When I posed the question of favorite achievements in animal activism over the last 12 months, I wasn't expecting such an incredible response. It was rather remiss of me considering that many activists work on passion alone. Given the stellar response, here in no particular order, are the grassroot successes in cetacean activism as voted on by those in the know.
Last October, hundreds of animal activists stormed Ontario's Marineland
after former trainers revealed its animals were kept in deplorable conditions. The shouts of "Shut it down!" heralded a new turn of phrase for activists that is still used widely across social media.
Save Japan Dolphins Day 2012
It became the single largest gathering ever for Save Japan Dolphins
and volunteers from around the world. On August 31 and September 1, the world made a stand for the dolphins killed on an annual basis in Taiji, Japan.
People from more than 90 cities around the world joined together to raise awareness
about the dolphins' plight. The number of cities taking part smashed 2011 numbers by more than two thirds.
Diverting an airline
Back in February, Hong Kong Airlines came under fire for bragging about a $875,000HK payout earned from the January 16 transport of Taiji dolphins out of the Cove. Social media campaign Save Misty the Dolphin
immediately launched a petition asking Hong Kong Airlines to cease ferrying the cetaceans.
The more then 6,500-signature petition was presented at the airline's headquarters by Gary Stokes, the Director of Sea Shepherd Hong Kong. The airline immediately banned all shipments of this type.
First Japanese protest
Activists were delighted this year to see Japanese citizens make a stand against whaling and dolphin hunting in Japan. Satoshi Komiyama, a representative of the grassroots organization Action for Marine Mammals, staged a protest at Shibuya Station
crossing in Tokyo. It was the first significant opposition to Japan's whaling program and the Taiji dolphin hunts by the country's own citizens.
Sale of whale meat sparks outrage
Amazon.com earned the ire of activists this year when the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), revealed that whale meat was being sold by Amazon.jp. A petition signed by over 200,000 people was organized by Sea Shepherd Cove Guardian leader Melissa Sehgal as the threat of a boycott pressured the online giant.
On March 7, the EIA reported, that both the Amazon.com website and its Japanese version had banned the sale of products
from whales and dolphins. The move was applauded by activists and is seen as a significant victory for cetacean advocates in 2012.
Book release becomes activist's bible
From horrific orca captures to the tragic death of trainer Dawn Brancheau in 2010, David Kirby's groundbreaking investigative thriller -- Death at SeaWorld
chillingly exposed a side of SeaWorld that activists believe is deftly hidden from public view.
For the first time in the history of captive cetaceans at the world's largest marine park, one author's thorough investigation
pulled all of SeaWorld's tragic history under one umbrella and presented it to the public in a digestible format. Said one cetacean advocate, "the book proved to be the referral bible for us activists."
Orca move proves bittersweet for one activist
If passion could be canned then activist Wendy Brunot would make a fortune. Her love for orca Shouka at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom, led to years of campaigning to get the lonely female killer whale a friend. Shouka had been housed without others of her kind at Six Flags for 10 years.
Shouka's solitary condition violated a part of the Animal Welfare Act, and Brunot never stopped pushing for companionship for the orca. Finally, last August, Shouka was moved to SeaWorld San Diego and placed with other killer whales.
Brunot told Digital Journal
, "I would rather she wasn't in captivity but since reality is what it is, sometimes you have to take the bad with the good. She definitely needs and deserves companionship, so hopefully she will develop some good relationships at SeaWorld."
OSHA v SeaWorld
Activists celebrated Judge Ken S. Welsch' ruling on the OSHA v SeaWorld case after the death of Dawn Brancheau who was killed by the orca Tilikum in 2010. After a lengthy investigation, OSHA issued three citations to SeaWorld on August 23, 2010 which SeaWorld then appealed.
Welsch sided with the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and signed a firm order delivered with a scathing ruling
regarding the safety measures in place at SeaWorld of Florida. The ruling not only changed how the park interacted with its orca, it set the stage for a battle that continues
to this day.
SeaWorld's worst nightmare
It's been a rough year for SeaWorld with activists watching their every move and one newly formed group really put the boot in. When four former SeaWorld trainers banded together to blow the whistle on SeaWorld's behind the scenes activities, secrets were unearthed that blew the issue of cetacean captivity wide open.
Jeffrey Ventre, John Jett, Samantha Berg and Carol Ray formed Voice of the Orcas
, a group dedicated to exposing the darker side of SeaWorld operations. The quartet blew their trumpets across major media networks and became the core focal characters for David Kirby's brilliant expose.
Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (SSCS) achievements
There were several proposed SSCS achievements put forward as worthy of mention this year. Here are a select few.
The first was the conclusion of Operation Divine Wind
, their eighth campaign defending the Southern Ocean whaling sanctuary from the Japanese whaling fleet.
"Once Captain Peter Hammerstedt and his crew on the Bob Barker closed in on the Nisshin Maru on March 5th, the whaling season was effectively over," said SSCS. Their ninth season Operation Zero Tolerance has just kicked off, despite an injunction issued
by the United States 9th District Court against Sea Shepherd and Captain Paul Watson, specifically.
The second was that Sea Shepherd Cove Guardian Erwin Vermeulen was found not guilty
by a Japanese judge after a bogus allegation in Taiji landed him in solitary confinement for 60 days. Vermeulen's release was cause for celebration because of Japan's extremely high conviction rate.
The third achievement was the recent addition of a new ship to Sea Shepherd's existing fleet. The SSS Sam Simon was unveiled on Dec. 10
in Tasmania and activists got their biggest kick over the fact that the ship was once part of the Japanese whaling fleet.
Japan had no idea it was selling the ship to SSCS and the conservation group even had the gall to ask that it be delivered. The irony of a former whaling vessel being used to impede whaling was not lost on many activists.
Major events that influenced or are influencing the keeping of captive cetaceans
Following votes in both houses of parliament
, the keeping of dolphins or whales in Swiss zoos or water parks will be forced to come to an end.
Sparked by the death of two dolphins kept at the Connyland theme park in canton Thurgau, Switzerland's parliament voted to join Norway, Luxembourg, Slovenia and Cyprus as dolphin-free countries.
If there was a perfect storm this year, it came about courtesy of Georgia Aquarium who applied for a permit from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), to import 18 wild-caught beluga whales from Russia.
The permit application became one of the most contested
in over a decade. When it was opened up for public comment in the Federal Register, almost 9,000 comments were submitted, most of them against the import.
At a public meeting
held by NOAA last October, Georgia Aquarium used paid 'line-sitters
' at the meeting to take away spots from concerned citizens and conservation groups. The ploy failed miserably when the line-sitters admitted why they were there and in some cases, even ended up supporting the activist's cause.
Tom and Misha
After almost two years of dedicated rehabilitation, Tom and Misha, two male bottlenose dolphins rescued from a hotel swimming pool in Hisaronu, Turkey, were successfully released back to the wild. Their journey back to freedom had been a long one. But it was finally realized in May when the Born Free Foundation announced that Tom and Misha had been released back to where they came from. The dolphins, rescued in 2010, never once looked back as they bolted for the blue and activists sobbed. Their successful release countered arguments that it could never be done.
The rainbow bridge
The rainbow bridge was an idea created some time between 1980 and 1992. It's original creator is not known but it is a story that has gained popularity between animal lovers. It speaks of a magical place, a paradise, where animals go when they die.
The rainbow bridge leads the spirit of these animals towards a meadow where they play with other animals and are happy, fed, warm and contented. There, they await their human companions for a joyful reunion.
Many cetaceans lost their lives in 2012, some naturally, many at the hand of man, and three commendable animal warriors have crossed the bridge with them.
All three of them knew they would be passing, but still gave their very best until the last.
Melissa Bowers was young, beautiful, vibrant and she loved whales and dolphins. Captain Paul Watson paid tribute to Melissa's efforts in this moving eulogy:
A young Canadian woman of only 19 years passed away last month of a brain tumor while I was in prison. During her last days she fought for my freedom from her hospital bed, sending messages to Germany and Costa Rica from her hospital bed.
The last thing she did before her death was to change her profile picture on facebook with my picture which she said will remain forever on her facebook page. She asked that her ashes be scattered at sea ... I will place her picture on the Steve Irwin with a tribute to her memory.
was a staunch advocate for cetaceans. Her entire facebook page was dedicated to marine mammals and organizations who helped them. She was a grassroots activist in the truest sense of the word. She recently lost her fight for life and succumbed to cancer, but her gift to the world, was left behind in these wise words that she wrote in her journal:
Finally, Susan Mabe was a no nonsense activist who jumped right on in when something needed doing. Susan had also battled cancer for a long time but pushed through chemotherapy and beyond to continue fighting for the marine mammals that she loved. One of her last outings before she passed was to attend a rally for the dolphins of Taiji. A close friend of Susan's -- Barbara Napoles the Administrator of Save the Blood Dolphins
, shared these words about her friend:
Susan Mabe was a true warrior for all animals not just for dolphins. Susan worked tirelessly on behalf of the dolphins, very outspoken and strong headed and vocal. She was a true champion until her last days. She helped with Hunter Schaeffer and getting him to the ocean. Hunter has a rare bone disease and is in a wheel chair and had never been to the ocean. She was there while fighting her cancer and receiving radiation or chemo. Gosh what a strong individual.
In her last days, she wanted to come and be at the Day of the Dolphin protest and it was an honor to have her with us. She came in a wheelchair, she even had some posters with my art work printed as this to me was a great honor and she presented them to me as a gift.
She continued fighting and October came around and she asked me if I would attend the NOAA beluga hearing and be the "boots on the ground."
Mabe was not strong enough to make the trip so paid for five people to go in her stead and speak out on behalf of the belugas. "It was a great honor to be her friend" said Napoles, "she is missed and we know that her ashes are in her final resting secret place. She passed away in West Palm, Florida on the day that Hurricane Sandy hit her home town of New Jersey, Oct. 29, 2012."
Additional notable achievements: Hope and Faith
Activists celebrated the removal of two dolphins Hope and Faith
from inside the Taiji Whale Museum. Originally named 'Sad and Lonely' by dolphin activists, the dolphins were held in the smallest tank in the world until mixed martial artist Enson Inoue convinced Mayor Sangen of Taiji to move the dolphins to an outdoor pool.
Inoue met with the mayor again recently over the capture of a large pod of bottlenose dolphins in Taiji Cove.
No to seismic testing
The California Coastal Commission rejected Pacific Gas & Electric's request for offshore seismic testing near Diablo Canyon Power Plant. The Natural Resources Defense Council opposed the testing as did the Surfrider Foundation and Monterey-based The Otter Project. Testing and a potential meltdown environmentalists said, could have had profound consequences on marine life.
Last, but certainly not least, there are those behind the scenes that silently strive to make changes. One activist told me:
The most positive differences are often working quietly behind the scenes, getting amazing ideas into gear and getting results and changing minds...but the very nature of their work -- where they work, who they work with on sensitive issues, means they cannot afford a spot light on them.
The best achievements in cetacean activism 2012 come courtesy of a dedicated few or a massive movement. All are global, persistent and forge a path for future generations to follow. Following the motto of social media campaign Save Misty the Dolphin
, these activists are never silent and they never give up.