Open Letter: To Laurenne Schiller 

Last Tuesday Laurenne Schiller wrote an open letter (read her whole letter at the bottom of this post) about the Vancouver Park Board’s (March 9th) decision to unanimously amend the current bylaw that allows cetaceans to be displayed at the Vancouver Aquarium. This is my response to Laurenne’s letter:

I am not a scientist, but I am a concerned citizen of this world. I did not attend the meeting in person but that is ok, because there was nothing my friends said, that I could have said better. They are the people who have been fighting to end animal captivity for longer than me.

If you truly study people, you should know that humans mostly think about themselves and what benefits them. You say you work on the Ocean Wise program of the Vancouver Aquarium. You support humans eating fish. Yet fishing is a problem, a huge one, one that affects us all. And if you study humans and corporations and fishing fleets, you should know that the ones truly fighting for fish, are organizations that are advocating people to eat plant based and to end animal exploitation. Those fighting illegal fishing and the barbaric whale slaughter is Sea Shepherd, not the Vancouver Aquarium or any other Aquariums. You know what causes overfishing? Power, greed and consumer behaviour. It is humans who think they have the right to fish and consume fish. Corporations don’t care about human or non-human animals, they care about money. So no matter how you want to twist it to fit your agenda, in the end over fishing and exploitation, is is just a symptom of human greed and the public being completely misinformed. Labels such as “Ocean Wise” is just another greenwashing agenda to make people stay complicit in the atrocities we commit as a whole. It allows consumers to feel better when they order fish (any fish) because somewhere they saw your feel good logo and think they are always eating “Ocean Wise”.

For you to compare this decision and activism to Trump, I would say that is jumping the shark (pun intended). What is radical? The belief that humans should care about this planet, care about individual beings and evolve to be more compassionate? Did you by chance have a Vancouver Aquarium Staff meeting and discuss with the balloon man outside to use “Trump” as your only strategy?

I just have to point out your letter being filled with fallacies from appeal to authority, anecdotal and appeal to emotion fallacies, you just cannot win an argument by relying on them, they are too easy to pick apart. I can sense the same flawed arguments we read from any type of institution that profits off of the backs of human or non-human animals, dating back any time in history to this day. So let me give you an example that may put this a bit into perspective:

In the not so distant future, earth has taken a huge toll due to human activity, interference and greed, our oceans have been almost depleted, our air pollution is causing people to get severely ill and our water and soil is toxic, we are facing a human mass extinction. We face extremes in weather which is causing parts of the world to be inhabitable. 

We suddenly receive help from these creatures we don’t understand, but we see that they are trying to solve our issues, they seem to care and help us when we are sick, some are treated in hospitals and let go, but a few of us have injuries that make it a bit hard to get around, but we still want our freedom to go and leave the hospital. One of them is you. However, they decide your injuries are too severe and you are transferred to another facility, it has everything you need, food, water, shelter, medical care and it’s all on display, for those creatures you don’t understand, to come and see. The size of your room is tiny but tended to, it is cleaned daily, but at times the bleach from cleaning your cell is strong, it burns your eyes and makes you cough. You are stuck in that room, not of your free will, not on your terms. Even if your environment isn’t what it used to be, you could still go about your daily routines if you only got out and back to your own species. 

You had a family at the time you were taken away from the hospital and transported, you miss them, you wonder where they are. You walk back and forth in your cell and do a few sit ups and exercises, you get bored, you don’t have anything that stimulates you. But every now and then you are allowed into another room where you are being touched by these creatures you don’t understand, especially their little ones, they like to take pictures with you, although you don’t know their language, they are not harming you, at least not willingly. They give you a special treat and when they are done you go back to your cell, doing the same sit ups and exercises. Maybe you recall a song you used to sing with your loved ones, you repeat it over and over. Maybe you are lucky and you get a mate, I hope you get along. And maybe that mate is supposed to get you pregnant, it’s all in the name of research and science, because they want to see how you have a baby and study your baby. If you have your baby you at least won’t be alone, but neither your baby nor you and your baby will be set free. You can circle the same cell and teach your little one how to do sit ups and be brave through the meet and greets with the little creatures. 

And your future, no matter how many babies you birth, is the confinement of that cell, for display, for research, science and education. And for some unexplainable reason it will help your dying population out in the world. You may live another 50 years in that cell, day in, day out. But they are doing all they possibly can, trust me they don’t make millions and sell tickets and take money from corporations that are actually killing your people and planet. They have good hearts and intentions, they will do anything for their own species education.

Do you value safety over freedom? We all face dangers every day, we drive a car that could kill us, some of us have injuries that make us more susceptible to further injuries, we may be limited in what others can do due to our injuries, disabilities or certain threats, yet we don’t get locked away for that, and we wouldn’t want another species to lock us up either, no matter the circumstances. What would you choose, being locked up yet “safe” or have your freedom?

In your open letter, you are basically saying your rescue centre isn’t good enough. And I have seen it, it is completely sub par to other rescue and rehabilitation facilities, what you should be advocating for is a sea side sanctuary. The millions of dollars going into Vancouver Aquarium vs the money invested into the rescue centre is one of the biggest shames. And no, children and adults do not need to see a physically injured dolphin or whale to understand how to be better human beings. These humans need to learn that daily actions, like consuming animal products, has a detrimental impact on our environment, health and sentient individuals. They need to be taught compassion and how to truly care for our planet and fellow earthlings. We need to encourage them to create a better world, a world with hopefully less narcissism and greed. You could have all the information about whales, dolphins, fish, porpoises etc on a large screen (even interactive) and kids would learn the same amount if not more. There is no difference if those individuals are physically swimming around or not. Kids learn everything about dinosaurs and have never seen one in real life.

A $300 price tag for whale watching in the wild does not justify animals being exploited and on display in tiny tanks just so it’s affordable for a wider audience. Again, a screen does enough to teach humans about the oceans, animals, pollution, health, habits, science, etc. Being an ambassador for ones species does not need a physical mascot, it needs proper educational material and communication.

I am always amazed how people think their own satisfaction and wants are above everything else. This same thinking repeats itself no matter when in history, the superior human complex. Actually, the superior white, straight, able body, middle-aged, male human. It has been the cause of all oppressions to this day. By you taking such a stance, you are playing into the system of oppression responsible for all ills of this world. I understand that you try to justify your actions with using your Nana and your experience and now with your textbooks from school. You play into what you have been indoctrinated by, you play to the system of oppression who will finance your career by speaking on behalf of those who benefit the most. It’s clearly not the animals, its the organizations and corporations that use people like you.

Public pressure and cardboard signs have been a necessity in the past to make change, change that you benefit from today and that you will continue to benefit from going forward. The only thing future generations of our society will suffer from, are those greedy institutions and corporations that you are employed by and speak on behalf. By those donors that green- and whitewash their immoral and unethical business practices through institutions like The Vancouver Aquarium. You are just a tool within their game, you offer the system “Ocean Wise Research and Approval” and your science badge, but you could do so much better, you could use all of that to do real good, to teach our next generation to boycott animal products and to dismantle those systems of oppression. Be a true hero, not a spokesperson for the oppressors.

I have read your personal blog about the Taiji dolphin slaughter. Actually you said something that was completely true, although you missed the point in the end. The truth you said, was that people who get so outraged about the dolphin slaughter are often meat eaters and that is hypocritical and the only ones who deserve to criticize are vegans. You are right, but then you went on to basically say, if you eat meat (like yourself and while posting meatballs under the post) you are telling people to just shut up, eat their meat and not say a word about the dolphin slaughter. However, that is the two wrongs make a right fallacy. What you should have said is, since you care so much about the dolphins, try to see your own participation in animal exploitation and end it, by expanding your own circle of compassion. Your attitude is that humans are a superior species and should go ahead and destroy it all, as long as we are all consistent in destroying everything, god forbid we started to care for all living beings as much as we can.

As a female scientist who understands some concepts of animal rights and vegansim, all you have to do is make there right step into the right direction. I trust you will come to see eye to eye if you are really true to yourself.

Please, for the future generation of our society, be a hero for all earthlings!

Regards,
VeCan-Team

Below is the initial open letter written by Laurenne Schiller:

OPEN LETTER: FROM A SCIENTIST TO THE PARK BOARD

Last Thursday (9 March), the Vancouver Park Board Commissioners voted unanimously to amend the current bylaw that allows cetaceans (whales, dolphins, and porpoises) to be displayed at the Vancouver Aquarium. In response to this decision Laurenne Schiller, Vancouver Aquarium scientist and PhD student, wrote this letter to the Park Board. 

I work as a research analyst for Ocean Wise yet I could not attend the meeting in person last week since I am currently living in Halifax and working on a PhD in fisheries management. It’s all right though, because there is nothing my colleagues said that I could have said better. They are the experts on marine mammal care, I just study tuna. Actually, that’s not totally true: I study people. Because fisheries management has almost nothing to do with fish. Rather, it’s about the power struggle between different nations and fishing fleets, and how they contort policies and overlook scientific facts to meet their unique political agendas. So, as painful as it was to listen to your decision last week, it was a shock but not a surprise. I’ve seen it before in the research I do, time and time again. In a practical sense, politics is the reason that overfishing continues at a global scale and harmful subsidies threaten the recovery of fish stocks. Like the rest of the world, I have also seen the triumph of slanted politics in recent months through the ongoing abuses of power, rejection of science, and reliance on unfounded radical perspectives by the Trump Administration. As I read your statement from Thursday’s Park Board meeting and listened to Commissioner Mackinnon’s interview on the CBC Early Edition, I could not help but see many parallels.

 Activists say our practices are cruel and that we kill whales. I can assure you that neither are true although human activity does kill whales regularly. In the Northwest Atlantic, entanglement in fishing gear was the primary cause of large whale deaths between 1970-2009. Since 1998, 70 orcas from the endangered BC Southern Resident population have gone missing or died. The infant mortality rate in this group is also incredibly high (13 deaths of juveniles one year old or younger), and the bioaccumulation of toxic chemicals — from human systems — is a key threat to the health and survival of these cetaceans. Similarly, the population of belugas in the St. Lawrence has been declining since 2000; it is now estimated at less than 1,000 individuals and 32 calves have been found dead in the last four years alone. Loss of habitat and human-induced noise are believed to be key contributors to this problem.

 The day Chester was moved to the Wild Coast exhibit many of us shed tears of joy. When Qila and Aurora died, our collective heart broke. As I heard Commissioner Mackinnon suggest that our current rescued animals be moved to a different facility, or back to the Marine Mammal Rescue Centre on Main Street, I realized just how little the Park Board understands what we do. I also wondered why — if you are so deeply moved by the plight of these animals — you are comfortable with their captivity away from the public eye and off city property. I wondered why you would be comfortable moving our rescued animals to a site that is designed to be a temporary home and in so doing prevent the public from learning about and being inspired by them. A dolphin who lost her flippers in a drift net instantly teaches about harmful fishing gears. A false killer whale who is the first of his species to survive stranding as an infant conveys the importance of veterinary research and care. I have worked for a whale watching company in Vancouver and yes, seeing whales in the wild is incredibly powerful. But at $300 a person, a day trip is also unrealistic and inaccessible for most families. The importance of the animals at the Aquarium is second to none. Why do you not understand their value as ambassadors for their species?

 Without a shadow of a doubt the reason I became a marine biologist is because my Nana took me to the Aquarium every month when I was young. The belugas captivated my attention from the very beginning and, since then, learning about and protecting the ocean is all I’ve ever wanted to do. I wonder if you can imagine how hurtful and infuriating it was to hear someone with no formal education in marine biology, no practical experience in veterinary care, and a tainted, erroneous view of our facility attack my colleagues and paint our work as immoral and unethical. Please try to consider what that must have felt like. The decision you have made — all of you — is unfounded in anything but political power and cardboard signs. And due to your desire to make a name for yourselves, it is the marine mammals of the Canadian west coast and the future generations of our society who will suffer from this decision.

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