A Victoria activist is sailing a boat of shame on the Salish Sea in an effort to end commercial whale watching.
“The Salish Sea is not a circus [and] orcas are not for entertainment,” says James Whitehead, the captain and performance artist behind the demonstration. “They are an extremely rare and precious animal.”
Whitehead, who is using the name Jim White for his demonstration, has a history of environmental activism in the region, and plans to protest with a 75-foot former Canadian Forces Navy vessel he has named the Seaquarium’s Shame. Painted red with representations of the southern resident killer whale spirit pod at the base, Whitehead’s mission is to disrupt commercial whale watching activities off the West Coast.
“It’s scientifically documented that orcas change their behaviour from socializing and foraging to [travelling] in the presence of whale watching boats,” he said. “How are the whales compensated for their daily performances for the whale watching industry’s services? The whale watching industry is turning the Salish Sea into a circus. A seat on a whale watching boat is like a seat in a seaquarium.”
|Activist Jim White says a seat on a whale watching boat "is a seat on the stands of the Miami Seaquarium." (Photo Courtesy of Jim White)
Whitehead points to the government’s interim order prohibiting vessels from approaching any killer whale within a 400-metre distance. That order adding distance ended Oct. 31, reverting to previous rules. Following the order, the Pacific Whale Watch Association signed an agreement to stop offering tours of Southern Resident orcas – but with a caveat that they could approach transient orcas to a distance of up to 200 metres. Other organizations have also limited the time they spend following orca pods.
But Whitehead says the changes only prove that whale watching companies are aware of the harmful impacts their boats can have, and says any form of whale watching is going to be harmful for orcas – both residents and transients.
He also hopes to bring attention to Tokitae (Lolita), a southern resident killer whale captured and placed in captivity at the Miami Seaquarium 49 years ago – where she still lives today. Whitehead says the 53-year-old orca is rarely counted as one of the remaining southern residents, which does a disservice to the whale, her pod and her still alive mother, Ocean Sun.
“Tokitae is the last surviving wild orca in North America still held captive,” Whitehead says in a media release. “Seaquarium’s Shame demands that Miami Seaquarium engage with the Lummi Nation and return Tokitae to her mother, her place of creation and the sanctuary the Lummi have prepared for her.”
Whitehead knows his approach to conservation is unconventional, and while he won’t disclose when or where his boat will be appearing, he hopes its presence is enough to get people re-thinking the act of whale viewing.
“Would it be okay to chase a bear in an SUV so long as you were 200 metres away from it?” he poses. “This is a different approach to this issue than what you normally see. I’m coming at this as a citizen with a deep emotional connection to the ocean.
“I think it brings it down to a very human scale…if we really love our coast and our environment, it’s not to hard to do that respectfully and not love it to death.”
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