Long before the 2013 anti-whale-captivity movie “Blackfish” and Thursday’s hearing on a proposed bill to ban whale captivity, Washington has been home to opposition of using wild whales for display and entertainment in aquariums.
OLYMPIA — Long before the 2013 anti-whale-captivity movie “Blackfish” and Thursday’s hearing on a bill to ban whale captivity, Washington made known its opposition to capturing wild whales for display and entertainment in aquariums.
On Budd Inlet behind the Capitol in 1976, SeaWorld used explosives to catch a group of orcas within 100 yards of former Secretary of State Ralph Munro, who was then a legislative aide for former Gov. Dan Evans, and out on the water that day.
Former U.S. Sen. Slade Gorton,Washington’s attorney general at the time, sued SeaWorld in response. The sides eventually settled, the whales were released and SeaWorld agreed never to catch orcas in Washington again.
“They were run out of here on a rail,” Munro said at Thursday’s hearing.
Most Read Local Stories
- Seattle-area protests: March during sixth day of action after George Floyd's killing draws massive crowd around City Hall
- Coronavirus daily news updates, June 3: What to know today about COVID-19 in the Seattle area, Washington state and the world
- Coronavirus daily news updates, June 4: What to know today about COVID-19 in the Seattle area, Washington state and the world
- Don't buy the 'outside agitator' trope: Arrest records suggest Seattle's riot was more likely homegrown
- Seattle-area protests: Protesters remain on Capitol Hill on seventh day of action after George Floyd's killing
The bill, sponsored by state Sen. Kevin Ranker, D-Orcas Island, is largely symbolic, since no orcas or other cetaceans are currently captive or on display in Washington.
With SeaWorld’s past failures in Washington, Ranker said he was surprised to hear that representatives of SeaWorld planned to testify against Senate Bill 5666 in Olympia. He noted that SeaWorld and others are worried that if the bill passes, it will give momentum to the anti-captivity movement and affect aquariums and zoos in other states.
“We don’t need this sort of operation up here,” Ranker said in an interview. “It’s disappointing that they’re taking the time to come up here.”
The Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums which represents SeaWorld, Miami’s Seaquarium, and other zoos, aquariums and research centers, testified that controlled research on cetaceans in captivity is essential and much of it is impossible in a wild setting. That research is essential to conservation efforts, the alliance argued.
“My mother, a schoolteacher, knew that trips to zoos and aquariums were important to introduce her daughters to the other species who share this Earth with us,” said Rita Irwin, the alliance’s incoming president.
Scientists, professors and citizens testified in favor of the bill, including Carol Ray, a former SeaWorld trainer who appeared in “Blackfish.”
Brian Goodremont from San Juan Safaris and the Pacific Whale Watch Association (PWWA) is against whale captivity and has been in the whale-watching businesses for 15 years. The industry is thriving, and Michael Harris, director of the PWWA estimated his association of businesses (18 in Washington) has seen 15 percent growth in the last two years.
“I grew up with the wildlife ethics through my family that the best place to view wildlife is in their natural environment with no or very little impact on their natural functions or life cycle,” Goodremont said. “From a professional standpoint I think it’s most interesting to view those animals in their natural environment.”
“Southern resident” killer whales that frequent state waters were added to the endangered species list in 2005.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the average wild male orca lives 30 years with a maximum of 60 years. Females can live to 100. A captive orca lives a much shorter life, according to the Center for Whale Research. The center cites the PWWA as corporate members.
Lolita, an orca taken from Penn Cove in 1970 to Miami’s Seaquarium was recently declared endangered by the NOAA and a legal battle is expected over her potential return to the Puget Sound.
“We just think that it’s a tsunami of public perception against the idea of keeping whales and dolphins in captivity in the care of humans,” Harris said.
“You can’t keep an animal that travels 100 miles a day in the care of humans because that’s not caring for them.”