PRO CAPTIVITY VIEWS
From:  Jim McBain  and Brad Andrews.  McBain, DVM,  is  Director of Veterinary  Medicine, Sea World Inc. and Andrews is Vice President, Zoological Operations, Sea World, Inc. (from the full FRONTLINE interview)



click here for the full interview

THERE'S A POINT OF VIEW THAT THE FUTURE OF CAPTIVITY FOR MARINE MAMMALS IS HARD TO JUSTIFY.

I think the mandate, quite to the contrary, is very strong for the future. I think that as our population becomes more and more crowded, more people are urbanized, if you will, there's less natural contact with animals living in the wild. I don't think that it's rational for us to assume that people are going to be able to get experiences with wild animals by all going into the wild, there's too many of us, we'll destroy what little habitat is left by trying to do that.

I actually calculated once how many boat trips it would take to take all the Sea World guests that come to Sea World each year out to sea killer whales at Robson Bite, and it was over two thousand boat trips a day would have to go out of Robson Bite. Well that would be ludicrous. So I think the mandate for the future , if want a public that's knowledgeable about wild animals and has some sensitivity about them, if we want our children to have a chance to see many of these animals, it's gonna have to be in places like Sea World and the rest of the zoos in the world. These are gonna be the places where people are gonna be able to get in touch with nature without destroying habitat.

HOW ARE YOU GOING TO DEAL WITH THE POSSIBLY GROWING PHILOSOPHICAL POINT OF VIEW THAT THERE'S SOMETHING FUNDAMENTALLY IMMORAL ABOUT CAPTURING CREATURES FROM THE WILD AND PUTTING THEM IN PLACES LIKE THIS FOR MAYBE THE EDUCATION BUT PRINCIPALLY THE AMUSEMENT OF HUMAN BEINGS...

We have to continue to communicate with the over 90 percent of the American public that feels that what zoos and aquariums are doing is the right thing. Over 90 percent of the American public feels that zoos and aquariums are essential to education, are important to learning about animals. Over 90 percent of the public feels that opportunities for children to see wild animals are almost entirely dependent upon zoos and aquariums. So those are the people we have to talk to, there are gonna be always dissenters, and I recognize the value of dissent, but we can't cater to those needs, we have to look at the vast majority of people that want and enjoy what we do and see value in it. So that's where our focus has to be...

Let's take it broader. When you look at the global umbrella, the International Union of Conservation Nature and all of the subset umbrellas that are really truly trying to look at resource management, biodiversity and within those groups of special survivorship committees and you're looking at close to 600 million people a year that are visiting zoological parks throughout the world, and about 50 percent of the funding that goes for NC2 research and conservation is coming from those institutions, the governments aren't paying for it and the public's not paying for it, the public is indirectly through their participation.

So there's this huge mechanism going on that we have to involve people so that they can be involved and it is, when you get down to it, a little bit of resource management, because we are the only life form on earth that can affect the outcome of other organisms on the earth. And if we don't take a leading role in teaching people about how to affect that, we're not gonna have those animals around. And we're not gonna have those resources around and we're not gonna have the fish stock around and we're not.. if we continue to let people fin sharks, if we don't people that's..it's a waste of a resource. We have to get these messages out, and there's very few vehicles or platforms that you can do that in where you can involve the public in.

And I see this as a huge huge challenge for all of us, the science, the media, and folks like us that are daily entertaining people and teaching people and getting them involved. It's pretty exciting when you can have a long distance Shamu TV go to 14 million children at any given program, with an 800 number toll free that those kids can pick up the phone and talk right to the scientist, in the field. I mean, how else can we get those kinds of things going? And a lot of people will say you know, we'll just have movies and videos and documentaries. Well, you know, I have to stop people and say well think about this for a minute, how many people attend the opera, how many people go to a soccer match, how many people go to a live event where they can experience it, feel it, and get it into their bodies so that have empathy for an issue. I think it's.. you have to have both

BUT-- THIS IS BIG BUSINESS...A MASSIVE ENTERTAINMENT AND AMUSEMENT INSTITUTION.

Business that survive are businesses that make money. It's--..there's nothing wrong with making money. There's nothing wrong with taking that money and putting it back in to the animals' habitats, putting it back into research and putting it back into the educational programs. That Shamu TV thing I just mentioned, our program, it costs about 85 thousand dollars each time we put it on. Who pays for that, We do. So yes, you make money but you spend money. The government isn't going to help endangered species, the government agencies are not gonna help the problems with the endangered manatee. They sit and let us take care of it because we have the resources to do it...

..US, BEING?

Sea World, the Miami Sea Aquarium, .. Marineland...

WHAT HAPPENS WHEN ANHEUSER BUSCH DECIDES THAT IT'S NO LONGER PART OF THE CORPORATE STRATEGY, IT DOESN'T FIT THE CORPORATE MIX AND IT'S NOT GOOD FOR BASICALLY SELLING BEER? WHAT HAPPENS TO ALL THIS GOOD STUFF?

Another corporation will do exactly the same thing. It's a vehicle that runs as an institution of education, again research and it's been in.. we've been doing this for years and years, and it grows in terms of all of our programs, we have more impact where we can impact more people, we can impact more science, we're funding projects now in Africa through our Busch Gardens parks, Belize, Macao and Brazil. We've put up a canopy walk in the Amazon. I mean I'm tooting our horn, but if it isn't for companies like this, it's not gonna happen.

ANSWER THE CRITIC WHO SAYS THAT PLACES LIKE THIS SEND THE WRONG KIND OF MESSAGE ABOUT THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN HUMAN BEINGS AND SAY MARINE MAMMALS. REINFORCING THE HIERARCHY BETWEEN HUMANS AND MAMMALS, THEY DO TRICKS, THEY LEAP UP AND DOWN AND THEY GET THEIR REWARDS FOR IT AND THEY'RE ESSENTIALLY JUST CLOWNS. AND THAT THIS IS THE MESSAGE THAT COMES.

I consider that a very cynical point of view. I think that if you talk to the people that come to a park like Sea World or go to a zoo, there's certainly entertainment motive, people are going to be entertained. I think you'll find television, if a program's not entertaining it's probably not going to have much viewership. So even the news has to be entertaining nowadays.

So entertainment's part of it. And the things you've alluded to are suggestive of entertainment but the strength, the staying power, the reason people peep.. keep coming back, it's the educational side, they learn something, there's depth. I think the sensitivity that people develop just out of close contact with an animal, you just have to go out to a community pool and see the eyes of children light up when they touch a dolphin for the first time. That's an experience that for many people that one touch will last a lifetime.

We had a woman that came here actually from Canada, that was with her family, she's dying, she apparently had three to six months to live, and it was her dream to touch a dolphin. And she came to Sea World and she wasn't able to reach from where she was, so one of the people at the pool noticed that she couldn't reach, and so they took her to one of the back areas where it was easier. She touched the dolphin, and her whole family, from that experience, was rejuvenated, it was like a celebration.

There.. there is a need that people have to get in contact with nature, and we can't all go on ecotours, everybody isn't capable of doing that. And I think that everybody deserves the opportunity to be able to experience those very special things in life that are very meaningful to them as individuals, and for children, I think theseexperiences are a lifetime of value.

WE TALKED BEFORE ABOUT THE POSSIBILITY OF TAKING ANIMALS FROM CAPTIVITY AND PUTTING THEM BACK INTO THE WILD. WHAT IS THE FEASIBILITY OF TAKING THEM IN FOR A LITTLE WHILE AND TAKING THEM OUT --A SORT OF --I THINK SOMEBODY DESCRIBED IT AS THE PIPELINE BETWEEN CAPTIVITY AND THE WILD....

That's been done in one particular program with Dr. Randy Wells where he initially set a hypothesis and set a question on keeping ..compare juvenile male bottlenose dolphins for a short period of time, do some bio-acoustical work on them and then re-introduce them to the home known pod in Sarasota Bay on the west side of Florida.

And he went through a permit process to do all that and it was scrutinized very heavily. And it fit most of the criteria to do that type of a program. And those animals after 18 months had difficulty in the first 48 hours to adapt, he follows them every six months, he's there every time checking on them, he has a commitment to the long term study on that so it has some sort of conservation value, it has some sort of a long term effect. Doing short term collections of animals, it is probably you're going to ask the animal to acclimate to its new environment, then you're going to expect it to go back and fight the stressors of the environment they used to live in, which there are stressors out there too.

And it doesn't make a lot of sense to do it in that type of a mode. There's been many reports written about long held captive animals and short, what is the benefits of re-introduction, and Dr. Ben Beck has mentioned that there's probably a hundred and.. I think 114, 120 re-introduction processes or programs that have been approved through this larger global umbrella, and most of them have been terrestrial or related to birds, and only about 18 of them have worked.

So I think it's worthy of discussion but I think people have to be very careful about just creating an easy solution for somebody's uncomfortableness to something else.

YOU SEEM TO BE SAYING THAT THERE'S NOT GOING TO BE A WHOLE LOT OF RETURNING OF SEA WORLD MAMMALS TO THE WILD.

Yeah.

We return beached animals all the time....short term, we do long term rehab, meaning 18 to 24, 36 months with manatees in off Florida coast, and that elaborate process of re-introduction is very complicated right now because of habitat laws, specially orphans, 50 percent of the orphans that were taken to halfway houses off Kennedy Space Centre and then letting them go at certain times of the year with radio tags on and things like that.

About half of them aren't making it, they're not.. they don't know how to forage, they don't know how to socialize, they don't know how to, when the water temperature gets cold they don't know where to go to the warm water, they're missing parts of their learning processes. So I think the things that we're learning with the manatees and some of the common dolphins that come up on the west coast and some of the harbor porpoises that have been held in facilities in Europe for short term, what we're learning from them is their adaptability when we're radio tracking them and things, we're learning absolutely nothing from releases of animals at the Turks Caicos or where there's no followup or Bogey and Bacall where somebody cuts them from a net down in the Indian Banana River, I mean that's foolish, it's biological suicide, a roulette for the animals, you know, .. nobody has their best interests at heart so it has to be done very very carefully because you.. you're responsible for those animals.

CAN YOU SUM IT UP -- WHAT IS YOUR VIEW OF THE FUTURE FOR RELEASING.. THE BIG TICKET, HIGH VALUE ANIMALS LIKE YOUR ORCAS.

We're not going to release any of the animals in our collection because they have been in our collection for long periods of time and we're not gonna put them at risk where they can die.

WHY HAVE YOU ARRIVED AT THAT POSITION?

The animals that live in an environment where they're dependent upon humans have adapted to that environment, and it's a very easy environment to live in. It isn't one that requires anywhere near the abilities that's required of wild animals, so to take an animal from that environment if it's been there long term and then try to adapt it to going into the wild, is ..does not make sense. There has to be some compelling reason to add this animal to the wild population, if the wild population is healthy, then there's really no point to it, in other words if they had a conservation motive, then it would make sense, but otherwise the animal is better off staying where it is.

APPLY ALL THIS TO THE CAMPAIGN TO FREE WILLY. AND WHAT CONCLUSION WOULD YOU DRAW? IS KEIKO A CANDIDATE FOR LIBERATION...?

Keiko is not a good candidate, he's been dependent upon humans for his food, his interaction, he's an animal that's adapted to living in an oceanarium environment and has done so successfully for many years. He's an animal that's also deprived of social experience, he doesn't live with other killer whales.

To try to somehow train this animal to then go and survive in the wild doesn't make a lot of sense, he can't possibly benefit the wild population. What would be best for him, I think, is to have an opportunity to live in healthy environment, an oceanarium somewhere where he could live with other killer whales and experience a positive social environment, get to do some of the things that killer whales do when they're together. He's been deprived of that, and for that I'm sad. He deserves better than that, and I would hope that the people that care for him would eventually see the value in getting him.. getting him a good home right where he is.

WHAT THEN DOES SEA WORLD MAKE OF THIS --A BIG MONEY CAMPAIGN, TO MOBILIZE PEOPLE'S EMOTIONS BEHIND A FREE KEIKO, FREE WILLY?

Well I think you have to look at it from a lot of different aspects, and I hope the people that are contributing monies realize that the end result is practical, as opposed to just a pipe dream, so that they're being fair in their treatment of their mode of giving.

WELL THAT'S SORT OF TELLING ME WHAT THEY THINK BUT--- WHAT DO YOU THINK?

I just think that's a tremendous amount of money being raised on an animal that probably would, as Jim said, is probably not a very good candidate at all. I think the money can be better served doing a lotta other things. I think of course caring for the animal is important in itself. But again it's.. there.. is that a higher priority or is that just one or two or three people's selected their project of their life or something, I don't know, I mean is this truly in the best, the best interest of that animal and the wild population. I don't think so.




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