About the Whale Sanctuary Project
The mission of the Whale Sanctuary Project is to establish a model seaside sanctuary where whales and dolphins can be rehabilitated or can live permanently in an environment that maximizes well-being and autonomy and is as close as possible to their natural habitat.
- To assemble a group of experts in the fields of marine mammal science and behavior, veterinary medicine, husbandry, engineering, law and policy, who can lay the groundwork for the creation of permanent cetacean sanctuaries.
- To produce a plan that can inform the work of any organization whose purpose will be to build and manage such sanctuaries and ensure their financial sustainability.
- To establish sanctuary site selection criteria and begin the process of identifying suitable locations.
- To communicate relevant information about its work, when appropriate, to all stakeholders involved in the field of marine mammal protection, and to the public.
- To serve as a repository of objective, scientifically-sound expertise to support the development and implementation of cetacean sanctuary initiatives.
- To encourage and inspire other facilities to adopt practices that enhance and optimize the quality of life of individual cetaceans in their care.
This is a concept image of the seaside sanctuary we’ll be creating. The actual site has not yet been selected.
The goal is to offer captive orcas and beluga whales a natural environment that maximizes their opportunities for autonomy, exploration, play, rest, and socializing. For more details about the elements we take into consideration as we review our sites of interest, please see this post.
What is the Whale Sanctuary Project?
It is the first organization focused solely on creating seaside sanctuaries in North America for whales, dolphins, and porpoises who are being retired from entertainment facilities or have been rescued from the ocean and need rehabilitation or permanent care.
Why is it so important to build seaside sanctuaries for dolphins and whales?
While there has been a sea change in public attitudes toward keeping these highly intelligent and socially complex animals in concrete tanks for the purposes of entertainment, there is still no possibility of retiring them since there’s nowhere for them to go. Seaside sanctuaries will change that.
Can’t you just release all these animals into the open ocean?
While we would like to see all captive animals returned to their native habitat, this is not always possible, especially for those who have been born in captivity and have never experienced life in the ocean with their own family. They need lifetime care where they can thrive in a natural setting that’s as close as possible to what they would experience in the wild.
Injured or stranded individuals will be treated and assessed, and every effort will be made to release them.
Where will the first sanctuary be located?
Site selection is one of the most critical aspects of creating a sanctuary for cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises). Orcas and belugas are cold-water animals, so our search for the ideal location has been focused on the coasts of Washington State, British Columbia and Nova Scotia.
By the end of 2017, and out of literally thousands of possible sites in these regions, we had narrowed the list down to half a dozen that meet all the criteria. And we are now conducting very detailed onsite inspections
How much will it cost?
That depends on where it’s located and what kind of infrastructure may need to be built. A rough guesstimate would be in the region of $20 million. And then there’s the long-term care of the animals, which we’ll be looking to cover through endowments, sustaining donations, and other revenue-generating opportunities like educational materials and programs.
The project was launched with an initial donation of $200,000 from Munchkin, Inc., the global baby product company. The company has pledged a total of at least $1 million toward completion of the first sanctuary.
Isn’t it more important to put money into conservation work for whales and dolphins in the wild?
Conservation is important, too, and many of the people who are involved in The Whale Sanctuary Project are also involved in conservation efforts. However, this particular project is about restoring something we humans have taken from these highly intelligent, socially complex animals by forcing them to live in captivity for our entertainment and amusement.
SeaWorld refers to seaside sanctuaries as “sea cages.” They say they will never transfer their whales to an organization like yours.
A seaside sanctuary is entirely different from a “sea cage” or even a sea pen captive facility. We’re encouraged, however, by the fact that SeaWorld has already taken the important step of bringing an end to the breeding of their captive orcas, and we’re confident that in due course we’ll be able to have a mutually constructive dialog. They have a lot of expertise in providing care for these species, and we’d welcome the opportunity to work together in providing the kind of care these animals will still need at a sanctuary.
We also believe that such partnerships are increasingly in the business interests of captive facilities.
Will seaside sanctuaries be open to the public?
Yes, people will be able to visit them at regularly scheduled times. Bear in mind, though, that a sanctuary is not an entertainment facility, so the needs of the whales will always be the priority.
Will you offer any outreach, educational or conservation programs?
Yes. We’ll be developing scientifically validated information and educational materials for different audiences. Some of our advisors are already involved with companies that are developing state-of-the-art virtual reality displays that offer a remarkable experience of an orca’s life in the ocean.
How can I be involved in the Whale Sanctuary Project?
Keep the conversation going: on social media, with friends and family, at school and in the workplace. On the website, you can subscribe to our newsletter and donate to the Whale Sanctuary Project. And if you have skills that you think would be of particular value, please contact us.
There are many urgent causes. Why should this one matter to people?
Throughout history, great teachers from every culture have encouraged us to treat others as we would want to be treated in their place. By restoring to these amazing animals the ability to live their lives according to their own nature, we dignify not only them but also ourselves. We need a new, more respectful relationship with wildlife and nature if we wish to survive on Earth. Sanctuaries like this can help build that relationship.