Anti-Zoo Group Offers Trips To Baja to Pet Wild Grey Whales
Orca Network, a Washington State-based anti-zoo organization, shows its hypocrisy by selling trips to Baja to pet wild grey whales.
Orca Network is a Washington-based anti-zoo organization that has targeted modern zoos and aquariums that house and display killer whales and other marine mammal species in human care.
They’re also notorious for their controversial “Free Lolita” campaigns that involve a demand to remove Tokitae, Miami SeaQuarium’s elderly killer whale to a yet-to-be-built sea pen in Puget Sound. If this were to happen, she would be in the hands of a group of extremists with little-to-no animal care experience in a zoological setting.
When the group is not targeting zoos and aquariums, nor putting their usual focus on issues facing the Southern Resident killer whale population, they’re doing something that would normally be looked down upon by many conservation groups-selling tickets to pet wild grey whales off the coast of Baja, Mexico. Literally.
Every year, Orca Network offers people a five-day grey whale expedition to Laguna Ignacio for the price of $3600 so that they could join them in petting “friendly” grey whale mother-and-calf pairs during whale watch cruises.
If you were to read more on what the expedition is like, you’d end up reading about how “indescribable” it is for these activists to have the whales come to the small boat they’re aboard on. By the way, photos of Orca Network’s grey whale encounters can be found on their website, and I can warn you if you're concerned about this issue, you might not feel comfortable looking at them.
What’s Wrong with Interacting With Marine Mammals in the Wild?
There’s no arguing that seeing marine mammals in their natural habitat is one of the most exciting experiences of a lifetime. After all, people will spend money on marine mammal tours that involve people going out on boats to see them from a distance, go shore-based whale watching, or swim with them out in their natural habitat.
However, the issue in question is not responsible wildlife encounters that keep both people and animals safe from potential harm, but tours that enable guests to harm the same animals these tour guides vow to protect.
These interactions, like the ones in Baja, have the potential to threaten the health and well-being of wild marine mammals. Possible consequences include the possibility of driving pregnant animals away from their preferred breeding grounds, disrupting social groups, accidentally poisoning from foods that are not a part of their normal diet, and exposing them to fishing gear and boat propellers.
While Orca Network could argue that the whale mothers in Baja have “trusted” the tiny boats enough to let people pet both them and their calves, they’re still down-playing the harm these encounters can have on these animals.
Grey whales, like all large whale species that are found off the Pacific Coast, are vulnerable to many vessel strikes because they migrate along coastal areas and will often stay within these areas for feeding and breeding. The animals end up overlapping with shipping lanes and vessel trafficking, putting them at risk of death or injury when coming into contact with nearby vessels.
Because grey whale calves are born during the winter months, which is normally peak season for whale watching in Baja, the animals exposed to interacting with little boats during tours may become desensitized to these vessels, which can put them at risk of death or injury from boat strikes.
A recent study has shown that grey whales, compared to other whale species in the North Pacific, are at a higher risk of dying from boat-strike-related injuries. The study, which was published by the IUCN in the journal Endangered Species Research, found the risk of death by vessel strike to grey whales increases during their annual migrations during the fall and spring months when they’re moving through waters with heavy vessel traffic.
It also found that areas with high vessel density were present year-round near the coastline. Meanwhile, fishing vessels are likely to pose a bigger threat to the animals, because of the growing number of commercial fisheries that operate in the North Pacific.
Hypocrisy and Double Standards
With the risk these whale petting tours have on grey whales, one would think that Orca Network would be smart enough to not promote any kind of tour that might harm local wildlife. Especially considering they’re always advocating against these actions on wild killer whales, but why would they choose to promote and take part in them, anyway?
The answer is this: In the United States, it’s illegal to touch, feed, harass, or harm wild marine mammals under the US Marine Mammal Protection Act in 1972. This means the tours we hear about in Mexico would never happen in United States waters. In Mexico, however, these laws are only applied to wildlife trafficking practices, not to eco-tourism.
First, there’s the hypocrisy behind this; they would talk about how harassing wild killer whales is bad for their survival only to take part in an activity that harms wild grey whales off the Mexican coast. Second, and probably the most concerning of them all, is their anti-zoo stance of any facility that houses marine mammals.
Orca Network is against any zoo, aquarium, or marine park that houses cetaceans under their care. They talk about how keeping marine mammals in human care for any purpose is bad but doesn’t seem to mind touching wild grey whales.
This is the case of the “It’s okay for me but not for everyone else” mentality where they insist that interactions between marine mammals and people in a modern facility, no matter how safe and humane they are, are “bad” but similar encounters out in the wild are “magical”.
How could Orca Network say they want to protect cetaceans out in the wild when they’re promoting a sneaky form of tourism that might harm them?
There’s no arguing that Mexico’s seaside communities have been struggling to survive on declining fisheries for several years. There’s also no arguing that eco-tourism has helped these communities thrive and provide local fishers and their families a good income that can ensure they earn a living.
However, it shouldn’t come at the expense of the safety of wild whales who rely on these lagoons to breed and have their calves and it needs to change.
If Orca Network is going to promote marine stewardship of North Pacific marine wildlife, then they need to take a stand against these dangerous pet wild whale tours while continuing to promote safer whale watching tours at the same time.