SeaWorld trainer death & Oscar for “The Cove” convince Solomon Islands dealer to free his dolphin inventory
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, April 2010:
ORLANDO, HOLLYWOOD (Calif.), VICTORIA–A third fatality
involving the captive orca Tillikum and an Academy Award for
anti-marine mammal captivity activist Ric O’Barry convinced Solomon
Islands dolphin broker Chris Porter to seek O’Barry’s help in
releasing the last 17 dolphins in his unsold inventory.
Porter captured as many as 170 dolphins in 2003 and about 50
in 2007, 83 of whom were eventually sold to resorts in Dubai and
Cancun, Mexico. Pending sale, the dolphins were kept in heavily
guarded sea pens at Fanalei on the island of Malaita.
“I have decided to release the remaining animals back to the
wild,” Porter confirmed to Judith Lavoie of the Victoria Times
Colonist during a late March 2010 visit to his part-time home in
Victoria, British Columbia. “It’s driven by the incident with
Tilikum. I’m disillusioned with the industry,” Porter said.
Porter trained Tilikum at Sealand of the Pacific in Victoria
before going into the dolphin capture business. In 1991 Tillikum and
two other Sealand orcas battered and drowned trainer Keltie Byrne,
20, during a water show. All three orcas were sold to SeaWorld when
Sealand went out of business in November 1992.
“Tilikum was also involved in a 1999 death,” reported
Associated Press writer Mike Schneider, “when the body of a man who
sneaked by Orlando SeaWorld security was found draped over him. The
man jumped, fell or was pulled into the frigid water and died of
hypothermia, though he was also bruised and scratched by Tilikum.”
Tilikum on February 24, 2009 seized trainer Dawn Brancheau,
40, by her ponytail as she lay on a submerged ledge facing him during
a show, pulled her into the water, grabbed her waist in his mouth,
and killed her much as Byrne was killed, inflicting multiple
traumatic injuries while repeatedly dunking and shaking her.
Wrote Heather Moore for the web portal Care2, “Although a
judge ruled that the video footage showing the attack won’t be made
public, Brancheau’s autopsy report was released recently. According
to the six-page report, Brancheau’s left arm and part of her scalp
were ripped off, she suffered spinal cord injuries, her ribs were
broken, as were bones in her legs, arms, and face, she had
bruises and cuts all over her body, and ultimately, she was
Some of the dolphins whom Porter captured and sold have died.
Many remain in captivity, including in Dubai–but anti-capitivity
activism in March 2010 persuaded the state-owned Dubai World resort
complex to release a whale shark captured in 2008.
Porter is calling the Solomon Islands release project Free-the-Pod.
Wrote Lavoie, “News that Tillikum had killed a trainer at
SeaWorld Orlando was a shock, showing trainers have been unable to
provide for the needs of such an intelligent animal, Porter said.
Another catalyst was the Oscar-winning documentary The Cove,”
produced and directed by Louie Psihoyos, starring O’Barry, “which
shows the bloody capture and slaughter of dolphins” at Taiji, Japan.
O’Barry flew to the Solomon Islands at the beginning of April
2010 to assess the dolphins’ prospects for successful release. If
O’Barry believes Free-the-Pod will succeed, Lavoie wrote, O’Barry’s
son Lincoln O’Barry will film the work for Animal Planet.
ANIMAL PEOPLE editor Merritt Clifton, at O’Barry’s request,
facilitated a day-long Internet discussion of the Solomon Islands
captures between O’Barry and Porter on the Fourth of July 2007.
Porter then argued that the captures were saving dolphins from being
hunted for meat and their teeth, which have ceremonial exchange
value in the Solomons. O’Barry pressed Porter to account for more
than 120 dolphins who were known to have been captured, but were not
known to have been sold.
O’Barry captured and trained dolphins for the Miami
Seaquarium and the Flipper television series from the late 1950s
until about a decade later, but came to view the dolphin exhibition
industry as inherently inhumane. Becoming a vegetarian in atonement,
O’Barry tried unsuccessfully to release a captive dolphin in the
Bahamas on Earth Day 1970. Learning from that experience, O’Barry
has now successfully released dolphins on five continents. His
anti-captivity organization, the Dolphin Project, is now part of
Earth Island Institute, which also was the initial umbrella for the
now defunct Free Willy/Keiko Foundation.
Deeming the orca star of the Free Willy film trilogy a poor
candidate for release, O’Barry was not involved in the 11-year, $20
million effort that eventually released Keiko in the North Atlantic,
only months before his death in a Norwegian fjord in 2003.
But throughout that time–and beginning more than a decade
earlier– O’Barry has worked to draw attention to the Taiji dolphin
massacres. Originally conducted as meat hunts, and to eliminate
competition to catch fish, the Taiji dolphin roundups became hugely
profitable after the killers discovered that they could sell choice
specimens to dolphin exhibitors.
Psihoyos in The Cove showed the dolphin killing, the role of
the captivity industry money in perpetuating it, O’Barry’s long
campaign against it, and his own efforts to film it, using hidden
cameras and the help of seven-time world free-diving champion
Mandy-Rae Cruickshank to clandestinely place cameras underwater.
The Cove won a string of international awards, culminating
on March 7, 2010 with the Oscar for best documentary film of 2009.
While Psihoyos accepted the award, O’Barry held up a sign asking
viewers to send him a text message to receive further information
about helping to stop the Taiji massacres.
But Psihoyos and crew upstaged their own Oscar by setting up
a sting during the Academy Awards preliminaries at The Hump, a Santa
Monica sushi restaurant that The Cove director of clandestine
operations Charles Hambleton had heard was serving whale meat. Two
vegan activists posing as food thrill-seekers wore miniature cameras
and microphones to a $600 dinner that included whale meat. They
collected samples. Marine Mammal Institute associate director Scott
Baker identified the samples as having come from a sei whale, a
species hunted by Japanese research whalers in the North Pacific.
The Hump closed, permanently, after federal charges of
violating the Marine Mammal Protection Act were filed against the
owner and chef on March 20.