The breathtaking image above shows the majesty of an ocean as it should be. Through large scale action it could remain this healthy. But, it will take an overhaul in how we perceive the water that makes up 71% of our planet and creatures that live in it.
Over the summer, I interviewed the Wild Dolphin Foundation, as well as participated in their adopt a dolphin program. It was an interview that opened my eyes. I live in Colorado, as land-locked as they come, having no idea that what I poured down my drain or let drip from my car was partly responsible for killing off the species of dolphin I adopted.
The $20.00 I donated to the Wild Dolphin Foundation may have undone some of the damage I had done over my lifespan. The Wild Dolphin Foundation works hard to get this through our heads. What we do on land is a big part of the conservation problem- our consumerism and waste.
Another issue is captivity. It is through this lense that we get a feel for the larger issues of ignorance and disrespect.
A few weeks ago, I began to interview Shelby Proie, a dedicated ocean activist who recently appeared on CNN advocating for the orca Lolita, housed in an illegal sized tank at the Seaquarium in Miami. Shelby volunteers for numerous ocean conservation nonprofits and is a wealth of knowledge on marine mammal conservation. She currently advocates for the Orca Network, who tracks the remaining orcas.
I began researching for her CNN interview. I found million dollar requests for Lolita’s release, major movie star involvement, awareness concerts, major media articles, and years of protests. I saw pictures of the illegal size of her tank – it is a ratio that equals a human body trapped inside a closet for forty years. An orca’s body is created to swim up to a hundred miles a day on average in the wild in a three dimensional environment. The illegal sized tank is a torturous space for an orca. It is harmful to Lolita and dangerous to those who train her. When born in the wild, orcas are nearly harmless to humans.
Over 40 years of her captivity and there has not even been a fine. The following is from the US Animal Welfare Act, which covers animals in captivity, transported animals, and domesticated animals. The painful word below is ‘annual.’
“To ensure that all licensed and registered facilities continue to comply with the Act, APHIS inspectors make unannounced inspections at least once annually. If an inspection reveals deficiencies in meeting the AWA standards and regulations, the inspector instructs the facility to correct the problems within a given timeframe. If deficiencies remain uncorrected at the unannounced followup inspection, APHIS documents the facility’s deficiencies and considers possible legal enforcement.”
The Seaquaruim and Lolita seem to have missed their annual inspection for forty years under the Animal Welfare Act. Ironically, there is a link to report an incidence such as Lolita right on the same page where I read the Act so they can be inspected. As we know, Jonny Depp and a million dollars can not make that button work.
We have an ocean that is in poor health due to centuries of neglect and disrespect for its creatures. We need to completely turn the tide. We are down to the less then 10 percent of the ocean’s population of mammals, and in my eyes that means the clock is ticking.
The Wild Dolphin Foundation, Shelby Proie and I got together and came up with an Idea for America to bring to the Obama administration.
The answer is to do more and ask for more than just taking part in any one campaign of plastic bags or stopping drainage. We need to take part in a campaign that covers ocean conservation as a whole. We need a government body that actually implements its ocean and marine animal policies, responds to ocean related nonprofits and takes action on issues.
How many aspects of ocean health will have to be down to be depleted before we campaign for real, permanent change? How many ocean creatures will struggle like Lolita before we see our country’s failure to respect ocean life?
Ocean and ocean species conservation needs to come to the forefront instead of remaining buried within the current government system. Our government bodies that can take action for ocean protection, management and conservation are saddled with many other concerns.
The hierarchy begins with the US Department of Commerce, under which is the top-notch National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). NOAA’s mission: “NOAA is an agency that enriches life through science. Our reach goes from the surface of the sun to the depths of the ocean floor as we work to keep citizens informed of the changing environment around them.”
Under NOAA, the body whose primary concern is ocean related matters is the National Ocean Service. This quality scientific agency is greatly concerned with ocean conservation, but again has increasing responsibilities, one of which is to maintain the ocean’s productivity and “grow our nation”s coastal economy.” The ocean is responsible for 60% of our gross national product already with overfishing as one of ocean conservation’s primary concerns. The National Ocean Service has plenty to bear.
What needs to happen is the creation of a government body whose primary reponsibility is advocacy for ocean conservation and ocean species in captivity. With 71% of our planet dying, it will take more than a compromised focus of a service, within an administration, within a department. It will take an idependent commission with a clear focus and we can create it.
We can be the change.
First, I will take you to Change.org. I am a firm believer that everyone who plans on creating change should have a free account there. Secondly, there is currently a campaign created by Change.org called Ideas for America. Vote for the ocean. BE THE CHANGE. VOTE FOR THE OCEAN.
2011 update: Moving toward success! This 2008 call for an independent ocean commission was part of a broad based chorus of voices reaching back to 2000. I received an email in 2009 from the Wild Dolphin Foundation that the Obama Administration had invited ocean conservation related nonprofits to make recommendations to a new inter-agency task force for ocean stewardship and policy. The result is the dual Principal- and Deputy- level National Ocean Council and National Ocean Policy. Readers can learn more about their work on the website of the National Ocean Council and the framework behind it in this PDF. I will report back on any outcomes related to the original call to action when information is available.
2013 update: Blackfish. The issue of orca captivity came to the forefront with the release of the documentary Blackfish. The film, directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite, places a heavy emphasis on the inherent wild nature of marine mammals. In response to the film the Animal Welfare act is updated to include marine cetacean captivity.