inside seaworldInterview with Jim McBain and Brad Andrews.McBain is Director of Veterinary Service, Sea World Inc. and Andrews is Vice President, Zoological Operations, Sea World, Inc,.



Sea World Responds

I'll just put a general question to you and that is to sum up everything we've been talking about, that there is a perception that for a period of time, people operating on your behalf were attempting to at least get around the spirit of the Marine Mammal Protection Act, to stash mammals here and there for future use. ...Did that happen?

No, I have no idea. I'm just gonna tell you something that I am familiar with, and that's simply when you have animals leaving Japan under export permits that were collected by ..under Japanese fisheries permits, going into Holland where they have to have a import permit, and then Gudrun coming to the United States to has have an import permit from the National Fisheries Service -- all that paperwork was done and everybody was aware of it, everybody knew where the animals came from.

The Gudrun permit application for instance, to our US government, had to have the status of stock of the North Atlantic population, and how the animal was collected, when the animal was collected, and it's right there in public record. And you know, I .. that's how it happens within the laws of the home countries and the United States. If we bring a beluga whale from Vancouver Aquarium, we have to have a National Fisheries import permit, a Canadian export [permit] and a US CITES import permit, so there's three pieces of paper... If you want to storytell and say something ten, fifteen years ago was done here and done there and done there illegally, I have no knowledge of that. Sea World does not do anything illegal in terms of bringing animals into our collection.

.....

The movement of Tilikum from Canada to the United States.... Tell me that story. How did the relationship with Iceland -- the case was referred to the Icelandic authorities for some sort of clarification on whether or not the whale should be released. How did that happen?

Actually, Brad's the right one to ask.

... Tilikum was imported under a National Fisheries Services import, which is a U.S. government agency, and one of the conditions of the permit stated that we should check with the Icelandic Ministry of Fisheries to find out if that particular animal was a good candidate for release on Icelandic waters. We went to them, asked them what they thought, and they said, no.

Which mirrored your own opinion?

Absolutely. It mirrored our opinion.

And they knew it?

I don't know if they knew it.

It has become a template now for anything that's going to happen in the future.

Well, it makes scientific sense. To take an animal that has lived in the care of man for that many years, eating fish from many oceans and living with animals from varied backgrounds -- I think there's a concern, even though it's incredibly small, if your existing natural populations of animals are healthy, to introduce an animal from that long-term captive environment, carries with it the risk of introduction of disease in the form of organisms that may be foreign that environment, and they may be organisms that don't even affect, if we're talking about killer whales, maybe it won't even affect the killer whale. It might be something that came from herring, that came from another ocean. The risks [are] minuscule, but they're still there, and there's just no point in jeopardizing a healthy environment by introducing a major unknown like that.

The animal welfare -- and this is, this is sort of the basically the bottom line here -- the animal welfare people will say that you lobbed a slow pitch to the Icelanders, to hit a home run, and it's going to -- they're going to have to deal with it, if they ever do apply to get [other killer whales returned to Icelandio waters].

We don't play games, and we don't play baseball. The National Fisheries Service asked the question. We didn't. The Icelandic government responded. We didn't. We had nothing to do with the question, nor the answer. So whoever thinks that we lobbed anything into the picture, is absolutely off base.

Something else, I think, that needs to be understood, is this isn't an opinion that's only Iceland's and only Sea World's. This is a pretty widely held position -- a lot of conservation biologists, I think, in Canada there was a document done by a commission, the Ministry of Fisheries and Oceans, that actually reflects this same concern. I believe also there was one in Barcelona, Spain. There's a U.S. Navy document which investigated the feasibility of returning dolphins from the U.S. Navy back to the wild, and the conclusions come up pretty much the same every time. That to risk the wild population for a reintroduction doesn't make any sense. There's no real justification for doing that where a wild population is already healthy.

The documentation on the transfer of Gudrun to the United States from Holland shows quite clearly that Sea World USA was essentially trading Sea World Kamogawa animals for the transaction. How could that possibly have happened?

I don't -- I haven't seen that type of paperwork. The only paperwork that I was open to and that is in our record books today, are the different governmental exchanges of the animals going from one facility to another. If Sea World had the opportunity to transfer -- you can't transfer somebody else's animals, unless you buy them, or you're going to give them something for them in the future. It's like, it's almost like trading sports -- you'll go to this club, and in the future, we'll provide you with 2 younger players, because he's worth this much. I have no idea if that's what happened.

But you say, it would raise the possibility, hypothetically, at least, that they were really Sea World USA's animals at the Kamogawa facility in Japan?

Hypothetically, I can.

Could that possibly be the case?

No idea. Again, the paperwork that I was privy to was simply the government papers of -- import and exports, and it says, from A to B, and it didn't say that C owned A and was taking the B for these animals.

But the implication's there, isn't it?

No. Not in my estimation, because of what I saw there was no implication of anything.

If I'm working for Sea World, acquiring a killer whale from an aquarium in Holland, and I'm trading with orcas from a facility in Japan, it's reasonable to draw the conclusion that I own the ones in Japan?

And how did you own the ones in Japan? Did you purchase them from the owner there?

That's a good question. I don't know the answer.

Well, I don't either. It's not impractical that happened. People buy rhinos at one zoo. Keep it there for years, until their facility is ready to house a 3rd or 4th rhino and then bring it to their facility. People own animals at other facilities all the time.

Isn't it possible that the animals were basically stored in Japan, for a rainy day, by somebody representing Sea World USA?

I have no idea.

Is it reasonable, or logical?

Again, I have no idea. Why would somebody store animals for a rainy day? You move animals from institution to institution to serve the breeding programs, the gene pool compatibility issues. That's what I do.

If ...

I don't store animals in somebody else's facility for a rainy day, and the implication, I resent.

In the event that you couldn't get a permit, or your predecessors couldn't get a permit, would it be a feasible proposition to park a marine mammal somewhere else in the world for a time when you could get the permit to move that animal to the United States? Would that be a reasonable or a legitimate practice?

I think that's some sort of stretching for storing. But we don't do that.

And never did?

Jim and I are responsible people that work for Sea World. When we came to work for Sea World '97 -- we don't do anything like you're suggesting...




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