Saturday, September 24, 2016

This Week's Dolphin Outlook

Today 26 bottlenose dolphins were taken captive. The remaining pod of approximately 15-20 dolphins, have been pushed back to sea by the hunters. 2016.09.24 - 3:10pm #DolphinProject

Queen guitarist Brian May protests Japanese dolphin hunts
Brian May, guitarist of British rock group Queen, speaks during an interview with The Associated Press in Tokyo, Friday, Sept. 23, 2016. May is taking a stand against Japanese dolphin killing, saying the slaughter of animals should end in the same way society has turned against slavery or witch-burning. May spoke Friday while in Tokyo for a Queen concert. (Koji Sasahara/Associated Press)

Brian May, guitarist of British rock group Queen, is taking a stand against Japan’s dolphin killing, saying the slaughter of animals should end in the same way society has turned against slavery or witch-burning.

“Every species, and every individual of every species, is worthy of respect,” May told The Associated Press on Friday while in Tokyo for Queen’s sell-out concerts at Budokan arena.

“This is not about countries. It’s about a section of humanity that doesn’t yet understand that animals have feelings, too.”

Protesting the dolphin hunt in the small Japanese town of Taiji, documented in the Oscar-winning “The Cove,” has become a cause for celebrities including Sting and Daryl Hannah. Taylor McKeown, a silver medalist swimmer in the Rio Olympics, who has long been fascinated with dolphins, is now in Taiji to monitor the hunts.

Ric O’Barry, the dolphin trainer for the “Flipper” TV series, started the protests against the Taiji dolphin kill, and stars in “The Cove,” which depicts a pod of dolphins getting herded into an inlet and getting bludgeoned to death, as blood turns the water red.

The hunters in Taiji and their supporters defend the custom as tradition, although eating dolphins is extremely rare in Japan. The Japanese government also defends whaling as research.

May, who founded the “Save Me Trust” in 2009 to lobby governments on wildlife policy, said he opposes cruelty against all animals, including Britain’s fox hunt and Spain’s bullfights. Both were also defended as tradition, but that was a mere excuse, he said.

“I know Japanese people — so many. They’re decent. They’re kind. They’re compassionate, but they don’t know this is going on,” May said of the dolphin killing. “These are mammals, highly intelligent sensitive creatures, bringing up their children like we do, and they are being slaughtered and tortured.”

Eloisia Wild has completed her epic cycle ride from north to south through the Outer Hebrides in Scotland. Braving storms, 60mph winds and driving rain, she completed the 150 mile trip and has raised vital funds to support WDC’s work.  
Seaworld Trainers Seek Union Status
Animal trainers have now started their own series of important questions.

And so it begins, first you question others, then yourself.
Below is an excerpt of the Marine Mammal Trainers website.

The Animal Trainer Union
My starting wage at Sea Life Park Hawaii was $8/hour. My starting wage at SeaWorld Orlando was about $11/hour. I worked weekends and Holidays. I worked early mornings and late nights. At Sea Life Park, I was asked to clock out and continue working more times than I can count. And I was so happy I couldn't believe it.

I loved working with those animals. It was a privilege. I would've paid them to let me care of the animals, and I was excited to spend Christmas, not with my family, but with those animals that I love so deeply.

That being said, there is no question that this passion of animal care professionals is being exploited by facility owners who have no clue what goes into caring for animals. SeaWorld is not one of those facilities.

In my experience, SeaWorld treated their trainers incredibly well. In fact, I have very little qualms about how they treat their trainers. They offer amazing health benefits, they make sure they clock out on time, truly respect their staff, and more importantly, put the safety and well-being of their staff and animals before anything else.

Of course, there is room for improvement – particularly when it comes to fairness of pay.

(Un)Fairness of Pay
When I worked at SeaWorld, many trainers working with killer whales got paid $5/hr more than me while I worked with dolphins, false killer whales, and pilot whales. This additional $5/hr was considered "hazard pay" as they were working with orcas which were considered more dangerous. However, that "hazard pay" was instituted when trainers were in the water with the orcas. Now, those trainers were "dry" meaning – they were not the water with orcas. Yet, they were still getting this extra $5/hr while I was in the water 6 times a day with dolphins. Even trainers who were in the water with false killer whales (a separate species of whale) or recently rescued pilot whales were not granted this hazard pay. Even more confusing, trainers who moved from working with killer whales to working with dolphins kept their hazard pay, while trainers who moved from dolphins to killer whales maintained their current pay.

Did the trainers care?

Not really. At least they didn't care enough to do anything about it.

It was occasionally brought up by the training staff. Some trainers rolled their eyes on the idiotic justification brought down from management and then everyone went back to work. Everyone went back to work because we loved our work, we loved the animals, and we weren't in it for the extra $5/hr.

But does that make it right? Is it right to pay this person more to do the same job as another person? No, it is not.

The problem trainers face in today's job climate, and the problem they have always faced, is the supply and demand of jobs. Thousands of people want to work with animals. Yet, there are only a few jobs available. This gives the company an incredible amount of power to dictate unfair or low wages, difficult hours, laborious work, and essentially zero job security.

To add fuel to the fire, you are hiring a staff of animal lovers. People who willingly and lovingly put the animals first. This allows companies to use and abuse their staff without the staff even realizing they are being used and abused. They are blinded by their love for animals and the privilege they have of being allowed to care for them.

So, should animal trainers unionize in order to demand fair wages, reasonable hours, and an hour for lunch?

Hell. No.

If you are in this for the money, reasonable hours, and an hour for lunch, there are plenty of other jobs out there for you. So, leave this profession now – because you are not welcomed.

However, should animal trainers unionize for other reasons?


Why Animal Trainers/Keepers Should Unionize

The industry is moving from shows to interactions. People will pay lots of money to fulfill their dream to swim with a dolphin or sea lion. Facility owners know this and are taking advantage. In fact, Arizona will soon be home to a new aquarium and dolphin interaction facility, and plenty of other facilities are including animal interactions to boost revenues and combat declining ticket sales. This can be dangerous.

Picture this…

A businessman in another state (or another country, for that matter), receives a piece of paper that tells him that one dolphin and one trainer can interact with 5 guests for 30 minutes. Each guest pays $100 for this experience. The trainer is paid $10/hr, so during that interaction the trainer makes $5, and the company makes $500 (of course, there are a zillion other expenses to consider, but let's make this simple for demonstration purposes). They do 5 of these interactions a day and have 10 dolphins. They always book up, in fact, they have to turn people away, so every day the company brings in $25,000.

($500 X 5 Interactions) X (10 dolphins) = $25,000

The businessman wants to make more money so he figures he can add 2 people to each group and make an additional $10,000 per day!

($700 X 5 Interactions) X (10 dolphins) = $35,000

His investors and partners are thrilled and so is the businessman.

Months go by and they want to make more money, especially because they had a very slow holiday season. So, the businessman decides he can just add 3 more people to each group and do 2 more interactions every day.

($1,000 X 7 Interactions) X (10 dolphins) = $70,000

Wow! He just doubled the company's revenue. Everyone is thrilled. They are making so much money that outside companies want in. So, the dolphin interaction company sells to the highest bidder. These new owners don't know anything about dolphins and only have one goal – to increase profits.

So, they look at tons of paperwork and account statements to figure out how to make more money. They cut the trainers pay, get rid of the highest paid trainers, and yep, you guessed it, add 2 more people to every interaction and add another 3 interactions each day! Now, they are making $120,000 a day AND they decreased some of the labor costs.

($1,200 X 10 Interactions) X (10 dolphins) = $120,000

Financially, this is great.

For the trainers and more importantly, for the animals, this is not great.
Dolphin Welfare is the Priority

What is the only constant in the equations above? The number of dolphins.

Interactions CAN be a very positive and reinforcing experiences for the animals. I've seen it first-hand. However, when money starts to trump animal welfare, the interactions can become aversive. There is a fixed cost to care for a dolphin (i.e. they must eat every day, there must be a vet on staff, the water quality must be perfect, etc). You cannot get rid of those costs. So, in order to make more money you need to bring in more money. More money means more interactions. More interactions means less time for trainers to conduct training, exercise, and play sessions. More interactions means less time to develop new enrichment programs for the dolphins. More interactions means more time with guests who can be unruly and obnoxious. Yes, more interactions means more money, but that's about it.

Not to mention that the trainers (the ones who are left after the buyout) are getting more work piled on them and are making the same wage (or less).

The trainers see that this is not going well for the animals (or the trainers), and they take their concerns to management. Management takes those concerns to the businessmen, and the businessmen say, "if you don't like it, quit." That message is relayed back to the trainers and because they love these animals, quitting is not an option.

And THAT is why we need a union.

If a company is going to care for animals, the animal's care needs to be the priority. If you are unable to turn a nice profit (which I completely believe you deserve) while properly caring for these animals, perhaps you are in the wrong business.

A professional animal keeper union is needed, not just to protect the animal care professionals but more importantly, to protect the animals.

I am not advocating a balance between profit and animal care. I am advocating tipping the scales to favor animal care.

Animal Welfare > Profit.
How Do You Create A Union?
Stop. Before you get all riled-up and go create a union, first make sure it is needed. For example, if my SeaWorld co-workers told me that they were going to unionize I would've told them to knock it off and shut up. SeaWorld takes great care of their animals and their staff, and if you're pissed about a $5/hr discrepancy then go work somewhere else.

Unfortunately, there are tons of facilities who do not deliver the same level of care and those facilities should be targets.

Currently, there is an animal trainer/handler union in Hollywood. I would suggest reaching out to them to see how they may be able to help you and your co-workers unionize. Here are some thoughts to consider when unionizing.

1. Make Reasonable Demands
Cultivate a list of demands you and your staff need in place in order to give the best possible care for the animals. They must be reasonable. For example, if you ask for $350/hr pay and that the facility should close for three months in the Summer, you are not being reasonable.

Explain how these demands actually help the business. If you cut down the number of guests in an interaction, how does this help them? Perhaps having less people makes for a better interaction and they can charge more money? Maybe you mix it up and have one interaction with 9 people and another interaction at a higher price for 2-4 people. This variety would be great for the animals and still deliver profits to the business.

These are demands. Not requests and not suggestions. This is important. I am assuming you have already requested what is needed for the animals, and they did not deliver. If that is the case, theses requests have become demands and there will be consequences.

2. Give a Reasonable Time Frame

To make meaningful change often takes meaningful time. Make sure you have a realistic timeline associated with these demands. And there must be a timeline.

If there is no timeline, there is no incentive for the business to adopt these changes or get back with you at all.

The timeline does not need to be all at once, meaning, you can list some of your demands that should be completed in 30 days and list another demands that need to be completed in 6 months.

Give dates. Be specific. And explain how you came up with these due dates.

3. Make The Consequences Very Clear
This step is very important… and up for debate.

On one hand, if you tell the company that all of your training staff will quit in 6 months if these demands aren't met, then they know they have 6 months to replace you.

On the other hand, if you tell the company you will all quit of these demands aren't met, they are more likely to consider acting on these demands because the job of replacing an entire training staff is timely and costly — two things business hate.

There can be other consequences than quitting. Your refusal to work overtime because interactions run too long with too many people. Your refusal to complete interactions with more than X amount of people.

Again, I am not advocating creating a union for the training staff. Essentially, I am creating a union for the animals. They deserve to be protected and not get trumped by money.

4. Be Ready For Backlash & To Act On Your Promises

The company may get so angry that they fire you right there on the spot. The company may hire a lawyer and start to feed you lines (or lies) about how you can't do this, and these demands aren't reasonable, and they need more time, and actually how this is worse for the animals… blah, blah, blah.

Believe me, they have a better lawyer than you, and they are better at negotiating. So it is crucial that you are prepared for this combative interaction and that you are ready to act on your promises.

When push comes to shove are you really able to leave those animals if necessary? Are you ready to be without a job?

Carefully consider all of this before acting. But more importantly, consider what taking no action will mean for you and the animals you love!

In just days, dangerous seismic airgun blasting could be permitted in the waters off the United States East Coast – and if that happens, dolphins and whales in its path are at risk of injury or even death.

Don’t sit by and allow TENS OF THOUSANDS of social marine mammals like dolphins and whales face the torture of seismic airgun blasting.

Oceana’s proven grassroots team is pulling out all the stops to save the Atlantic’s dolphins and whales from Big Oil’s seismic blasting operations – but we need your help.

We’re trying to raise $27,000 by midnight, Saturday as part of our end-of-summer campaign to protect dolphins, sea turtles and our oceans from the looming threats they face – but we can’t do it without you. Even $10 is enough to help.

Donate now to support our efforts to prevent seismic airgun blasting before it can begin and save dolphins – Time’s short, and our proven grassroots campaign needs your support >>
Keep dolphins swimming. Donate
The harm to ocean life that seismic blasting could cause is terrifying.

Oil companies use seismic airgun blasting to find oil and gas deposits below the ocean floor. The process involves shooting compressed air toward the seafloor. The blasts can be heard underwater thousands of miles away, and cause injury and worse to dolphins and whales.

When the blasting begins, they may have to flee to avoid the blasts. But escaping the vast impact of harmful blasting is no easy feat, and for some, escape may not be an option.

Thanks to the support of thousands of Wavemakers like you, Oceana’s grassroots team stopped deadly offshore drilling from expanding into the U.S. Atlantic earlier this year.

Without your support then, we couldn’t have won that fight. And without your support today, we may not win this latest stage in our pressing battle to spare the Atlantic’s dolphins and whales.

Donate $10 or more now to protect dolphins and endangered whales from harmful seismic blasting – Our proven grassroots efforts need all the help they can get in these final days >>
Once blasting begins, dolphins and whales may have to flee for safety. We can’t let it get to that point. Not now, not ever.

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