“We don’t let animals suffer here,” claims Marine Mammal Conservancy’s Director of Stranding Operations, Robert Lingenfelser. Perhaps that should come with the following disclaimer: Unless it will benefit MMC.
On May 5th, a pod of 23 pilot whales became stranded on the Gulf Coast of Florida. Fifteen died before rescuers arrived. Two males were deemed healthy enough for release, and three were humanely euthanized. That left R300, R301 and R302 in the care of MMC.
It was decided to euthanize R302, but not before the whale was observed urinating blood (among other symptoms of severe illness) for a week. The decision to euthanize may have been humane for R302, but waiting for so long was anything but. The pattern of delayed decisions continues with R300 and it has been suggested the reason she is still alive is to bring in money.
Lingenfelser frequently has the critically injured whale undergo rehab exercises adjacent to the neighboring hotel while tourists watch and Lingenfelser solicits donations. Recent photos taken at MMC show numerous volunteers posing with R300. It appears that MMC has forgotten the National Marine Fisheries Service regulation that prohibits display of marine animals in rehabilitation.
It isn’t easy to decide that the death of an animal would be better than fighting for its life, but when that animal is clearly suffering, the most humane thing just may be euthanasia.
This is the case with R300. After 90 days in rehabilitation at the Marine Mammal Conservancy, she is on the marine mammal equivalent of life support. Barely able to swim, R300 is held at the surface of the water by a rotation of volunteers so she can breathe. Her muscles are so atrophied with scoliosis that if not held, she would sink to the bottom of the water and drown.
In addition to being unable to swim, R300 has pneumonia and tested positive for MRSA, a staph infection that is difficult to treat and can be transmitted between humans and whales.
“There’s no question about it,” Russ Rector, founder of Dolphin Freedom Foundation, told me. He believes the best thing to do for R300 is euthanasia: “This ordeal we are putting her through has crossed from rehab into cruelty.”
In the meantime, R301 has recovered but will spend her life on display at SeaWorld. At two years old she is too young to survive in the wild on her own (in addition to the mandate that pilot whales are to be released as a group). Young, healthy female pilot whale that can reproduce – score one for SeaWorld.
Marine mammal activist Barbara Napoles, a former volunteer at MMC, started a petition on Change.org to be a voice for R300. “I wouldn’t be asking for euthanasia but Robert is not taking good care of this animal,” Barbara told me. Her petition asks NMFS to step in and use their authority to end R300’s suffering or transfer her to a facility better equipped to handle her rehabilitation needs.