Peter Hamilton: UBC endangered sea turtles should die in peace, not in experiments
For decades, the experimenters in the zoology labs at the University of British Columbia have conducted diving experiments with Steller sea lions, seals, cormorants, ducks, fish, frogs, turtles, and others. The Vancouver-based ecology and animal rights organization Lifeforce has investigated abuse complaints since the ’80s at UBC. In 1988, Lifeforce convinced the Vancouver park board to stop UBC zoology vivisectors from collecting Canada geese in Stanley Park for spinal cord experiments. The geese had been intentionally paralysed and forced to try to walk on a tread mill.
The costly experiments are funded by taxpayers and donations to medical charities. They have not succeeded in stopping the harmful human impacts plaguing numerous species in the wild. Scarce health-care funds are being wasted.
Recently, it has been revealed by a whistleblower that UBC experiments have been conducted for over 10 years with endangered green sea turtles. It was claimed that the remaining turtles would be killed because the lab will be demolished and the lead research scientist recently died.
UBC said the experiments were started to study climate change and fishing methods since one of the threats to green sea turtles is entrapment in fish nets. These 16 green sea turtles were obtained from the Cayman Islands Turtle Farm. Two died, and seven were retired to educational facilities. But now the remaining seven turtles are scheduled to be killed this spring. Bill Milsom, researcher and head of UBC’s zoology department, has claimed that major surgeries must be done to complete a study of diving depths.
Activists and concerned citizens are demanding that they be retired to a sanctuary. However, UBC is now considering a proposal from Sea Life Centres aquariums in Europe to exchange the younger seven for their older ones. The unnecessary invasive experiments on older endangered turtles and further imprisonment for the younger ones is a horrible plan. If the oldest turtle is 72 years at Sea Life Centres and green sea turtles can live up to 100 years then none of the turtles would not be on deaths’ doorstep. The sea turtle longevity record is 152 years. They should die in peace and not be subjected to painful, unnecessary experiments.
In the wild, sea turtles continue to dive to depths already known by observations from field studies. The massive fishing nets continue to intrude into their territories. Environmentalists have been fighting for fishing moratoriums and bans on destructive fishing operations. Sound deterrents have been tested on some fishing nets in attempts to prevent dolphin, porpoise, and whale entrapment. Some of the TEDs (turtle excluder devices) and TSDs (turtle saving devices) have been developed as far back as the ’70s. In the wild, dive depths and ranges of turtles have been determined by attaching data loggers and satellite tags to sea turtles and other marine wildlife. In fact, UBC has participated and is fully aware of these alternatives.
Wildlife protection research can be conducted without killing those who we want to save. Over the past 10 years, Lifeforce has employed benign, noninvasive studies, developing methods to attract orcas away from environmental hazards.
Imprisoning sea turtles in laboratory chambers and tanks to look at thermoregulation, dive behaviour and heart rate will not save them or others. Harnessing them, starving them, and subjecting them to many other stressful, painful experimental procedures is extremely cruel, scientifically fallacious, and absolutely unnecessary. One experiment conclusion was that summer and winter months activity of the turtles was the same. But of course that is under the artificial laboratory conditions. No breakthroughs here at UBC and certainly no justification for over 10 years of experiments.
Scientists claim that laboratory data is necessary to protect wildlife. But lab studies cannot be extrapolated to life in the wild. Even with their questionable lab data in hand scientists say it is not their job to be on the front lines advocating changes. So why are they jumping on the global warming and environmental bandwagon to get more research monies?
Activists want more transparency, but UBC will not let Lifeforce or others photograph the experiments. They claim it is too emotional for some to see. That we agree on because if the vivisection labs had glass walls the public would be outraged. However, doesn’t the public have a right to see what I beared witness to before more secrecy was enforced? What I documented in the ’80s and ’90s continues today. For the sake of people, animals, and the environment, vivisection must end.
Peter Hamilton is the founding director of Lifeforce, a Vancouver-based nonprofit organization promoting animal rights and ecological responsibility.