Blackfish already made waves in the cetacean captivity debate, but one of the former trainers featured in the documentary has done more for the cause. We met Christopher Porter, the former Sealand trainer, early on in the film; when Tilikum the Killer Whale was being transferred to SeaWorld, Porter was happy for the orca because, as he describes in the film, “it was like, ‘OK, Tilly, you’re going to Disneyland. Lucky you.” But Porter couldn’t delude himself much longer about Tilikum’s situation or the situation of marine animals in captivity, so he’s doing something to change that — and it’s called OceanWall.
OceanWall Makes its Debut
As reported in Times Colonist, Christopher Porter’s OceanWall made its grand debut on November 8 at the Hillside Centre. The huge attraction – complete with nine screens, each 3.7-meters high and 2.1-meters wide — resides in the middle of the shopping center’s food court and plays videos of the ocean and its surrounding wildlife.
As Porter told the Times Colonist, the goal of his project is to “get the general public to focus on the wild and the state of the wild as it is.” Instead of getting up close and personal to marine wildlife at a sea circus or aquarium, Porter brings the wildlife to us with the hope that we’ll still come to appreciate and protect the animals without ever drawing a picture with them, swimming with dolphins or making them perform tricks. While there will be no narration, his images are important because they capture wildlife in their normal activities; for example, the endangered polar bear hunting for salmon, instead of the abnormal stereotypic behaviors that we’ve come to accept as normal. In this way, the animals will tell their own stories.
There’s also a nuance of citizen science in Porter’s project. Everyday people can submit their own encounters with wildlife to WildVision Edutainment, of which Porter is one investor. The screens will be updated with new content regularly, and Porter hopes to bring in marine wildlife experts to “edutain” the shopping center’s visitors. While OceanWall is still getting used to its sea legs, Porter envisions it going to spas, hotel lobbies, schools and gymnasiums. I’d definitely take OceanWall over an aquarium any day.
What About the Cetaceans in Captivity Now?
While Porter’s project could address one half of the problem of cetacean captivity by preventing the need for it, it doesn’t answer the other whale of a problem: what are we going to do with the cetaceans currently stuck in captivity? While we’d love to see all of the tanks empty and every killer whale and dolphin back with their pods, realistically that’s just not going to be possible in every case. But the good news is that there is an option that gets the cetaceans back in the ocean: sea pens.
As marine mammal scientist for the Animal Welfare Institute, Naomi A. Rose, Ph.D., wrote in CNN, sea pens are netted-off bays or coves in the ocean that act as sanctuaries for the retired animals. There’d be no people gawking at them and no foreign sounds or lights. They’d live in pods, but incompatible members wouldn’t be forced to stay together like Tilikum had to and was repeatedly bullied because of it.
The only human contact would be in the form of veterinary care because captive whales are generally more unhealthy and live shorter lives compared to their wild counterparts. Captivity does kill with the host of obesity-and stereotypic-related illnesses, including bad teeth from chewing on the gates. And the most important difference between a sea pen and a sea circus: there would be absolutely no breeding. This way, the cetaceans that have had their freedom stolen from them get a piece of it back, and no future generations have to go through it again.