Yesterday, Tim Desmond, the American CEO of Subic Bay Marine Exploratorium and overseer of Ocean Adventure in the Philippines, hauled a number of notable activists onto the carpet. Yet he failed to mention his own sordid history with cetaceans.
When you live in a glass house, it's best not to throw stones -- particularly when you're less than forthcoming over the skeletons in your own closet. But that's precisely what Tim Desmond did yesterday with his scathing review of dolphin activists Ric O'Barry and Trixie Concepcion of Earth Island Institute, plus Filipino artist, A.G. Sano.
In a piece published Jan. 23 at Interaksyon.com, Desmond demanded to know how these people could possibly believe that his cetaceans were sad:
What is absolutely beyond doubt is that Ric O’Barry, Trixie Concepcion, AG Sano know nothing of the emotional state of our animals or of the 25 dolphins from Resorts World Sentosa that stayed at Ocean Adventure. Any statements they make about the emotional state of our animals are self-serving inventions.
Desmond talks a good talk, but documentation does not lie, and the CEO has created a lot of it.
Tim Desmond started out at Marineland of the Pacific in California as a rookie trainer. In this article which was taken from the October/November 1982 edition of Animal Kingdom magazine and published by the New York Zoological Society, he comments on his involvement with the orcas Orky and Corky.
"When I was still but a rookie trainer" Desmond said, "Orky thoroughly intimidated me." Orky's first performance was apparently "below par" Desmond said, "so when the killer whale returned for his "reward, I refused to feed him (any good trainer knows that poor performance is not rewarded)" he added. Of course this statement jibes with many marine parks' claims that food is not withheld, nor tied to performance.
Later, in 1984, seemingly worried about the image of trainers, Desmond contributed to the International Marine Animal Trainers' Association (IMATA) 'Soundings' newsletter. "As part of the committee’s mission" IMATA writes for its Jan. 1984 historical timeline blurb, there is "an additional column named "Protect Our Image", written by Tim Desmond".
The newsletter including Desmond's column can be read at Ceta-Base.com. In it, the former trainer essentially cautions trainers against "looseness of tongue" and urges consideration before speaking. "It's not that we should try to deny that we do control behavior" Desmond suggests, but that the work undertaken with these cetaceans, "should be discussed carefully."
IMATA clearly liked what Desmond had to say, he went on to serve as Vice President, then President of the organization. IMATA is also an association with members and aquariums that source their cetaceans from the Taiji dolphin drives.
For anyone not familiar with the brutal dolphin hunts that take place daily between Sept. and March every year in Taiji, Japan, pods of dolphins are driven into a natural inlet or the Cove, and either sold into captivity or slaughtered for meat.
It is a practice that has been occurring in Taiji since the 1970s and one that still continues to this day. In fact, according to Ceta-Base.com, so far during the 2012/13 season, well over 1,000 dolphins have been driven into Taiji Cove. Between 600-700 were slaughtered and more than a quarter have been consigned for sale to captive marine facilities.
But what do the dolphin drives have to do with Desmond?
During his attack on activists, Desmond acknowledges that cetaceans have emotions. The same emotions that cause a dolphin trauma and stress throughout the drive hunt process and beyond. Yet when Ocean Adventure launched, it did so with six imported false killer whales from Beijing Aquarium, China. These whales were captured in the drive hunts and then held in China for about a year for training. They were finally imported on Jan. 21, 2001.
Many sources that reported on this whale import actually only list five animals as being sent to Ocean Adventure, Pound, Kaul (Coral), Hawke (Hook), Card (Tonka) and Hughes (Deuce). But Chinese newspaper Sina.com, lists six whales that departed Beijing on Jan. 21; [note the year is wrongly given as 2009 and should be 2001].
Still, Ocean Adventure only laid claim to five, and the sixth false killer whale -- Sonny, just upped and disappeared. The Filipino branch of Earth Island Institute (EII), believed the sixth animal died during transport. More importantly said EII:
"In just seven months of operation, Deuce died. Eight year old Coral, a female false killer whale followed in January 2004. A year later a 3rd false killer whale dies in Ocean Adventures in July 2005. According to the operators of Ocean Adventure, the animal, a 13 year old false killer whale died of "gastro-intestinal" illness."
The deaths forced Filipino Environment Secretary Michael Defensor to ask for a report from the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) ecology center. This was the authority who had actually issued the Environment Compliance Certificate (ECC) to Ocean Adventure so that it could operate.
Of six false killer whales imported to Ocean Adventure in 2001 from Taiji, only one -- Tonka, remains alive today.
According to the Philippine Star, Defensor claimed, "From the start, I have always raised the issue of competence of the ecology center of the SBMA, which issues the ECCs," (but) the SBMA has always (taken) the position that they have competence."
And so has Desmond's Ocean Adventure (OA), despite the fact that of the original five (or six) false killer whales imported to OA, only Tonka remains alive today. Of those whales that died, the longest lived just four years at the park and were not the only casualties tied to the marine park.
Ocean Adventures's bottlenose dolphins
Cito, Loki and Zac, arrived at the park in 2004 (from Taiji), as did Hailey, Kirra in 2007. Dawn --who was transported in 2007, died Feb. 26, 2011. Misty also transported in 2007, died in 2011.
Enzo, Nala (Chibi) and Vi (Bi) arrived at the park in Sep. 2009 (from Taiji); Kuro/Kuru also transported in Sep. 2009, died in 2011.
The transfers are searchable data available through the CITES Trade Database which can be found here. Ask for exports from Japan to the Philippines, and then look for "live" exports for the Tursiops or the Pseudorca genus.
Astonishingly, neither Ocean Adventure nor its CEO appear ashamed of where they source their cetaceans from. In its "About Us" section of the website, they say:
Ocean Adventure is home to several species of dolphins, all of whom are rescued animals. Some came from the drive fishery in Japan where they were literally hours away from being slaughtered. Others were rescued when they came ashore sick and injured in local Philippine waters and once rehabilitated were unlikely to survive if released.
But in the next breath, the marine park says it:
Opposes the killing of marine mammals anywhere. Nations such as Japan have permitted the harvesting of dolphins and whales, as a food source, for hundreds of years. Less than 1% of these animals are allowed to be taken alive each year, thus saving them from slaughter. That is why we chose to rescue animals from this industry.
Unfortunately, the business neglects to mention that these animals are "purchased" and would not need "rescuing" had they not been driven into the Cove in the first place. Secondly, the 1% taken alive is drastically at odds compared to this season's drive statistics. Of the estimated 1,169 dolphins captured to date, 288 were released, meaning a total take of 881 animals. Of this 881, 219 were earmarked for captivity, that's almost 25 percent of the total catch and not the 1% that OA claims.
But Desmond -- also a trainer in the Free Willy films, likes to live by these figures and calls himself a "true conservationist" in every sense of the word. In this transcript at Australia's ABC.net, he said:
The assertion that the aquarium industry is driving this is not supported by fact. It’s only supported by the assertion of Ric O’Barry and others but if you look at the data, you’ll see that less than 4 or 5% in the long term came from the drive fisheries and that this is a meat driven business.
To his credit, that's more than the 1% that his OA claims, but still far less than the reality of 25 percent. Even more oddly was Desmond's response to being asked "Do you support the drive hunts in Japan?". The CEO replied that he wouldn't respond to that question "because it doesn’t serve our conservation agenda", yet his OA website clearly says it "opposes the killing of marine mammals anywhere".
There's even more information on Desmond's conservation agenda at Whales.org, but for Desmond and OA, it is clearly okay to line the pockets of Taiji Fishermen and the Isana Fisheries Union who capture the dolphins.
Unfortunately, it is purchases such as this, that is forcing the dynamics of the dolphin drive industry away from meat and towards profit. This was evidenced by the recent captive haul of 101 bottlenose dolphins. The catch was valued at over $4.3 million for the Fisheries Union, based upon six bottlenose dolphins recently sold to Saudi Arabia for $43K each.
So was Desmond's tongue lashing of activists yesterday, merely the pot calling the kettle black?
According to the CEO, activists:
Basing a campaign to close down a public display facility upon a lie, putting 500 plus people out of work, and denying a half a million guests a year a fun educational experience, isn’t just sad—it’s criminal.
It's hard to lie when the facts and the documentation speak for themselves. Desmond describes dolphins as "a flagship species like pandas or elephants. Their role in conservation" he says "and environmental awareness is undeniable."
Here is a typical dolphin drive conducted in Taiji and filmed by Nicole McLachlan in 2011:
And here is an image of a captive Pacific white-sided dolphin taken just a few days ago for a life in captivity. Snapped by Sea Shepherd Conservation Society Cove Guardians, it shows what these dolphins are forced to endure as part of their transition from wild to captive animals. Unfortunately for this dolphin, all efforts were useless, despite being force-fed, the cetacean died a short while later:
Courtesy SSCS Cove Guardians
"Taiji Whale Museum trainers and vets, along with killers, force feed and medicate a white-sided dolphin in the harbor pens", said Sea Shepherd Cove Guardians.
Where is the conservation and environmental awareness here? Where are the peer-reviewed studies from OA that support Desmond's statement? Whether OA's animals are sad or happy is irrelevant. The true issue is that captivity was imposed on these cetaceans in the worst way imaginable; they did not have a choice.
So who is the true criminal in all of this?
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of DigitalJournal.com