Renowned Marine Conservationist Dr. Carl Safina Joins Board of Whale Sanctuary Project

Executive and ocean policy specialist Charles Vinick to serve as executive director

SANTA BARBARA, Calif.--()--Conservationist and author Carl Safina hopes to help write a new chapter in the care of captive whales, joining forces with The Whale Sanctuary Project to establish the first permanent whale sanctuary in North America.

“This is about enlarging our circle of compassion to include lifetime care for captive or injured whales and dolphins.”

“I am honored to be joining the board of the Whale Sanctuary Project and to help in whatever way I can,” said Safina, Ph.D., the author of seven books, including Beyond Words: What Animals Think and Feel and the founding president of The Safina Center at Stony Brook University. “This is about enlarging our circle of compassion to include lifetime care for captive or injured whales and dolphins.”

“We are thrilled to have the support and help of one of the top scientists in the field of conservation biology,” said Lori Marino, Ph.D., president of the Whale Sanctuary Project and herself an expert in animal behavior and intelligence, who founded the project last year with a group of other scientists, conservationists and advocates. “We are putting key building blocks in place to make the dream of a sanctuary a reality.”

Marino said part of the foundational work is the move by current board member Charles Vinick, a well-known executive and ocean and environmental policy specialist, to the role of executive director of the project.

“Charles not only has led not-for-profits and served as CEO of environmental technology companies, he’s been at the center of ambitious, visionary ocean-related projects,” Marino said. “For 25 years, Charles worked closely with Jacques and Jean-Michel Cousteau—father and son—helping them establish, grow and sustain multiple initiatives.”

Vinick served as director of the journey of Keiko -- the whale of Free Willy fame.

The immediate focus of the Whale Sanctuary Project is on identifying sanctuary sites. Vinick said a team from the project is zeroing in on potential sites in British Columbia, Nova Scotia and Washington state. The group plans to narrow its list to a handful of locations this summer, with a final decision planned for the end of the year.

An estimated 62 killer whales are living in captivity in marine theme parks and aquariums worldwide.

Simply releasing the whales currently in concrete tanks into the oceans is not an option; that’s why a sanctuary is needed, Vinick says. Many of the whales were born in captivity and have never been outside the walls of tanks. The project would provide an oceanic enclosure that is as similar as possible to the natural habitat of the orcas, where the animals – while still receiving human care-- would have expansive spaces to swim and dive, the chance to interact with their natural environment, and freedom from being forced to perform.

Marino said the sanctuary would be more than a retirement home for whales who have outlived their performing days.

“The presence of a sanctuary will serve to demonstrate how our relationship to these magnificent animals is changing, potentially enabling all captive whales to live in natural environments and --one day-- ending the practice of theatrical performances,” Marino said. The sanctuary also would serve as a center for injured or sick free-ranging whales, she added.

Marino said the group is planning for a sanctuary that could be home to six to eight whales — ideally a cold-water inlet, bay or cove that would be big enough (around the size of an average city park) to allow the whales to swim and dive freely. Sea nets would separate the sanctuary from the open ocean and provide any necessary separation within the sanctuary. An on-site and virtual education center is planned, along with fully-staffed veterinary and food storage facilities. The total cost is estimated at between $15 million and $20 million.

The project was launched in 2016 with an initial grant of $200,000 from Munchkin, Inc., the global baby products company. The company followed up with a matching grant of $300,000 this year, and has pledged a total of at least $1 million toward completion of the sanctuary.

To donate, go to The group aims to match the $300K Munchkin grant before the end of the year.

Munchkin founder Steven Dunn was moved to donate after seeing the documentary Blackfish and learning more about the lives of captive whales. The company has its own “Orcas Live in Oceans campaign to raise awareness of the plight of captive whales and to support the Whale Sanctuary Project.


for The Whale Sanctuary Project
Mary O’Connell, 510-499-2976
Charles Vinick, 805-252-5421