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The Whales' Point of View

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To the editors:

Re your article on Steve Hindi's battle with the Shedd Aquarium (Nov. 5). During the Shedd's 1992 capture of four young belugas, I was in Churchill, Manitoba. While I was there, I had a chat with the whales and they asked me to convey some comments to the Shedd.

First they pointed out that they come from Canada's Hudson Bay in the central Arctic, not from the American Pacific Northwest. In addition, they wanted the public to know that not a hemlock, artificial bush, tree nor rock is to be found in their environment--not even piped-in bird and cricket sounds. Neither are there gates that open and shut and separate them visually from their companions. They thought these gimmicks pretty silly and wondered whether you really can fool all of the people all of the time.

The belugas denied that they swim around in repetitive circles as shown on Hindi's video. (I agree, I have seen my friends many times in the wild and never observed this pathetic behaviour.) The belugas pointed out that whenever the Shedd is present, they are frantically fleeing for their lives from the aquarium's capture team, so how, they asked, would Ken Ramirez know about belugas' natural swimming behaviour?

They queried William Braker's logic. Braker argued that in standing at the foot of Kilimanjaro, one "gets a sense of it" and this, purportedly, increases one's appreciation of nature. But Braker stated that he went to the mountain; he did not bring the mountain back to Chicago. His example is, therefore, equivalent to whale-watching, not captivity. As an alternative to captivity, the belugas strongly recommended the "wonderful books and videos" to which Ramirez referred.

The belugas were astonished that the Shedd claimed to contribute to beluga conservation, when the aquarium industry, for over a quarter of a century, has, in fact, contributed to a significant net loss of belugas in the wild.

They also found it inconceivable that the Shedd spent $45 million to build a sterile prison for belugas, when their own magnificent natural environment is absolutely free of charge. The belugas said these millions would be better spent cleaning up marine pollution, controlling development, and eliminating harmful fishing practices.

However shocked the belugas are by people who argue in favour of putting whales in jail, the canaries of the sea do not lack a sense of humour. They thought it just as well that Shedd trainers do not understand beluga chirps, clicks and whistles. Oh yes, the beluga language is rich in curses! A mother whose youngster had been stolen by the Shedd smiled ruefully and told me, captive belugas enjoy the spitting. They enjoy the spitting a lot.

Anne Doncaster

Director

International Wildlife Coalition

Ontario, Canada

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