Like most Vancouverites, I was in awe. I wished desperately to leave work to go see. When the whale was spotted again, the next morning, I spread the word - we have a second chance! We must go look for Anthony! (By this point, my coworkers and I had gotten into a heated debate over the name of Mr. Grey Whale, who everyone agreed was a ‘he.’ Our cook suggested ‘Kirk.’ I suggested ‘Anthony.’ Naturally, as this is my blog, I will record my pick as victorious.)
Anthony the Whale, while a giant and amazing creature, had a visible spine along his rising hump, and all thoughts, beyond ‘Oh my god! A whale! How cool!’ have been of his sad and sobering story. Five grey whales have washed up along Washington State and Vancouver Island Coasts, while starving brethren like Anthony go far, far off course, looking for food, desperately hungry.
The grey whales are starving. And that is the story, and that is the reason why Anthony came to visit in the shallow waters of False Creek.
Their summer feeding grounds are in the Bering Sea, but winters are spent near Mexico, meaning the average grey whale covers half of the span of the earth within a single year, losing weight and energy along the way, finally succumbing to the forces of starvation on their northward journey, back towards the fertile Arctic feeding grounds.
When the previous summer has been a poor feeding season with limited krill, the following spring will tell the tale, in the form of washed up bodies and beachings as the whales attempt to feed in dangerous shallow waters, sifting sand and mud through their baleen in an attempt to find anything of sustenance.
I complained to coworkers, longing to gaze at the emaciated creature, “But I’ve never seen a whale!” On second thought, this isn’t actually true. I’ve seen killer whales in captivity - though I don’t know especially where. I’ve seen belugas, in Chicago and Vancouver aquariums. I’ve even seen narwhales, with their unicorn-like tusks, in the Chicago Aquarium. (Darwin thought these tusks to be secondary sex characteristics, designed solely for the attraction of females, who rarely have tusks of their own. Supporting this theory, male narwhals have been known to sword-fight with their tusks to attract some bussom-bodied young she-nar, although they’re also used for more boring tasks, like breaking ice. Apparently phallic symbols aren’t unique to man.)
The point that I was trying to make is that, yes, I’ve seen whales, and I’ve seen many, many dolphins - from Canada’s Wonderland to Niagara Falls and every shoddy aquarium in between. But I’ve never seen a whale outside an encased glass container, and I’ve never such creatures in the wild.
And maybe that is a point which deserves more attention than Anthony the Whale, languishing hungrily some five hundred feet from my workplace.
I’ve come to realize, over the past twenty years, but mostly the past two hours, that keeping dolphins and whales in captivity is horribly, horribly wrong. I came to this conclusion after watching “The Cove,” which you should watch if you haven’t. It’s not the uplifting sort of thing that a person should be watching on a sunny Saturday afternoon, but it entails an uplifting message of a story being uncovered, despite massive opposition, and that story being told...even if that story is the sort of thing which turns your stomach and makes you want to quietly scream.
I was resistant to watching “The Cove,” mostly because of my general distain for dolphin lovers, spurred by my discovery that dolphins often gang rape and kill the children of other dolphins (and many porpoise babies), and that just as many people near death are pushed out to sea by curious dolphins as are brought into shore. They’re kind of scary.
Also, chimpanzee tribes have been known to go to war against one another, raping females of the opposing tribe (using sex as an act of violence), and killing males by dragging them repeatedly across jagged rocks. But that’s not important, right now.
Chimpanzees aren’t the problem, and neither are dolphins. Human-like acts of violence and depravity are clues which can be paired with evidence that we already have in great abundance - clues that these animals have very complex social structures, and that these animals are incredibly intelligent. (Not so intelligent that they’d ever be able to commit, in a lifetime, atrocities which compare to those we have committed, as humans, within the last twenty-four hours, but close enough.) When it comes to the whales, and the dolphins, all damning evidence points to us, and we owe these creatures a massive apology.
Take, for example, the most persuasive scene in The Cove, and the one that had me covering my eyes and yelling at my computer screen...two free-divers are at the edge of the ocean beside the cove where the dolphin killing takes place, and can see the reddened water pouring out. The woman describes, in tears, what we are seeing...babies being cordoned off from their parents, who are being killed, and a single, injured dolphin, trying to swim away from the killing area, making it over a couple of fences, red water streaming behind it, and eventually slipping underwater never to be seen again.
Other scenes show harpoons being driven into the water, blindly, as the fenced-off patch of ocean turns opaque with bright red blood.
Dolphin meat, which is eaten in certain areas of Japan, is the result of the hunt. But it is not the main motivator. The main motivator is Me, and my love of seeing belugas, and orcas, and dolphins, doing adorable flips and tricks...the reason is me, and us, and our fascination with marine mammals and their strangely intelligent, human ways.
The reason is this: the killing waters of the Taiji, Japan (the site of The Cove) are also a principal exporter of captive dolphins to aquariums and amusement parks around the world.
Hundreds of dolphins are driven into the cove, where trainers pick out the lucky few, mostly young and female, who will spend the rest of their lives in captivity, somewhere, riddled by stress reactions including ulcers and premature death. For these dolphins, the fishermen are paid upwards of $100,000 apiece. The remaining dolphins are comparatively worthless, but they are killed for their meat (gaining a few hundred dollars each), and then the process is repeated, day by day, week by week.
And when we clearly value dolphins and whales so much, so much that we want to touch them and hold them and watch them do endless tricks...then how can we allow this to continue? How can we allow them to exist, for our amusement, in captivity...how can we allow them to be slaughtered by the hundreds while their cordoned babies hear their creepy dolphin screams?
...Free the dolphins. Let them go about their business and gang rape in peace.
Whales: we owe them an apology (on Slate.com)
The Cove (you should actually buy it, cause it probably helps dolphins more than watching it online, but, whatever)