The Canary Islands are central to the ongoing marine wildlife debate. The Spanish archipelago consisting of 17 Spanish independent communities off the northwest coast of Africa is home to two high-profile captivity stories involving killer whales.
Now the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), along with other environmental groups, is calling for the Canary Islands to protect its wild whales, dolphins and rare marine animals after a company acquired a permit to drill for oil in whale and dolphin territory.
Canary Islands‘ Loro Parque
If Loro Parque sounds familiar, then you’ve probably heard of it in two killer whale captivity contexts.
In December 2009, Alexis Martinez, a 29-year-old orca trainer at Loro Parque — a zoo located in the Canary Islands — was killed by a killer whale. You may remember when his girlfriend, Estefania Rodriguez, tearfully recounted his death in the Blackfish documentary.
The Canary Islands’ Loro Parque has also been making headlines for the “Free Morgan” campaign. As the Mirror reports, Morgan is a killer whale who was born free, but is now confined in Loro Parque’s “concrete coffin” where she’s forced to perform circus tricks. She’s constantly photographed with scars, cuts, bad teeth (which are possibly so badly infected that they may become lethal) and bruises. While some of the markings are from bullying of other whales, a lot of it is also self-inflicted as she constantly bashes her head and body against her tiny enclosure in heartbreaking frustration.
WWF Says No to Oil Drilling
Captive marine animals in the Canary Islands aren’t the only ones with problems. As The Guardian reports, the company Repsol has plans to launch an oil exploration initiative in the Canary Islands, as early as October 2014. The WWF is urging the Spanish government to ditch the oil drilling and focus its efforts on creating a sanctuary for the region’s whales and dolphins.
Why are the Canary lslands so important? Close to a third of the world’s cetaceans, including whales, dolphins and porpoises, occupy the waters near Lanzarote and Fuerteventura. The region is home to some of the world’s richest marine life.
If Repsol insists on moving forward in whale and dolphin territory, then the area’s animals would constantly be vulnerable to oil spills, contamination from the oil and booming noises.
The Spanish government had proposed creating a sanctuary for the cetaceans back in 2011. The government was growing concerned about the increasing whale deaths from noise pollution. As Newsweek reports, noise pollution is more than a mere inconvenience. Oil companies are filling the ocean with loud noises. The deafening drill noises is disturbing the whales’ social networks; they depend on calling to each other for finding food sources and sticking in their pods. The noises are also startling some of the more sensitive species to dive and swim recklessly when spooked.
The WWF and other environmental groups are asking the Spanish government to reexamine their own proposal. Apart from the threat to the region’s marine life, oil drilling can also negatively impact (eco)tourism.
The Guardian reports how Marcos Fraga, a Repsol spokesperson, explains that the company respects opponents, but that “the discovery of hydrocarbons would be good news for the country.” Uh-huh. Too bad that there’s no mention of how the discovery would be good news for the whales and dolphins.
Cetaceans Need Sanctuary
Companies are eager to keep us dependent on black gold for as long as they can. Let’s hope that the Spanish government follows its own advice. A third of all wild whales, dolphins and porpoises need that sanctuary.
It’s also about captivity. Morgan only fell into human hands because she was sick, alone and malnourished. Who knows if drilling noises in the ocean is what got her separated from her pod in the first place. We don’t need another free animal to be condemned to a life of captivity, and we certainly don’t need to lose another human life for entertainment’s sake.
Photo Credit: Jeremiah John McBride