Farm Sanctuary Hoe Down 2017

By Lori Marino

Last month, I joined hundreds of farmed animal advocates, other scientists, and caretakers at Farm Sanctuary in Watkins Glen, New York, for the annual weekend celebration of cows, pigs, chickens, goats, sheep, turkeys and other farmed animals.

There were presentations, discussion panels, meet-and-greets with human and nonhuman animals alike, evening entertainment, and lots of top-quality vegan food, all on the beautiful sanctuary grounds near the Finger Lakes region.

The goat who scoots around in a wheelchair, and turkeys who loved being tickled under their beaks.I kicked off the presentations with a talk on the Someone Project, a joint project between the Kimmela Center and Farm Sanctuary. The Someone Project publishes scientific evidence to demonstrate cognitive, emotional and social complexity in farmed animals. Our work includes peer-reviewed scientific papers for the academic community, along with accessible and engaging white papers to help people understand that these animals are “someone” not “something.”

In my talk, I shared some of our findings on pigs, chickens, and cows, like how pigs can use mirrors to find hidden food; roosters use deception to gain favor with their favorite hens; and cows jump for joy and have other positive emotional reactions when they realize they’ve completed a task successfully.

FS_how-down-520-Aug2017_JMcArthur-6431Other speakers included Gene Baur, President of Farm Sanctuary, who gave his signature speech about the importance of kindness for all – humans and nonhumans alike.

Australian James Aspey gave a moving and witty talk about how a seven-day experiment in vegetarianism transformed him from being less-than-enthusiastic about animals to a global vegan activist.

And Timothy Pachirat, an assistant professor at U Mass Amherst discussed findings from his undercover fieldwork for nearly six months on the kill floor of an industrialized cattle slaughterhouse in Nebraska and how “big ag” is fighting back against veganism with a range of surprising PR efforts.

During the afternoon that we spent visiting with the nonhuman residents of Farm Sanctuary, I was especially honored to meet Benedict, the goat who scoots around in a wheelchair, turkeys who loved being tickled under their beaks, and some of the most affectionate sheep I have ever met.

What’s on the horizon for the Someone Project? Look for a scientific paper on cow psychology in Animal Behavior and Cognition in November and new reviews of sheep and goat intelligence, emotions, and personality over the next few months.

“Enormously Complex” Orca Brains Lead to Great Stress in Captivity

In an interview for National Geographic, Whale Sanctuary Project President Lori Marino explains why orcas experience greater stress in marine parks and aquariums than any other species, and with belugas coming in a close second.

Dr. Marino, a neuroscientist by profession, is one of the leading authorities on the brains of cetaceans (whales and dolphins). In the article, she tells author Carl Safina that orcas have brains whose relative size is well above average, and that they are “enormously complex and highly elaborated” in regions that are to do with complex communication systems, culture and social relationships.

One example of this is that entire studies have been devoted to the kinds of complex social interactions in which they engage in the wild. They can keep track of many social relationships at the same time, rely upon learning from others, and each individual orca has a role to play in his or her culture. They lead shorter and more stressful lives in marine parks and aquariums.

One of the latest findings, laid out in a 2016 paper coauthored by Dr. Marino, is that dolphins have more than one ascending auditory tract. That means that sound is processed in two completely different areas of the brain. That’s an example of complexity in the way acoustic processing is integrated with cognitive processing.

We humans only have one such auditory tract, and we don’t know exactly why dolphins (and probably other cetaceans) have two. But we might guess that one of them is to do with processing whistles, while the other is to do with echolocation.

In answer to a question by Dr. Safina about what led her to want to create a seaside sanctuary for whales who are retired from captivity, she says:

For years, we’ve watched dolphins and whales succumbing to the effects of living in concrete tanks and being forced to perform for food. Some of us decided that we needed to move beyond observing and into the realm of providing a realistic solution to these problems. And that is when we decided to build the first permanent seaside sanctuary for these animals.

It is precisely because of their sophisticated intelligence and their naturally complex social relationships that whales and dolphins are so unsuited to life in a concrete tank. The simple fact is they lead shorter and more stressful lives in marine parks and aquariums than their wild counterparts.

It really is not a matter of making the tanks a little bit bigger or deeper or forcing them to perform more “naturalistic” behaviors. The whole enterprise of keeping cetaceans for entertainment and/or research just doesn’t work and the scientific data are abundantly clear on this issue.

You can read the whole interview here.

It’s the Year of the Rooster in More Ways than One!

In case you haven’t been reading your Chinese placemats lately, 2017 is the Year of the Rooster. And we are kicking the year off with a new peer-reviewed paper in the prestigious journal Animal Cognition, entitled “Thinking Chickens: A Review of Cognition, Emotion and Behavior in the Domestic Chicken,” authored by Dr. Lori Marino.

Dr. Marino, Executive Director of the Kimmela Center and Lead Scientist for The Someone Project, reviewed dozens of peer-reviewed studies of cognition, emotion, personality and social behavior of domestic chickens. And while chickens are generally considered low birds on the totem pole when it comes to our appreciation of their intelligence, the scientific evidence leads to the very different conclusion that they are more intelligent, complex and sensitive than most people give them credit for.

Marino concludes that “Chickens are just as cognitively, emotionally and socially complex as most other birds and mammals in many areas.” For example, chickens:

  • Demonstrate self-control and self-assessment, capacities that indicate self-awareness;
  • Communicate in complex ways, including through referential communication, which may depend upon their ability to take the perspective of another animal;
  • Can reason and make logical inferences. For example, chickens are capable of simple forms of logic that humans don’t develop until about age seven;
  • Appear able to anticipate future events;
  • Are behaviorally sophisticated, discriminating amongst individuals, engaging in clever social strategies and learning from other chickens;
  • Have complex negative and positive emotions, and exhibit emotional contagion and simple empathy;
  • Have distinct personalities.

Dr. Marino concludes that “chickens share a number of cognitive capacities with other highly intelligent species such as dogs, chimpanzees, elephants, dolphins, and even humans. There is good scientific evidence to suggest a need for further non-invasive comparative behavioral research with chickens in natural settings, as well as a complete re-framing of current views about their intelligence and our overall relationship to them.”

This is the third paper produced with grant money from Farm Sanctuary’s The Someone Project, an endeavor aimed at using scientific evidence to raise the public’s understanding of farm animal cognition and behavior. The first two papers focused on the cognitive and behavioral complexities of fish and pigs, respectively, and generated international attention.

A white paper based on this publication is also available.

"I Am NOT an Animal!" Symposium

Why is it that despite the continuing work of animal protection, conservation and ecological groups, the situation for most of our fellow animals continues to go from bad to worse?

And why are we humans unable to come to grips with what’s happening and to change our behavior?
These are the critically important questions we’re setting out to answer at a two-day symposium coming up in February in Atlanta, Georgia.

The conference, entitled “I Am NOT an Animal!”, explores the idea that at the core of our fraught relationship with our fellow animals is the deeply-rooted psychological need to tell ourselves that “I am not an animal!”

Our speakers are leaders in the fields of human-animal relationships, animal legal rights, animal cognition and conservation, and the psychology of our relationship with other animals. They include Carl Safina, Hal Herzog, Steve Wise, Randy Malamud, Sheldon Solomon and Michael Mountain.

For more information, background, videos, bios, complete agenda, and registration details, please go here.

An Open Letter to SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment

While we applaud the SeaWorld decisions to end immediately their captive breeding program and to phase out theatrical shows by 2019, we cannot in good conscience allow the misrepresentations in your new advertising campaign to go unanswered and unchallenged.

Despite your progress, 28 orcas remain in concrete tanks that are detrimental to their health. The best solution for those animals is to relocate them to seaside sanctuaries, as living in natural habitat has been proven to promote the health and well-being of whales and dolphins.

We emphatically reject your mischaracterization of seaside sanctuaries as “sea cages”. Moreover, your current ad campaign blatantly conflates the effort to move orcas to sanctuaries with release to the wild, which is not being proposed by any responsible organization. Your ad is an attempt to create a false choice: either keep orcas at your facilities, or drop them in the ocean to fend for themselves. What is being proposed as the best option is the relocation of captive orcas to carefully managed seaside sanctuaries where orcas can thrive without performances and the well-known stressors of living in a concrete tank, and instead receive care, feeding, and veterinary support in a more natural setting.

Sanctuaries for the retirement of captive animals are a longstanding, effective and globally-accepted alternative to artificial enclosures for other large, wide-roaming animals such as elephants, primates, big cats, horses and many other species. It is a highly successful model.

There is no valid reason not to extend the sanctuary model to whales and dolphins.

We call on you to demonstrate your truthfulness and authenticity by working with others to develop seaside retirement sanctuaries for orcas and the other cetaceans in your care.

Thank you.


Lori Marino, Ph.D.
Executive Director
The Kimmela Center for Animal Advocacy

Sea Sanctuaries for Cetaceans: A Growing Reality

This past Sunday, December 13th, Dr. Lori Marino, Executive Director of The Kimmela Center, and Dr. Naomi Rose, marine mammal scientist for the Animal Welfare Institute, presented a day-long public workshop entitled Sea-Pen Sanctuaries: Progressing Toward Better Welfare for Captive Cetaceans.

The workshop focused on the key issues relevant to developing and maintaining a permanent sea sanctuary in North America for formerly captive and injured/sick whales and dolphins. There are sanctuaries for other large highly social and wide-ranging mammals, such as the Performing Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) sanctuary in California, but there are none anywhere in the world yet for dolphins and whales.

The standing-room-only workshop was held at the 2015 Society for Marine Mammalogy conference in San Francisco and included presentations from some of the most experienced scientists, veterinary clinicians, engineers, attorneys, trainers, business experts and advocates in this field.

Wildlife veterinarian Dr. Heather Rally discussed the particular psychological and medical issues that would need to be addressed when caring for dolphins or whales who come from years of exploitation in the theme-park industry. She described the effort to develop a sea sanctuary for cetaceans as “an unprecedented undertaking for the scientific and veterinary communities in this country, with great potential to dramatically improve that lives of captive orcas in the U. S.”

Don Baur, an attorney previously on the Marine Mammal Commission, explored the legal issues that would need to be navigated to set up a sanctuary on the North American coast.

John Hargrove, a former orca trainer at SeaWorld and author of Beneath the Surface, presented information about the striking differences between sanctuary life and theme park life for orcas from a training perspective.

Ed Stewart, cofounder of PAWS, laid out the common challenges of creating a sanctuary for large wild animals either on land or in the sea.

Joan Gonzalvo, a biologist with the Tethys Research Institute, discussed similar efforts for formerly captive bottlenose dolphins in Italy.

Courtney Vail, campaigns manager for Whale and Dolphin Conservation, brought us up to date on further ongoing efforts in Europe.

Rob Laidlaw, Executive Director of Zoocheck, discussed candidate sites for a sanctuary in Canada and some of the advantages and disadvantages of locating such a facility in various provinces.

And Michael Parks, field engineer for the Keiko Project, educated everyone on the “nuts and bolts” of building a sanctuary for orcas.

The audience consisted mainly of marine mammal scientists, advocates and business experts, along with some members of the captive theme park industry.

All in all, the workshop was a valuable exploration of the new frontier in our changing relationship with dolphins and whales: from captives, born and bred for our entertainment, to fellow beings who deserve respite from the ways our species continues to abuse and exploit them, both in captivity and in the wild.