Bafta award-winning actress and star of Born Free, Virginia McKenna OBE, co-founder of the international wildlife charity the Born Free Foundation, together with the charity’s President, Will Travers OBE, attended this year’s WhaleFest; the largest whale-saving festival in the world, taking place in Brighton from 14th to 16th March.
Virginia and Will represented Born Free at this landmark event that will witness the ‘Whale Trail’ of a life-sized orca go on tour around Sussex and Surrey before being released into the sea, a screening of the award-winning film ‘Blackfish’ and will call for an end to the keeping of whales and dolphins in captivity.
Poignantly it was 23 years after the closure of Brighton’s dolphinarium in 1991, and the release of its last two dolphins back into the wild.
Making a stand against the exploitation of whales and dolphins in captivity around the world, Virginia said: “I have many fond memories of Brighton, not least our rescue of Missie and Silver from Brighton Aquarium in 1991. Between them, they had spent 36 years performing for the public in an indoor pool.
“Thanks to the ‘Into the Blue’ initiative, these dolphins were set free, but thousands more individual dolphins across the world are not so fortunate. I am returning to Brighton for WhaleFest, to reflect on the end of dolphin captivity in the UK, and to call on the public and the international community to help us phase-out dolphinaria worldwide.”
The 12th and 13th March saw a ‘Whale Trail’ of Sussex and Surrey, with a five-metre life-size orca touring the counties to promote the issues surrounding the keeping of whales and dolphins in captivity.
On 14th March, ‘Born Free Friday’, the Born Free Foundation, British Divers Marine Life Rescue, the World Cetacean Alliance and the WhaleFest team took part in the ‘release’ of an orca whale into the sea off Brighton beach. In the lead-up to this momentous event, the 5-metre long inflatable orca toured Sussex towns to raise awareness of WhaleFest and the festival’s focus on the plight of the world’s captive dolphins.
On 15th and 16th March, WhaleFest events took place at Brighton’s Hilton Metropole, situated on the sea-front, highlighting the realities of the captive whale and dolphin industry and the need for greater protection for these species in the wild, with presentations by whale and dolphin experts from around the world.
Virginia McKenna, alongside Born Free’s Rescue and Care Director Alison Hood, took to the main stage at 11.45am on the Saturday to talk about the charity’s ‘Into the Blue’ and ‘Back to the Blue’ projects which resulted in captive dolphins being successfully rehabilitated and returned to the wild.
Will Travers OBE, also appeared at the festival as part of a special Saturday evening showing of the Bafta-nominated documentary film, ‘Blackfish’, which includes a Q&A with animal experts, exposing the realities of captive facilities such as SeaWorld.
Will said: “Once in a while, rarely, a film comes along that has the power to change the world. Born Free was such a film and I truly believe that Blackfish is as well. No one who sees this film can fail to be profoundly moved not only the unfolding human tragedies it recounts but the ongoing tragedy that exploiting orca and dolphins in captivity represents. Over 20 years ago I personally helped return some of the last captive UK dolphins to the wild. We are a now dolphin free nation. I long for a time when we can claim to be a dolphin free world – and Blackfish is a film that will hasten that day!”
The festival provided the public with an opportunity to learn about whales and dolphins, their incredible intelligence and strong family-bonds, as well as the efforts being made to protect them in the wild.
Daniel Turner, captivity spokesperson for the Born Free Foundation and Brighton resident, explains why the charity is keen to be involved: “Born Free is pleased to support WhaleFest this year and welcomes the festival’s support to bring an end to global captive dolphin exploitation. Brighton’s emblem is the dolphin and where better to speak out for their greater protection. I know the people of Brighton will join us in calling for a dolphinaria-free world.”
To find out more about WhaleFest visit www.whale-fest.com or www.bornfree.org.uk
Report contributed by the Born Free Foundation.