The goal of the proposed sanctuary is to offer captive orcas and beluga whales a natural environment that maximizes their opportunities for autonomy, exploration, play, rest, and socializing.
Considerations as we evaluate any site include the physical and environmental nature of the site itself, and access to fresh water and electric power; whether sanctuary residents might be affected by local wildlife and vice versa; and the concerns of the local community, including commercial and recreational interests.
Sanctuary environment: Instead of being surrounded by sterile concrete tank walls, the whales will live in a dynamic, complex physical world that has a natural sandy shore and is home to many kinds of plants and animals with whom they can interact.
Here are some of the high-level environmental criteria for a whale sanctuary site. (We can be flexible on some of these if there is no negative impact on the whales’ well-being.)
Space: The sanctuary will be a netted off area like a bay or cove. Our sites of interest all have 100 acres (40 hectares) of water space. That’s 484,000 square yards, compared to the 1,100 square yards of the large display tank at a typical high-end marine entertainment park.
Depth: A minimum average depth of 50 feet (15 meters) over roughly half of the space.
Shape: A cove, bay, inlet, series of islands or one island and a mainland coast. The shape can be flexible, but size and shape need to allow for segmentation to separate whales when necessary.
Sites of interest must demonstrate:
- Water temperature range of approximately 0°–20° C and salinity in the range of 24-35 ppm;
- Protection from extreme weather and tides;
- No solid ice over extensive parts of water surface area;
- Avoidance of sewage or pollutants (chemical or acoustic);
- Good flushing rate;
- Utilities and infrastructure
- Bottom topography and substrate: no specific kind required.
Sanctuary facilities will include:
- The main enclosure;
- An isolation area for new residents;
- Rehabilitation and veterinary care areas.
Beyond the sanctuary: We are conducting rigorous environmental impact assessments at our locations of interest to ensure that there will be no negative effects on wildlife in and around the sanctuary or in the ocean beyond.
The first phase of building will include necessary infrastructure needed to care for residents. This includes the enclosure barriers, infrastructure, lab, medical and sanitation services, food prep services, security, and animal care staff facilities.
Future phases will provide for internship programs, visitors as appropriate to the location, and the kind of equipment (including land and water-based webcams) that will enhance broad and interactive educational outreach.