Many of us have a soft spot for whales. Whether we’re young or old, reside in a coastal community or live on the prairies, whales (and dolphins) bring out the protective instincts in most of us.

Recently, it was announced that Nova Scotia will be the site for something called the Whale Sanctuary Project, a coastal sanctuary where cetaceans (whales and dolphins) can live in an environment that is as close as possible to their natural habitat.

This news bulletin caused me to consider just how many coves, bays and inlets there are out in British Columbia too, that would work as a similar retreat for cetaceans that inhabit the waters of the west coast.

Truly, the number of possible locations must be in the thousands. The closest are around Vancouver Island and, starting in 2017, the same Whale Sanctuary Project also researched hundreds of these, using desktop maps with overlays showing water depth and other valuable information.

That said, Nova Scotia appears to have got there first.

Public opinion has turned against keeping whales and dolphins in captivity for some years now, so the creation of this sanctuary is the first step toward a world in which all cetaceans are treated with respect and are no longer confined to concrete tanks in entertainment parks and aquariums. I have drawn the above commentary and the following numbers from the Whale Sanctuary Project’s website:

  • 1,100 = number of square yards of space in a large display tank at a typical high-end marine park.
  • 3,000+ = number of captive whales and dolphins at entertainment facilities around the world.
  • 484,000 = minimum number of square yards for our first seaside sanctuary.

The treatment of marine mammals at, for example, the Miami Seaquarium has long been a subject of concern, most recently as documented in a United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) special inspection that it conducted in June. The report begins with the assertion that the Seaquarium’s management has been deliberately ignoring the recommendations of its inhouse veterinarian:

“The facility’s attending veterinarian’s recommendations regarding the provision of adequate veterinary care and other aspects of animal care and use have been repeatedly disregarded or dismissed over the last year.”

Poor water quality and bad food are just two of the complaints levelled against the establishment.

Time for a Change

All the more reason, then, to applaud the proposed 40-hectare, coastal sanctuary – to be enclosed by large underwater nets – that is scheduled to be built next year south of Port Hilford, N.S., just southeast of Sherbrooke. It is estimated that the facility will be as large as 50 Canadian football fields and about 300 times larger than the biggest tank in any marine park.

The project, so far as I can tell, enjoys broad public support. That said, there remains some hesitancy about the impact of whale waste in the site – though the bay is regularly flushed by the currents and tides – the potential for escapes and the possibility that the imported whales could transmit diseases to the resident whale population.

It is estimated that this not-for-profit initiative will cost the equivalent of $12-15 million U.S. for the creation of the sanctuary, and then $2 million U.S. per year for the care of the whales. This long-term care will be covered through endowments, sustaining donations, and other revenue-generating opportunities like educational materials and programs.

Charles Vinick, executive director of the Whale Sanctuary Project, was quoted as saying that: “We have a number of seven-figure donors who are very committed to this, and we’re in discussions with others.” The project is not asking for government funds.

According to a recent report on CBC News “The public would be permitted to see the whales from a viewing platform, but Vinick says the whales would not be required to perform, and he does not anticipate charging a fee for visitors.”

For Mr. Vinick, who has spent most of his career managing ocean-related organizations and businesses, the Whale Sanctuary Project is a dream rooted in compassion and respect.

“These whales have entertained tens of millions of people. They have earned hundreds of millions of dollars for the people who have them in captivity. This is the least we can do in giving them back some of the life and dignity that they have as a species,” he was quoted as saying in the CBC News report.

You spend time in the wild with whales and you can’t help but realize how intelligent, how connected they are to one another as families. And then you see them in captivity, and the difference is so stark and startling.

Be a Part of the Project

With gift giving season just around the corner, why not make a donation on behalf of your loved ones or yourself for that matter! You can make your donation to the Whale Sanctuary Project by visiting their website. The whales will thank you.