When Maui resident Willie Nelson cancelled a concert at SeaWorld after watching the documentary "Blackfish," he sent a message to the world that it is time to change how humans relate to whales and dolphins in captivity.
"Blackfish" tells the story of the death of experienced SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau, who was killed in 2010 while performing with a captive orca whale named Tilikum. The story lays bare the cruelty of captive dolphin and whale shows, and the inhumanity of keeping intelligent, socially complex marine mammals in small tanks. More than 20 million people have viewed the film, which is now a possible Oscar-nominee.
On Thursday, March 13, Manuel Oteyza, producer of "Blackfish," will offer a free presentation about creating the documentary. His talk will be part of "Evenings with the Experts," two nights of free presentations offered by Pacific Whale Foundation in March. It will include a screening of "Blackfish" from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Westin Maui Resort and Spa in Ka'anapali. Admission is free and the public is invited.
"We are pleased to bring Manny Oteyza and the story of Blackfish to Maui," said Lauren Campbell, conservation manager at Pacific Whale Foundation. "This film has created a growing awareness around the world about the plight of marine mammals in captivity."
More than 10 years ago, Maui County became an early leader in taking a stand against marine mammal captivity. As plans for the construction of a dolphinarium were being developed for North Kihei, a coalition of concerned local citizens and environmental organizations led by Pacific Whale Foundation found a receptive ear with then-Maui Councilmember Jo Anne Johnson Winer.
Winer introduced a bill banning the display of captive whales and dolphins, which was passed by the Maui County Council and became law in 2008. It's put Maui in the international spotlight as a place where whales and dolphins will always live wild and free.
"Pacific Whale Foundation was honored and pleased to help rally citizen support for passage of this law," said Greg Kaufman, the organization's founder and executive director. "We gathered thousands of petition signatures and letters, including letters from Bonnie Raitt and Lauren Shuler Donner, producer of the movie, 'Free Willy.'"
"As a result, whales and dolphins on Maui will always live wild and free," said Kaufman.
The world of wild whales and dolphins, and recent scientific findings about these animals, will be explored during the second night of Pacific Whale Foundation's Evenings with the Experts. This second night will take place on Friday, March 14, from 6 to 8 p.m., also at the Westin in Ka'anapali. Admission is free.
The presenters will be researchers from around the world, whose work is supported by Pacific Whale Foundation's whale watches, snorkel cruises and other eco-tours. The presenters will include blue whale researcher Barbara Galletti from Chile; humpback whale researcher, educator and advocate Cristina Castro from Ecuador; and Dr. Emmanuelle Martinez, who leads humpback whale studies in Hawai'i and Australia, as well as odontocete studies off Maui and Lana'i.
"The presentations on both evenings promise to be riveting, educational and inspirational," said Alison Stewart, events manager at Pacific Whale Foundation. "We hope the public will come out to hear the presentations by these speakers, some of whom are traveling thousands of miles to be here and share their stories of their work."
The presenters from Evenings with the Experts will also lead special whale watch cruises with Pacific Whale Foundation on Friday and Saturday, March 14 and 15.
"This is a chance to view whales and possibly dolphins in the wild, and to hear the presenters' insights about these animals, based on their work and experiences," said Stewart. "We'll watch wild marine mammals swimming free, allowing our viewing on their own terms, in the context of an ocean environment that they rely upon for their survival.
"It's a powerful experience, especially when contrasted with the plight of marine mammals ripped from the wild, put in small tanks and forced to perform, in what is a growing and largely unregulated international industry," Stewart noted.
To learn more about Evenings with the Experts, the special VIP whalewatching cruises and the other events of the Maui Whale Festival, visit www.mauiwhalefestival.org and read the special section on the festival on pages 9 to 12.