Connecticut Proves That Science Can Win Legal Battles
An anti-zoo bill that was aimed at banning the keeping of cetaceans in zoological facilities in the state of Connecticut fails to gain momentum and California may need to take note.
A bill that was aimed at banning the keeping of cetaceans in zoological facilities in Connecticut failed to make it onto the state’s Environmental Committee’s Agenda and will likely remain dead for the rest of the year. The bill, dubbed “CT-5341”, would have banned Connecticut-based zoos and aquariums from keeping cetacean species such as beluga whales, dolphins, and orcas for any given purpose in favor of more “ethical” practices.
When the bill, which was the brain-child of Representative David Michel of Stamford, it caught the attention of Dr.Jason Buck, a marine mammal specialist who has researched marine mammals under collaboration efforts with zoological facilities for 20 years. In response to the biased bill, Dr.Buck criticized Rep.Michel for having an antiscientific approach to the issue of cetaceans and other marine mammals under human care and not having any awareness that cetacean “bans” could impact research and conservation efforts that are currently being done on wild cetacean populations. Dr.Buck is right in terms of his criticism regarding the bill and its author on so many levels for many reasons; Rep.Michel is not a scientist, nor does have any expertise in marine mammal care in a zoological facility, which means that he does not know what Buck and other researchers need to do to collect baseline data to help troubled wild populations. Also, it was very incumbent of him to consider the arguments of animal rights extremists, many of which consist of mainly self-proclaimed “experts” like Lori Marino, Ingrid Visser, Naomi Rose, and Ric O’Barry rather than listen and consider the arguments of those who do specialize in marine mammalogy and animal care.
What I wished Rep.Michel would realize about Mystic Aquarium’s beluga program is that it helped foster over 250 peer-reviewed studies on beluga whales both in the wild and in human care. They are also currently working on conservation-related projects that focus on passive health assessments for Cook Inlet’s beluga whale population by using data from the resident belugas that live at the aquarium. This is the type of research that cannot be done in a wild setting because it would impossible to do so.
It is funny how Rep.Michel keeps talking about how belugas are “vital” to their arctic ecosystems, but at the same time not consider the animals that were born in zoological settings and would consider a facility like Mystic to be their very own ecosystem. Sure, no facility’s animal habitat can ever replace, nor replicate a wild setting, but those very same facilities that do have such habitats can create settings that are inspired by those very same habitats that facing threats like pollution, habitat destruction, and the effects of man-made climate change. This means that the animals that call Mystic, or any well-managed marine mammal facility home is their ecosystem in some way. It should also be noted that Mystic itself has not collected animals from the wild in decades and the same can be said about other North American facilities. Meanwhile, recent research has revealed that life expectancies for animals living under human care are not only comparable to but are starting to surpass their wild counterparts.
While I am delighted to see a group of scientists standing up against this horrible anti-science bill that would have done more harm to the animals than good, it is also bittersweet at the same time when I think about California’s marine mammal community. Currently, California already has an anti-science ban of its own that prohibits facilities from breeding and housing orcas under human care after caving into the demands of wealthy soccer moms, porn stars, supermodels, vegan business owners, and self-proclaimed “experts” who made a profit off of the 2010 death of SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau who claim to want the animals be moved to “sanctuaries” that are not scientifically accredited. Now, once again, history may repeat itself with a new bill that would ban the keeping of all cetaceans in California facilities by dismantling all zoo-based cetacean programs that would cripple the likes of SeaWorld San Diego and Six Flags Discovery Kingdom from being able to operate their internationally renowned cetacean research and care programs. If this bill goes into law, it would be very difficult to conduct research that could potentially save both wild species and the ever-shrinking habitats that their wild counterparts call home. I ask for all Californians who care about the work that zoos and aquariums do for wildlife to take action, and call their senators, congressmen, representatives, mayors, and the Governor to oppose such bill.
We must remember that as the world’s marine habitats become increasingly hostile to marine wildlife, kids are starting to become more removed from having any true connection to nature, which can explain why we need zoological facilities more than ever. They are true sanctuaries that serve as places where both science and connection are born.
Yet, at the same time, we need to also remember that extremists are always hungry for anything that can guarantee public endorsement, re-election, and so on. Like Thanos and his quest for the infinity stones that could give him the power the wipe-out half the universe, animal-rights extremists will not stop with laws that affect whales, dolphins, and porpoises. They will also not stop targeting shows and breeding facilities since they managed to do so with Vancouver Aquarium, and just to make matters worse, they will not stop targeting rescue facilities that specialize in rescuing and rehabilitating marine mammals. These people cannot be allowed to slow down any conservation effort that serves as the last, and best hope for wildlife in trouble.