Moral relativism & Marine World
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, March 1995:
VALLEJO, California––Any day now the fishing
crews of Iki, Japan, may string nets between their boats and,
banging metal objects together to make a noise that carries
underwater, herd scores of Dall’s porpoises and pseudorcas
into an inlet to be harpooned and hacked apart with machetes.
Spring is the season for such massacres, conducted intermit-
tently at least since 1900 and almost annually since 1967
despite international protest. The traditional rationale is
reducing competition for yellowtail; also, much of the por-
poise and whale meat is either eaten or sold.
A few months later, Eskimo hunters in power boats
will shoot walruses up and down the Bering and Arctic
coasts, ostensibly for meat but perhaps mostly to get ivory
tusks, according to witness Sam LaBudde, a research biolo-
gist and native of Alaska who has observed the killing for
Friends of Animals. LaBudde’s testimony is backed by
Alaskan eco-journalist Tim Moffat. Some hunting parties
retrieve whole carcasses, those that don’t sink; others just
hack off tusked heads, carve out genitals, and leave the rest,
contrary to Marine Mammal Protection Act requirements.
While bulls are the main targets, some cows will be shot as
well. Orphaned young––if not shot for meat––will starve or
be eaten by polar bears.
Both in Japan and Alaska, some animals might be
saved by cash-bearing oceanarium collectors. And that raises
the question, is it right to save a wild animal from an agoniz-
ing death, at benefit to those who persecute the species and at
cost of keeping the animal captive? Many animal rights
activists and environmentalists say no; wildlife should not be
captured, certainly not at the price of paying the killers. Zoo
and oceanarium people say yes; captivity beats death.
Oblivious to philosophy and pecuniary considera-
tions, four irrepressibly inquisitive young walruses at the
Marine World Africa USA theme park in Vallejo, California,
masters of untying shoes by sucking the laces, provide woof-
ing, nuzzling, body-rubbing testimony to their love of life,
despite their traumatic history. Their affection for their keep-
ers, “jailers” though they may be, is as apparent as their mis-
taken belief that humans are their mothers––or angels.
The presence of the walruses, and the absence of
four pseudorcas purchased in Japan under similar circum-
stances, indicates that the issue is sufficiently unsettled that
the National Marine Fisheries Service can apply a double
standard. In May 1993 NMFS forbade the import of the
pseudorcas; a year later, the walruses were brought from
The Marine Mammal Protection Act, Endangered Species
Act and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered
Species were adopted in 1972-1973 in part to halt institutional
purchases that encouraged the depletion of wildlife.
In that regard, the laws have been successful.
Poaching and wildlife trafficking are bigger now than ever,
stoked by Asian demand for medicinals based on wildlife
parts. But zoos and aquariums are effectively out of the mar-
ket. The last noteworthy end-run around CITES by a major
American or Canadian zoo occurred in 1983.
Marine World wildlife curator Terry Samansky and
public relations director Jim Bonde are as quick as anyone to
rip trafficking. Indeed, several of the most prominent
exhibits at the nonprofit but pricy and heavily commercialized
park attack the elephant ivory trade and the role of the fur
industry in imperiling exotic cats. For the anti-fur message,
Marine World has been blistered by the front group California
Fur Industry Inc., even as animal rights protesters picket spo-
radically because it keeps captive marine mammals, occa-
sionally breeds tigers, and chains elephants overnight.
Although Marine World is among the older marine
mammal parks, it is regarded by peers as one of the best. Of
the many captive wildlife authorities ANIMAL PEOPLE
consulted before visiting it, incognito until after a long
inspection, only Pat Derby of the Performing Animal
Welfare Society said bad things about it, and many of her
criticisms predated recent changes. As Bonde points out,
Marine World may be the only major marine mammal park
which has n e v e r suffered the death of a dolphin or an orca,
though both species have been kept there for more than 20
“I recommend Marine World’s care standards and
practices to anybody, without hesitation,” says Kathy
Travers, captive wildlife expert for the American SPCA,
“and I’ll come down on anyone if I think they deserve it.”
The walruses and the curator
Samansky didn’t just fax off an order for walruses
and await delivery. Instead he applied to NMFS for a “sal-
vage tag,” which permitted him to bring back from Alaska
four walruses orphaned by aboriginal hunting. To certify their
origins, Samansky had to journey to the Arctic himself,
out in small boats with the Eskimos, and witness the killing
of walrus mamas so that their babies could be captured. Only
Samansky doesn’t see the killing that way.
“Our permit stipulated that our presence could not
cause the additional orphaning of animals,” Samansky and
Bonde both emphasize.
And Samansky, a self-admitted admirer of the tradi-
tional Eskimos, doesn’t agree with LaBudde that the main
motive for aboriginal walrus hunting these days is the money
to be made from selling walrus ivory and genitals.
“The mothers were going to be killed anyway, for
meat,” he insists. “We saved a lot of walruses, by occupying
the hunters with capturing these orphans alive and bringing
them back to the village during several days when they could
have been out killing. The village we worked with eats wal-
rus all winter. They kill any walruses they can find. They
don’t actually kill many of the bulls, because the bulls stay
out too far. They kill the mothers and the juveniles, except
that this time we took the juveniles. If they don’t find the
juveniles, the orphans die from hunger and the elements, or a
predator kills them.”
Adds Bonde, “There is no walrus quota for the
aboriginals. They can take as many as they want, but they
must use all of the animal. That’s why it’s very important that
you work with the right village,” one that follows the rules.
“You’re not allowed to buy a walrus, and they’re not allowed
to sell one. We were allowed to pay them the going local
wage for the days they spent helping us, but that was all.”
At about the same time MWA-USA got their wal-
ruses, the New York Aquarium acquired some the same way.
The Indianapolis Zoo acquisitions, scheduled for this sum-
mer, will increase the captive walrus population to a size that
the zoological community hopes will permit sustainable cap-
Is it needed? On paper, anyway, walruses remain
viable in the wild, despite hunting and poaching. But if the
regulators are wrong, successful captive breeding may help
insure species survival.
Samansky and Bonde don’t talk about the walruses’
drawing power. Yet the pecuniary motive may be the best
argument for keeping them, from a conservation viewpoint.
Whatever the arguments against captivity, it is a fact that the
public is most militant on behalf of species they know.
And then there are the four walruses, who inhabit a
fenced enclosure including a holding tank while their perma-
nent exhibit is built. Raising them from infancy with frequent
bottle feeding has given the MWA-USA staff new insight
into walrus behavior. For instance, Samansky says, they
learned that when alarmed the young walruses immediately
submerge and hide on the shadow side of their floating plat-
form, which substitutes for the piece of ice they would have
rested on in the Arctic. Because of their youth at capture,
this has to be instinctive rather than learned behavior.
Knowing the fate the walruses were spared gives
the MWA-USA staff an evident sense of moral accomplish-
ment. Countless walrus will be killed before they either go
extinct or humans cease to afflict them; but these are safe.
Adopting an orphan does not prevent war, yet is worth doing,
handlers say as they give the 400-pound babies lunch. And
as Bonde puts it, they can’t for the life of them see what’s the
difference between paying Alaskan natives to save four wal-
rus and buying pigeons by the crate to spare them from the
guns at the annual captive bird massacre in Hegins,
Pennsylvania––as some of Marine World’s most vehement
critics have done repeatedly. Either way, killers are reward-
ed, to save the mere handful of animals who can be saved.
Marine mammal parks should be allowed to do the
same, Samansky and Bonde contend, for the pseudorcas.
Killers and whales
“We’re bitter about the pseudorcas,” Bonde admits,
who are now on exhibit at an oceanarium in Japan––and are
reportedly effective representatives of their species.
Domestic opposition to Japanese government support of
whaling and especially to the Iki massacres has dramatically
grown in recent years. One can’t prove the rise is because of
the exhibition of pseudorcas and other small whales, any
more than one can prove or disprove that proliferating marine
mammal parks helped spark the “Save the whales” movement
in the U.S., but it is an indicative coincidence.
From 1990 through June 1993, In Defense of
Animals and Earth Island Institute beseiged Marine World
with letters, demonstrations, newspaper ads, and petitions.
The initial focus was a demand for the release of the orcas
Yaka and Vigga, kept at the park since 1969 and 1981,
respectively. Emphasis shifted to keeping the pseudorcas out
in April 1993, after the four pseudorcas in question were cap-
tured and Marine World applied for an import permit. The
orca campaign hadn’t produced results, while the opportunity
to link the park to notorious cruelty was irresistible.
“When places like Marine World pay money to fish-
ermen for the whales and dolphins,” charged Hardy Jones,
who filmed the Iki-like massacre at Taiji in 1978, “it makes
the slaughter economically feasible.”
Added Mark Berman of Earth Island Institute, in an
April 21, 1993 op-ed column for the Vallejo Times-Herald,
“The Iki and Taiiji drive slaughterers actually market these
animals to captive facilities in advance through a broker in
Tokyo. Orders for the species, sex, size, and age are taken.
At the time of the roundup, specific animals are herded into a
holding area while the remainder are slaughtered without any
opposition from the captive display industry. This entire
commercial operation is shrouded in secrecy and is perpetuat-
ed by those who profit from the slaughter as a means to
acquire whales and dolphins at less expensive prices while
appearing to save several from death.”
In a passage subsequently more embarassing to the
protesters than to the targets of protest, Berman added,
“Finally, last week, eyewitness accounts of where Marine
World’s pseudorcas are kept on Iki surfaced. The netted area
in the bay happens to have 12 bottlenose dolphins––one was
seen floating dead on the surface––and at least nine pseudor-
cas. Several young calves have been noted as well within
these numbers, and all appear to be extremely stressed and
are swimming in their own waste.”
Ben White, then working for In Defense of Animals
and now with Friends of Animals, was in Japan. According
to the third paragraph of an IDA press release issued the same
day, “Sources inside Japan led White to where the pseudor-
cas were believed to be held. There White observed at least
20 dolphins and pseudorca, including very young calves,
confined to an unsanitary sea pen. ‘I have never seen dol-
phins in a more agitated state,’ White said. ‘The pseudorca
were huddled together. The animals, who had witnessed
their families massacred in the shore drive, were being held
in extremely inhumane conditions…’ White, who had trav-
eled to the island with video and still photography equipment,
decided to cut the nets rather than just document the condi-
tions. Reports out of Japan this week indicated that 40 dol-
phins had been freed.”
In other words, White was said to have freed nearly
twice as many cetaceans as were believed to be in the sea pen
to begin with. But White says he never made that claim him-
self. As he remembers, “I didn’t know how many were in the
pen. It’s pretty hard to count dolphins in the water. I cut the
net and I saw a mama and a baby swim toward the opening,
and I got out of there. I went back at dawn, briefly, before I
caught the first plane away, and I didn’t think I saw as many
dolphins as previously.”
Ironically, the Marine World pseudorcas were
never in that sea pen, as White learned later. Marine World
representative John Kirtland was tending those pseudorcas at
a different site––and advising Marine World not to reveal that
fact. “As long as the animal rights terrorists continue to mis-
takenly believe that the animals are there, our animals will be
safe where they really are,” he said.
As to the alleged release, Kirtland continued,
relaying statements by drive fishery spokesman Teruo Shono,
“On the morning of April 14, one of the nets enclosing a
number of dolphins at the ‘dolphin park’ was discovered cut.”
This placed the incident a full week earlier––although IDA
didn’t mention it in either an April 16 press release or at an
April 18 press conference. White thinks the discrepancy is
because IDA was awaiting official confirmation from Japan
that some dolphins had escaped, which eventually did come
from Tokyo news media. White also believes the Tokyo
papers were the source of the number 40.
“Contrary to IDA’s claim that 40 dolphins were
reed,” Kirtland continued, still giving Shono’s version, “in
truth not one animal was freed or escaped. Three dolphins did
become entangled in the cut net, and as a result, drowned,” a
claim White doubts, saying none were entangled when he
made his dawn visit to the scene, shortly before the cutting
would have been discovered.
Further, Kirtland said, the dolphins and pseudorcas
in the sea pen were removed from the main group 12 days
before any were massacred––and the sea pen was several
miles from the massacre site. Thus the sea pen group couldn’t
have seen what became of the rest. White today acknowl-
edges that this might have been the case. Kirtland didn’t
explain why the massacre victims were held so long before
they were killed, when presumably pressure against killing
them should have been building by the day.
Added Kirtland, “The collection of pseudorca by Iki
fishermen was completed before Marine World ever learned
of it; it was not driven by Marine World.”
That, in fact, was why NMFS disallowed the
imports. Explained Marine World president Michael
Demetrios, “When our collector, Scott Rutherford, arrived
in Iki, the drive had already started. He had the choice of
saving four animals already collected by the fishermen, or
going outside the net to collect in the way our NMFS permit
stated. We opted to save four animals who were going to be
killed. NMFS says this action violated our permit because
Rutherford was not present for the initial herding process and
thus could not verify that the animals were herded humanely
by the Japanese.”
Perhaps catching activists exaggeration was not a tri-
umph Marine World boasts about.
Says Bonde, “I wouldn’t want to stake my reputa-
tion on what the drive-fishers said, either.” He estimates that
the truth lies somewhere between the conflicting versions.
The bottom line for Bonde is that whatever became of the ani-
mals in the sea pen, whether any escaped, and however many
there were, none came to Vallejo.
Sea Shepherd Conservation Society founder Paul
Watson has looked at the Iki Island and pseudorca situations
as long and hard as anyone, not only as the world’s most
noted whale defender, but also as a longtime admirer of
Japanese culture, martial arts, and philosophy, and with a
record of working more closely with some oceanariums than
most other leading activists. Watson himself has tried repeat-
edly and unsuccessfully to stop the Iki Island killing.
“I do not believe that the drive fishery would cease
if aquariums stopped their purchases of pseudorcas,” Watson
told ANIMAL PEOPLE. “The purchases are a lucrative sup-
plement to drive fishing, but they are not the reason for it.
Otherwise the fishers would capture the animals for live sale
and not kill the others. It is the position of the Sea Shepherd
Conservation Society, however,” he continued, “that it is
immoral for oceanariums to reward Japan for their mass
slaughter of cetaceans by exploiting the kills to purchase
exhibits. This is similar to African poachers killing off moun-
tain gorilla or chimpanzee adults for their body parts and then
selling the juvenile animals to zoos,” a common practice until
stopped by CITES.
“The poachers are criminals and a respectable insti-
tution should not be dealing with criminals. I understand that
the oceanariums believe the animals they purchase are saved
from otherwise certain death,” Watson concluded. “There is
some validity in this. However, it is ethically questionable
that Japanese dolphin killers should be given large sums from
funds raised from ‘educational exhibits.’ I think that many
patrons of these facilities would be very upset to learn that
money they in part provided is going directly to people
engaged in slaughter. There is no justification for oceanari-
ums to do business with Japanese dolphin killers. By doing
so, they become accessories to the crime and undermine the
credibility of their institutions.”
Yet it is hard to look into the eyes of a young walrus
and think saving him––by whatever means––was wrong.