Jeff Foster: Whale Hunter Turns Whale Activist

Jumping orca calfThe other day, I read a bittersweet story about Jeff Foster, former whale hunter, now turned whale activist. It's shocking to see how consumed he was with the hunt, working as a contractor for SeaWorld, he was responsible for the capture of dozens of whales. But, eventually, his values changed and the energy he once put into capturing whales, has since been redirected into saving them.

The Thrill of the Hunt

Growing up in Seattle, Jeff had a veterinarian father.Working with marine animals were a big part of his life, and he dreamed of becoming a whale trainer. Jeff participated in his first whale hunt at the impressionable age of 15. In the 60s, hunting whales in Puget Sound was all the rage, even celebrated by such organizations as National Geographic.

By the late 70s, after capturing about two dozen whales, the tables started to turn. Activists started to sit up and take notice of the devastating effects the hunts had on the whales and protesting became widespread.

Eventually, less permits were being issued in Washington State, so SeaWorld simply turned their hunts to Iceland and other distant, North Atlantic coasts. Killer whales proved to be easy hunting in these remote waters.

The Transformation

Maybe it was the heightened outcry by protesters, which made hunting more difficult, but eventually the thrill of the chase began to wear thin, and Jeff started questioning the morality of what they were doing.

He was finding it harder and harder to justify the educational value in tearing calves from their mothers and hearing their cries as they were hoisted away in nets and later shot full of antibiotics.

In 1990, he turned his efforts to conservation, capturing whales and dolphins in distress and rehabilitating them. One of his most famous rescues was Keiko, made famous in the film "Free Willy." Although Keiko was released successfully into the wild, he died the next year.

Whales for the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics

In 2012, Jeff received a lucrative offer to return to his old career - $7 million dollars to capture eight killer whales off the Russian coast. China would be purchasing six of them and the other two would be on display in Sochi for the 2014 Winter Olympics.

Although Russia later claimed that this was a hoax by some outside group attempting to slander the games, there was evidence of an authorized permit issued back in 2012, authorizing the capture of two killer whales. Thankfully, Jeff declined the offer and resumed his whale conservation efforts.

Free Morgan Project

Jeff is a staunch supporter of the Free Morgan project, in Loro Parque, Spain. In a quote from an article by Holly Henry at WTKR.com:

On two visits to Loro Parque, Foster says he saw Morgan abused by larger killer whales and said she was so despondent she was banging her head against the side of the pool. He says she also constantly called out for her missing family.

“She made these loud screaming calls, and it’s continual, over and over,” he says. “At that point, it really hit home that this poor animal is in a terrible situation with a very dysfunctional group of animals.”

Unfortunately, after several appeals, the Netherlands courts still refuse to allow Morgan to be released back into the wild.

If you'd like to read more about Jeff Foster's efforts in whale conservation, you can follow him on Facebook.

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