interviewInterview with John Hall



Q: What are your thoughts on captivity?

I haven't been a proponent of captivity for a number of years now. I've been pretty vocal about it. I'll go back to my comment about the pretty simple-minded approach we stumbled on [with the Navy] at Point Magoo. You want to keep an ocean animal healthy? Where do you put 'em? Back in the ocean. That's where they came from. So, I have some real problems with captivity.

I absolutely agree that at a point in time--and I think we're past it--that captivity may have provided a strong educational component. I know from my days as senior scientist at Seaworld, that the motto was "Entertainment, education, conservation." But entertainment was several orders of magnitude above education and conservation.

Q: You ended up working for Sea World. How did that happen?

I did the hearing study [with the killer whale.] And then.... Lanny Cornell was hired as their veterinarian, and he became zoological director. I'd met Lanny Cornell back in the '60s at Stanford Research Institute at the Marine Mammal Symposia that occurred there. Those symposia were the forerunners of the current marine mammal conferences that occur every other year. So, I got to know him then and-- known him for many, many years. When he became the veterinarian and then the zoological director at Sea World, .....I mean our friendship and our professional relationship continued.

As part of my work in Santa Cruz at UC--I developed a stomach pump for dolphins and sea lions. Before that, if you wanted to know what a sea lion or a dolphin was eating, the typical technique was to either harpoon or shotgun the animal and then cut it's stomach out. That didn't sit very well with me-- just didn't seem to me to be a very good utilization of resources. By that time, I'd had a lot of experience with how the heads of these guys worked, and I just didn't think that was very good. to do to critters that had--as far as I could determine-especially in the case of cetaceans, unlimited mental capabilities. It just didn't strike me as the only way to find out what they're eating.

So, I developed this stomach pump, this lavage. And I assumed that the Navy would allow me to come down and test it on their animals 'cause I'd worked for them. That turned out not to be the case. And so I approached Lanny Cornell, and he said sure, sure come on down. And so he allowed me to test it on a could of white-sided dolphins, on a bottle nosed dolphin, on a sea lion, and on a harbor seal. And it worked very well in all cases, didn't hurt the animals. So, the animals hadn't been hurt....and then the Navy allowed me to do it also. So, that really rekindled my working relationship with Lanny.

Then when he became zoological director, and I moved to Alaska, Sea World was very much interested in continuing to obtain killer whales. They'd had the problem at ah Penn Cove and then later on in--in Olympia and Budd Inlet. And had agreed not to go back to the waters of Washington State to collect killer whales any longer. And they thought Alaska might be a site, especially since I had finished my doctoral work and then shown that there were several hundred killer whales in Prince William Sound. So, they hired me as a consultant to continue the killer whale studies and looking at populations levels, obviously with an eye to removals, in addition to which they hired me on a contract to surgically implant telemetry devices in sea otters to look at some physiological aspects of sea otters especially with regard to oiling and--and heat loss from oiling.

So, as we neared the end of those contracts, Lanny said, "We have a lot more work for you than you can do in Alaska. We'd like you to come to work for us as senior scientist in San Diego." So,that's how that came about.

Q: What was the first indication that you felt you sort of might not fit in at Sea World?

Oh, the first indication that for me all was not well in the land of Oz, was when a baby killer whale that lived about two weeks, and then suddenly died,when the animal died, one of the vice presidents turned to me and--I mean we'd--we'd been spending 24 hours a day collecting all the behavioral data--how often the animal breath, how long did dive, when was it with its mother, how often did it nurse--and comparing all that data to the data that we had on a successful birth from Florida. And using the birth in Florida and that data as a model of normalcy. Andthis little calf in California, followed that for several days. And then suddenly we had about 12 hours notice, it just began to go downhill and was dead. Boom! It turned out there was a defect in the heart. There was not a thing anybody could do.

But we were pretty distraught, having put so much time and effort into this observation with this little animal. And this vice president came to me and he said, "You need to not be concerned about this. You need to learn that in this business, if you've got livestock, you've got dead stock.

Q: What did he mean?

Live stock--dead stock--and if it's alive today, it may well be dead tomorrow. And I thought that was not quite the image that most people have of Sea World.

Q: And your responsibility at Sea World was what?

My responsibility was to pretty much do whatever Lanny said to do, that dealt with science. If it dealt with looking at, for instance, the reproductive records of the captive breeding program and the bottlenose dolphins, to try and take this mish-mash of information that had been collected over 10 years, and put it into some cohesive form so we could understand what was likely to occur in the future and if you wanted a lot more baby bottlenose dolphins, what was the best to get there?

Q: Can you talk about how things eventually moved from Alaska to Iceland, What was going on?

When Puget Sound was no longer politically viable to a site to get killer whales, and that was in '76, I think, the corporation had a demand for killer whales.

It was explained to me that 70 cents of every dollar that came in the gate was attributed to the presence of killer whales and--Hill, former vice president and head of PR--explained that to me, that Sea World was very good at documenting costs and expenses and income. So, they knew exactly where every dollar went, and what made up every dollar of income.

So, as they were building new parks, they needed to keep those parks filled with killer whales. And in addition, because up until '84 they had no success raising their own from their captive birth program--they needed a steady supply to replace the ones that were dying. They could no longer go to Puget Sound to get animals. By '84, things had gone to hell in a hand cart in Alaska. They ran into massive political opposition there. So, Alaska was out, even though there were a lot of whales. And the next place that seemed logistically feasible was Iceland. And so they began actually in the 70s right after Puget Sound, working in Iceland to get killer whales out of Iceland.


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