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B.C. coast scouted for possible whale sanctuary

Leeanna McLean
Digital Reporter

Tuesday, May 10, 2016, 2:21 PM - The Whale Sanctuary Project, an environmental non-profit group, is eyeing the coast of British Columbia as a potential location to establish a refuge for retired aquarium whales.

The organization includes several people who helped Keiko, the star of the family drama film Free Willy, move from Newport, Oregon to Icelandic waters.

RELATED: Orca tagging program on hold after dead whale found in B.C.

"If we are interested in phasing out the keeping of dolphins and whales in concrete tanks, we have to have somewhere for them to go," Whale Sanctuary Project president Dr. Lori Marino told On the Coast host Stephen Quinn.

A safe cove, quiet bay, or inlet would be preferable where the animals would have access to utilities. The environment would have to be sectioned off in order for staff to feed and care for them. Visitors would have the ability to view the sanctuary. 

Marino says the estimated cost of the project is around $20 million and it would be funded through grants and endowments.

SeaWorld says they have no intention of partnering with the Whale Sanctuary Project. Spokesperson for the theme park Travis Claytor told reporters they have concerns.

"We have very serious concerns about putting the animals in sea cages, where they would be exposed to disease, pollution and other man-made and natural disasters," Claytor told KPLU News in an email. "Given the ages of our whales, the length of time they've spent in human care and the social relationships they've formed with other whales, it would do them more harm than good," the statement said.

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"These ideas are simplistic and don't take into account that the majority of the whales were born in human care, and their plan would cause our whales immense stress and death during transport and release."

SeaWorld has 29 orcas at four different locations. The company recently announced it will end its controversial orca breeding program and the whales currently residing in its parks will be the last.

"We will continue and hope that at some point they [SeaWorld] will decide to join us... In either case, we are going to build this, because the Sanctuary Project is filling a gap," Marino told CBC.

Vancouver Island, Puget Sound and other sites along the Washington waterfront are also being examined as possible locations for the project.

Marino hopes to have the sanctuary operating in three to five years.


Watch more: SeaWorld says it will stop breeding killer whales and phase out performances

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