuits taking place between it and the city of Valencia over moneys owed), three major contendors are vying for the job.  First is Rain Forest, whose Spanish zoo Bioparc is considered a pioneer of exhibit design, partnered with Italian aquarium operator Costa Edutainment.  Aguas de Valencia, which started out as the local water company and is now operating internationally, is partnering with KET, the company that constructed and first operated L’Oceanografic, and the Vancouver Aquarium.  Finally, Aspro is partnering with live event operator Mundosenti2.  The winning bid will be announced either later this month or early April.


Timing is everything when running a targeted campaign.  PETA, one of SeaWorld’s most vocal detractors, has mastered this art.  On February 22, 2013, as a nine year old girl was being bitten on the wrist by a SeaWorld San Antonio dolphin, 100 PETA organized protesters were picketing outside the entrance to the Orlando park, and a PETA employee in Washington, DC stood up and heckled SeaWorld speakers at a travel industry show.  All this made its way into a single article on the PETA website seven days later, along with notice of a USDA citation against SeaWorld Orlando for two violations of the Animal Welfare Act (one of which was resolved while the inspector was still on premises.  By comparison, the San Diego Zoo was cited for 13 violations during the same general inspection period, a fact PETA has never mentioned).

In a similar way, in 2012, PETA acquired freshly shot footage of a dolphin that had fallen out of its tank at a SeaWorld park, allegedly shot by either a PETA volunteer or a SeaWorld employee.  The advocacy group held onto the video for almost a year, finally releasing it nine days after a YouTube video of a newly rescued pilot whale stuck on a tank slideout in Orlando went viral, taking advantage of the attention the other video was receiving.

Approximately half of the SOS Delfines video bears a time stamp of March 2014, yet it wasn’t made public until its posting on YouTube on February 4, 2015.  Five days earlier had been Barbero’s final day as an employee of Marineland Mallorca. After more than 30 years at various Aspro parks, he was headed to Atlanta to become the Vice President of Training at the Georgia Aquarium, an institution at which he had provided consultation services for the prior eight years.

The video and then death of Barbero could not have come at a worse time for the Aquarium’s training department, just coming off a sexual harassment lawsuit in Federal court, settled out of court this past December.  It’s another issue, however, that has made the Aquarium a focal point of the anti-captivity movement.

On June 15, 2012, Georgia Aquarium filed a permit request with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which overseas provisions of the Marine Mammal Act, to import eighteen beluga whales caught in the wilds of Russia under the authorization of the Russian Academy of Sciences.  The majority of the whales would be dispersed on breeding loan to the three SeaWorld parks, Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium, and Connecticut’s Mystic Aquarium (which has since left the partnership).  This would mark the first time a whale or dolphin would be intentionally caught in the wild for public display in the United States in close to thirty years.

NOAA denied the permit request, primarily based on three criteria:

“We were unable to determine whether the proposed activity, by itself or in combination with other activities, would likely have a significant adverse impact on the species or stock.  We believe that it is likely that total removals from this stock have exceeded the total net production on an annual basis resulting in a small, but steady and significant decline over the past 2 decades.  We believe the ongoing live-capture trade since 1989 may have contributed to a cumulative decline over the past two decades, and we considered this in combination with other past, present, and foreseeable future actions.

“We determined that the requested import will likely result in the taking of marine mammals beyond those authorized by the permit.  There are ongoing, legal marine mammal capture operations in Russia that are expected to continue, and we believe that issuance of this permit would contribute to the demand to capture belugas from this stock for the purpose of public display in the U.S. and worldwide, resulting in the future taking of additional belugas from this stock.

“We determined that five of the beluga whales proposed for import, estimated to be approximately 1.5 years old at the time of capture, were potentially still nursing and not yet independent.”

On Sept 30, 2013, Georgia Aquarium filed a complaint in Federal court to overturn the denied permit request.  On January 14, 2015, it filed for the case to be dismissed under summary judgement, stating that NOAA’s decision had been erroneous based on both use of incorrect data and misinterpretation of accurate data.  On March 16, the government and a group of animal advocacy organizations acting as intervenor-defendants filed their responses to the Aquarium’s summary judgement motion and their own requests for summary judgement.

While belugas from the same Russian facility have made their way to the Polar Ocean World chain of parks and aquariums and Chimelong Ocean Kingdom, both in China, the eighteen intended for the Georgia Aquarium have remained in a collection of small sea pens at the Utrish Marine Mammal Research Station on the Black Sea, some since 2006, under a nonrefundable deposit.  If Georgia is not able to import these animals, they will likely be resold to other parties in Russia or Asia.


Since I first started writing professionally about the conflict between animal rights advocates and marine life parks in 2012, the social media arena has exploded as a canvas for discourse by both those in support and in objection to the parks.  Some of the conversations have remained civil while quite a few verge into hostile territory. There are over 1000 groups on Facebook discussing the marine mammal captivity issue and “tweetstorms” and trolls have become commonplace on twitter.

With thousands of impassioned individuals discussing the issue on social media, it’s quite easy for incorrect and untrue facts, along with unvetted claims, to be promulgated, either through misinterpretation or intentionally.  In essence, social media in the conflict over marine mammals acts much like a game of telephone – what comes out is not always what went in on the other end.

One of the more easily traceable examples of this is the 2013 declaration by India that whales and dolphins are non-human persons.  This was reported by such reputable mainstream news sources as Germany’s international broadcaster Deutsche Welle (DW) and the Houston Chronicle.  Gabriela Cowperthwaite, director of the anti-SeaWorld film Blackfish, mentioned the declaration during an interview on the film’s DVD.   Others, such as National Public Radio’s Robert Krulwich, noted that:

“‘Cetaceans [dolphins, whales and porpoises] in general are highly intelligent and sensitive,’ the Ministry said, ‘and various scientists who have researched dolphin behavior have suggested that [they have] unusually high intelligence … compared to other animals.’

“This means, the Indian ministry went on: ‘that dolphins should be seen as ‘non-human persons’ and as such should have their own specific rights.’ ‘Non-human persons’ — what a pregnant phrase! People-like, but not like people.”

Thus, there are two different interpretations on the matter.  The first states that the government of India declared cetaceans to be non-human persons.  The other, that the government declared they should be non-human persons.  The reality is that neither took place.  In its proclamation banning dolphinariums in India, the Ministry of Environment and Forests stated:

“Whereas cetaceans in general are highly intelligent and sensitive, and various scientists who have researched dolphin behavior have suggested that the unusually high intelligence; as compared to other animals means that dolphin should be seen as ‘non-human persons’ and as such should have their own specific rights and is morally unacceptable to keep them captive for entertainment purpose.”

The key phrasing in this paragraph – “various scientists who have researched dolphin behavior have suggested that the unusually high intelligence; as compared to other animals means that dolphin should be seen as ‘non-human persons’ and as such should have their own specific rights” – refers to the beliefs of “various scientists,” and was used solely as the basis for the dolphinarium ban, not as a separate declaration.  To date, the Ministry has not declared or suggested it be declared that dolphins be named as non-human persons and cetaceans do not have that legal standing in India.  However, the claim that they do still arises frequently within social media.

Within the marine mammal debate on social media, SeaWorld is one of the most common targets.  The majority of the claims lobbied toward its business practices often show either a disregard or a lack of knowledge of theme park operations.  One of the more visited crowd-sourced websites, The Dodo, whose majority owners include Discovery Channel and Animal Planet parent company Discovery Communications, recently released a video which it claims is “SeaWorld’s entire downfall explained in 1 minute.”  It features the release of the film Blackfish, student protests, the USDA violation at the Orlando park (which not only features the incorrect month in the video, but uses audio from the film Blackfish about conditions at a now closed Canadian park, which is dubbed over video unrelated to the USDA violations), and the termination of SeaWorld’s partnership with Southwest Airlines as factors leading to stock and revenue drops and the resignation of the company’s CEO Jim Atchison.

What the video doesn’t include is the 2014 competition that SeaWorld’s three most visited parks endured with new and newly redesigned attractions in their markets.  San Diego had to compete with heavily marketed attractions and events at Disneyland Resort, Universal Studios Hollywood, and Knott’s Berry Farm, along with a new waterpark at LEGOLAND California.  Both SeaWorld Orlando and Busch Gardens Tampa suffered attendance losses with blockbuster attractions opening in Central Florida – New Fantasyland at the Magic Kingdom and Diagon Alley at Universal Studios Florida.  Busch Gardens Tampa’s 2014 thrill ride, Falcon’s Fury, suffered technical difficulties and was out of commission the entire busy summer season, finally opening after schools had gone back into session.  Another drop in attendance resulted from the transition of Christmas Town at the two Busch Gardens parks from a separate hard ticket event, as has been done in the past, to an event included with daily park admission.

Another misleading claim in social media is that SeaWorld is planning international expansion due to pending state and federal legislation that would ban whale and dolphin captivity in the United States.  AB-2140, which InPark previously reported on, has been undergoing review and is expected to be reintroduced to a California Assembly committee in 2016.  Bills were recently introduced in the Washington State House and Senate to ban cetacean captivity, although it is a state that currently does not house any. The text of the two Washington bills are identical to the California bill, exchanging California’s orca for Washington’s cetacean.

SeaWorld’s primary business is as a theme park company.  It has developed the SeaWorld, Busch Gardens, Discovery Cove, and Aquatica brands and has other park concepts that have been developed and may be implemented in other markets.  A large number of major theme park operators – Disney, Universal, Six Flags, Merlin, Parques Reunidos, Village Roadshow, USJ (parent company of Universal Studios Japan) – are undergoing major expansions into the Middle East and Southeast Asia.  SeaWorld is in a unique situation among theme park operators in that its two largest parks, San Diego and Orlando, operate both like regional theme parks and as international tourist destinations, drawing large attendance from Japan, China, Mexico, Brazil, and Europe.  This has given the brand high recognition in international markets.  In addition to its multi-park complex in Dubai, with the first park scheduled to open in time for Dubai’s EXPO 2020, SeaWorld executives have completed location scout visits with Village Roadshow in China, Malaysia, and South Korea.  Under the completed terms of cooperation, the new SeaWorld IP parks will be operated by Village Roadshow.

The conspiratorial nature of social media sometimes stretches to what would otherwise be respected organizations.  On March 14, a group of protesters interrupted a presentation by a former SeaWorld trainer now critical of the park at Whalefest, a large annual conference which, among other things, advocates the ending of cetacean captivity.  In response, Whalefest issued a series of tweets alleging that the protesters had been paid and placed within the meeting hall by SeaWorld.

Accusations are lobbed both ways in the realm of social media.  Many SeaWorld supporters group all park protesters together under the overriding title of PETA.  I speak often with a number of protesters and anti-captivity advocates who not only have told me that they are not associated with PETA, but that they also do not support the animal rights organization.  As one said, “Most of what PETA does actually makes our efforts look bad, but because they’re so big and vocal, we have to work with them on a lot of things.”

One of PETA’s most recent efforts to undermine SeaWorld, which will be paying them $28.35 this quarter in dividends for PETA’s 135 shares of SeaWorld stock, involves SeaWorld’s efforts to rescue emaciated sea lion pups on the Southern California coast.  This year to date, SeaWorld San Diego has rescued over 400 pups, placing its sea lion show on hiatus to free up trainers to help with the rescue effort and sending additional staff specialized in sea lion care from its San Antonio park.  Other marine mammal rescue centers in Southern California have reached capacity and have sent overflow to San Diego.  According to Federal regulations, SeaWorld is the only marine mammal rescue organization allowed to work within San Diego County.

On March 12, PETA attempted to not only undermine SeaWorld’s efforts, but placed extra stress on other already overwhelmed rescue organizations, by posting the following comment on its Facebook page:

“Please contact your local Marine Mammal Stranding Center here:

or PETA at . . . .“. . . .The animals released by SeaWorld are most often manatees, sea turtles, and other animals who cannot be used as ‘performers’ in their shows. Dolphins, whales and sea lions rescued by SeaWorld who can be forced to perform tricks for food are kept and used as performers.”


Both Marineland Mallorca and Georgia Aquarium officials had the SOS Delfines video investigated and were not able to find anything conclusive.  Shortly after Barbero’s death, Georgia Aquarium CEO Mike Levin released a statement that in part said:

“. . . . After allegations were levied against him, we took the situation very seriously. Georgia Aquarium began a search for truth in hopes of disproving these unsubstantiated claims. Sadly, he and his family received death threats, and groups and individuals rushed to judge him. He was not given the right or the privilege to be considered innocent until proven guilty, a principle I hold dear. His death is untimely, unnecessary and unjust.

“We were not given the chance to thoughtfully and thoroughly review the allegations against him before activists, consultants and some in our own community tortured him with enough hatred to cause him to allegedly take his own life. I hope the death of Jose Luis Barbero teaches those who were quick to condemn him a lesson about being hasty to charge and indict.”

Barbero‘s attorney, Mateo Cañellas, has stated that he will be moving forward with pursuing defamation charges against animal rights activists, groups, and media outlets that exhibited the video and declared it to be in fact Barbero abusing the dolphins without first ascertaining its authenticity.

Cañellas also stated that the prosecution (slander is a criminal matter in Spain and prosecuted by the State) could automatically charge individuals who publicly cheered for Barbero‘s death in social or other media, citing precedence in other Spanish cases.

The morning of her husband’s death, Barbero’s wife posted a thought from a family friend on her Facebook page:

“My friend Jose Luis Barbero Hernandez was found dead in his car. A month ago, SOS-Dolphins FAADA disseminated a video in which he was wrongly accused of mistreating Marineland’s dolphins.

“The lynching that was submitted truncated his brilliant career and the helplessness that he has suffered has led him allegedly to a suicide. Now I still have to read the comments and posts of these ‘self-styled’ animal activists who are pleased with his death. They express their joy, but I’m already blocking them.  On my wall and in my life, the undesirable do not fit.”


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AiG to Purchase Majority Stake in SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment

Orlando, FL, USA (April 1, 2014) — At a press conference this morning at the entrance to SeaWorld, AiG announced plans to acquire up to an 80% stake in Orlando-based SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment (NYSE: SEAS).  The acquisition, made possible by an anonymous $800 million investment in AiG’s GEOS2 fund, is expected to be completed by the end of the month, pending SEC approval.

Regarding concerns over pending legislation in California to end killer whale performances at the chain’s San Diego park, AiG President and CEO Ken Ham remarked: “We’re not concerned.  In Genesis 1:26, God gave man dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth.  So if man wants a whale to do a back flip, then God’s going to make that whale do that back flip, because the Law of God supersedes the laws of man.”

Beginning in September, AiG specialists will begin combing through SeaWorld and Busch Gardens’ animal collections for the most potentially fruitful pairs of animals.  With a full scale replica of Noah’s biblical ark under construction, relocation of these breeding pairs to AiG’s Kentucky Ark facility will begin at the start of 2015.

“Our biblical scholars tell us that a new worldwide flood is coming,” said Ham. “And thanks to our acquisition of SeaWorld and Busch Gardens parks, many of the animal species of the world will now be saved, just like God commanded.”

The acquisition of the parks has brought a new addition to the Ark project: refrigeration units for SeaWorld’s penguins.  According to Ham: “We only need two of each kind.  The rest, from what I’ve been told, are really good swimmers.”

Those interested in helping to fund construction of the Ark can do so through AiG’s Second Global Eradication of Sinners campaign, or GEOS2, at



Answers in Genesis is an apologetics (i.e., Christianity-defending) ministry, dedicated to enabling Christians to defend their faith and to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ effectively. It focuses particularly on providing answers to questions surrounding the book of Genesis, as it is the most-attacked book of the Bible. AiG also desires to train others to develop a biblical worldview, and seeks to expose the bankruptcy of evolutionary ideas, and its bedfellow, a “millions of years old” earth (and even older universe).

AiG teaches that “facts” don’t speak for themselves, but must be interpreted. That is, there aren’t separate sets of “evidences” for evolution and creation—we all deal with the same evidence (we all live on the same earth, have the same fossils, observe the same animals, etc.). The difference lies in how people interpret what they study. The Bible—the “history book of the universe”—provides a reliable, eye-witness account of the beginning of all things, and can be trusted to tell the truth in all areas it touches on. Therefore, people are able to use it to help themselves make sense of this present world. When properly understood, the “evidence” confirms the biblical account.

AiG operates the Creation Museum in Petersberg, KY, USA and is constructing a full scale replica of Noah’s Ark at Ark Encounter in Williamstown, KY, USA.

Benjamin White Open Letter on Paul Watson and Steve Wynn

Human Celebrities versus Animal Celebrities

by Benjamin White, Jr.

“The Cult of Animal Celebrity”, written by Paul Watson and published by Merritt Clifton, puts forth recent context for defending the captivity of marine mammals and opposes those that want them free: the theory that many millions of dollars are going into helping “celebrity animals” that could be spent better protecting wild populations.

The premise is false and is being used to defend Paul Watson’s ongoing funding by Steve Wynn of the Mirage Casino and Merritt Clifton’s clear allegiance with marine parks and aquaria. Three years ago I quit as president of Sea Shepherd when Paul changed the policy of the group toward captivity in order to appeal to Steve Wynn for funding. It worked, Paul got $50,000 as a first installment in appreciation for his backing off on the captivity issue and his trashing of the efforts of myself, Lisa Lange and Peter Wallerstein to close down the Mirage’s captive dolphin tanks. I guess Sea Shepherd’s motto could be changed to “No Compromise in the Defense of Mother Earth unless the price is right.”

Merritt Clifton, masquerading as the animal rights movement’s muckraking journalist, has made a career of late defending those that make a living from captive animals and trying to marginalize those that think zoos, circuses, vivisection labs and aquariums should be abolished, not reformed.

Saying that there is too much fuss being made over “animals with names” is a sly shorthand for referring to captive animals, they are the only ones up close and personal enough to have been given names. Paul and Merritt’s arguments offer a false dichotomy: that one must choose between helping named captive animals or wild unnamed animals. Amazingly, Paul is using his hero status as a militant defender of marine mammals to parrot the same arguments long used by the public display industry. How wonderful it must be for Sea World, that has virtually invented the world trade in marine mammals, to be defended by the likes of Paul Watson and Merritt Clifton.

The job of those that presume to speak up for animals, it seems to me, is to speak and act to stop animal suffering period, regardless of where the animals are. One need not choose between helping animals in the wild or in captivity, we obviously need to do both.

Paul writes, with his casual use for the truth, that the amount of money raised for the cause of freeing marine mammals with names may exceed $45 million a year. The use of the slippery word “may” gives license for vast exaggeration. Yes, contributions to free these creatures “may” exceed $45 million, but they don’t. Having been involved in all four of the efforts decried: the campaigns to Free Willy, Free Lolita, Free Corky and Free Hondo, I can attest that the amount is nowhere even close. The Free Willy campaign, headed up by Earth Island Institute, was started with a grant from Warner Brothers for two million dollars essentially to deal with an in-house problem: Warner was coming out with Free Willy 2 and knew that if there was no plan afoot to move Keiko from his tiny tank in Mexico City, they would be raked over the coals. The entire budget for the tank being built to house Keiko in Newport, Oregon is about 11 million. It will be used as a stranding rehab facility once Keiko is gone. I personally opposed the building of yet another tank and favored a sea pen in Nova Scotia for Keiko, but there is not a shred of evidence that any of the money going into this project was subtracted from any effort to save life on the high seas.

All of the money for all of the other projects, to free the whales Lolita, Corky and the sea lion Hondo tally up to far under a hundred thousand dollars. The only reference anywhere to Free Hondo was on a banner I tied to the side of the cage out in Puget Sound near Seattle when I locked myself inside on February 1. Hondo had been caught in the same cage a week earlier and was being held for execution by the state Department of Fish and Wildlife. After my cage-sit, and the resulting front page picture and article in the Seattle Times, state officials announced that Hondo would no longer be killed because he had become too much of a celebrity. He was released in June. I consider one animal saved a tiny victory, whether named or not. Contrary to Paul’s assertion that Sea Shepherd is opposed to captures from the wild, he was at the same time offering to capture the sea lions for the National Marine Fisheries Service and transport them via the Edward Abbey to California. This gave exactly the wrong message: that it is the sea lions that are to blame for the steelhead trout decline instead of the people that had driftnetted, deforested and dammed the steelhead and salmon to oblivion.

What Paul is really expounding is the old finite funding pie argument, that there is a limited amount of money going into animal protection and more should go to what he once did so well: the interference with the killing of sea mammals at sea. But even in this context it is bizarre to defend marine parks and aquaria. For many years representatives of this industry have attended the meetings of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) and the Convention in Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) with one purpose in mind: to prevent the extension of protection from the great whales to the smaller cetaceans. Any measures that would have protected small whales and dolphins have been successfully blocked, enabling not only the ongoing trade in these animals but their continued slaughter worldwide.

Paul’s description of Sea World as having saved more animals in the wild than all animal advocacy groups combined is both wildly numerically inaccurate and reminiscent of Weyerheuser calling itself the tree growing company. After having their corporate butt thrown out of Washington state for killing four killer whales in capture nets and trying to hide their bodies, Sea World went to Iki Island, Japan to find a new source for entertainers. There they revived the waning drive fishery by agreeing to take the prettiest of the dolphins and pseudorcas off the hands of the fishermen for a handsome fee. They describe this as a “rescue” because the fishermen slaughter all dolphins not taken by the display industry. None of the thousands of animals destroyed over the years by this industry funded slaughter had, as far as I know, been given names.

It’s embarrassing to hear Paul, one of the founders of Greenpeace, credit the marine park industry with having caused the public’s love affair with marine mammals. That assumes the industry’s primary fallacious argument, that they educate in a positive direction. They do not. They teach dominance: that might makes right. Every child admitted is taught, through his parent’s passive consent, that having whales and dolphins against their will, away from their family, doing tricks for our amusement, is all right. Paul also adopts the “it’s a jungle out there” defense, an old saw of the industry, to try to pretend that captivity us for the victim’s own good. Who among us would choose permanent “protective custody” instead of facing the rigors of freedom?

Paul laments that none of this attention focused on captive animals has served to help whales and dolphins in the wild. That claim may help in fundraising but it is not true. The killing of dolphins in tuna nets worldwide, mainly as a result of an Earth Island campaign and monitoring program, has dropped from hundreds of thousands a year to about 3500, obviously, still 3500 too many. During the twenty years Paul mentions, the killing of whales has gone down from tens of thousands a year to hundreds. None of this steals from the urgency of stopping the murder of those, but it is simply untrue to say the movement to assist wild cetaceans, of which Paul has played a huge part, has not swelled in parallel to the increase of compassion for captive cetaceans.

While we’re on the subject, why does Sea Shepherd only defend animals on the high seas out of U.S. territory and only when the killing does not have the sanction of the International Whaling Commission? Paul has been highly vocal lately in opposing the Makah Indian Nation’s intention to begin killing whales again, but if they get IWC approval, as now seems likely, he will do nothing to stop them. If a group’s mandate is to protect marine mammals, but they exclude those captive, those in U.S. waters and those being killed under the approval of the International Whaler’s Club, it would seem their scope of responsibility has shrunk almost to the size of Greenpeace’s (that now doesn’t oppose the killing of 200,000 Canadian harp seals a year.)

Paul Watson and Merritt Clifton have joined the public display industry. The posting by Paul that I am responding to is really the second in a series, the first one was called Moral Relativity and Marine World, Africa. In that article, Animal People editor Merritt Clifton defends not only that amusement park’s purchase of pseudorcas from the Iki Island drive fishery but the expedition the company took to Alaska to pay Inuits to kill mother walruses so their babies could be taken into captivity.

Paul complains that divisiveness in the “movement” is becoming increasingly negative and destructive and that we need to have peace among all factions, by agreeing to disagree. The trouble with this happy scenario is that the industry he and Merritt defend is predicated on taking what doesn’t belong to it and then lying to keep it. Have we lost the capacity for telling right from wrong? My own moral touchstone for determining if a situation is justifiable for an animal is to consider if the same situation would be tolerable for a person. Would Paul and Merritt justify centers where people were taken against their will from their families, force fed until they submit, kept in an environment far diminished from their natural home, have children taken from their mothers routinely, and then forced through food deprivation to perform until they die? To call this industry, as Paul does, part of the animal protection movement or to define this debate as one over “moral relativism” does not tell the truth or help us into the future. To the degree that we, the people who supposedly stand up for critters, acquiesce to animal suffering based on such fuzzy and self serving logic, we surrender both our value to the animals and our moral compass. By compromising with those that deliberately cause suffering by stealing animals from their home and family we become the protector of the jailer, abandoning the jailed.

Paul Watson’s benefactor Steve Wynn promised (to me and many others) that his casino would have dolphins only temporarily, serving as a halfway house for dolphins taken from abusive facilities on their way to freedom. Problem is, Steve forgot that freedom part. Then he acted as point man for the industry and sued the National Marine Fisheries Service, resulting in them losing purview over almost every aspect of captivity. Due to his efforts, captive cetaceans are virtually unprotected.

As far as I can see, there is very little division among animal rights groups over this issue. Ten years ago, there were a bare handful of us fighting for the abolition of whales in jails. Now it is embraced by virtually every group, including such previously immovable rocks as HSUS. We do not have a worsening rift in the movement but two people with guilty consciences that want to solicit new members for their Quisling Club. If Paul and Merritt want to denigrate those who work to free wildlife and glorify those that work in institutions founded on cruelty, that’s fine, but they should admit they have acquired a vested interest in the subject. They should say how much they have received from the industry (Paul has garnered well over $100,000 from Steve Wynn) instead of pretending they are just another objective activist giving advice on strategy.

I have a bias. I am an abolitionist. I have sworn to the dolphins that I will stop at nothing to save every life, to free every creature and close every facility that I can. Like it or not, that’s where I stand. Paul and Merritt have a bias. They should own up to it.

On a personal note, I just can’t understand why Paul doesn’t get it. I was captive with him after being arrested stopping the Canadian Seal Hunt in 1983. We were both facing six years to life. We ended up in adjoining cells for ten days. One day Paul was so depressed he stayed on his bunk with his head covered up all day, talking to no one. He was my best friend and I was worried about him. The next day he was back in his typically wonderful good humor. But I’ve always wondered why he feels no connection with the orca that floats listlessly between performances, with nowhere to go, nothing to do, no stories to tell, no fish to catch, no life to live. These creatures have been sentenced to life imprisonment for no offense other than appealing to people.

The fact that they have been labeled with stupid pet names (how amazing their real names must be!) should not be used as a reason to encourage their jailers by dismissing their suffering. Free Willy? Free Hondo? Free Corky? Free Lolita? Yes! and Yaka, Bubble, Molly and all the rest. The only way to save a species is one by one. Free them all. And let’s not let anyone, friend or foe, plant false doubt and make us lose focus. Our enemies are real, they are those that cause animal suffering, whether on the high seas or in our backyard.

What does one say to an old friend that chooses to switch sides and speak for the enemy? Everyone makes mistakes. Come back to the fold. Money can’t buy you love (except on the sleazy side of town.)

Benjamin White, Jr.
Date: 3 August,1995