Controversial Seaworld trainer sets dolphins free

  • Breaking
  • 02/04/2010

Disillusioned with the industry, a controversial marine mammal trainer has decided to set his last 17 dolphins free.

Chris Porter trained Tilikum, the orca responsible for the death of his SeaWorld trainer last month, when he was living at Sealand of the Pacific in Canada.

He says it was the death of veteran whale trainer Dawn Brancheau, 40, at SeaWorld in Orlando that prompted the change of heart.

“I have been decided to release the remaining animals back into the wild,” Porter told the Vancouver Sun.

Porter owns a lucrative business, capturing animals in the Solomon Islands and selling them to aquariums. He has sold 83 dolphins around the world over the last nine years.

Ms Brancheau was petting Tilikum after a show when she was pulled into the orca tank by her ponytail and shaken around. The coroner determined her official cause of death was multiple traumatic injuries and drowning. Autopsy results released yesterday ruled her death an accident.

Mr Porter said the incident shook him and proved trainers are unable to cater to the needs of such an intelligent animal. Though he used to believe some animals must be captive educational ambassadors for their species, he is beginning to doubt the value of shows where animals are forced to perform tricks and rewarded with food.

“Are we really educating and providing the best representation for these animals in an aquarium?” asked Mr Porter.

Orca become frustrated with the artificial, sterile environment they are kept in, which bears little resemblance to their natural habitat. Their frustration increases the chance they will lash out, Mr Porter said.

He credits Oscar-winning documentary The Cove, which raised awareness to the bloody capture and slaughter of dolphins in Japan, as another catalyst in his decision to quit.

Mr Porter’s project in the Solomons initially set out to save dolphins, which were being slaughtered by thousands of islanders there who use their teeth as currency.

He told the Vancouver Sun hunters have now been educated to realise there can be much larger value in dolphins.

“When I got [to the Solomons] a dolphin was worth $20,” he says.

“Last year dolphins were worth $140,000.”

The debate around marine mammal captivity has reignited in the wake of last month’s death and Porter’s venture, Free the Pod, is likely to have strong support from animal rights activists and marine biologists opposing their capture.

One of Mr Porter’s former fiercest opponents, Earth Island Institute marine mammal specialist Ric O’Barry, is likely to provide high profile support.

Mr O’Barry trained dolphins for the Flipper television series in the 1960s, before dedicating himself to freeing captive dolphins.

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source: newshub archive