Sea Pen Sanctuaries Assessed at Marine Mammal Conference

On December 13, AWI’s Dr. Naomi Rose and her colleague Dr. Lori Marino of the Kimmela Center for Animal Advocacy conducted a workshop on sea pen sanctuaries for cetaceans, in conjunction with the 21st Biennial Conference on the Biology of Marine Mammals in San Francisco. The workshop addressed how and where to establish a coastal sanctuary for cetaceans who one day will be retired from captive display.

Several invited experts considered and reviewed a number of logistical issues, including veterinary care, training and husbandry concerns, engineering aspects, and the laws governing such a project, including the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Coastal Zone Management Act. The audience was diverse: concerned citizens, marine mammal researchers, and several operators and trainers from captive cetacean facilities were among those who sat through a full day of presentations and discussion. Exchanges were at times lively, given the spectrum of opinions present regarding captive cetacean display, but for the most part the conversation remained civil and constructive.

The primary purpose of the workshop was to raise the profile within the marine mammal science community of efforts to establish sea pen sanctuaries for retired cetaceans. Sanctuary projects have been frequently misrepresented by proponents of captive display as ill-advised or quixotic, so the workshop emphasized and addressed the many practical elements that are essential to consider when the goal is to provide lifetime care for cetaceans. Establishing a cetacean sanctuary will be complex and challenging, but the workshop made clear it can and will be done.