VANCOUVER -- Killer whale Haida, a major attraction at Sealand in Victoria for the last 14 years, will have to be re-educated in the ways of the wild if the federal government gives the go-ahead for his release from captivity.
The federal committee on whales, which reports to the federal fisheries minister, heard briefs Wednesday from the aquarium's general manager and environmentalists, including Greenpeace Canada director Dr. Patrick Moore.
Sealand general manager Angus Matthews said the aquarium wants permission to release Haida to his original pod, or group, off the coasttof Vancouver Island and replace the whale with two other killer whales or orcas.
'I'm eager to get going whenever I get the clearance,' Matthews said during a break in the closed hearing. 'The longer (the decision) takes the longer Haida will have to stay in captivity.'
He said Sealand wants to capture and later release two killer whales every six years, instead of capturing them for life.
Current government policy on captured whales dictates whales, once domesticated, must remain in captivity until they die, Matthews said.
He conceded there was no precedent to guide the committee or aquarium officials on Haida's ability to re-adapt to his pod after a long captivity, adding a scientific committee report had advised Haida would be able to adapt to the wild if released.
Moore said his organization was 'opposed in principle to the capture and maintenance in captivity of wild orcas for commerical public display.'
In a seven-page brief, Moore said Greenpeace was 'not opposed in principle to the release of orcas presently in captivity into the wild.'
Greenpeace, however, urged the committee to recommend to the minister that Sealand's request to capture two other whales be denied.
If the committee does recommend granting the permit, Moore said it should at leasttconsider Haida's case a special one, due to his lengthy captivity, and recommend his release be deferred for one year until more studies are done.
Whales which have been kept in captivity have to be taught to recognize the calls of their pod and have to reacquire a taste for live fish since theytare fed dead fish while in captivity. Haida must also be taught to fend for himself instead of relying on aquarium officials for his meals.
Under Sealand's plan, Haida would be released when his former pod - known to marine biologists as the L pod -- swims to within a few hundred meters of the aquarium in Oak Bay near Victoria.
'We will monitor the pod when and if he goes back,' Matthews said. A portion of the $100,000 budget set aside for Haida's release would be spent on four cruisers to monitor Haida's progress 24-hours-a-day for two months after his release.