Atlantic Canada fishers ask to kill 2.5 million seals

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, June 1999:

HALIFAX–The Atlantic Canadian attitude toward seals could not have been more gruesomely dramatized than by the sight of the Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker Martha Black crushing seal pups too young to flee as it hacked a channel for the clubbing and skinning crews to follow.

Captured on video by the Inter-national Fund for Animal Welfare, the Martha Black was treating the seals not even as a valuable resource, as sealing promoters pretend, but as just something in the way: something smaller, more fragile, upon which frustrated maritimers can vent their wrath that overfished cod are gone, perhaps forever, and that a way of life based on exploiting the ocean is inevitably soon to go with it.

The Atlantic Canadian extractive lifestyle won’t go down, however, without a last-stand effort to kill every alleged
competitor for fish first. The federally appointed Fisheries Resource Conservation Council, representing the fishing industry, made that clear in a May 6 report demanding that the sealing quota for 2000 be expanded from the present 275,000 to 2.5 million: half of the total current high-end estimate of the Atlantic Canada seal population.

The quota is based on carcasses retrieved. International Marine Mammal Association scientist David Lavigne, whose research is funded by IFAW, estimates that sealers actually retrieve the remains of only 60% of the seals they kill. George Winters, an investigator funded by the Newfoundland government, puts the retrieval rate at 90%.

Canadian fisheries minister David Anderson said on April 28 that, “I am not against a cull,” if culling seals would help cod recovery, but added that there is currently insufficient scientific data to warrant a cull. At Anderson’s direction, the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans is reviewing the interaction of seal and cod populations. The FRCC is one of several panels which are to have input into the analysis. The FRCC report followed reported demands by Newfoundland fisheries minister John Effords that two-thirds of the seal population be killed.

Sealers say “Shut up”

After Canadian Sealers Association executive director Tina Fagan hinted through the media that Effords should stop inflaming opposition to sealing, Effords said he was misquoted. He then changed the subject to defending his son, John Effords Jr., who had just been arrested for illegal squid-jigging, and was fined $500 on May 17.

Fagan acknowledged that there isn’t even a market for many of the seals that Atlantic Canadians are killing now. Only one processor, Carino Canada Ltd. of Dildo, Newfoundland, was still purchasing pelts as of late April, with the market glutted, and Carino was paying just $10 apiece, down from $25 in 1998. There was even less demand for seal meat.

Despite a requirement, on paper, that all of each seal be used, sealing captain Ralph King admitted in an April 15 CBC broadcast that he just threw the meat from the 150 seals his crew killed into the sea. Fagan predicted that the 1999 total of seals landed would be 47,000 under quota.

What market for seal products exists may soon be cut even thinner, as on April 1 the Inuit-owned Natsiq Development
Corporation announced it will start a commercial kill of up to 24,000 ringed seals in the newly created Nunavet territory of northern Canada. The NDC plans to build a seal processing plant next year. Calls for revived sealing are also coming from some Gulf of Maine fishers, whose cod limit per trip was dropped from 200 pounds to just 30 pounds on May 1 by the National Marine Fisheries Service, but the New England Fishery Management Council on May 25 asked
Commerce Secretary William Daley to raise the limit back to 700 pounds after fishers complained that the low limit was forcing them to toss cod overboard.
At the meeting, held in Plymouth, Massachusetts, financially struggling fishers reportedly almost rioted when NMFS
officials told them about a new $52 million data collection system that will be used to set limits.”Give us the money instead!” the fishers shouted.

Seal birth control

If seals really were the cause of cod depletion, killing them wouldn’t be necessary to bring the cod back. Even if the loss of food supply didn’t bring the seal population down, as would logically happen, Dalhousie University biologist Warwick Kimmins and the Bedford Institute of Oceanography in March announced that they have perfected and begun production of a contraceptive vaccine for seals. Costing under $10 U.S. per shot, or much less than the average investment to kill a seal, the vaccine can be injected into wild seals via plastic bullet. The vaccine was tested several years ago on several hundred of the 150,000 grey seals who breed each spring on Sable Island. More than 90% of the seals who were shot with it are still not reproducing.

Kimmins is reportedly now working on versions of the vaccine to be used on wild horses, elk, deer, moose, dogs, and cats.Anti-sealing protest was muted this year as the major anti-sealing organizations participated in the DFO review of seals versus cod. In March, however, Sea Shepherd Conservation Society founder Paul Watson took 10 days off from monitoring Makah efforts to kill a gray whale (page one) to join the crew filming the screen edition of his 1995 book Ocean Warrior as they did ice shots in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Watson took the opportunity to announce that his next book, Seal Wars!, is to be published before the 2000 seal hunt starts.

Despite the low profile of anti-sealing activity, however, sealers and the Canadian government were as hostile as ever to outside observation of the killing. Only 35 observers were permitted to visit the ice, and many of them ran into trouble when they did.

IFAW official Nick Jenkins, a reporter for the German newspaper Bild Zeitung, and two reporters from the Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf said on March 23 that four French-speaking sealers beat them with fists and a hakapik (seal club) two days earlier, smashed a video camera belonging to Theo Terweil of De Telegraaf, and tried to take the film from their still cameras. Instead of charging the sealers with assault, the DFO hinted that the observers would be charged. Charges were also brought against British TV cameraman James Millar and American photographer Richard Sobel, for allegedly going too close to sealers.

“Quite simply, the government of Canada does not want an orderly observation of this hunt,” IFAW-Canada director Rick Smith said. “Thousands of carcasses are littering the ice–not something the government wants the world to see.”

Stalled prosecutions

Efforts to prosecute sealers for videotaped violations of DFO so-called ‘humane killing’ rules hit delay after delay.
“The seal hunters’ home video that I released in February 1996 contained footage of the 1995 hunt, and resulted in a number of convictions, including for skinning a seal alive,” IFAW campaign director A.J. Cady told ANIMAL PEOPLE. “Our undercover footage of the 1996 hunt was released in February 1997, after our analysis of it was complete. Seven sealers were charged as a result of that video,” but the case was postponed on April 20 after Newfoundland judge Robert Fowler called IFAW undercover cameraman Chris Wicke “a sophisticated con man” and threw out Wicke’s evidence because he had stopped videotaping as many as 77 times in 23 minutes of videotaping.

This would not be a large number of breaks in news videography, which tries to capture highlights without repetition,
but evidentiary videotaping normally requires keeping the tape rolling.

On May 5, the Crown said it would try again to introduce the Wicke video when the case resumes on September 27.
Meanwhile, said Cady, “The DFO has not yet filed any charges as a result of our 1998 footage, which showed multiple
instances of sealers bleeding or skinning seals alive. As always, officials express outrage when our video is shown to the public, but then drag their feet, only file a few charges, and never address the root problems.”

Whale blood and Gore foul Puget Sound

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, June 1999:
NEAH BAY, Washington–“Al Gore and the U.S. Coast Guard got their whale,” the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society sluglined a May 17 e-mail, detailing the Makah tribe killing of a two-to-three-year-old female gray whale.

At 6:55 that morning, the whale spy-hopped beside the Makah whaling canoe and looked directly at the killers. As documented by a KING-TV/Northwest Cable News helicopter, Makah harpooner Theron Parker stabbed her before she had any evident sense of danger. Putting up no fight, trying to duck under the bow of the canoe, she was then stabbed by a second Makah, Donny Swan, 23, and was machine-gunned from the speed boat used to tow the canoe, taking about 10 minutes to die as her blood stained the green sea a sickly red.

“It was easy,” boasted Makah whaling chaplain Darrell Markishtum to Lynda V. Mapes of the Seattle Times.

The age and conduct of the whale brought speculation that she was J.J., the gray whale who was rescued and rehabilitated by Sea World at San Diego after stranding nearby in January 1997. About three days old then, she became quite trusting of humans. She was returned to the ocean on March 31, 1998, outfitted with two radio
transponders–but she lost them both within days.

After sinking once in 25 feet of water, due to inept carcass retrieval, the dead whale was pulled back to the surface by a fishing boat and dragged to shore at Neah Bay, as the whalers blasted air horns and the Makah schools shut for an impromptu holiday.

Makah tribe members were videotaped dancing on her remains and drinking Pepsi-Cola at an all-night party, while a hired Aleut butcher hacked off strips of her flesh. “Hey, we need some Makah over here!” the Aleut reportedly called at one point when left to work almost alone.

Makah whaling captain Wayne Johnson made plain that the first whale-killing wouldn’t be the last. Johnson said another Makah crew, representing different families, could soon begin training to kill more whales.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in 1997 authorized the Makah to kill as many as five whales a year through 2002, under a annual quota of 140 shared among Russian and U.S. aboriginal tribes. Breach Marine Protection and coplaintiffs argued unsuccessfully in a 1998 federal suit that the IWC did not mean for the Makah to have part of the quota, since the resolution allotting it stipulated that it was for the use of tribes dependent upon  whaling for subsistence–which the Makah are not.

Rejected by the U.S. District Court in Tacoma, the case is now under appeal.

Both U.S. Vice President Al Gore and President Bill Clinton were in Seattle only hours either way of the whale-killing, in part to promote Gore’s bid to succeed Clinton in the White House. Neither commented on the whale-killing, but it was a major step toward the global resumption of full-scale commercial whaling that the Clinton/Gore administration has quietly pursued since taking office, in keeping with their endorsement of “sustainable use” wildlife management.

Said Sea Shepherd captain Paul Watson, “Today, with speed boats, military weaponry (a .50-caliber modified anti-tank gun), and the draconian assistance of the U.S. government in stifling all dissent, American whalers managed to blast a whale out of existence in American waters on the pretext of cultural privilege. A tribe that has made no secret of its intention to return to commercial whaling has brought the U.S. one giant unwilling step closer to the day when the wholesale slaughter of whales for profit will be permitted within the coastal waters of every nation,” exactly as Ireland proposed a week later at the annual International Whaling Commission convention in Grenada.

Taking no part in opposing Makah whaling, Greenpeace IWC observer Gerry Leape told Danny Westneat of the Seattle Times’ Washington D.C. bureau that it was a mere distraction from efforts to squelch the Irish proposal, which was made after Japan heavily subsidized the Irish fishing industry.

“Now that the Makah have landed one whale,” Leape continued, “we may spend a fourth year at IWC arguing about the Makah instead of focusing on Japan and Norway, who are killing 1,200 whales this year.” Actually, the first argument at IWC this year concerned a Japanese motion to bar Greenpeace, because members of Greenpeace Australia in November 1998 delayed the departure from New Caledonia of a Japanese whaling vessel which had put in for emergency repairs. The motion failed, 22-9.

Other whale-killing

But Leape was right that the Makah whale-killing drew attention away from much other whale-killing. As the May 24-29 IWC meeting approached, and the Makah stepped up their efforts to kill a whale before any resolution could be passed to stop them, a six-man crew from the Bering Strait village of Little Diomede on May 6 killed a bowhead whale– among the rarest of whales–for the first time since 1937. Little Diomede villagers last struck a bowhead in either 1953 or 1979, depending on which accounts are believed. The IWC authorized them to kill two bowheads a year in 1991, but hunting expeditions since then hadn’t found any.

The 40-vessel Norwegian whaling fleet sailed, to little notice, on the same day the Makah killed the gray whale. The
self-set Norwegian quota this year is 753 minke whales–the most hunted since 1988. Japan on May 9 lifted a 27-year-old ban on hunting rare bottlenose whales, also known as Baird’s beaked whales, in the Sea of Japan, setting a 1999 quota of eight. Japan already allows the killing of 54 bottlenose whales per year in Pacific coastal waters.

On May 12, the Environmental Investigation Agency published a report arguing that the current Japanese massacre of 17,700 Dall’s porpoises per year–down from 40,000 in 1987, but rising again each year since 1992–could jeopardize that species. The IWC in 1991 asked Japan to hold the Dall’s porpoise kill down to 10,000 or fewer.

Switzerland moved this year that the IWC should begin to regulate the hunting of small whales. No action was taken, after Japan briefly walked out in protest.

Japan had on the IWC agenda a proposal to repeal the 1994 designation of the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary, ringing Antarctica. The proposal could not have been passed without the support of 30 of the 40 IWC member nations, but was seen by New Zealand IWC delegate Jim McLay as “a strategic move to head off a proposal to establish a South Pacific sanctuary,” around New Zealand and Australia, “which would add on to the Southern Oceans sanctuary.”

Brazil meanwhile proposed extending sanctuary status to the South Atlantic, Italy proposed making the Ligurian Sea a fin whale sanctuary, and the Indian Ocean was declared a whale sanctuary well before the Southern Oceans sanctuary was designated. The new sanctuary proposals were taken under study.

The fishing firms which own the Japanese whaling industry are interested in the money to be made from whaling–but are even more interested in guarding their ability to fish in distant waters by fighting any precedents for stronger international oceanic regulation. The IWC on May 26 restrained Japan somewhat with a resolution telling the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species not to change the “trade prohibited” status of any whale without IWC approval. Japan has been lobbying to drop minke whales and other species from the “trade prohibited” category.

Makah open path

The Makah were allowed to resume killing gray whales, after a 73-year lapse, on condition that none of the meat or byproducts be sold, though potlatch trade with other tribes is permitted. But the original Makah proposal to resume whaling, issued only hours after gray whales came off the U.S. endangered species list in 1995, spoke bluntly of reviving the former Makah commercial whaling industry, to offset reservation unemployment currently at 55%.

Timber holdings are reportedly the biggest source of tribal revenue other than government aid, but are depleted. The Makah have made little effort to develop tourism potential–including whale-watching. Many later statements by Makah Tribal Whaling Commission spokespersons left no doubt that the tribe hopes to eventually export whale meat to Japan.

Within days of the Makah whale-killing, Japan–as expected–asked the IWC to authorize “cultural” whaling by coastal
Japanese communities. The IWC refused.

The 13 tribes of the Nuu-Chah-Nulth Tribal Council in southern British Columbia reiterated their interest in whaling, too.  Canada quit the IWC in 1982. Responded B.C. premier Glen Clark, “We will not sign any agreement nor entertain any discussion about going back to the past and allowing any whale hunt in B.C. by aboriginal peoples.”

But B.C. aboriginal affairs minister Gordon Wilson speculated that B.C. might have little say in the matter if Ottawa decides to let indigenous tribes resume whaling. Nuu-Chah-Nulth Tribal Council co-chair Nelson Keitlah stated that whether Clark liked it or not, whaling would be discussed as part of upcoming treaty negotiations also pertaining to salmon fishing and logging rights.

Most B.C. tribes have never signed treaties with the Canadian government. The negotiations are intended to resolve a long list of resultant legal problems. “The Makah success certainly lays out a blueprint for us,” fellow Nu-Chah-Nulth Tribal Council co-chair Francis Frank told Alex Tizon of the Seattle Times.

Other Nuu-Chah-Nulth leaders include Tom Happynook of the Huuayaht Nation, who chairs the World Council of Whalers. Based in Port Alberni, B.C., the World Council of Whalers was formed in 1997 with Japanese and Norwegian funding, specifically to promote “cultural” whaling.

Gore cuts deals

Norway unilaterally resumed commercial whaling in coastal waters in 1994, soon after Gore, at a White House meeting with then-Norwegian prime minister Gro Brundtland, in effect agreed to trade U.S. failure to enforce the 1986 IWC moratorium on commercial whaling for the completion of a $261 million missile sale to Norway. The sale, headlined and detailed in the June and July/August 1994 editions of ANIMAL PEOPLE, helped major defense contractors in Congressional districts held by Democrats.

The Clinton/Gore administration then backed Makah whaling to the point of building the Makah a new marina; funding the Makah delegations to the IWC; funding the Makah public relations campaign; and ordering the Coast Guard to keep protesters 500 feet away from the whale-killing vessels, ostensibly so that the protesters would not harass the whales. Puyallup and Tulalip tribe supporters of the Makah were allowed much closer.

The Clinton/Gore administration claimed their support for the Makah was just a matter of respecting language in the 1855 treaty that established the Makah reservation, which granted the Makah fishing and whaling rights “such as may be enjoyed by any other citizen of the United States.”

Whaling foes hold that since other citizens of the U.S. do not have any whaling rights, the Makah should not have any, either. This contention was rejected in November 1998 by the U.S. federal court in Tacoma; the verdict is under appeal.
Cynics note, meanwhile, that the major interest Clinton and Gore have had in Native American treaty rights pertains to the operation of gambling casinos. Native-run casinos have heavily donated to the Clinton and Gore campaigns, and to other Democratic candidates.


Whether or not Gore pays a political price for the whale-killing would appear to depend mainly upon how vigorously
animal and habitat protection groups work to remind the public of his role in bringing it about. Protest vigils held in Seattle and Portland drew only about 100 people and 40 people, respectively– but opinion polls showed huge disapproval of the whale-killing.

The Seattle Times reported receiving 552 telephone calls and e-mails on the day of the killing, 71% of them opposing the Makah. Ten days later, with video of the whale’s death no longer on news broadcasts, a McLaughlin Group poll showed 82% opposed, nationwide–and found a similar balance of opinion among all ages surveyed: 89% opposed among ages 16-21, 84% opposed among ages 22-35, 77% opposed among ages 36-64 (the group most likely to have
come into political awareness during the heyday of the American Indian Movement in the 1970s), and 80% opposed among ages 65-plus. A Victoria Times-Colonist telephone poll, in the World Council of Whalers’ home town, recorded 769 respondents opposed, to just 52 favoring the Makah.


“Sea Shepherd and other whale protection advocates will now ask Congress to amend the 1855 treaty with the Makah in order to bring it into compliance with international regulations,” the Sea Shepherds pledged, suggesting that the Makah might be given land in trade for their claim to whaling rights. Senator Slade Gorton and Representative Jack Metcalf, both Republican residents of Whidbey Island in Puget Sound, indicated they would be listening.

Gorton told Peggy Andersen of Associated Press that the Makah decision to go whaling was “extraordinarily foolish, and an affront to the sensibilities of tens of millions of their fellow Americans. This is an aggressive effort by the tribes to show they can avoid the laws that govern the rest of us,” Gorton continued. “I am more convinced today than ever before that we must bring common sense back to the relationship between this country, our laws, and Native American tribes.”

Gorton’s position further split the formerly strong “wise use” Republican faction in Congress, who were already divided by disputes among fishers, farmers, and loggers over who is to blame for declining salmon runs. Aligned with farmers and loggers, Gorton on Makah whaling directly opposed Richard Pombo (R-California), a Gorton ally just four years ago in efforts to weaken the Endangered Species Act. Pombo delivered– by video–one of the welcoming speeches to the March 27-30 World Council of Whalers meeting in Reykjavik, Iceland.

Influential Democrats as well as Republicans opposed the whale-killing–and not just after the fact. On May 10, a week before the killing, the Central Committee of the Democratic Party for Los Angeles unanimously ratified a resolution adopted earlier by the Malibu Democratic Club and Malibu City Council, calling “on the Clinton and Gore administration to rescind the recent policy decisions of the Commerce Department to permit and encourage the killing of our Pacific gray whales by U.S. and Russian-based whalers,” and calling also “on the U.S. Navy and the Coast Guard, who recently facilitated the release of J.J., to abstain from giving assistance and protection to whalers who will now attempt to kill J.J. and her kin.”
Further, they resolved, “We call on all deliberative bodies of the Democratic Party to adopt resolutions similar to this.” The bipartisan opposition to whale-killing enabled Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) to push a rider through Congress as part of a budget bill which forbids beluga whale hunting in Cook Inlet, Alaska, by either of two rival indigenous factions, until they have reached a co-management agreement with the National Marine Fisheries Service. The Cook Inlet beluga population has dropped from circa 1,350 as of 1990 to as few as 275 today, as each faction presses a claim to ownership of the whaling rights. President Clinton signed the budget bill and the Stevens rider into law on May 21.

Back flips

Makah tribal chair Ben Johnson Jr. complained to media of allegedly receiving threats among 32 telephone calls of protest that the tribe answered during the first two hours after word of the whale-killing was broadcast as part of local noon news programs–and evicted KIRO Newsradio reporter Steve Knight, of Seattle, from the press conference, after Knight asked him to respond to allegations that the Makah’s claim of reverence for the dead whale were belied by
a tribe member who was seen doing back flips off the carcass.

The Coalition for Human Dignity, Daybreak Star Indian Cultural Center, Washington Association of Churches, Seattle office of the American Jewish Committee, Northwest Coalition Against Malicious Harassment, Asian-Pacific American Coalition for Equality, and Japanese American Citizens League all lined up in defense of the Makah at a May 21 press conference, emboldening Johnson and other Makah to accuse whaling opponents of racism.
Paul Watson had a quick response to that, having evaded the FBI in 1973 to enter the beseiged American Indian Movement encampment at Wounded Knee, South Dakota. Serving as a volunteer medic, Watson had a dream while there that an elder interpeted as meaning he should devote his life to saving whales. “I don’t care if the whale is being hunted by Norwegians, Japanese, Tongans, New Zealanders, or the Makah,” Watson said.  “We will oppose it.”

Watson’s best-known campaigns over the years have been against Portuguese, Russian, and Norwegian whalers, and
Canadian sealers–virtually all of them Caucasian. “The whale killing, I feel,” said Green Web founder and Native American rights advocate David Orton, “will be a turning point for environmental/aboriginal relations. A message has been sent that it is all right to kill whales for ‘cultural’ reasons.

This is a massive setback, not only for the whales, but for all those who have worked to end whaling. And it is a setback for those who have worked to change the dominant view of automatically treating wildlife as a ‘resource’ for humankind. I believe it is also a setback for those aboriginals who see that seeking social and ecological restorative justice must include building alliances with non-aboriginals.”

While most Native American groups either backed the Makah or kept silent, the First Nations Environmental Network declared on May 19 that, “At this point in human history, we feel that spiritually and morally, killing whales cannot be justified.”

The war at sea

The Sea Shepherds were the first animal-and/or-habitat protection organization to respond to the Makah whaling proposal back in 1995, and had maintained an on-the-water vigil at Neah Bay almost continuously since September 1998, attempting to prevent the whale-killing, but were miles away when the killing finally occurred.

Explained the May 17 Sea Shepherd release, “The Sea Shepherd patrol boat Sirenian had gone to the San Juan Islands to refuel and pick up three more small vessels [to replace three the Coast Guard had confiscated] on Sunday night. To evade activists, the Makah went out on an early tide,” instead of later in the day, as they did previously.

Until they learned of the killing, the Sea Shepherds and other protesters were jubilant over their success in preventing a whale-killing on May 15.

As of 8:35 a.m. on the 15th, according to a Sea Shepherd e-mail, “a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration boat, two Coast Guard cutters, three planes, and two helicopters” were “trying to help the Makah to kill whales. A whale was struck once with a harpoon,” but the harpoon glanced off the whale’s tail flukes. The Coast Guard armada was later described as “a large cutter, three 40-foot support craft, two Zodiacs (a motorized inflatable raft), and two helicopters.”

Either way, as Paul Watson said afterward, “It was David against Goliath. The Coast Guard arrested everyone else on the water and seized their boats on every charge they could think of, until The Sirenian and the West Coast Anti-Whaling Society’s boats were the only ones left. But we still prevented the Makah from taking a whale,” during a nine-and-a-half-hour running war of nerves.

The first person arrested was Cheryl Rorabeck-Siler, a high school science teacher from Nehalem, Oregon, who saw the Makah approaching a whale and tried to stay between the whale and the killers on a Jet Ski as other protesters sped to the scene from the temporary anti-whaling headquarters at Seiku, 18 miles away. Rorabeck-Siler and her husband Bret Siler were arrested and fined for similar actions against the desultory Makah whaling effort of October and November 1998.

Heats up

The action heated up at 10:10 a.m., according to a series of Sea Shepherd dispatches, when “a Sea Shepherd Zodiac got between a whale and the Makah canoe,” where it “blocked a harpoon shot. The Zodiac chased off the kill boat. Sea Shepherd activists Lisa Distefano and Alison Lance were arrested, charged with gross negligence, and released,” facing up to a year in prison each and fines of $5,000. “Their Zodiac was seized. Sea Shepherd supporter Scott Hopper was taken into custody,” the Sea Shepherd account continued. Hopper’s boat also was seized.

By 11:10 a.m., the Coast Guard was enforcing a moving exclusionary zone of 500 feet from the Makah vessels.
“The Makah have failed in numerous attempted harpoon strikes,” the Sea Shepherds reported. “One shot from their
.50-caliber machine gun was fired at a diving whale. Two members of the Sea Defense Alliance were charged with coming too close to a whale. Their boat was seized, but they came back with another boat.”

Complained Makah whaling captain Wayne Johnson to news media, “They’re harassing the whale.” Responded Paul Watson, “These guys want to blow a whale apart with a .50-caliber gun, and are concerned that we might get
too close to a whale?”

Exactly how many shots the Makah fired on May 15 was later disputed. Elaborated the Sea Shepherds on the evening of the 15th, “Early in the morning, the whalers, trying for a quick kill with no media present, dispensed with the harpoon and fired their anti-tank gun at a whale. The shot missed. After media arrived, the Makah did not fire the weapon again, and denied having done so, although Sea Shepherd photographers videotaped the hunters firing the gun.

The Sirenian found two dead sea lions in the water, presumed to have been victims of Makah target practice”–though the Makah are scarcely the only fishers on Puget Sound who are known to kill sea lions when able, as alleged rivals in catching fish. The May 15 skirmishes came four days after the arrests of Sea Defense Alliance activists Jacob Conroy, 23, and Joshua Harper, 24, by Clallam County sheriff’s deputies, for investigation of alleged assault. Conroy and Harper were accused of throwing smoke bombs, shooting flares, shouting threats, and spraying fire extinguishers
at the Makah crew, soon after the Makah made their first attempt to spear a whale. SeDnA spokesperson Jonathan Paul countered that the Makah had wrongly accused them of having weapons aboard their vessel, The Bulletproof.

The Sea Shepherds missed that fracas, as The Sirenian was en route to Seattle for repairs, while a larger Sea Shepherd vessel, the Whales Forever, scheduled to sail to Iceland to protest the Icelandic announcement of a resumption of commercial whaling, was disabled by an engine problem and inability to obtain replacement
parts. ANIMAL PEOPLE had observed earlier in May that apparent Native American lookouts seemed to have the Sea Shepherd docking area at Friday Harbor under constant surveillance.

BOOKS: Spectacular Nature: Corporate Culture and the Sea World Experience

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, June 1999:

Spectacular Nature: Corporate Culture and the Sea World Experience
by Susan G. Davis
University of California Press (Berkeley, CA 94720), 1997.
313 pages, paperback; $18.95.

Spectacular Nature author Susan G. Davis spent eight years studying Sea World at San Diego, 1987-1995. ANIMAL PEOPLE spent under eight hours, on May 7, 1999–but it was time enough to confirm her impressions.

An associate professor of communications at the University of California in San Diego, Davis approached her project as an investigation of the interface between social values and corporate-created public space. In so doing, she applied the late media critic Marshall McLuhan’s pronouncement that “the medium is the message” to studying Sea World not only as a vehicle for providing information and entertainment, but also as a statement in itself.

Davis asked first, “What story does this medium tell?” Second, she inquired into the relationship between the Sea World story–an often-changing discussion of how humans interact with nature–and the facts. Of particular value, Davis traced how both the story and the facts have evolved since Sea World opened in 1964.

As Davis describes with a wealth of historical and contextual detail, the Sea World story has been personified since 1965 by “Shamu,” to the extent that if the park had not been founded with a different name and theme, it might be called “Shamu World.” The initial Sea World theme, however, was “Pan-Pacific,” chosen to emphasize San Diego as a gateway to Hawaii, Japan, and Polynesia, and as a destination which in itself offered comparable touristic attractions. Civic leaders and investors hoped Sea World would help San Diego to build an image as a wholesome place for families, countering a history of serving and servicing soldiers and sailors on leave.


Got out of Vietnam
But the Pan-Pacific theme ran into trouble within less than a year. The escalating Vietnam War brought more soldiers and sailors than ever through the local Navy bases and the Marine Corps base at nearby Camp Pendleton. Artificial South Pacific foliage reminded visitors too much of Southeast Asia.

Shamu was originally just the name of one of the first captive orcas. Arriving in 1965 and installed in the tank now
occupied by sea lions and harbor seals, his presence not only proved popular, but also permitted the first of many “re-themings,” as Davis calls the ongoing process of amendments to the Sea World story to make it more popular and profitable. Shamu became a dramatic personna, played by a succession of other orcas, as well as by human narrators who speak for “Shamu” in the accompanying screen show.

Davis traces the evolution of Sea World through three phases, mirroring recent American corporate history. First came the partnership of private investment with public subsidy, a combination characterizing most major development in the
U.S. during the latter half of the 20th century.The second phase, after Sea World was acquired by Harcourt Brace Jovanovich in 1977, was corporate raiding to create quick profits. HBJ bought Sea World along with two other formerly
independent marine theme parks, trying to create an empire which never quite came together; repeatedly downsized staff and investment; bought out and liquidated Marineland of the Pacific in 1987, thereby disposing of Sea World’s closest thematic rival; and finally sold the whole Sea World chain to Anheuser-Busch in 1989, as part of reconfiguring holdings to stave off an attempted hostile takeover by British financier Robert Maxwell.

The third phase, under Anheuser-Busch, is the era of the multi-national conglomerate, within which “theming” creates a marketable culture. Culture, traditionally, is both a process of self-definition and of exclusion–and as such, is too often the rationale for cruelty and exploitation. Multinational conglomerates offer the hope and possibility of undercutting cruel and exploitive national and regional cultures by inducing all the world to buy humane, ecological, and egalitarian values instead. But for this hope to flower, such values must be what the theme-oriented multinationals sell.

M-i-c-k-e-y M-o-u-s-e

The Walt Disney entertainment empire, after which Sea World was loosely modeled, has emphasized positive values from the beginning. “Be kind, be honest, be brave, be hopeful, be true to yourself, and especially be kind to animals” form the moral focus of virtually every Disney production, of any kind. The message may at times be inconsistent, yet much less so than the dissonance within any national or ethnic culture between how one treats “us” versus how one treats “them.”

Sea World, on the other hand, began without an inherent moral theme, and has struggled ever since to convincingly develop one.

“As the reader will have no trouble telling,” Davis writes, “Spectacular Nature has a political reference point. A basic premise of this work is that theme parks and tourist attractions are never mere entertainment and recreation…Selectively interpreting reality to and for their customers, the park’s producers try to discover and respond to what they think their customers want. In the case of Sea World, the reality to be interpreted is named marine nature…The popular environmental politics of the 1980s and early 1990s increasingly forced the theme park’s managers to perceive their customers as ‘caring about’ nature, animals, and the environment, and it encouraged them to align the park’s entertainments the same caring way.”

But the transition from an early emphasis on hula dancers to the decades of Shamu-as-tamed-killer to the present eco theming did not come easily, willingly, or because Sea World management had evident interest in moral leadership.

Walt Disney taught “Be kind to animals” because he believed in the message. His confidence in his ability to sell the public on kindness toward animals was certainly reinforced by the financial success of Snow White, Bambi, Dumbo, and 101 Dalmatians, but challenging sport hunting, circus cruelty, and the fur industry in the 1940s and 1950s were nothing that marketing experts would have encouraged him to do.

As to Sea World, Davis explains, “A series of deaths and serious accidents involving the orcas and their trainers in the late 1980s forced” the park “to adopt a very aggressive strategy of portraying itself as a rational, educational institution …Changes in both dimensions responded to public pressure.”

Today, Davis notes, “Sea World’s managers talk explicitly about their whale shows as a close-to-home, affordably priced nature tourism opportunity; they speak of their entertainments as not only informative but a useful form of conservation action.” But Sea World does not provoke much deep thought about either nature or conservation–at least not on purpose.

“In the Sea World view,” Davis continues, “the major threat to the environment is from careless individuals who litter, or just don’t care. And although Anheuser-Busch presents itself as a solidly pro-conservation corporation, what forms even conservation–a very limited, protective strategy–takes are unclear. Does the biosphere need to be protected from human exploitation for the short or long term? Who is conservation for, and what is it for? Are the world’s natural resources fairly distributed? These matters trouble American public opinion, but Sea World is quiet about them. At the same time, however, displays that stress the research activities of the sponsors imply that particular companies and business in general are prudent stewards…Here the work of Sea World becomes almost circular: the theme park is a way for corporate America to make public its own free market environmental views…Sea World is not so much a substitute for nature,” a notion Davis explores several times from different angles, “as it is an opinion about it, an attempt to convince a broad public that nature is going to be all right. Even when its exhibits say nothing about benevolent corporations, they are literal models of stewardship proposing a version of nature that is at once a reassurance and promise. The dioramas, aquariums, and whole environments provide a model of what nature should be: remote, pure, balanced, and teeming with life,” in manufactured perfection.

Hit the road, jack

Sea World at San Diego recently added videotaped remarks by television personality Jack Hanna to the Shamu show–the same Jack Hanna who as director of the Columbus Zoo, 1978-1992, was ousted from the American Zoo Association for flouting conservation rules, obliging the zoo to make him “director emeritus” parallel to regaining accreditation. This is also the same Jack Hanna who endorsed dove hunting in October 1998, helping to defeat an
initiative effort to reinstate an Ohio ban on shooting doves that had stood (with one brief interruption) for 75 years.

Other examples of questionable corporate sincerity about professed concern for animals and nature are many, despite the strong Sea World record in rehabilitating and releasing stranded marine mammals, including J.J. the grey whale, and literally hundreds of manatees. Some manatees whose injuries from power boats were so severe that they could not be released are exhibited at Sea World San Diego; many others are at Sea World Orlando.

Sea World must be credited with many positive accomplishments, especially in stranding rescue. Yet the dearth of vegetarian food on the San Diego concessionaires’ menus, for instance–in a city and state where vegetarian burgers are standard items–seems calculated to exclude people who care deeply about animals and nature. And the Sea World San Diego animal exhibits, except for the capacious orca tanks, are no better and often not even as good as
those for the same species at much smaller institutions such as the Tacoma-Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium, the Vancouver Aquarium, and Marine World.

Right there in San Diego, a visit to the San Diego Zoo or Wild Animal Park would cost most families far less. A paradox of Sea World, as Davis notes in passing, is that while the resident orcas are always called “killer whales,” to emphasize their ability to deal death, the scientific staff are not allowed to exhibit skeletons, lest the public be reminded that the
original Shamu and many others are dead.

An important inaccuracy of the Shamu shows, overlooked by Davis, is the implication that the performing orcas are of the pods who beach themselves deliberately in order to ambush seals and sea lions. Those orcas actually live in the southern hemisphere; those at Sea World are all from fish-eating northern hemisphere pods. Not mentioned is that there are other orca pods who specialize in eating sharks, and still others who may prey chiefly on other whales. Orca
feeding habits are in fact learned behavior, just as much as the tricks that the staff carefully calls “behaviors” to avoid reminding viewers that whether or not anything they are seeing is cruel to the animals (who seem to enjoy performing), it most certainly isn’t nature.


But Davis did pick up the most telling paradox of corporate-created culture: the major criticism thereof may also be
manufactured. “Time-Warner,” Davis explains, “owner of the Six Flags parks, has done well with action/adventure films starring a killer whale named Keiko,” helping “invent a ‘Free Keiko/Free Willy’ rehabilitation campaign that not surprisingly also promotes the film products” while attacking a rival.

Small wonder that spokespersons for Pepsi-Cola, the exclusive Sea World soft drink concessionaire, have incorrectly
intimated in correspondence that Coca-Cola may be behind Steve Hindi’s boycott of Pepsi in protest of Pepsi advertising in Mexican and Spanish bullrings. Cultures have rarely understood or accepted individual dissent from prescribed values. But unlike national and ethnic cultures, which may lethally repress dissent, corporate cultures do
respond–however grudgingly–to slumping sales.

Big as it is, Sea World San Diego reportedly draws just a fraction as many visitors as Disneyland; Sea World Orlando, with 4.9 million visitors in 1998, almost got to a third as many as Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom, which drew 15.6 million.

We suspect Sea World has much retheming yet to do before any theme there but making money holds resonance. The current ambiance is that of the Club Med of roadside petting zoos. At Sea World San Diego, for instance, a visibly obese dolphin haunts the end of a pool shared with many more active dolphins to claim frequent handouts from visitors, who buy fish from a concession stand. The plants in carefully tended ornamental gardens are clearly identified in signs, as part of the permanent theming of “well-tamed nature,” but two turacos caged beside a restroom are not identified at all, as if to say they are not “theme,” not an advertised species, and therefore do not matter.

The Sea World management, however, appears to be moving even more in the “Club Med of roadside zoos” direction. Petting pools, trainer-for-a-day, and swim-with-dolphins programs are to be emphasized at Discovery Cove, a 30-acre Sea World spin-off under construction just south of Sea World Orlando. Admission will be by reservation, at $150-$250 per person per day. Attendance will be limited to 1,200-1,500 visitors daily, or half a million a year.

Competition from Sea World and other upscale marine mammal exhibition venues long since combined with growing concern for animal welfare to close the old feed-a-dolphin roadside pools and lagoons that 30 years ago lined the Florida coast. The Discovery Cove publicity materials, however, hint that they didn’t so much vanish as metamorphize, from mom-and-pop initiative into big business, better able to invest in the eyewash to convince the public that
exploiting captive wildlife is really okay.

Indeed, the conditions for marine mammals at any Sea World facility are now far better than at any of the mom-and-pop dolphin sites, and Sea World pool sizes even make most other major oceanariums look miniscule. But, claiming to set higher standards, Sea World can also expect ongoing criticism for failures. Years ago, no one noticed when a captive marine mammal died. It was easy to call every orca “Shamu” and never be questioned. These days, any orca death is an event–like the May 5 demise from an as-yet-unknown cause of Katerina, age 10, at Sea World San Antonio. Born in Orlando, she was the first death among the 12 Sea World-bred orcas who have reached adulthood.

Said Sea World vice president for training David Force, responding to questions from Tom Bower of the San Antonio
Express-News, “Before Sea World opened, people were indiscriminately killing killer whales and dolphins. Zoological
facilities are providing an educational opportunity, and as a result, people want to protect the environment for these animals. This stems from an understanding on their part that was learned at Sea World.”

So long as Sea World success coincides with success in protecting wild marine mammals, Sea World has a strong self-justification, no matter what the ambiance and how soft the conservation message. As global protection of marine mammals unravels, however, Sea World and other exhibitors must either speak against the killing, or continue to be targeted by frustrated activists as not only a perceived part of the problem, but also the part closest to hand, most vulnerable to protest.

No one realistically expects Sea World to screen the gore of the Japanese and Norwegian whale hunts, nor of the Canadian seal hunt, nor even to show the footage of the Makah spearing a female gray whale just a little older than J.J., which most Americans may already have seen on news broadcasts. Yet instead of mouthing platitudes about the alleged spiritual importance of killer whales to northwestern Native Americans, Jack Hanna could succinctly explain how the Makah kicked the door open to renewed “cultural” whaling worldwide. He could explain how the Makah whale-killing marked another triumph of the blueprint for reviving “sustainable” whaling that Vice President Albert Gore brought to the White House and first demonstrated in 1993-1994, as Gore in effect brokered silence on Norwegian whaling for the successful completion of a $261 million missile sale to Norway. (ANIMAL PEOPLE outlined the Gore deal, role, and strategy at length in our June and July/August 1994 editions, quoting the transcript of a White House meeting between Gore and then-Norwegian prime minister Gro Brundtland, but mass media never did pick up the
story. )
If Hanna and Sea World had adequate sincerity and fortitude on behalf of whales, they could tell the American people just how the hope and promise of 35 years of Shamu exhibitions has been politically betrayed. A few well-chosen sentences, integrated into the existing script, could reach a broader audience than all the advocacy group mailings on marine mammal topics combined.

But Hanna comes from Tennessee too. “Sustainable use” is also part of his philosophy. And Anheuser-Busch didn’t hire him to alarm the public.


From ANIMAL PEOPLE, June 1999:

Sue Avanzino, 56, wife of
Maddie’s Fund president and former San
Francisco SPCA president Richard Avanzino,
died in April from advanced breast cancer.
Recalled Richard Avanzino, “Sue not only
shared her heart and home with me, our three
children Lisa, Amy and Scott, our son-in-law
Joe, and two grandchildren, Michael and
Alexander, but also for 31 years shared my
passion for animals and waged her own personal
campaign on behalf of needy pets. She
fostered underage kittens, rescued stray cats
and dogs, and operated a quasi-adoption
satellite shelter from our home in Moraga,
California. Throughout her life, Sue maintained
an open door policy, not only for her
children’s friends, other family members,
and neighbors, but also for any cats or dogs
in need of shelter, a warm meal and loving
care. In fact, Cricket, a feline companion
who spent 17 years with us, just walked
through the front door one day and never left.

Read more


From ANIMAL PEOPLE, June 1999:

Gidget, 14, a grouchy tabby, fond
of dogs but not of most cats, died in her sleep
on the night of May 8, after a short illness.
Thrown from a car in Monroe, Connecticut,
at about three months of age, Gidget was rescued
and named by Easton animal lover Bobbi
Edwards, but refused to stay in Edwards’
home with her other animals. Instead, Gidget
repeatedly fled to a nearby barn. After Kim
Bartlett moved into a cottage attached to the
barn in September 1986, Gidget ate on
Bartlett’s porch, where she met her first feline
friend, Keeter, a feral; walked often with
Bartlett and her dog Zooky; and held her own
in spats with raccoons and opossums. Moving
to Shushan, New York, in 1992, Gidget
enjoyed indoor privileges but continued to prefer
the outside. One evening a coyote who
was suspected of having already eaten at least
nine feral cats made a move on her––but while
all other cats the coyote had encountered
apparently bolted, and were caught from
behind, Gidget spat in his face with a snarl
that brought the whole household running.
Whatever she did next caused the coyote to
shriek and race like a flash up the nearest
mountain, without a backward glance, never
to return, as Gidget strutted to greet her people
and other astonished cats. Mellowing
slightly as she aged, Gidget became a role
model for Alfred the Great, the most political
cat in the house, who followed behind, learning
to emulate her growl and swagger, convincing
younger cats he was a great fighter
even though he never won an altercation with
any other cat in his life. Relocating to Clinton,
Washington, in 1996, Gidget became chiefly
an indoor cat, enjoying the ANIMAL PEOPLE
circulation basket as her special sleeping
place, and acquiring from Wolf, then age six,
the honorary title “Devil of the Boss Cats.”

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