The Whale Sanctuary project works to transform the way people relate to whales and dolphins by bringing an end to their exploitation and by creating coastal sanctuaries, assisting with international marine mammal rescues, and advancing whale and dolphin science.
Public opinion has turned against keeping whales and dolphins in captivity. The creation of this sanctuary and NGO is the first step towards a vision of a world in which all cetaceans are treated with respect and are no longer confined to concrete tanks in entertainment parks and aquariums.
There are sanctuaries for many land animals who are being retired from zoos and circuses, and now is the time to provide them for whales and dolphins. This first-of-its-kind whale sanctuary is being created in Port Hilford, Nova Scotia. It is designed to serve as a model for many more that can then be built all over the world in the coming years so that whales and dolphins can be retired from entertainment parks and can live in an environment that maximizes well-being and autonomy and is as close as possible to their natural habitat.
“In 2001, I worked with another scientist at the New York Aquarium to see if bottlenose dolphins could recognize themselves in a mirror. The ability to recognize that the face in the mirror is ‘me’ is considered a key measure of self-awareness, and the dolphins passed the test with flying colors.
“But soon after, these two profoundly intelligent and sensitive beings, Presley and Tab, who only had each other, were abruptly separated and transferred to other captive facilities where they would meet untimely deaths. Now I understood the real significance of our study: the two dolphins were not just research subjects; they were victims. And this would lead me to do what I could to retire all captive whales and dolphins to sanctuaries.
“Today, the need for sanctuaries is greater than ever and it is the least we can do together as an act of reparation toward these remarkable beings.”
“Sitting on the wharf, here at the sanctuary site in Nova Scotia, I’m reminded of the times I spent in Iceland with Keiko, the ‘Free Willy’ whale. We’d brought him back from a marine entertainment park to a temporary sanctuary for him in a bay in Iceland, to prepare him for life in the ocean. He would swim across it and chase birds. And if there was rough weather, you could see and feel how exuberant he was — he seemed to be loving it.
“It’s that same experience that I picture here at the sanctuary we’re creating. We’ll have whales in these waters, and they’ll be able to chase birds across the bay. They’ll be able to play in the water. They’ll have waves and all kinds of weather. And they too will be exuberant. Next year, 2022, is the year we create the sanctuary itself: a home where captive whales can be in nature. As they’re meant to be.”