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

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, December 1994:

VANCOUVER, KANSAS CITY,
CHICAGO––Propaganda wins converts to
causes by reducing issues to good against evil,
forcing observers to take sides. Propaganda is
among the most effective tools of warfare;
but like warfare itself, it exacts a high price
from those who use it. Much as the dead
from either side don’t “win” a war, propagan-
dists for any cause often find themselves
obliged to wage wars they can’t afford simply
because they chose to use exaggerated
rhetoric in trying to win a simple reform. The
nature of propaganda is that in making broad
accusations of bad faith by the opponent, it
cuts off communication, making enmity out
of disagreement and mendacity out of misun-
derstanding.

No one ever used propaganda more
effectively than World War II British prime
minister Winston Churchill; but it was also
Churchill who urged that propaganda be used
with judicious restraint. “Never ascribe to
malice what may be ascribed to stupidity,” he
warned, “and never ascribe to stupidity what
may be ascribed to ignorance.”
Even in combatting Nazis––the real
Nazis, not just the metaphorical Nazis who
have haunted debate over ethical matters ever
since––Churchill urged recognition that his
foes might be acting honorably as they per-
ceived honor. Accusing oceanariums of oper-
ating concentration camps for whales and
activists of copying Big Lie tactics from Adolf
Hitler, few participants in the marine mam-
mal captivity debate have demonstrated any
comparable inkling of statesmanship. Even those who feel
the need for it have little idea how to proceed, given the poi-
soned atmosphere on either side.
Wrote Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and
Aquariums executive director Marilee Keefe in response to
the first installment of Dirty Pool: “I couldn’t agree with you
more that there are things we should be doing together. I
know we all need to learn to disagree without being enemies.
At first glance, my thoughts are that we have to learn to trust
each other on some little things before jumping into some of
the bigger things,” such as jointly orchestrated and moni-
tored releases of selected “surplus” captive marine mammals
who might have a good chance for survival in the wild.
“However,” Keefe continued, “both sides’ rhetoric is heating
up, and we’re facing negotiated rulemaking on USDA
Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service care and mainte-
nance standards” for marine mammals. “Nobody may be in
the mood right now. I, for one, have a headache.”
In November, ANIMAL PEOPLE reported on the
many misunderstandings and resultant misrepresentations we
discovered in a probe of four leading propaganda pieces relat-
ing to marine mammal captivity: two widely distributed
activist “fact sheets” on captive orcas and dolphins, and two
articles purporting to tell the “truth” about activists, widely
circulated among oceanarium management.
The often recited mis-statements in the pieces in
question, deliberate or not, account for much of the escala-
tion of rhetoric that Keefe observes. Obscured in the taking
of sides is that not all captive venues are the same, or even
comparable. Some, like Sea World, are large and run for
profit; others, like most north of the sunbelt, are nonprofit;
and still others are the marine mammal equivalent of roadside
zoos. Conversely, not all opponents of captivity are the
same. Some oppose captivity of particular species or indivi-
duals at particular sites, but do not object to keeping what
they deem appropriate species or individuals at appropriate
sites. Others oppose all captivity, on principle––yet many in
this camp make exceptions for stranding victims and elderly
captive-born animals whose chances of survival in the wild
might be poor.
Examples of debates over marine mammal captivity
that have degenerated into warfare are myriad. A N I M A L
P E O P L E examines three of particular note in this issue:
Lifeforce vs. the Vancouver Aquarium in Vancouver, British
Columbia; People for Animal Rights vs. Oceans of Fun, in
Kansas City, Missouri; and the Chicago Animal Rights
Coalition vs. the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, Illinois,
which is essentially a continuation of protests initiated by
other people and organizations long before CHARC was
formed. In a sequel series next year, we hope to look at oth-
ers, among them the escalating debate over the adequacy of
the Sugarloaf Dolphin Sanctuary in Florida, where Ric
O’Barry of the Dolphin Project and others are preparing sev-
eral captive dolphins for return to the wild when and if they
get the necessary federal permits, and the role of oceanarium
demand for pseudorcas in the continuing Iki Island “drive
fishery” massacres off the shore of Japan. In each instance,
allegations and counter-allegations are many, yet there is
paradoxical agreement that the animals in question do deserve
to live in good health, and though there may be right and
wrong tactical judgements, the only clear black-and-white
may be the heaving flanks of the stranded pseudorcas as their
tormentors––reviled by most oceanarium people as well as
captivity opponents––close in with harpoons.
Vancouver Aquarium
“Save the Sea Lions,” the Lifeforce flyer implores.
“Aquarium Vivisection,” claims a banner across the front of
a photograph of five young Stellar sea lions playing king-of-
the-mountain. “Behind the glass prison wall,” the caption
explains, “the young [sea lions] have to fight for space on the
only tiny island. The exhibit is too small for adult sea lions,
who can weigh up to 2,200 pounds and measure up to 10.5
feet long.” A second photograph, of a transportation con-
tainer, is captioned, “Deprived of food and imprisoned in an
enclosed experimental chamber.” Recipients are asked to
“demand that the Vancouver Aquarium immediately stop the
inhumane experiments on the Stellar sea lions, close the sea
lion exhibit, and release the sea lions.”
The text elaborates: “The Stellar sea lions were
cruelly abducted from their mothers and natural home in July
1993 for experimentation and exploitation for financial profit.
They were only two weeks old. The research, related to food
intake and energy costs, is conducted by the U.S. North
Pacific Universities Marine Mammal Research Consortium
and funded by U.S. fish processing companies, which cir-
cumvented U.S. regulations by capturing and experimenting
on the sea lions in Canada. While on display and during
experiments, the victims will be continuously exposed to
human imprinting, which jeopardizes a successful release,
and inhumane conditions. They will continue to be subjected
to cruel experiments that include food deprivation, confine-
ment in an enclosed metabolic chamber and, in the near
future, forced swim-mill tests. They could also be electrical-
ly shocked by perimeter fence wires if they try to escape or if
they try to determine the source of adjacent whale, dolphin,
and human sounds by looking over the wall. It is highly like-
ly that other sea lions will be captured under the guise of
rehabilitation or research to keep the new exhibit open.”
The flyer went on to assert that the research in ques-
tion is bogus because, “The Alaskan sea lions and other
wildlife may be declining but studying in captivity members
of the stable British Columbia population does not apply.”
ANIMAL PEOPLE received the Lifeforce flyer in
early August, just after observing the sea lions in question
first-hand while researching our September cover feature on
captive orcas, belugas, and dolphins. Spending considerable
time with the sea lions, we noted that they evinced no fear
whatever of humans, not exactly what one would expect
from animals who had purportedly been vivisected; showed
great interest in socializing with human visitors; played very
much as young sea lions do in the wild; and were most
unlikely to get close enough to the electric fence to get a
shock, which was obviously there half to inhibit misguided
humans from taking up the sea lions’ apparent invitation to
dive in and play, half to insure that no sea lion under any cir-
cumstances ever ventured into the adjacent orca exhibit.
Orcas, after all, eat sea lions.
Noted marine mammologist Peter Olesiuk of the
Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans also received
the Lifeforce flyer in early August. He promptly demanded
written explanations, which Vancouver Aquarium
researchers Andrew Trites and Peter Watts readily shared
with ANIMAL PEOPLE.
“The U.S. fishing industry is funding a large part of
this research,” Trites and Watts acknowledged. “However,
they do not stand to profit from these experiments. In fact,
they could well be negatively affected if the data shows that
overfishing is to blame for the Stellar decline. Some public
skepticism about the independence of the research is com-
pletely understandable. However, it would be wiser to base
judgement upon the quality of our research, not the identity
of our funders. It has been suggested,” they continued, “that
we do not have to do any research because we already know
that overfishing is the problem, and all we have to do is shut
down the fishery. The fact is that we do not know any such
thing. It is one of the theories but evidence is lacking.
Should a multimillion dollar industry cut itself back and put
people out of work on the chance that the suspicion is right,
or should decisions be based on sound scientific data?”
So far as ANIMAL PEOPLE can determine, the
overfishing hypothesis is the only plausible explanation for
the decline of Steller sea lions, which closely parallels the
growth of the Alaskan bottomfishing industry over the past 20
years. Nonetheless, political reality is that more extensive
scientific documentation than presently exists will be required
to shut down the bottomfishing industry, if indeed it can be
shut down before it exterminates itself along with Steller sea
lions and other species, by extinguishing the fish stocks.
“We do not vivisect sea lions,” Trites and Watts
further explained. “We never never vivisected sea lions, or
anything else, for that matter, nor will we ever. Such an
allegation is usually made by people who simply do not know
what the word means, or by people who count on others to
not know what it means. Our research program is designed to
learn how much energy it takes sea lions to engage in their
usual wild activities: resting, foraging, swimming at various
speeds, and keeping warm in sea water which can approach
freezing. We cannot learn such things from wild animals.
What we can learn from wild animals is how much time they
actually devote to these activities; satellite tags allow us to
monitor their location, swim speed, and even stomach tem-
perature, which drops when prey is ingested. Thus the field
research we are involved in reveals what wild animals do,
and the captive work tells us how much it costs. From there
we can estimate the energetic needs of wild individuals, and
by extension, of the whole population.
“The sea lions are not being ‘starved’ or ‘subjected
to food deprivation experiments,’” Trites and Watts added.
“Basal metabolic rates cannot be measured from animals who
are actively digesting food. Therefore, the sea lions are not
fed for the 12 hours leading up to such measurements, which
to date have been collected every two weeks. Since our meta-
bolic studies begin first thing in the morning, this generally
means that the animals skip breakfast once every two weeks,
and are fed extra fish immediately following the measure-
ments. Our animals at the Vancouver Aquarium are fed far
more regularly than young Stellers would be in the wild; lac-
tating mothers commonly leave their pups for two or three
days at a time whenever they leave the rookery to feed.
Trites and Watts admitted occasionally confining
the sea lions in the “metabolic chamber.”
“We take blood samples every three weeks,” they
wrote. “We measure lengths and girths once or twice a week,
generally while feeding the animals, who ignore the presence
of the tape measure in favor of the fish being offered. We put
them in a metabolic chamber once every couple of weeks,
usually for an hour or less. It should be noted that stressed
animals have increased metabolic rates, which would show
up on our instruments. What usually happens while the sea
lions are in the chamber is that they either fall asleep, or qui-
etly groom themselves, not the sort of behavior expected
from ‘tortured’ individuals. Our own needs dictate that the
a n i m a l s n o t be stressed, because this would invalidate our
results. We have not yet begun the swim mill studies, but we
do not expect these to be stressful to the sea lions either. In
fact, evidence from other labs indicates that seals actively
seek out the opportunity to swim against a current.”
Trites and Watts did not discuss the capture of the
sea lions. However, while ANIMAL PEOPLE does not
favor removing healthy marine mammals from the wild under
most circumstances, we must acknowledge that capturing
two-week-old pups essentially simulated the effect of natural
predation on their mothers and the sea lion population.
Neither did Trites and Watts discuss the likelihood
that the Steller sea lions in question have become so condi-
tioned to captive life as to be poor candidates for successful
return to the wild. This is problematic, since the Vancouver
Aquarium does not presently have a tank big enough to house
them when they reach adulthood.
The Vancouver Aquarium sea lion research project
is therefore vulnerable to some criticism. On balance, howev-
er, Lifeforce coordinator Peter Hamilton’s credibility is con-
siderably compromised––even more so, Trites and Watts
argue, because, “Mr. Hamilton knew the facts before he
wrote his release. He had spoken for over two hours with Dr.
Watts, and had received background information from us.”
This was the third time in four years that Lifeforce
and Hamilton attacked the Vancouver Aquarium in a question-
able manner. The first time involved an appeal for letters
protesting purported plans to capture and exhibit narwhals. In
1970 the Vancouver Aquarium did in fact try to exhibit nar-
whals; six were captured and all soon died. In 1987
Vancouver Aquarium researchers Deborah Cavenagh and
John Ford spent three months laying groundwork for a second
attempt, which Cavenagh predicted would come within three
to five years. But Ford, now the Vancouver Aquarium
marine mammal curator, denied in 1990 that he had any plans
to capture and exhibit narwhals. Communications manager
Marissa Nichini recently told ANIMAL PEOPLE, in
response to a specific inquiry, that whatever plans had once
existed were now so long abandoned that she’d had difficulty
finding anyone on staff who remembered them well enough to
give her details for relay to us.
In 1993 Hamilton published Orca: A Family Story,
a detailed history of British Columbian and Washingtonian
orcas in captivity that accurately indicts the Vancouver
Aquarium for its part in many brutal captures during the 1960s
and 1970s––but as the story moves from the relatively distant
past into the present, it shifts from highly partisan but essen-
tially factual narration to fiction masquerading as journalism,
with the identities of people and institutions altered just
enough to dodge libel suits.
The Vancouver Aquarium’s recent record on orcas is
also vulnerable to criticism: of two orca calves born there so
far, one starved to death after 22 days in 1988, as the staff
failed to observe her failure to nurse successfully, while the
other died of a brain infection at age three months in early
January 1992. The infection was detected only 10 hours ear-
lier, as she repeatedly battered herself against the walls of her
pool, apparently from disrupted equilibrium, and eventually
smashed her own jaw. Each death might have been prevent-
ed by earlier recognition of symptoms followed by appropri-
ate care. Neither incident is mentioned in Hamilton’s book,
however, the latter part of which focuses on Corky, an orca
kept at Sea World in San Diego.
Oceans of Fun
At Oceans of Fun, an adjunct of the Worlds of Fun
amusement park, two bottlenose dolphins share a nine-foot-
deep circular tank measuring 35 feet in diameter, about one-
eighth the size of a regulation baseball infield. By any stan-
dard, that’s small. The tank meets the basic USDA require-
ments, but the requirements are intended to insure physical
survival, not happiness. Ric O’Barry of the Dolphin Project
and People for Animal Rights president Norma McMillen
allege that the dolphins are disturbed by the proximity of a
Ferris wheel; that excessive chlorination may cause the dol-
phins to suffer skin disease and blindness; and that sonic
echoes off the tank walls may drive the dolphins mad.
McMillen further objects that the tank lacks shade, and that
the dolphins are not protected from coin-tossing spectators.
Responds Oceans of Fun director of general ser-
vices Gary Noble, “The dolphin pool is 40 yards away from
the Ferris wheel. The wheel is inaudible and is totally hidden
with trees and shrubs. The water is not over-chlorinated. If it
were, the animals would not perform. Only happy animals
will execute tricks. There is no scientific evidence that dol-
phin pools are echo chambers. The sounds that dolphins emit
do not cause them stress. In fact, the clear water in pools
makes it unnecessary for dolphins to use their sonar constant-
ly, unlike their wild counterparts who are exposed to a bar-
rage of sound in the tragically fouled and murky coastal
waters of our planet. We are happy,” Noble continues, “that
no animal has died at Worlds of Fun in the 12 years Marine
Animal Productions has produced our dolphin exhibit.” And,
he concludes, “Most of what mankind knows about dolphins
has been learned by working closely with animals in a public
display setting. This type of interaction between the two
species is primarily responsible for the appreciation of the
dolphin by the general public. In Worlds of Fun’s 21 years of
presenting dolphin shows, over 10 million persons have met
the Atlantic bottlenose dolphin face-to-face at our facility.
Most of these people have had no other contact with these
wondrous animals. Yes, our show entertains; but it also
informs and educates. For the longterm survival of the dol-
phin, we are performing an important service.”
The matter of the Ferris wheel may reveal the most
about the quality of the arguments pro and con: 40 yards is
120 feet, the distance from home plate to second base. This
in itself proves nothing, inasmuch as the entire New York
Aquarium is scarcely wider, and is surrounded by the Coney
Island boardwalk, roller coaster, and a busy street, yet pro-
vides quality outdoor exhibits for sea otters, sea lions, and
harbor seals, among other species, with improved facilities
for belugas and dolphins under construction. PAR literature
asserts that the dolphin tank is “under” the Ferris wheel,
never mentioning the trees and shrubbery; at the same time,
it is doubtful that as Noble asserts, the Ferris wheel and the
crowds it attracts are “inaudible” from behind a mere treeline.
On the second count, overchlorination may cause
dolphins serious harm, but PAR has produced no evidence of
either actual overchlorination or actual harm. But again,
Noble strains credibility in claiming that the dolphins
wouldn’t perform under unsatisfactory conditions. Animals,
including dolphins, generally perform either for food rewards
or to please a trainer. They rarely associate the trainer with
their environmental conditions, which is why, historically,
some facilities have been able to keep performing animals in
miserable conditions for years. Though the Oceans of Fun
dolphins may be happy and healthy, the mere fact that they
perform does not prove the point.
Noble is on firmer ground in refuting the contention
about the sonic echoes, in citing the park’s recent record on
dolphin health and safety, and in asserting linkage between
public contact with dolphins and the growth of public concern
for protecting the species. However, the assertion that most
of what we’ve learned about dolphins in more than 3,000
years of recorded contact has been learned from public dis-
play settings is at best debatable. McMillen, on the other
hand, seems unaware that there isn’t any shade on the open
ocean, either. Nor do the dolphins at any facility have pro-
tection against coin-tossing yahoos, other than the vigilance
of the security staff.
The propaganda claims in the Oceans of Fun case
seem to have obscured the most important point: if indeed
the dolphins are seen by up to 1.3 million people a year, the
purported 1993 paid attendance, why hasn’t a modest per-
centage of the admission price been invested in building them
a tank closer to the size of a whole infield?
The Shedd
In retrospect, the John G. Shedd Aquarium on the
shore of Lake Michigan in Chicago was remarkably uncon-
troversial for the first 57 years it existed. When the Shedd
opened in 1930, after six years of fundraising and construc-
tion, there were barely a dozen aquariums in the United
States, and no more than two dozen in the world. The Shedd,
the largest indoor aquarium ever built, was also considered
one of the best––even though the fish displayed there died at
such a rate that from 1929 until 1972 it maintained its own
railroad car to fetch replacements, still keeps an 83-foot col-
lecting ship, and was obliged to close its salt water gallery
during World War II because replacements of ocean-going
species were unavailable.
Learning how to keep species alive who were sel-
dom observed––or observable––in their native habitat took
decades. As techniques improved, management by 1964 rec-
ognized the original Shedd facilities as obsolescent.
Ambitious renovation and expansion plans were drafted, but
finding the means to fulfill them took more than 20 years.
New exhibit areas and a science center were added piecemeal.
Finally, in 1983, the Shedd moved to regain state-
of-the-art status by creating the world’s largest indoor ocea-
narium, designed to resemble the habitat of the Gulf of
Alaska. Construction costs were estimated at $30 million; by
he opening on April 27, 1991, the facility actually cost $43
million. But the overruns were only briefly contentious.
Even most Shedd critics agree that it got what it paid for.
The real source of controversy is that the objective
of the oceanarium is to house marine mammals. Crowds
drawn by the marine mammals are to pay off the construction
bond issues, making possible everything else the Shedd
wants to do. When this strategy was announced in 1964, it
was greeted with enthusiasm; keeping marine mammals was
then the most prestigious accomplishment in oceanarium sci-
ence. Three decades later, however, public attitudes toward
keeping marine mammals captive have become ambivalent.
The Shedd was slow to recognize the concerns of captivity
critics; then erred, like many other whale exhibitors, in
lumping all critics together as “extremists”––and compound-
ed the fiasco by practicing denial when things went wrong.
As the Shedd publication A q u a t i c u s v.23, #1
recounts, acquisition of the beluga whales who are central to
the oceanarium “was dogged by several small but zealous
groups of animal rights activists [who] objected to cetaceans
being taken from the wild for public display. The activists
engaged the aquarium in several legal skirmishes that threat-
ened to check the beluga collecting trip. They were success-
ful in obstructing, at least in time for the opening, the acqui-
sition of false killer whales.”
The latter episode is now officially remembered as a
management decision not to acquire false killer whales, more
properly called psuedorcas, because of the difficulty of man-
aging breeding populations of three different cetacean species
in limited habitat.
In fact, some small but zealous groups did protest
the Shedd’s cetacean capture plans, and also some larger and
more mainstream groups. Some opposed the captures on prin-
ciple; some for practical reasons. To date, Shedd cetacean
captures have been actively opposed by at least 29 different
organizations. Even the Canadian Department of Fisheries
and Oceans questioned the Shedd strategy of trying to capture
belugas in 1989, two years in advance of completion of the
oceanarium, then keeping them until needed in a relatively
small tank at the Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium in
Tacoma, Washington. That arrangement insured that the bel-
ugas would be available for the ribbon-cutting ceremony and
the TV cameras, but doubled their transport and readjustment
stress. As lead agency in defending the long controversial
harp seal hunts along the shores of Atlantic Canada, the
Department of Fisheries and Oceans has almost never sided
with animal protection groups. Yet eventually it limited the
Shedd to capturing only two rather than three belugas in
advance; the remainder of the proposed captive group of six
would be captured in 1992.
The proposed pseudorca acquisition was likewise
fought by mainstream opponents as well as animal rights radi-
cals, because the whales were to be purchased either directly
or indirectly from the notorious Japanese “drive fisheries.”
As the drive fisheries drew international protest during the late
1980s, oceanarium buyers argued that their purchases spared
some pseudorcas who would otherwise have been killed.
However, when the National Oceanic and Atmospheric
Administration obliged purchasers to certify that any imported
pseudorcas were captured “humanely,” imports ceased.
Debate over the Shedd collapsed into enduring mis-
trust with the 1990 publication of an Aquaticus account of the
1988 captures of Pacific whitesided dolphins for exhibit,
which omitted any mention of the capture of a pregnant
female, released two weeks later; the capture and release of
two juveniles; and the capture and death from pneumonia
within 46 days of a young male, for whom a release permit
was sought. The permit was received 24 days after capture,
but by then the dolphin was already requiring medical treat-
ment and could not be released with any chance of survival.
Midwest Whale Protection discovered and promptly
revealed the nondisclosures. “It appears that the Shedd
Aquarium deliberately withheld information from the public,”
the group charged, “to make the capture of these whales
appear to be a smooth operation without disturbance to wild
stocks or disruption of wild family units.”
Yet while advocating frankness and honesty, MWP
itself hinted that the Shedd had applied for a release permit to
get rid of the dolphin who eventually died before he did
die––a significant distortion of what actually happened.
In 1992 the Shedd roused further outrage with the
alleged rough captures of the additional belugas it had sought
since 1989. Six belugas were chased to exhaustion and cor-
nered with speedboats in waters north of Churchill,
Manitoba, then wrestled into submission as two different
activist groups videotaped and tried to disrupt the procedures.
Two belugas, considered unhealthy, were released at the cap-
ture site. The remaining four were flown to Chicago on
August 18, 1992––but on September 22, scarcely a month
later, a pair died within a 15-minute span from overdoses of
deworming medicine.
The treatment was medically necessary, and at least
one beluga among the four might have died without it.
However, the simultaneous dosing of the belugas was widely
criticized because it divided staff attention and lessened the
chances that any complications suffered by one whale might
be seen and arrested before treatment of another began. A
subsequent investigation by the National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration discovered that Shedd veterinari-
an Dr. Jeffrey Boehm wasn’t properly licensed in the state of
Illinois. On December 21, 1993, the Shedd paid a $2,510
fine, euphemistically described as a settlement agreement
involving nonadmission of guilt. Nine days later––while
denying any direct connection between the events––Canadian
fisheries minister John Crosbie cut off Shedd access to
replacements by announcing that his government would “no
longer consider the live capture of belugas for export.”
These developments came less than a month after
the Shedd eluded protesters from the Whale Rescue Team and
Chicago Animal Rights Coalition to capture three Pacific
whitesided dolphins off San Nicholas Island, 70 miles south-
west of Los Angeles, touching off a month of frustrated and
furious anti-captivity rallies and press conferences at the tem-
porary holding facility on the San Diego waterfront.
CHARC attack
CHARC, headed by former deep-sea fishing enthu-
siast Steve Hindi, was a latecomer to the ongoing Shedd con-
troversies––as was Hindi to animal rights activism. In 1989
Hindi was en route to go shark fishing when, on a whim, he
stopped at Hegins, Pennsylvania, to watch the notorious
annual Labor Day pigeon shoot. After years of unsuccessful
vigils, the pigeon shoot had gradually been abandoned as a
protest target because Hegins actually seems to revel in public
displays of meanness, while the gun lobby has such a hold on
the Pennsylvania state senate that stopping the shoot through
legislation appears unlikely.
Shocked by the lack of sportsmanship he witnessed,
Hindi mulled it over for most of the next year, then gave up
hunting and fishing, became a vegetarian, and returned to
Hegins to singlehandedly revitalize the protests with a con-
frontational style that made up in media flair what it lacked in
polish. Hindi’s weapons are videotaping and direct challenges
that make great headlines and sound-bites, backed up by law-
suits. Though Hindi and CHARC haven’t stopped the Hegins
pigeon shoot, they have stopped pigeon-shoots
in
Illinois––and have forced Pennsylvania to spend many times
more money than the Hegins shoot brings in each year to pro-
vide police protection against mass civil disobedience.
Hindi first challenged the Shedd on April 27, 1993,
alleging that he had several hours of video footage document-
ing stereotypical behavior by the beluga Naluark––an indica-
tion, if true, of maladaption to the facility. Maybe that’s what
the video shows and maybe it isn’t, but either way the Shedd
pursued a classic corporate public relations strategy, a critical
blunder. The classic strategy assumes the institution is well-
run, and that criticism therefore comes chiefly from chronic
malcontents. The object is to keep the malcontents from
grabbing public attention. This is done by ignoring them as
much as possible, dancing a little sidestep to avoid public
confrontation, and stonewalling over actual problems to
avoid giving the malcontents ammunition.
This often works well for institutions whose busi-
ness is done behind closed doors, such as biomedical
research laboratories, but it doesn’t work for zoos and aquari-
ums, whose facilities are by definition open to the public,
and where problems, if they exist, are often readily observed
by visitors who learn to look for them. Institutions dealing
directly with the public are better advised to remember the
retailer’s maxim that the customer is always right: the cus-
tomer may be wrong about the nature of a particular problem,
but if a problem is perceived, there is a problem of some sort,
which must be dealt with in an open manner.
Ignored for six weeks, Hindi on June 10, 1993
challenged the Shedd to a public showing of the video. That
was the Shedd’s opening to resolve the issue. Instead, the
Shedd declined the opportunity, to avoid creating “a circus.”
Once again it was classic corporate public relations strategy
but suicidal in context. The Shedd could have avoided a “cir-
cus” by arranging for the video to be screened in the dignified
atmosphere of an impartially moderated formal forensic
debate, open to the media and an invited audience of several
hundred other people, with equal numbers of the same print-
ed invitation to be sent by either side. Subjecting the audi-
ence to the entire video would not have been necessary: a few
minutes followed by random fast-forwarding through the sev-
eral hours would have been sufficient to ascertain what is on
it, after which Hindi and a selected expert from his side could
have made their case, heard rebuttal from equivalent Shedd
personnel, asked each other questions, and taken questions
from the media and the floor. In this scenario the Shedd had
nothing to lose. If the facts supported Hindi, the Shedd might
have had to acknowledge and deal with problems, but criti-
cism could have been disarmed by the demonstration of will-
ingness to deal openly and fairly with critics.
Hindi, on the other hand, had everything to lose.
Large institutions start out with a public presumption of credi-
bility. Squandering it takes years of error. Activists start out
as presumed crackpots, who gain credibility either through
making a good case or attracting large followings––and they
can lose credibility overnight with a single well-publicized
misjudgement. If Hindi’s claim to possess videotaped evi-
dence had been clearly and openly refuted, he might have
picketed the Shedd alone for decades, but he’d have had a
hard time regaining the confidence of either the Chicago
media or most fellow activists. If Hindi’s evidence was incon-
clusive, he’d have still lost, because the Shedd, by giving it
consideration, would have been doing what responsible insti-
tutions do to keep their credibility. In a formal forensic
debate, Hindi could only have “won” by being demonstrably
right about the beluga’s behavior; and even then, the Shedd
could have won too by finding a way to change the behavior.
By refusing to engage Hindi’s allegations when the
onus was on him to prove his point, the Shedd appeared to be
afraid of the truth, whatever it was; gave media the pretext to
air snippets of video that alone didn’t prove the allegations but
appeared to lend them weight; and provoked a year and a half
of further confrontations, many of them embarrassing. For
instance, on August 23, 1993, the Shedd barred activist
Debra Leahy from the premises for wearing a t-shirt remind-
ing viewers of the deaths of the two belugas, thereby giving
her a media platform from which to disclose Shedd stock
holdings in Monsanto, U.S. Steel, and Philip Morris––three
firms she linked to water pollution. Each firm is so large and
the pollution so incidental to operations that the disclosure by
itself probably wouldn’t have made the newspapers.
As at Hegins, where record crowds of demonstra-
tors in 1991 and 1992 were met by even greater crowds of
ruffians looking for trouble, Hindi’s protests against the
Shedd appear to be running out of steam. While the Shedd
made a tactical blunder by declining to debate, Hindi blun-
dered by committing CHARC to weekly demonstrations
throughout the summer of 1994. That set up a war of attriti-
tion that CHARC, with limited resources, could only lose.
The demonstration crowds predictably dwindled throughout
the past summer, Hindi’s language became shrill––he refers
to the Shedd now as the “Shedd Aquaprison”––and trying to
recapture media and activist interest, he issued various
charges about animal exhibition schedules and quarantines in
August and September that came across as simply paranoid
beside the Shedd’s explanations.
Yet no one wins wars of attrition. While the Shedd
is likely to outlive Hindi’s offensive, at least this time, thou-
sands of visitors who barely remember the issues are now
aware that some people found something there so wrong that
they spent their whole summer trying to make the point. The
next time the Shedd does something controversial, or loses a
well-known animal, more of the public will be inclined to
disbelieve the official version of whatever happened. Erosion
of trust in the institution goes on nightly on the computer net-
works and radio talk shows. It may never do the Shedd seri-
ous harm, yet it does the Shedd no good, either.
Can such a situation of ideological opposition com-
pounded by mutual mistrust be resolved? Perhaps, but only if
the stronger party is self-confident and generous enough to
accept the parliamentary idea of “the loyal opposition,” an
enfranchised and respected body of critics whose challenges
to debate are accepted and whose objections to proceedings,
when sufficiently supported, are accommodated through poli-
cy amendments. Conversely, the weaker party must accept
that it is more effective to have access to information and have
a voice in decision-making, if only a dissident minority voice,
than to remain forever on the outside, with no voice and no
inside knowledge. The stronger party must feel secure that in
admitting the weaker party to strategic discussions, it is not
inviting a viper into its nest; the weaker party must under-
stand that it must not act like one, including understanding
that sometimes mistakes are made despite the best efforts of
all concerned. That Jeffrey Boehm badly erred in deworming
the belugas, for instance, does not make him a murderer; he
is in fact a very young veterinarian in a field where there are
few longtime practitioners and as yet only a slim body of
medical knowledge. Calling him a murderer is dirty pool.
Both parties must understand that productive coex-
istence involves compromises of procedure, not principle.
The object is not to patronize, co-opt, subvert, sabotage, or
otherwise gain the advantage; the object is to solve problems
so as to meet the concerns of both sides, or at least give the
weaker side more consideration than it would have if still on
the outside. It is not only acceptable but useful in rapproach-
ment to draw clear lines of disagreement: the Shedd is going
to keep the belugas and dolphins. CHARC respectfully
opposes this policy. There might be a place for a written
agreement to disagree, stipulating rules for fair debate and
establishing a grievance procedure if one party or the other
feels the rules have been broken. Within such an understand-
ing, disagreement can be accomodated, and can even be
integrated into the educational function of an oceanarium. In
lieu of enduring demonstrations, for instance, a particularly
courageous management could even allow a protest group to
write one half of a handout, setting forth the objections to
keeping marine mammals in captivity, while the oceanarium
would in the other half present the opposite case.
Both parties must finally recognize that enfranchis-
ing formerly hostile outsiders as a loyal opposition is a tricky
business. There will be misunderstandings and communica-
tion failures, as already happened in April 1994, when new
Shedd director Ted Beattie tried to work out a truce with
Hindi that ended in each party frustratedly telling associates
that the other is untrustworthy. Communication failures––and
ANIMAL PEOPLE has written evidence that this is all that
happened––must not be misread as bad faith. If one party or
the other feels dealt with in bad faith, the thing to do is talk
about it––not withdraw and resume conflict.
There are clues that a de-emphasis of hostilities at
the Shedd is possible. No one objected to the Shedd acquisi-
tion of four sea otter pups in 1989, who were orphaned by the
Exxon Valdez oil spill in Prince William Sound, Alaska.
Nor did anyone object to the acquisition of three harbor seals
from the National Aquarium in Baltimore––an adult stranding
victim and two captive-bred offspring of stranding victims. It
is also worth noting that most of the activists criticizing the
Shedd management have not criticized the physical facilities
except by contrast with the wild; only CHARC has criticized
the animal care staff other than in connection with the two
beluga deaths; and even Hindi has repeatedly stated that he
has no objection to the Shedd exhibiting marine mammals of
any species who for whatever reason could not be released
into the wild.
What is done is done. To be considered now is
what will be done in the future.
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