In your editorial “Do What’s Best for the Animals” (Aug. 1), you cite two main concerns about creating a sanctuary for captive orcas: potential of pollutants into or out of the sanctuary, and cost of the project overall.
Regarding transmission of pollutants: The Whale Sanctuary Project has brought together leading experts to guide us on how to avoid or mitigate potential environmental hazards, including pathogen transmission to or from sanctuary orca. Their knowledge indicates that transfer of pathogens through the water column is highly unlikely and that airborne transmission distance would be limited, especially around our primary location at Cypress Island, and therefore unlikely to expose Southern residents or sanctuary residents to risk from each other. And a sanctuary that meets the nutritional, medical and emotional needs of the animals will provide a far healthier habitat than any concrete tank.
As to the question: “Couldn’t we put the $20 million that is estimated for the whale sanctuary toward saving the ailing Southern Residents?” The answer is that it’s not a case of either/or. Sanctuary and conservation are never mutually exclusive. Some donors are drawn more to one; others to the other. Both are essential. And a sanctuary for captive orcas that can also serve to support the Southern residents is an ideal way for us to be pressing ahead urgently on both fronts.
Finally, you note that releasing long-term captive whales to the open ocean is challenging. We agree, and that’s why we’re working toward the better option of a permanent seaside sanctuary that maximizes well-being and autonomy and is as close as possible to their natural habitat.
Lori Marino, Ph.D.
President, Whale Sanctuary Project