Empty the tanks!

Marineland protestors on the right side of history

Carlyn Schellenberg, staff

On the afternoon of July 27, 2013 the first International Empty the Tanks protests occurred simultaneously in various locations around the world. I had the pleasure of attending the event at Marineland, along with over 200 other dissidents.

For decades, anti-captivity activists have been protesting against the inhumane capture of marine mammals and their subsequent enclosure in tanks for entertainment purposes.

With their level of intelligence and social nature, perhaps it is most alarming that dolphins and orca whales are captive.

Marineland Animal Defense (MAD), a grassroots campaign in Ontario, organized the protest at Marineland as part of Empty the Tanks.

Marineland had initially put in place injunctions against MAD and its co-founder Dylan Powell. While they were adjourned before the protest, an Aug. 9 court order against Powell ultimately changes the way protesting can occur and restricts the wording on signs used for future protests. Marineland recently filed a $1.5 million defamation lawsuit against activist Mike Garrett as well. To some extent, activists are still being kept silent.

As I approached Marineland and stood outside the fence, the protesters had tape placed over their mouths to symbolize this act of silencing.

They picketed in two lines – one facing the road, numerous cars honking in support, and the other facing the chain-link fence surrounding the park. Despite the lack of noise, protesters managed to pique the curiosity of customers loitering at the gate.

The purpose of this primarily silent protest was to “shut it down.”

Some protesters may have been there in support of Kiska, Marineland’s only orca whale, or out of concern over the two recent beluga whale deaths, reaching a total of 20 beluga deaths at Marineland since 1999.

There are numerous independent concerns related to each marine park and aquarium, such as water quality and tank sizes, but all issues are rooted in the fact that these animals are in captivity.

The notion of releasing animals from captivity rippled around the world and grew stronger on July 27: a protest held in Miami was joined by Dolphin Project founder Ric O’Barry, who appears in the 2009 Academy-Award-winning documentary The Cove.

The International Empty the Tanks protest covered marine parks in San Diego and Vallejo, California; Orlando; Chicago; Oahu; Baltimore; Vancouver; Toronto; Hong Kong; London; Edinburgh; the Netherlands; Japan; Australia; and Argentina.

A protest also occurred near Georgia Aquarium, an Atlanta marine park that has since been denied by NOAA Fisheries a request for 18 Russian beluga whales, based on the U.S.’s Marine Mammal Protection Act.

While this act “prohibits killing, taking or harassing any marine mammal without a permit and bans the importation of any part or product of a nursing marine mammal, or his or her mother,” Canada’s marine mammals are not fortunate enough to benefit from such protections, as there are no laws regarding their safety. Furthermore, Ontario aquariums do not even need to license dolphins and whales.

Perhaps at some stage in the fight for animal freedom, other countries will follow India’s example, banning dolphin parks after recognizing dolphins as “non-human persons.”
The future looks bright. At Marineland, I saw children on both sides of the fence. One young girl leaving the park gave a thumbs-down as we chanted and asked, “How many animals died today?” But perhaps the people who will change history were the children on my side of the fence, who held up signs and led chants into the megaphone.

One day, marine mammals will get their retirement; they will be released from the walls that currently surround them into a welcoming and infinite ocean.

We will set them free.