A California CEO is pledging $1 million to help build an ocean sanctuary for orcas, following the death of SeaWorld’s Tilikum.
Steven Dunn, the CEO of Munchkin, Inc., said he wrote a letter to SeaWorld CEO Joel Manby last year offering $1 million to pay for a sea sanctuary for Tilikum, the controversial killer whale that died January 6 at SeaWorld Orlando.
Despite several attempts to reach Manby, Dunn said he never heard back. He attended Harvard Business School with Manby in 1983.
“Most of our whales were born at SeaWorld, and the best, and safest, future for them is to let them live out their lives here, receiving top care, in state-of-the-art habitats, safe from pollution and the other environmental threats they would face in our oceans,” according to a statement released by SeaWorld in response to this story.
Now Dunn is giving the money to the nonprofit Whale Sanctuary Project, which will be a refuge for orcas, belugas and dolphins retired from entertainment facilities, along with injured or ill animals rescued from the ocean.
Dunn started the Los Angeles-based Munchkin, which sells baby clothes, toys and accessories. After 10 years of a making a toy orca, they pulled the product.
“We’ve decided to put our principals before our profits,” said a Munchkin promotion. “We are removing the orca from Munchkin’s top-selling Sea Squirt Bath Toy Collection because a bathtub is not big enough for an orca.”
Dunn said his passion for helping free the orcas started after watching the documentary, Blackfish, which detailed Tilikum’s life in captivity.
“I was horrified at the notion of them being extracted from their home, the ocean habitat, and forced on display purely for corporate profit and human entertainment,” Dunn said.
But he didn’t take action until six months later when he felt terrified inside an MRI during a medical procedure. He lasted five seconds before demanding to be released.
“Images of orcas in small tanks flooded my thoughts,” said Dunn. “I could no longer ignore the plight of these poor creatures. I decided it was time to take action.”
Munchkin began selling a line of T-shirts and sweatshirts for children and adults under their Orcas Live in Oceans campaign in collaboration with Whale and Dolphin Conservation. Last weekend, they donated all proceeds from online sales, $12,000, to the Sanctuary Project.
The Whale Sanctuary Project was launched in May by a group of scientists and environmentalists. The sanctuary is still in the planning stages and the cost will not be known until a site is chosen.
Since orcas and belugas are cold-water animals, they are searching for a site in coves, bays and inlets on the coasts of Washington state and British Columbia on the west coast, and Maine, Newfoundland and Nova Scotia on the east coast.
Rescued animals may be rehabilitated and returned to the wild, but those who have lived in captivity are considered unlikely candidates for release and would stay in the sanctuary for the remainder of their lives.
The sanctuary would be open to the public and offer conservation and education programs but the animals would not be used for entertainment or disturbed by humans.