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Op-Ed: Best achievements in cetacean advocacy for 2013

By Elizabeth Batt     Dec 31, 2013 in Environment
The documentary Blackfish certainly made it the year of the orca, but there were several other notable achievements for cetaceans in 2013. These are the accomplishments voted on by advocates themselves.
As 2013 draws to a close, the year will end as it began, with killer whales headlining the news.
Last January, in an event reminiscent of the 1988 grey whale rescue in Point Barrow, Alaska, northern Quebec boasted a miracle of its own, after a number of orcas became trapped in ice near Inukjuak.
At risk of death from ice closure and unable to reach freedom, news of the orcas' plight grabbed the world's attention. Residents of Inukjuaq swiftly rallied around the marine mammals as they joined others in seeking out viable solutions to keep the orcas alive.
Nations came together, and Kasco Marine, Inc., the Minnesota company featured in the movie Big Miracle, offered to step in and provide de-icers for the orcas if necessary. But much to the relief of advocates, on January 10, Mayor Petah Inukpuk announced that the whales had left the area under their own steam.
After a subsequent flyover by the townsfolk revealed no sign of the pod, people rejoiced in their freedom. And in their wake, the orcas gifted locals and outsiders with a mutual admiration that exists to this day.
Blackfish swims at the Sundance Film Festival
Jeff Ventre and Sam Berg -- two former SeaWorld trainers  take the movie Blackfish to the home of Ti...
Jeff Ventre and Sam Berg -- two former SeaWorld trainers, take the movie Blackfish to the home of Tilikum.
Voice of the Orcas
Also in January, a documentary premiered at Park City's Sundance Film Festival that would place killer whales firmly in the news for the remainder of the year.
Gabriela Cowperthwaite's Blackfish, which examined the history of SeaWorld and the treatment of killer whales in captivity, stormed Sundance. The film was quickly optioned by Magnolia Films and CNN Films for cinematic release.
Initially ignored by SeaWorld, Blackfish created a humongous and ongoing PR nightmare for SeaWorld.
India bans the use of dolphins and whales in theme parks
With demonstrations vehemently opposing the building of a new dolphinarium in the city of Kochi, India, the most populous democracy in the world cemented the deal after it banned the use of dolphins and whales in aquatic theme parks.
India urged state governments to reject all proposals "by any person/persons, organizations, government agencies, private or public enterprises that involves import, capture of cetacean species to establish for commercial entertainment, private or public exhibition and interaction purposes whatsoever."
Compared to other animals India's declaration read, "dolphins should be seen as 'non-human persons'". It is "morally unacceptable," the country advised, "to keep them captive for entertainment purposes."
Unfortunately, on the opposite end of the scale, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) appeared to condone the mistreatment of cetaceans when it awarded both the Winter and Summer Olympic Games to two nations, that continue to kill and exploit whales and dolphins on an annual basis.
IOC slammed over lack of conservation charter enforcement
Prince Albert II of Monaco and Vladimir Putin with the Olympic Torch (Sochi 2014). A future torchbea...
Prince Albert II of Monaco and Vladimir Putin with the Olympic Torch (Sochi 2014). A future torchbearer will be a Black Sea endangered bottlenose dolphin captured in the wild.
Presidential Press and Information Office
Despite a massive online petition by Olympic touting some 366,238 individual singatures, the IOC awarded the 2020 Summer Games to Tokyo.
Following the assignment of the 2014 Winter Games to Sochi, Russia, cetacean advocates continue to up the pressure on the IOC. Further criticism was recently leveled at the committee after it was revealed that two newly-captured killer whales were being sent to a Sochi aquarium for display during the games.
Forging new paths to counter the IOC's dismissal of concerns, activists are now challenging Japan to end dolphin and whale hunts before the 2020 Olympics.
Other efforts against the Russian capture of marine mammals were also rewarded this year after a conglomerate of US aquaria was denied a permit to import 18 wild-caught belugas from the region.
NOAA says no
In one of the most contested permits ever seen, NOAA Fisheries denied an application by Georgia Aquarium to import beluga whales from the Utrish Marine Mammal Research Station for the purpose of public display.
The application was the first request to import recently caught wild marine mammals in more than 20 years. Thousands of advocates joined with conservation groups to oppose the import. Petitions flooded across social media, public comments in the Federal Register numbered into their thousands.
After more than a year of deliberation, the federal agency denied the permit fearing a "significant adverse impact on the Sakhalin-Amur beluga whale stock." NOAA Fisheries further argued that the requested import would "likely result in the taking of marine mammals beyond those authorized by the permit," and that five of the whales in question, were too young to be independent.
Back to Japan
Japan had a rough year whaling when the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (SSCS) held them to a record low number of captured whales. According to the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry of Japan, only 103 Antarctic minke whales were captured despite a quota of around 1,000 whales.
Japanese whalers abandoned the Southern Ocean early and blamed their poor whaling season on the direct actions of SSCS.
Meanwhile in Taiji, the tiny coastal town made famous by the Academy Award-winning documentary, The Cove, there was both a tragic and inspirational start to the dolphin drive season.
Shortly after bottlenose dolphins were netted off to be sorted and sold, one of the most poignant and heartfelt moments for activists this year, occurred just a short distance away.
Japanese activists donned swimsuits and swam out towards the nets where the dolphins were being held. As Satoshi Komiyama from Flipper's Japan encountered the cries of frantic dolphins, the activist broke down and wept.
Elsewhere in Japan at the busy Shibuya crossing in Tokyo, the Japanese group: Action for Marine Mammals, hosted a lively protest for Japan Dolphins Day 2013.
Together, both groups displayed a strong stance against their country's whaling policies. The Japanese government had been placed on notice; they would now be facing pressure from within.
Empty the tanks
2013 also hosted the first annual worldwide Empty the Tanks event.
Spread across 11 countries and 23 cities, the event placed demonstrators directly outside of aquariums from SeaWorld USA to Ocean Park, Hong Kong. The message was clear, stop the exploitation of marine mammals for profit.
The European Union
In Prague, activists successfully banded together to ask the Czech Republic not to grant a permit that would allowing a traveling dolphin show.
Belgium also protested European dolphinariums after activists were inspired by the Whale and Dolphin Conservation's European Campaign: Make the European Union a dolphinarium-free zone.
Co-hosted by Belgian natives Yvon Godefroid and Annelies Mullens, a massive demonstration took place on June 28th in Brussels, Belgium.
Timed to to coincide with a European summit meeting, protesters accompanied by the Dolphin Project's Ric O'Barry, urged the EU to apply the law as stated in the Council Directive and through its national law, for the betterment of cetaceans.
On to Spain, where a juvenile striped dolphin won the hearts of thousands of people after he was found alone near Roquetas de Mar. Named Marcos, the tiny dolphin was discovered close to shore and in poor health.
Marcos wanted to go home.
Marcos wanted to go home.
The conservation group: PROMAR rallied around and cared for Marcos. They speculated that the tiny dolphin's pod may have been killed or that he lost his way because of illness.
Volunteer staff placed the youngster in a sheltered bay in Almeria in order to rehabilitate and release him. Despite their love and care, the little guy didn't make it. After almost six months of round-the-clock monitoring, Marcos died on February 02, 2013.
Like the orcas trapped in Quebec, Marcos also garnered friendships that will last a lifetime. His six month survival is testimony to the dedicated staff of PROMAR. Striped dolphins are pelagic marine mammals (live in the open sea) and fare notoriously poorly in confinement.
Ode to Marineland
Back in North America, Canada's Marineland in Niagara Falls still continues to face pressure over the treatment of its animals. After poor conditions were exposed by the Toronto Star, former workers that blew the whistle on Marineland, are still living under a cloud.
With concerns now aired over Kiska, Marineland's solitary orca, and Smooshi, a female walrus bonded to former trainer Phil Demers, park owner John Holer, doled out several frivolous lawsuits.
The lawsuits did nothing to stop planned protests or further reports of poorly treated animals from reaching the press. As more beluga whales died at the facility, the Ministry of Environment finally issued Marineland a permit to bury its dead on site.
Marineland in Canada has a single  solitary orca named Kiska. In the US  the Animal Welfare Act dict...
Marineland in Canada has a single, solitary orca named Kiska. In the US, the Animal Welfare Act dictates that cetaceans like orcas, must be kept with a companion animal.
Activists plan to tackle Marineland once again in the New Year. On May 31, a protest will shine the spotlight on Kiska, the last captive orca held in Canada. Demers meanwhile, continues to advocate for Smooshi and Marineland's other animals. He recently flew to Los Angeles and appeared on the Joe Rogan Experience.
Every success for whales and dolphins warrants mentioning. New and increasing issues such as disease and pollution threaten them on a daily basis. As popular and beloved as these marine mammals are, awareness and knowledge needs to spread.
Back to Blackfish
Compassionate people always speak up for the voiceless but cetacean activists received a significant boost this year from the documentary, Blackfish.
The movie demanded attention and got it.
Since its release, more than 116 high profile people and celebrities have spoken out against SeaWorld or in support of the anti-captivity message.
Petitions flew across social media; top acts, such as Willie Nelson, Trisha Yearwood and Martina McBride, withdrew from their concerts at SeaWorld Orlando's Bands, Brew and Barbecue event.
The shit hit the fan.
Blackfish/Magnolia Films/
Initially dismissive of the movie, a reticent SeaWorld was forced into a corner. It placed ads defending its operations in major newspapers.
Blackfish meanwhile, won several critics awards and then made the shortlist for the Academy Awards.
With time and opinion not on its side, SeaWorld's woes are certain to continue long into the new year.
As 2013 comes to a close, awareness is spreading and developmental science is proving that we cannot justifiably support the containment of whales and dolphins. Blackfish shredded the shroud that masked entertainment as education, and the debate is just beginning.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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