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France Bans Captive Breeding of Dolphins and Whales While SeaWorld Still Invests in It

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France Bans Captive Breeding of Dolphins and Whales While SeaWorld Still Invests in It
Captive dolphins at Marineland Antibes in France. John Clift

By Laura Bridgeman

The French government passed new legislation earlier this month aimed at phasing out all dolphin and whale captivity, a move that reflects growing public awareness and concern over the poor living conditions cetaceans are forced to endure in captivity.


The new law prohibits keeping any cetacean captive, with the ultimate goal being to entirely shut down the archaic industry throughout France. For those unfortunate individuals who are already held captive at facilities such as Marineland Antibes in the French Riviera, the legislation stipulates that no captive breeding can be done. It also prohibits direct contact between captive cetaceans and humans—putting an end to swim-with-dolphins programs—and requires that pools and tanks be made "significantly larger." Facilities have been given up to three years to comply with the new rules.

Environment Minister Segolene Royal had signed an earlier version of the law that imposed strict controls on dolphin breeding, but then decided to take a "more radical" approach, resulting in a total phase-out of the industry. According to the ministry, this decision was influenced by information that captive animals were being drugged in some facilities.

France joins a growing list of countries that have begun to phase out and ban cetacean captivity. In 2013, India banned cetacean captivity outright; Canada is currently considering doing the same with Bill S-203. Many facilities located in countries that have not yet taken such measures are phasing out their cetacean exhibits on their own, including the Baltimore Aquarium, the Vancouver Aquarium and the Barcelona Aquarium.

However, the global cetacean entertainment industry leader—the U.S. based company SeaWorld Inc.—has so far refused to divest from this industry that has been proven unethical and harmful for dolphins and whales.

Last year, SeaWorld did announce that the company would phase out its orca breeding program—which involved separating mothers from young calves—and pledged to stop theatrical-type shows, claiming that it would instead present orcas to the public in a more "naturalistic" way. The move drew praise from many groups, including the Humane Society of the United States. However, at the time of the announcement, a ban on the very things SeaWorld had pledged to give up was being considered by California legislators. Sponsored by state assembly member Richard Bloom and drawing huge public support, the Orca Protection and Safety Act was signed into law just six months after SeaWorld's announcement, leading many to question the company's motivations behind their seemingly noble voluntary pledge.

While SeaWorld has agreed that this generation of orcas will be their last (although a calf was born last month, meaning that SeaWorld could display orcas for another 50 years), they have doubled-down on exploitation of other cetacean species. The company's San Antonio facility recently unveiled a massive swim-with program that uses beluga whales and dolphins, and Seaworld currently holds 176 cetaceans at facilities across the country. Questions also remain around what the company's breeding policies are for other non-Orca species.

David Phillips, director of Earth Island Institute's International Marine Mammal Project, said France's new law is a "crucial recognition that … breeding ban[s] must include all orcas and other dolphins," and points out that "SeaWorld is desperately holding onto the myth that ending orca breeding solves all their public relations problems."

"Orcas may be the largest members of the dolphin family, but they are still dolphins," Phillips added. "It is similarly cruel and abusive to hold all species of dolphins in concrete tanks. All dolphin breeding must be ended."

SeaWorld may be betting that the public will see nothing wrong with dolphin or other whale captivity as long as it does not involve orcas. But the numbers seem to suggest otherwise: In a statement issued Tuesday, the company revealed that their attendance and revenue plunged more than 15 percent in the first quarter of 2017, translating into a $61 million loss. This is a continuation of what appears to be a serious downward trend in SeaWorld's business ever since the shocking documentary Blackfish hit theaters in 2013.

There exist other options for the cetaceans it holds captive, though SeaWorld has so far refused to explore them.

"Dolphins and whales of all species can and should be retired to seaside sanctuaries for retirement or, where feasible, returned to the wild," said Phillips. He sits on the board of the Whale Sanctuary Project, a new organization that aims to establish the world's first cold-water sanctuary that can accommodate orcas. The project recently received a $1 million dollar cash infusion to support their efforts. "The France edict is more proof that it is time for SeaWorld to wake up to the reality that people don't want to see dolphins and whales being used for any reason," said Phillips.

While France has made progressive changes that reduce suffering for cetaceans, SeaWorld continues to disregard entirely what the public, and the bottlenose dolphins, belugas, and orcas themselves might want—to the detriment of its business.

Take action: Sign the petition to force SeaWorld to stop lying about its treatment of cetaceans.

Laura Bridgeman is director of Sonar, an organization that advocates for dolphin and whale personhood, and Campaign & Communications Specialist at Earth Island's International Marine Mammal Project. Reposted with permission from our media associate Earth Island Journal.

A net-casting ogre-faced spider. CBG Photography Group, Centre for Biodiversity Genomics / CC BY-SA 3.0

Just in time for Halloween, scientists at Cornell University have published some frightening research, especially if you're an insect!

The ghoulishly named ogre-faced spider can "hear" with its legs and use that ability to catch insects flying behind it, the study published in Current Biology Thursday concluded.

"Spiders are sensitive to airborne sound," Cornell professor emeritus Dr. Charles Walcott, who was not involved with the study, told the Cornell Chronicle. "That's the big message really."

The net-casting, ogre-faced spider (Deinopis spinosa) has a unique hunting strategy, as study coauthor Cornell University postdoctoral researcher Jay Stafstrom explained in a video.

They hunt only at night using a special kind of web: an A-shaped frame made from non-sticky silk that supports a fuzzy rectangle that they hold with their front forelegs and use to trap prey.

They do this in two ways. In a maneuver called a "forward strike," they pounce down on prey moving beneath them on the ground. This is enabled by their large eyes — the biggest of any spider. These eyes give them 2,000 times the night vision that we have, Science explained.

But the spiders can also perform a move called the "backward strike," Stafstrom explained, in which they reach their legs behind them and catch insects flying through the air.

"So here comes a flying bug and somehow the spider gets information on the sound direction and its distance. The spiders time the 200-millisecond leap if the fly is within its capture zone – much like an over-the-shoulder catch. The spider gets its prey. They're accurate," coauthor Ronald Hoy, the D & D Joslovitz Merksamer Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior in the College of Arts and Sciences, told the Cornell Chronicle.

What the researchers wanted to understand was how the spiders could tell what was moving behind them when they have no ears.

It isn't a question of peripheral vision. In a 2016 study, the same team blindfolded the spiders and sent them out to hunt, Science explained. This prevented the spiders from making their forward strikes, but they were still able to catch prey using the backwards strike. The researchers thought the spiders were "hearing" their prey with the sensors on the tips of their legs. All spiders have these sensors, but scientists had previously thought they were only able to detect vibrations through surfaces, not sounds in the air.

To test how well the ogre-faced spiders could actually hear, the researchers conducted a two-part experiment.

First, they inserted electrodes into removed spider legs and into the brains of intact spiders. They put the spiders and the legs into a vibration-proof booth and played sounds from two meters (approximately 6.5 feet) away. The spiders and the legs responded to sounds from 100 hertz to 10,000 hertz.

Next, they played the five sounds that had triggered the biggest response to 25 spiders in the wild and 51 spiders in the lab. More than half the spiders did the "backward strike" move when they heard sounds that have a lower frequency similar to insect wing beats. When the higher frequency sounds were played, the spiders did not move. This suggests the higher frequencies may mimic the sounds of predators like birds.

University of Cincinnati spider behavioral ecologist George Uetz told Science that the results were a "surprise" that indicated science has much to learn about spiders as a whole. Because all spiders have these receptors on their legs, it is possible that all spiders can hear. This theory was first put forward by Walcott 60 years ago, but was dismissed at the time, according to the Cornell Chronicle. But studies of other spiders have turned up further evidence since. A 2016 study found that a kind of jumping spider can pick up sonic vibrations in the air.

"We don't know diddly about spiders," Uetz told Science. "They are much more complex than people ever thought they were."

Learning more provides scientists with an opportunity to study their sensory abilities in order to improve technology like bio-sensors, directional microphones and visual processing algorithms, Stafstrom told CNN.

Hoy agreed.

"The point is any understudied, underappreciated group has fascinating lives, even a yucky spider, and we can learn something from it," he told CNN.

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