Dirty pool (Part I of a two-part investigative series)

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, November 1994:

MYSTIC––Activists don’t believe anything
they hear from the “aquaprison industry.”
Oceanarium people don’t trust activists to
know truth when they see it. And small won-
der on either side, given the pitch of the pro-
paganda for and against keeping marine mam-
mals in captivity.
This debate differs from the equally
bitter conflicts over hunting, trapping, meat-
eating, and the use of animals in biomedical
research. Knowingly or not, the antagonists
in the oceanarium debate express smilar
visions of what oceanariums should be––and
issue many of the same criticisms of what
they are. They agree that saving marine
mammals is among the urgent moral and eco-
logical priorities of our time. Their only sub-
stantive disagreements concern the morality
of capturing marine mammals from the wild,
a practice now largely but not totally history,
and the ethics of putting them on display.

The overlap of concerns is so great
that Steve Wynn, owner of the Mirage hotel
and dolphinarium in Las Vegas, has apparent-
ly been the biggest donor to the militantly
anti-whaling Sea Shepherd Conservation
Society since 1988. The bitterness of the
divide is such that anti-captivity leaders
including Ric O’Barry of The Dolphin Project
and Ben White of Friends of Animals call Sea
Shepherd founder and captain Paul Watson a
“sellout” and worse for taking the money.
After examining that dispute in our
December 1993 issue, ANIMAL PEOPLE
wondered just how many of the other claims
and counterclaims surrounding marine mam-
mal captivity stand up. We spent almost a
year probing the factual claims of four influ-
ential propaganda pieces, two from each per-
spective, which are frequently used as
source documents by the opposing factions.
From the “Free Willy!” side, we
investigated the two Fund for Animals
Cetaceans in Captivity series fact sheets on
dolphins and orcas, authored by whale pro-
tection activist Jerye Mooney, no longer
with The Fund, in early 1992; the current
editions were updated on August 28, 1993.
The Fund authorized numerous other animal
protection groups, e.g. The Dolphin Project,
to reprint these sheets with their own contact
information added. Abbreviated editions are
also often used by local groups as handouts,
both with and without credit to the source.
The Cetaceans in Captivity fact sheets pur-
port to tell the truth about the lives––and
deaths––of dolphins and orcas at oceanari-
ums and other entertainment facilities.
From the oceanarium side, we
reviewed two essays purporting to tell the
truth about anti-cetacean captivity activists:
Bureaucracy and Politics Crippling
Aquariums and Marine Mammal Research,
Part II, first published in the Third Quarter
1990 edition of S e a w o r d, the newsletter of
the Mystic Marinelife Aquarium in Mystic,
Connecticut; and Marine Mammals in
Zoological Environments: Current Threats,
Goals, and Opportunites, by Brian E.
Joseph, DVM, of the Minnesota Zoological
Garden, initially presented to the 1990 con-
ference of the International Marine Animal
Trainers Association. Marine mammal
exhibitors still routinely send copies of each
essay to the media in response to protests.
We selected these four propaganda
pieces not because they are uniquely bad––in
fact, they are much less flamboyant than
many––but because they appear to be parti-
cularly credible, coming from credible
authors and organizations, and yet are not,
for reasons apparently having as much to do
with communication failures as with any
intent to mislead. They represent the point at
which misinformation perhaps presented in
good faith becomes canon, and differences
of opinion become a self-escalating and ulti-
mately self-destructive conflict because each
side now sees the other as acting in bad faith.
Dolphins in captivity
The saying that camels, giraffes,
and zebras originated as a team of horses
designed by committee could be applied to
the Cetaceans in Captivity fact sheets,
because the published versions familiar to
activists bear little resemblance to Mooney’s
originals, which she graciously furnished to
ANIMAL PEOPLE. A variety of editors
cut her text by more than half, simplifying
explanations, dropping details, and deleting
footnotes. In the process, informed opinions
evolved to appear as fact; limited-case
observations metamorphized into seeming
universals. No one person appears blame-
worthy for the distortions, which accumulat-
ed over 18 months of trimming and revision.
Questioned about the evolution of the fact
sheets, Mooney immediately expressed her
dissatisfaction with them as published, while
Fund president Cleveland Amory praised her
as “simply a mine of information on marine
mammal issues,” seeming unaware that she
was unhappy with them.
Yet even the original editions,
charges Sea World research biologist Daniel
K. Odell, are “filled with rhetoric, clear bias
and statements taken out of context.” In par-
ticular, Odell objects, “Statements lump
together all marine mammals in all facilities,
some of which no longer exist. No attempt
has been made to show any changes over the
relatively brief history of marine mammal
The tendency to use charged
rhetoric in lumping all marine mammal exhi-
bitions together is even more apparent in the
published editions. For example, the dolphin
sheet charges, “Most marine parks are exper-
ienced in entertainment, not education. The
animals are used as performers, in the circus
tradition, and the performances reinforce the
concept of human dominance over animals,
while teaching nothing about the animals’
own natural history or the concept of inter-
species relationships.”
Though this wasn’t always the case,
major oceanariums today tend to employ
more Ph.D.-holding scientists than former cir-
cus trainers. Many, including the Mystic
Marinelife Aquarium, the John G. Shedd
Aquarium in Chicago, and the New York
Aquarium, are incorporated as nonprofit edu-
cational institutions. What they teach may be
subject to debate; likewise, the line between
education and entertainment may be
blurred––as, indeed, educators often strive to
blur it. Yet these facilities differ hugely from
the vanishing beachfront dolphin shows of the
“Flipper” era, the 1950s through the 1970s.
Odell provided a page-by-page,
line-by-line critique of the original draft of
each Fund fact sheet, and sent along copies
of each study Mooney cited in her footnotes.
It is to be expected that Odell’s
interpretations clash with Mooney’s. Just as
Mooney and The Fund oppose keeping any
healthy marine mammals captive, so Odell,
as a senior staffer at the world’s largest ocean-
arium chain, is a frank defender of the ocean-
arium industry. But disagreements are one
thing, and fair representation quite another.
One part of Mooney’s draft on dol-
phins that appears intact in the published edi-
tion asserts, “Adult males captured from the
same groups have been maintained together
with little aggression; yet when captive
groupings contain adult males from different
capture localities, the animals have been
known to fight viciously over females or lead
an injurious attack on a helpless poolmate.”
Mooney’s referenced source, an
article by by J.R. Geraci, published in Zoo &
Wild Animal Medicine (1986), says nothing
about different capture locations. “It is not
uncommon for a dominant dolphin to lead an
injurious attack on a helpless poolmate,” it
agrees, then qualifies: “Few species seem to
be genetically incompatible, but for some
reason the common dolphin does not always
coexist well with the Atlantic bottlenosed dol-
phin and other large dolphins.”
In other words, big and little
species don’t mix well, regardless of
sex––which is quite another matter. Some
support for Mooney’s statement does come
from the article “Marine Mammal Behavioral
by Jay Sweeney, DVM,
included in The Handbook of Marine
Mammal Medicine (1990), cited by Mooney
in support of other passages. However, the
Sweeney reference is strictly to juveniles
recently captured from the wild.
But there was one case bearing out
Mooney’s contention as written: in December
1986, Sea World bought out Marineland of
the Pacific. In February 1987, Sea World
placed a “subdominant” male bottlenose
named Sundance into a tank among other
male bottlenoses it already had––contrary to
the advice of his Marineland tranier, Joanie
Hay. Within 24 hours Sundance died of a
fractured skull and cerebral hemorrhage.
“One can only speculate,” Mooney
wrote, in another passage that The Fund pub-
ished intact, “why animals equipped with
natural echolocation and sonic capabilities
have collided with pool walls, with resulting
injury and even death.” Often cited, this
allegation wasn’t referenced even in the orig-
“We are not aware of any instances
of this kind,” the Mystic Marinelife
Aquarium declared in examining the same
charge as part of Bureaucracy and Politics.
The closest thing to a reference that
ANIMAL PEOPLE could find in Mooney’s
footnoted sources was Sweeney’s acknow-
ledgement, in the paper cited above, that,
“There are, however, occasional instances
of minor self-inflicted trauma that occur in
animals through contact within their environ-
ments.” Sweeney went on to explain, how-
ever, that the principal examples involve
abrasions to pinnipeds, such as seals and sea
lions, when they drag themselves out of
water and over rough concrete.
Only one source ANIMAL PEO-
PLE consulted could recall any case of a cap-
tive dolphin injuring himself or herself in a
pool wall collision: Ric O’Barry of The
Dolphin Project was aware of two, one in the
Bahamas and one in Brazil. That’s two self-
injured dolphins out of several thousand cap-
tives, over a 30-year period––and one of
those two was kept alone for nine years in an
extremely small pool.
Despite the paucity of supporting
evidence, the myth that dolphins’ sonar is
disrupted by pool confinement has become a
staple of anti-captivity literature; an article
of faith that to many people brands oceanari-
um staff as liars if they even try to deny it.
Orcas in captivity
The same allegations surface in
The Fund’s fact sheet on captive orcas, in
almost the same language. “The level of
aggression in captive orcas––presenting life-
threatening risks to other animals and their
trainers/handlers––has never been observed
in wild populations,”
Mooney wrote.
“Captives have died from many causes, but
none as spectacular and tragic as those from
self-inflicted trauma, from internal injuries
resulting from aggression of incompatible
animals, and from shattered skulls from col-
lisions with pool walls caused by panic
There are in fact many examples of
orcas harming and even killing themselves in
attempting to evade capture, though most of
those involving U.S. oceanariums occured
before 1973. There are very few cases of
orcas doing themselves fatal harm in colli-
sions with pool walls: perhaps only one, that
of Kahana, in 1991. That collision has never
been definitively explained. Captive orcas
have killed each other at least twice, once in
Great Britain in October 1981, when three
recently captured young males fought for
dominance of a small tank and one suffered
severe internal injuries, and once at Sea
World San Diego in 1990, where Kandu, a
14-year-old female, bled to death from a bro-
ken jaw after colliding with Corky, a some-
what older female recently arrived from the
defunct Marineland of the Pacific. In each
case, the killing might not have happened in
the wild, where the antagonists might have
more readily disengaged. Yet it isn’t clear
that the aggression was unusual.
“Where is the evidence that these
behaviors have not been observed in the
wild?” Odell demands. Mooney cited no ref-
erence, but in fairness it isn’t always easy to
find a reference to anything that isn’t seen.
Other Fund fact sheet claims about
captive orca behavior may likewise over-
reach. “Marine parks insist that the tricks
featured during show performances are all
extensions of natural behaviors,” it asserts.
“In reality, these animals do not naturally
catapult humans into the air, or allow
humans to ride them, walk on them, or
climb on them.”
Retorts Odell, “The author of this
‘fact’ sheet missed the point of her previous
sentence. The operative word is ‘extensions.’
No one is claiming that orcas push people
around in the wild. However, they do push
other things around––especially seals and sea
lions. Training orcas is no different from
training dogs,” Odell continues, pointing out
the adaptations of hunting behavior in such
common dog tricks as catching a Frisbee.
The object, with either species, is to encour-
age normal activity in a different context.
The Fund fact sheet wanders into
still deeper water in the next paragraph,
asserting that, “Some facilities even allow
children from the audience to be ‘hugged’ and
‘kissed,’ or to sit upon the orca’s back for
souvenir photographs.” Neither Mooney nor
any of the other users of this fact sheet whom
ANIMAL PEOPLE contacted could cite a
single instance of any such practice taking
place at any U.S. or Canadian facility; it
would violate federal regulations and would
probably also much interest the facility’s lia-
bility insurer.
The most sensitive Fund allegations,
to Odell, concern the mortality of captive
orcas and the purported failure of captive
breeding. “From 1964 to 1989, 138 orcas
were captured for aquariums worldwide,” the
fact sheet states. “As of 1993, only 35 of
these animals remain alive.”
“Out of context,” Odell growls.
“Nothing lives forever.”
According to Jay Barlow, head of
coastal marine mammal research at the
Southwest Fisheries Science Center in La
Jolla, California, studies of orca mortality
suggest a death rate of about 7% per year in
captivity, compared with about 5% per year
in the wild. Those figures are disputed, as
are estimates of the maximum orca lifespan,
but one point both Mooney and Odell agree
on is that the best current maximum longevity
figure is circa 29 years for males and 50 years
for females.
Mooney’s statistics on captive
breeding were amended from 30 pregnancies
and nine surviving offspring to 27 pregnan-
cies and just six survivors before her manu-
script went to press. Either way, says Odell,
the figures are, “just a partial list. In my
opinion,” he continues, the success of hold-
ing orcas in captivity is the success of the cap-
tive breeding program. Field observers in the
Pacific Northwest estimate that orca calf mor-
tality in the first six months after birth is about
45%,” he says, whereas Sea World claims a
neonatal mortality rate of zero.
Other facilities have not done as
well; in 1989 an orca calf starved to death at
the Vancouver Aquarium through failure to
nurse successfully, a problem that somehow
eluded the staff even though she was kept
under almost around-the-clock observation.
Still, the orca captive breeding record com-
pares well to that of many other species, e.g.
panda bears and gorillas.
“Given the relatively brief time that
orcas have been held in breeding groups,
reproduction has been incredibly successful,”
Odell believes. The early years of attempted
captive breeding brought several important
discoveries, among them that orcas have a
17-month gestation cycle, not the 12-month
cycle that was once supposed, and that
female orcas can reach sexual maturity at
only six years of age, not 12, though the lat-
ter is still the most commonly cited estimate.
As Odell puts it, “Age at sexual maturity in
captivity may reflect the species potential
which may not be achieved in the wild where
other factors come into play.”
Sea World
It is to be noted that Sea World,
Odell’s employer, has engaged in misleading
propaganda quite as avidly as anyone else. In
November 1991, Mike Thomas of F l o r i d a
M a g a z i n e obtained a “top secret” internal
memo instructing Sea World staff to refer to
their animals as “acquired,” not captured; to
their native habitat as “the natural environ-
ment,” not the wild; and to their current
condition as a “controlled environment,” not
captivity. The words “tank” and “cage” were
to be shunned in favor of “enclosure.”
Further, the memo instructed, “If
people ask you about a particular animal that
you know has passed away, please say ‘I
don’t know.’”
With that Orwellian attitude toward
plain speech, it’s no wonder Sea World suf-
fers a basic credibility problem when obliged
to explain just what did happen to any ani-
mals whose fate they don’t know, even
though the animals dwelled in an enclosure in
a controlled environment after acquisition
from the natural environment.
Bureaucracy & politics
In part, the Mystic Marinelife
Aquarium publication Bureaucracy and
Politics Crippling Aquariums and Marine
Mammal Research Part II is an effective
rejoinder to many of the more misleading
claims issued by anti-captivity activists. It is
factual and reliable in refuting the
International Wildlife Coalition’s contention
that, “Mortality is extremely high for belugas
during capture and transport,” and that
deaths are not recorded; in actuality, no bel-
ugas have died during either capture or trans-
port during the past 30 years. It further con-
vincingly demolishes the Animal Rights
Front’s claims that wild belugas perform
2,000 deep dives per day, or 83.3 per hour,
24 hours a day, when in actuality belugas
don’t dive to great depths at all. It also makes
a strong case that the average and median
longevity of whales and dolphins in captivity
is quite as good, if not better, than their
longevity in the wild.
But “rhetoric, clear bias and state-
ments taken out of context” are quite as evi-
dent in the Bureaucracy and Politics descrip-
tion of activists as in the Fund fact sheets’
description of oceanariums. “To speak blunt-
ly,” the anonymous author asserts, “extrem-
ist groups are typically unreasonable and
unethical, notwithstanding that many of their
members are well-meaning people sincerely
concerned about the welfare of animals.
Most of the membership-at-large is simply
misinformed––if it is informed at all––about
what the leadership is up to. The extremists
circulate distortions, half-truths, and plain
lies. They are Rumor that grows tongues
everywhere, so that after a while even their
most preposterous claims gain credibility in
the minds of Federal bureaucrats.”
Apparently all anti-captivity organi-
zations fall under the heading of “extremist.”
Disregarded is the equally adamant suspicion
of anti-captivity activists that the oceanarium
industry more-or-less “owns” the regulatory
bodies. All of the Mystic allegations may be
true of some organizations and some anti-
captivity leaders, but the blanket condemna-
tion dismisses any possibility that there are
well-informed critics of keeping marine
mammals in captivity, whose opposition is
founded in both science and conscience.
This in turn raises the unanswered
question “why?” Why exactly have the lead-
ers of the anti-captivity movement founded
and developed such a movement, if not for
serious reasons? For money and glory?
Many anti-captivity activists who once were
part of the captive marine mammal industry
have paid a considerable economic and pro-
fessional price for taking the positions they
have. Ric O’Barry, for instance, who first
became famous during the mid-1960s as a
trainer of the dolphins on the Flipper televi-
sion show, has drawn the wrath and ridicule
of marine mammal captivity defenders since
Earth Day 1970, when he tried unsuccessful-
ly to free a half-blind dolphin named Charlie
Brown from a research laboratory in Bimini.
Charlie Brown didn’t take the opportunity to
escape; O’Barry reported his own deed to the
authorities, served a week in jail, was fined
$5.00, and campaigned in obscurity for most
of the next 18 years while earnng his living as
a diver. Only since the 1988 publication of
his book, Behind The Dolphin Smile, has
O’Barry enjoyed any particular celebrity or
possibility of economic advantage as a consci-
entious objector.
Nearly 20% of Bureaucracy and
P o l i t i c s is devoted to an attack on O’Barry,
including the false charge that he was caught
in the act at Bimini and the highly question-
able allegation that he tried to sell dolphins to
Steve Wynn when the Mirage dolphinarium
was under construction. While many versions
of O’Barry’s failed negotiations with Wynn
float about, O’Barry’s own version that he
wanted the Mirage to become a halfway
house for dolphins in training for re-release
seems most plausible (instead, it is more a
board-and-care home for aged dolphins who
probably couldn’t be released successfully).
Certainly O’Barry can be accused of
overstating his case at times, and of extrem-
ism. But as he says of himself, “My life is an
open 10-page comic book––I don’t have any
secrets from anybody.”
The virulence of this attack calls to
mind the late J. Edgar Hoover’s aphorism that
one is honored by one’s friends and distin-
guished by one’s enemies.
Threats, goals
Within the past six months, three
major marine mammal-related organizations
and exhibitors have forwarded to A N I M A L
P E O P L E copies of Marine Mammals in
Zoological Environments: Current Threats,
Goals, and Opportunities, by Brian Joseph,
DVM, which they seem to pass out much as
the Gideon Society distri-butes abridged
Bibles. Authored in the midst of a long battle
between the Animal Rights Coalition and
Joseph’s employer, the Minnesota Zoo, over
the ethics and humane aspects of displaying
belugas, Joseph’s piece purports to be a
scholarly review of the conflicts over cetacan
capitivity, yet the level of scholarship is just
good enough to fool people who don’t
already know the subject.
“The animal protectionist move-
ment was preceded by the animal welfare
movement, originally known as the antivivi-
sectionist movement,” Joseph wrote, seem-
ingly unaware that the foundation of all of
these movements was the humane movement
of the early-to-mid-19th century, which
included the causes of abolishing slavery and
child labor as well as the cause of animals.
Though the antivivisectionist movement
shares some roots with the animal protection
movement, it rose mostly in the latter quarter
of the 19th century, a f t e r the formation of
the American SPCA in 1869, the Women’s
Humane Society in 1871, the American
Humane Association in 1876, and many
other mainstream animal protection groups.
Joseph remarked with alarm that People for
the Ethical Treatment of Animals enjoyed a
twenty-fold increase in membership between
1980 and 1990; in fact, the growth was
much more rapid than that, since PETA was
only incorporated in 1979.
Origins seem generally to have
confused him, since he further asserted that,
“A proliferation of animal rights organiza-
tions has occurred during the last 20 years,
ranging from the peaceful Humane Society
of the U.S. and American SPCA to more stri-
dent groups including the Animal Rights
Coalition and PETA.” Yet both HSUS,
founded in 1954, and the then-121-year-old
ASPCA had by 1990 adopted policy state-
ments distinguishing their views from “ani-
mal rights” philosophy, and indeed PETA
as well as the Fund for Animals, the
International Society for Animal Rights, and
Friends of Animals, among other avowed
animal rights groups, were founded express-
ly because of splits with HSUS and the
ASPCA over basic animal rights issues.
“Recently the full agenda of many
groups has been revealed,” Joseph contin-
ued. Without naming the groups, he cited as
the agenda “the elimination of farm animals,
companion animals, hunting, fishing, and
zoo animals.” While the elimination of hunt-
ing and fishing have been goals in animal
protection almost from the start of the
humane movement, most of the others tend
to be maybes even among animal rights mili-
tants: yes to eliminating animal husbandry
for meat, but qualified answers to raising
animals for eggs, milk, wool, and riding,
under circumstances far more considerate of
animal well-being and longevity than are
common today. Yes to eliminating the cap-
ture of animals from the wild solely for
exhibit, but also yes, usually, to species
conservation via zoos until such time as nat-
ural habitat can be reclaimed, recovered,
and protected. And yes, PETA founder
Ingrid Newkirk has said that in a perfect
world, dogs and cats would not be born, but
though virtually all major animal protection
groups urge neutering pets to reduce pet over-
population, none––of any shade of philoso-
phy––actually oppose keeping pets.
So it goes. After extensively accus-
ing just about everyone involved in animal
protection of opportunism and mendacity,
Joseph argued that marine mammal parks
should align themselves with Putting People
First, the militant anti-animal rights group
formed by direct mail fundraising hucksters
Bill Wewer and Kathleen Marquardt. Wewer
apparently got into direct mail hustling
through simultaneous stints as a board mem-
ber with the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers
Association and the American Tax Reduction
Foundation, 1980-1989. Connecting with
Marquardt, Wewer formed the National
Committee to Preserve Social Security and
Medicare in 1982, where they were two of
the four board members. Their first mass
mailing, in 1983, drew a formal complaint
from the Social Security Administration and a
reprimand from the U.S. Postal Service. In
1984 the NCPSSM was reprimanded by the
Justice Department for improperly using gov-
ernmental insignia. By 1987 a variety of
allegedly misleading mailings brought the
NCPSSM under the scrutiny of the House
Committee on Aging. Wewer and Marquardt
departed to found the Doris Day Animal
League. Although Marquardt reportedly
founded Putting People First in September
1989, Wewer remained on the DDAL pay-
roll––and did legal work for the 1990 March
for the Animals––until PPF was formally
incorporated six months later.
Having also decried the limited
instances of illegal activities by animal rights
groups, Joseph next urged marine mammal
exhibitors to subscribe to the now-defunct
Animal Rights Reporter, a pricy newsletter
published by Perceptions International. This
was the private security firm employed by
U.S. Surgical, whose undercover operative
Marylou Sapone was apparently the A n i m a l
Rights Reporter’s chief newsgatherer. Posing
as an animal rights activist, Sapone repeated-
ly told ANIMAL PEOPLE editor Merritt
Clifton at a party on January 18, 1988, as
Clifton later testified under oath, that she
wanted to find someone to help her blow up
U.S. Surgical president Leon Hirsch. After
Clifton told Sapone it was a stupid idea and
that she ought to sober up, she went on to
meet activist Fran Trutt in April 1988. On
November 29, 1988, Trutt was driven to U.S.
Surgical by another Perceptions International
operative, Marc Mead, to whom Sapone had
introduced her. There Trutt planted a bomb,
bought with money Mead gave her, and was
arrested by police waiting in ambush. Tape
recordings disclosed during pretrial hearings
revealed Sapone’s part in encouraging the
plot, as Trutt’s self-designated best friend,
apparently to undermine public support for
activists who were then in the ninth year of an
unsuccessful 13-year-effort to get U.S.
Surgical to cease doing sales demonstrations
of surgical staples on live dogs.
When neither side demonstrates
either accurate knowledge of the other or a
good-faith effort to converse, mutually harm-
ful conflict is inevitable.
In our December issue we’ll look in
depth at three specific conflicts where the pro-
paganda over marine mammals in captivity
has itself become the primary issue––probably
to the detriment of all concerned.
Print Friendly

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.