Chapter 13: The Campaigning Years
1997 - 1998
San Francisco 1997; Marine World; Cetacean Freedom Network
The following year the meeting for campaigners was again in the USA. I had reservations about going because of the cost and CFN wasn't developing to be more than a USA grouping. I decided to go in the end as I wanted to try and get CFN to really adopt the concept of July 4th and make it one day, at least, that the "industry" would dread. I also wanted to have a European CFN and get anti-dolphinarium activists over there. I gave an address to the gathering of some fifty people about World Day for Captive Dolphins It's hard to assess how it went down as Americans always tend to be superficially nice, that's if they can understand you or perhaps because they can't! During my talk I was told by Sue Arnold, an Aussie, to speak slower or people wouldn't understand me. Strange as I had never considered myself a fast talker. Anyway they tentatively agreed to support a European gathering in 1998. Viivi Syra, a Finnish campaigner, agreed to host it in Finland.
A day later I was in the Earth Island Institute office using the telephone to enquire about bus times, I had to hand the phone over to Mark Berman, saying to him the telephonist doesn't understand me, she keeps saying pardon me sir! Talk about a common language dividing us!
The last day of our meeting was a demo at Marine World not far from San Francisco. They had two orcas called Vigga and Yaka. We had booked for a group to enter as 'Church of the Earth'. The idea was to stand and stage a silent vigil during the show. As it is inscribed in the American constitution for free expression of religion, we figured that they wouldn't try and eject us for fear of litigation. As the show began, we stood up at the front and held hands, I was wearing an anti-captivity t-shirt to make it clear what we doing. Some of the audience shouted at us to sit down and after a short while, a stocky looking man, came down to berate us as we were spoiling the show. He became more animated but fortunately decided to pick on one of his compatriots, Rick Spill who was equally stocky. He tried to lift him over the barrier rail into the orca pool, but only just failed because of Spill's size, and the fact that the park's security also decided to stop him. Perhaps they didn't fancy the bad publicity of a 'Church of the Earth' follower being swallowed by an orca! Spill didn't fancy being an orca lunch, judging by the look on his face! There are many documented accounts of aggression from captive orcas to trainers, but none that I know of of aggression recorded in the wild toward humans. The first death of a trainer was at Sealand of the Pacific on February 21st 1991. Trainer Keltie Byrne, 20, slipped into the whale pool and was carried into the middle by one orca, and repeatedly submerged as the other two orcas joined in. After futile attempts at rescue, Byrne drowned. In the previous two years at Sealand, there had been other incidents which preceded this tragedy.
Then in 2010 there was another victim, from a Reuters report;
"She was rubbing the killer whale's head, and (it) grabbed her and pulled her in" to the pool, said Chuck Tompkins, Corporate Curator of Zoological Operations at SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment.
Forty-year-old Dawn Brancheau, a trainer with 16 years experience at SeaWorld, was dead when rescue officials arrived, said Orange County Sheriff's spokesman Jim Solomons.
Media reports said the orca at the park's Shamu Stadium grabbed the woman by the waist, thrashed her about and took her underwater.
Dan Brown, president of SeaWorld Orlando, said the victim was one of the park's most experienced animal trainers, and that she drowned.
There were initially conflicting reports about how the incident occurred. The Orlando Sentinel quoted a spectator as saying the whale came up from the water and grabbed the trainer by her waist. The sheriff's official said preliminary accounts indicated she slipped and fell in, but that was still under investigation.
At one period in the 1980s, so worried were Sea World of the threat of injury to the trainers that they ran the shows without them in the pool.
In the late 1960s, at Flamingo Land UK, an orca named "Cuddles" became increasingly aggressive so that keepers had to clean the pool from the protection of a shark cage. Doug Cartlidge was working there at the time and recalls "Cuddles was VERY aggressive … we spent a lot of time trying to calm him down, but captivity had done it's work on him! He was seriously ill, and I lived there for 6 weeks, we pulled him round, but the company then moved him to Dudley zoo, which had done a load of advertising. I said if they moved him they would kill him … and then I left for Windsor! He died just weeks after being moved to Dudley from a massive abscess that burst".
As the show at Marine World ended, we stayed put, still stood. One of the orcas came close to the pool's edge, eyeing us up. It was uncanny and all of us felt that the orca knew why we were there, it was very moving. Eventually were escorted to the exit by security. We demanded our money back and got it too! If caring people knew the truth about these places then negotiations to free the animals imprisoned there would be a lot easier to achieve.
I took the opportunity to take a boat trip out into the Pacific, hoping to see cetaceans and in particular Blue whales, well one would do I thought. We went way out and it was pretty choppy. There were around fifty or so whale watchers on board, half of whom were either being sea sick or feeling it. When we spotted a Blue whale those who were ill didn't show much interest and I had to step over some of them, as they were lying on the deck, to get a better look. I saw a blow and a fluke tail and then it was gone, a brief but magical view, then just as I was feeling smug over those who hadn't witnessed the sighting, the inevitable happened, I threw up over the side!
After that I was was hoping to go to Yosemite National Park but instead decided to go backpacking in Marin county. I waked over the Golden Gate bridge and after a short distance came to a tunnel through the hillside bearing the sign 'No Pedestrians'.
I stood scratching my head about how to proceed when a pickup truck stopped and offered me a lift. I got in and was surprised to see a rifle in the front seat, not the thing one usually sees in the UK. After he dropped me, I started to look round for somewhere to camp and followed a path running parallel with the road. On the path there was what I took to be an elk, I wasn't sure if they moved or if you had to from them, again not a usual sight confronted in the UK. Fortunately the path moved away from the beast but unfortunately took me back down to the road. At this moment a car pulled up and a black guy asked me if I knew where a card machine was, a surreal question as it was quite rural. He said he was a journalist and had crossed the Golden Gate bridge in error and he needed to go back over it to interview a Philippine girl pop band but had no cash to buy the ticket. I was usually prepared to go with the flow of life and said I'd go back with him.
We duly met the girl band and he did his interview and said he was going back home to Berkeley. It was getting late so I figured he'd probably put me up for the night. When we got to Berkeley, he stopped at a park and said it would be okay to camp the night there, charming I thought, considering how helpful I'd been!
I did a quick scout round and decided it would be prudent not to pitch the tent and be discreet, so I hid and laid down amongst some bushes. I had noticed a lot of anti-war murals on a park building and subsequently learned the park had hosted anti-war Vietnam demonstrations. The next morning I woke to a grass-cutter and homeless people streaming back into the park. Apparently the park was off limits between dusk and dark. One of the homeless people came over for a chat, he sounded like he had used a lot of drugs in his time. One second he was coherent and the next talking gibberish, telling me did I know that Jerry of the Grateful Dead was still alive. It had been a memorable day; often that is what happens when travelling if you go with the flow and I was later pleased to learn that I had spent the night in such good surrounds, with a history of anti-war sentiments.
Having met Viivi Syra in Canada in 1996, I agreed to help in her campaign to close Sarkanemmi dolphinarium at Tampere. It was basically an amusement park, and if anything people went to the dolphin show as an afterthought. My strategy was to pinpoint weak facilities and target them and Tampere came into that category. The government had passed a law banning any future imports of dolphins, so it was going to close eventually. The question was, could we speed the process up? I figured that as most of the visitors to the park were Finnish nationals, if we could get our message across in the country as to why dolphins shouldn't be in captivity, attendance figures would drop and the show wouldn't be seen as a profitable enterprise.
We arranged a demonstration for the end of January 1997. The day before Viivi also arranged for me to do a television interview in English and when transmitted it had Finnish sub-titles.
On the day of the demo I think it's the coldest I have ever felt. I had cold weather clothing with me, but didn't put it on. We met a good number of demonstrators at the railway station, over a hundred, marched a couple of miles to the park and walked back into town. In all, we were out for four to five hours in a strong wind, making the temperature around -20 to -22. Because I hadn’t put on enough clothing for the conditions, I paid for it the next day, feeling quite ill. I had mild hypothermia. The two days had however gone well. The following day I also joined in an anti-fur picket. Finland was awash with fur farms and shops.
I was back in Finland in the summer of 1998 for the CFN meeting. Predictably only half a dozen or so North Americans bothered to come over, but it was probably the best meet to date, even though lacking in numbers. The outside demonstration too was really good, our numbers being added to by local activists. We tried to do what we had done at Marine World in 1996, a stand up, silent vigil, but we were soon ushered out.
I though what Viivi needed to do was involve committed activists to picket the dolphinarium on a regular basis, as we had found out how effective that was in the UK. However after the CFN meeting had ended, I found myself at the dolphinarium for three more days, two of them with only one local activist and the other on my own, so perhaps it wasn't that easy for Viivi to get people involved You need a persistent long term mentality to keep on going back to dolphinariums and zoos if you are going to see the fruits of your labour. Whilst handing out leaflets to entrants, you always get a small portion of people who want to abuse you. I only understood a few words of Finnish, but I knew from the tone of voice it was abuse. It was rather funny for then to rant and then see the look on their faces when I looked blank and said "I'm English"!
The show at Tampere is no different from many other establishment 'prisonariums', wild-caught dolphins living in a bare-concrete tank, without the enrichment of other ocean life, without the ability to travel, without the opportunity to hunt. One of the dolphins captured for Tampere in the USA was named 'Happy', but Happy didn't live very long during the capture operation, so they just went out and captured another one to make up the export quota from the USA.
Sweeney is hated name among dolphin campaigners, he has been responsible for the wild capture of many, many animals over many years. This one sickly named "Happy" lived for a few brief weeks after capture. Did this tormentor of dolphins feel any sorrow or any remorse about the premature death of "Happy"? No, he went out and caught a replacement to fulfil the quota to Finland. I found this report from N.M.F.S amongst files I had and Viivi was very surprised and pleased to know about this extra death and therefore the extra replacement to Sarkanemmi dolphinarium because it would add fuel to our criticism of the place.
CFN member Yvon Godefroid put out a plea for help in his efforts to free Ivo and Iris from Antwerp zoo dolphinarium and I pledged Cetacea Defence’s support. We launched our 'Free Ivo and Iris Campaign' to start on July 4th. Antwerp was an old facility, one of two in Belgium, the other, newer one, being at Bruge.
It seemed that Iris the mother and Ivo were blood related. Frederic Daman the zoo director had issued a statement that the dolphinarium would close when all the dolphins had died. They had four dolphins when I was over there in 1995, so they were halfway to that commitment. It was yet another confirmation how dolphins in captivity are viewed, as mere utilities to their 'owners'.
When Yvon arranged a meeting with Daman, Yvon stressed how good it would be for the zoo to accept our proposal for a release scheme for the dolphins. Damian was particularly taken aback to have received so many letters from the UK calling for this. He had them stacked up on his desk. To add to the letter pressure we envisaged having some demonstrations at the zoo. They must have being feeling the pressure because on one of the proposed pickets in Bruge riot police turned up expecting some sort of civil disobedience!
We learnt on March 3rd 1999, that the dolphinarium was to close. I had done what I could from the UK, and Yvon the same, with only a small amount of support from Belgium organisations, but together we had achieved a victory, no more dolphins would ever suffer at Antwerp zoo. A total of 31 dolphins had been kept there since 1968. Most of them had been captured from the wild. Totally deprived of living in accordance with their true nature. Sadly for Ivo and Iris, they were transferred to Duisburg dolphinarium in Germany, not the freedom we had so dared to hope for.
I know Yvon felt as I did with other dolphins that I had a personal attachment to, it was a hollow sort of victory, Ivo and Iris would never feel the rhythms of the ocean again. He was sad. Some years later both were dead.