An interview with Les Stroud
Last week I had the opportunity to talk by phone with Les Stroud about a variety of topics. I had initially reached out to him as a follow-up on the MarineLand piece as he has been a vocal supporter of the 15 whistleblowers. Principally he voiced support for Mike Garrett as he faces legal action from Marineland and owner John Holer.
A modern day cross between Tarzan and Cousteau
Although best known as the star of the award-winning SurvivorMan series, Stroud has been involved as a naturalist since his youth. Having grown up in Toronto, Les visited Marineland as a child and recognized even at 8 years old that regardless of how good the conditions may or may not be, that the animals did not belong in captivity. He reflected that as a child the television series Tarzan and the oceanic conservation pioneer Jacques Cousteau had left a deep impression on him. Now he feels as an avid diver and a conversationalist he has become a morph of the two characters in his work in the ocean and in the wilderness.
Stroud on Captivity
I asked Stroud where he stood philosophically regarding captivity as a whole and zoos in particular. He made it clear that he opposes captivity in any form. He did express however a healthy perspective regarding the rescue of animals that may be injured, sick or stranded for the purposes of rehabilitation and reintroduction. He also speaks to the value of endangered species breeding programs. Stroud was emphatic that his approach to conservation was direct. He made it very clear that if the peaceful approach of Mahatma Gandhi was on one end of the spectrum and the direct action route of Martin Luther King were on the other; his approach was not passive and was more MLK than Gandhi. “I am not a passive individual,” said Stroud.
There was no doubt about his passion when I asked about Marineland’s litigation against Mike Garrett and others. The conviction and passion in his voice was raised when he stated, “I don’t like corporations flexing their muscles.” Stroud has been a vocal supporter of Garrett and reiterated that he is “sympathetic to his cause.” Garrett along with Phil Demers continue their fight against the conditions at Marineland and the plight of the animals at the zoo/aquarium. Garrett is very close to his fund-raising goal to help defray the cost of litigation from Marineland.
The Blackfish effect
In terms of Blackfish, and its effect on the landscape of social opinion regarding captivity of Marine Mammals and specifically the end of Orca captivity at SeaWorld, Stroud likened it to the struggle to end slavery in the U.S. “There was a time when we all accepted slavery, up until the collective conscience reached the Malcolm Gladwell tipping point where enough was enough, even though it took a civil war to do it,” he said. Asked whether he thought the Blackfish bill had any chance of success in California, Stroud said, “The situation with environmental slavery, the Blackfish situation and Dolphins is starting to take a beating.” He went on to say that even if it was 100 years out that an end was in sight, and that if a revolution took place, it was going to be through the kids.
I asked Stroud what he was working on now and he was most excited about an international tour with his band that would use music, spoken word, and 4-5 big screens to project videos of nature that only he has. This multi-media show will have a theme of ‘Connecting to the Earth’. The first of these shows will be at the Auburn film festival in Lewiston, Maine on April 3rd, 2014. The SurvivorMan series is gearing up to begin filming again, and just last week the episode six of SurvivorMan and Son aired with Strouds’s 16yr old son Logan joining the cast. You can connect with Les Stroud on his social media pages on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.
Added Value of celebrity endorsements
If there is one thing that the Blackfish movie has done with all certainty it is that it has given a gateway of sorts for celebrities, politicians, and the public to use the platform to gain public awareness. When highly visible role models for the environment like Stroud are thrust into the limelight via new media attention based on the movie, their message reaches new audiences everywhere. It is a fascinating symbiotic relationship, which benefits both the Blackfish movement and the speaker. Stroud’s passion for the environment, animal conservation, and the oceans is a lifelong work and supported by millions of fans who now have the opportunity to watch Blackfish and do some soul searching on the issues surrounding Marine Mammals in captivity. With his fervent following in Canada, let’s hope those new converts start by not buying a ticket to Marineland.
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