Said of marine mammal parks, “We’re all showing our age, but I don’t have to pass building inspections.”
FORT LAUDERDALE, Florida––Russ Rector, 69, a former Ocean World dolphin trainer whose campaigns on behalf of marine mammals later closed Ocean World, unexpectedly died from natural causes at about 10:00 p.m. on January 7, 2018.
Though Rector was best known for closing Ocean World, his first major campaign achievement, there was scarcely any captive marine mammal issue in the U.S. in which he was not involved.
Known for his colorful media statements, Rector was as comfortable filing Freedom of Information Act requests and scrutinizing the mountains of documents he obtained from government agencies as he was in front of the cameras.
Frequently abrasive, Rector introduced himself to ANIMALS 24-7 editor Merritt Clifton by telephone in 1994 as “Russ Rectum,” shouted outrage for half an hour, called back half an hour later to shout some more, and went on to be a valuable, helpful, and always quickly responsive source for more than 22 years.
Rector in 2014 warmly welcomed social media editor, photographer, and collage artist Beth Clifton to our team within hours of her arrival, as a fellow south Floridian who––like Rector himself––had grown up watching the dolphin shows at the Miami Seaquarium, dreaming of some day doing something involving animals. Beth warmed up quickly to Rector, appreciating his passion, drive, commitment, and sense of humor.
(See From the whales of Miami Beach to the seals of Puget Sound.)
“The cats sleep on the sofa”
“It is with a saddened heart that I share the news that Russ Rector passed away peacefully from natural causes last night at home,” shared Linda Rector, his wife of 47 years, via Facebook on January 8, 2018. “No memorial service will take place. Russ’s own wishes were that upon his death he be cremated, and his ashes spread to the sea. Russ’s dedication to protection of all marine mammals was his life’s work. He made a difference!”
Throughout Rector’s long involvement in marine mammal advocacy, he often credited Linda, who remained in the background, with enabling his work.
“I’m a kept man,” he once told ANIMALS 24-7. “Linda feeds me like she feeds her cats. But the cats sleep on the sofa.”
Said Rick Trout, the dolphin trainer turned rescuer who was Rector’s partner in many campaigns, “I am beyond sad and still processing the news that my friend Russ suddenly passed away after complaining of his ever-present pain that was intensified by recent cold weather. Emergency services were unable to resuscitate him and he passed on to a less painful place .
“The passing of my buddy, with whom I have fought many a battle, quiets but does not silence a very loud voice for voiceless animals,” Trout added. “Russ leaves an unmatched legacy of marine mammal advocacy as sole founder of the Dolphin Freedom Foundation and Captivity Kills mantra. The void left by the loss of Russ Rector’s drive, passion, compassion, hilarity of outlook and delivery fit for standup comedy, that dogged bureaucracies and corporate abusers, especially of marine mammals, will not be replaced easily or any time soon.
“Deserving of a book”
“That is a sad reality deserving of a book of how animal protection can and should be done,” Trout said, aware that Russ Rector never wrote the book he often threatened that he would write when the time came.
“But if anyone sees Lolita,” the orca kept at the Miami Seaquarium since 1971, “swimming east out of Miami’s Government Cut to her long overdue freedom, just assume,” Trout finished, “that Russ finally got the help from a higher and more humane power to whom Russ Rector many, many others have often petitioned.”
Lost bet on longevity
A decade before his death, in the summer of 2007, Rector offered to bet any and all takers that he would outlive the Gulfarium in Fort Walton Beach, the Miami Seaquarium, and many of the other first-generation marine mammal parks still operating along the Florida coast.
“We’re all about the same age,” Rector said, “and I’m showing mine, but so are they, and I don’t have to pass building inspections.”
Marineland of Florida, opened just south of St. Augustine in 1938, still exists in name as a swim-with-dolphins facility, now called Marineland Dolphin Adventure, but no longer stages dolphin shows. The original circular tank and the slightly larger rectangular tank have been demolished. Most of the property is now a condominium development.
The Gulfarium and Seaquarium, both opened in 1955, are the oldest Florida marine mammal parks still dedicated to their original functions.
Ex-dolphin trainer lost an eye
Born in Fort Mills, South Carolina, Rector relocated with his parents to Dania, Florida, while still in school.
“In 1968, at age 20, Rector responded to a newspaper ad for a ‘porpoise show assistant’ at Ocean World,” recalled John Hughes in 1993 for the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel. “He left the park in 1976 to start a short-lived marine towing service. Months later, while working on a construction site, a bale of wire unwound and whipped into Rector’s right eye,” leaving him with only 40% vision, no color vision, and acute sensitivity to light, obliging him to wear an eye patch.
“Rector will say that he is uncomfortable being the focus of attention,” Hughes wrote. “The Dolphin Freedom Foundation is a group effort, he will say. Yet it is Rector who spends 12-hour days cranking out faxes, writing letters, and making phone calls from his Fort Lauderdale duplex. He will spend hours explaining his truth to a reporter, then volunteer names and phone numbers of those who stridently refute it.”
“One thing worse than people talking about you”
“Oh my gosh he was a thorn in my side, but even when he was a thorn you had to respect his passion,” National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration advisor Billy Causey told Jenny Staletovich of the Miami Herald. “I always took his calls, and I always knew it was going to be about an hour and I always knew it was going to be ugly.”
Often recited Rector, “I am not here to impress people and make friends. There’s only one thing worse than people talking about you; that’s people not talking about you.”
“About 1990,” recalled Staletovich, Rector “fell in with a band of former dolphin trainers working at the forefront of the free dolphin movement. The group included Trout and Ric O’Barry, the former ‘Flipper’ trainer who is considered the founding father of the movement.”
Early efforts with Ric O’Barry
O’Barry left the dolphin captivity industry at about the same time that Trout and Rector became involved, making his first (failed) attempt to free a captive dolphin in 1970, but despite some early successes against the smallest dolphin exhibition venues, the cause was slow to gain momentum.
“O’Barry, who went on to be featured in the Academy Award-winning documentary The Cove, enlisted Rector’s help in trying to stop the U.S. Navy from exploding a bomb about 90 miles northwest of Key West that they feared would harm marine life, including wild dolphins,” Staletovich continued. “The day before the mission, O’Barry made it to the site with a TV crew and strapped himself to a bomb buoy, but was dragged back to Key West by the Coast Guard.
“The next day, O’Barry flew back with Rector and a water scooter in a seaplane. With Rector steering the scooter and O’Barry holding his ankles, they headed out to the site, not realizing the bomb had already been detonated. This time they were blocked by Navy contractors. As the boats circled the scooter, O’Barry lost his grip, Rector collided with a contractor, and O’Barry was hit by another boat. The two later sued the Navy, but a federal judge threw out the case, concluding their antics caused the accident.”
Closed Ocean World
Forming the Dolphin Freedom Foundation in 1991, Rector made Ocean World his first target, after the death of a dolphin named Pollyanna.
“Pollyanna, believed to be more than 45 years old, was captured near the Florida Keys in 1966. She spent the rest of her life confined in a space about the size of a back-yard swimming pool,” recounted Michael Warren of Associated Press.
“Pollyanna died of terminal captivity,” Rector charged. “She was in the pool so long she wasn’t living. She was merely surviving.”
In August 1991, after Rector began documenting the conditions at Ocean World, it became the first marine mammal park to be charged with violating the federal Animal Welfare Act. Three years later, after failing to rectify most of the alleged violations, Ocean World closed, after 29 years in operation and a precipitous drop in attendance.
What became of the dolphins?
Rector and Trout offered $130,000 for the 12 dolphins remaining at Ocean World.
They were not the only bidders. Joe Roberts, Ric O’Barry, and Lloyd Good III had just formed the short-lived Sugarloaf Dolphin Sanctuary, intending to rehabilitate for release three dolphins obtained from the U.S. Navy Marine Mammal Program, along with two dolphins from the Ocean Reef Club, a Florida Keys resort. Roberts and O’Barry offered Ocean World $15,000 for just one dolphin, Delta, who had been captured with the two Ocean Reef Club dolphins in 1990.
Both offers were refused. Instead, the 12 Ocean World dolphins were sold in September 1994 to the St. Anthony’s Key swim-with-dolphins facility in Honduras.
Officially they all later escaped, after a hurricane damaged their sea pens. Rector was skeptical that all 12 even reached Honduras, charging that six were diverted to another swim-with-dolphins facility in Cancun, Mexico. Several others, Rector believed, died before their purported escapes.
The Sugarloaf Dolphin Sanctuary, located at a former dolphin exhibition facility in the Florida Keys, owned by the family of Lloyd Good III, was undone largely by apparent agent provocateur actions that exacerbated growing friction between O’Barry on one side and Rector, Trout, and Trout’s longtime companion Lynne Springer on the other, over how the dolphins should be prepared for release.
Eventually almost everyone prominent in marine mammal advocacy took sides, with repercussions echoing in other campaigns to this day.
The organization of the Sugarloaf Dolphin Sanctuary coincided with the arrival in marine mammal activism of one Rick Spill, who signed the “S” in his name as a dollar sign.
Who was Rick Spill?
Spill, a purported U.S. Navy veteran, had somehow become marine mammal consultant for the Washington D.C.-based Animal Welfare Institute, despite a conspicuous lack of verifiable credentials.
Winning election to the Sugarloaf Dolphin Sanctuary board of directors, Spill had a prominent role in forcing Rector, Trout, and Springer out of the project just two weeks after the Navy dolphins arrived.
Having trained dolphins for the Navy as a civilian consultant before resigning and denouncing the U.S. Navy dolphin program as a boondoggle in 1989, Trout had already become skeptical of Spill’s purported naval background and war stories, as had O’Barry, himself a U.S. Navy veteran, but Spill apparently managed to keep Trout and O’Barry from comparing notes.
Who was Bill Wewer?
ANIMALS 24-7 editor Merritt Clifton meanwhile noted physical and behavioral resemblances between Spill and Bill Wewer, an attorney formerly involved in direct mail political campaigning whose allegedly misleading solicitations drew rebukes in 1986 from the U.S. Postal Service and the Justice Department.
Wewer in 1987 incorporated the Doris Day Animal League and drafted contracts for the 1990 March for the Animals, but switched sides in March 1990 to become the leading spokesperson for the anti-animal rights organization Putting People First, founded in September 1989 by his wife, Kathleen Marquardt.
Rarely seen in public after mid-1991, Wewer in a December 1992 letter to the late Mark Berman of Earth Island Institute identified himself as representing Norwegian whalers who belonged to Putting People First.
(See Marine mammal activist Mark “The Bermanator” Berman, 63.)
Rector identified photo
Unaware that Trout and O’Barry had both long been suspicious of Spill, Clifton in 1997 e-mailed several photos of Wewer to Rector, without identifying them, and asked if Rector could name the man shown.
Calling immediately, Rector shouted “That’s that @#$% Rick Spill!”
“Spill” vanished from animal advocacy within days, and has not been seen since soon after Wewer reportedly died in San Francisco in 1999, without his death having been physically verified by the coroner. But he had already done his damage.
The rift between Rector and Trout on the one hand, and O’Barry on the other, never healed.
What became of those dolphins?
Also splitting with O’Barry, Roberts took the Ocean Reef Club dolphins to a sea pen on the Indian River, near their capture point. Someone cut the fence and released these dolphins before they could be freeze-branded for identification, so no one ever knew for sure if they survived or not. It seems likely, however, that they did.
Anticipating federal seizure of the ex-Navy dolphins as result of complaints filed by Trout and Rector, O’Barry and Good III released two of those dolphins near Sugarloaf.
O’Barry argued in his 2000 book To Free A Dolphin that the release would have succeeded if Trout had not lured them back with a Navy recall pinger. Trout and Rector countered that both dolphins were injured and starving when recaptured.
O’Barry and Good III were both heavily fined for having released the two dolphins without a permit.
Exposé of Venezuelan dolphin killing
Meanwhile Rector had become acquainted with Venezuelan marine mammalogists Ignacio Agudo and Aldemaro Romero.
Agudo as of February 1993 was president of Fundacetacea, a leading Venezuelan marine mammal protection organization. Romero, author of more than 300 scientific papers, was executive director of the Venezuelan Foundation for the Conservation of Biological Diversity.
The Venezuelan government was then campaigning to weaken the U.S. law barring the import of tuna netted on dolphin, which had effectively kept Venezuelan tuna off the U.S. market.
Rector took it to U.S. television
Hoping to help persuade Venezuela to create a coastal cetacean sanctuary and adopt a national marine mammal protection act, Agudo and Romero set out one day to videotape dolphins in the wild, but instead caught a fishing crew deliberately killing a dolphin for use as bait, with the remains of 13 other dolphins on the beach behind them.
Agudo and Romero took the video to the Venezuelan attorney general. When by May 1993 he had taken no action against the killers, Agudo and Romero released the video to Venezuelan media. Obtaining a copy of the video from Romero, Rector made duplicates and sent them out to U.S. television stations.
Charged with treason
Amid the furor that followed, Venezuela charged Agudo and Romero with treason. Romero escaped to Miami in February 1994, and has continued his distinguished academic career in the U.S., but Agudo and his family spent the next two years on the run.
Repeatedly interrogated by Venezuelan police, Agudo’s father shot himself in December 1994, to avoid giving away their location.
Agudo’s wife Saida died in hiding on April 26, 1995, at age 36, because she couldn’t get medication she needed for a chronic heart condition.
The great escape
Introduced to Agudo via Romero by ANIMALS 24-7 editor Merritt Clifton, Alice and Ken Dodge of St. Louis, Missouri, in February 1996 enabled Agudo to escape to Aruba by boarding a cruise ship with Alice, disguised as Ken.
Aruban activist Milton Ponson helped Agudo to continue on to Brazil.
Agudo’s daughters Esther, then age seven, and Lina, 15 months, were meanwhile flown to Brazil, where they rejoined Agudo, through connections made by marine mammologist Jose Truda Palazzo.
Rector throughout the episode created noisy diversions that kept the Venezuelan authorities focused on whatever he might be doing for Agudo, who remarried and has continued his work in Brazil.
“Best hero” vs. Miami Seaquarium
By July 1995, the Miami New Times recounted in identifying Rector as “Best Hero” of 2004, Rector had “set his sights on the aging Miami Seaquarium. Acting on a tip from employees, he videotaped what appeared to be serious structural problems with the main performing stadium. His protests to county, state, and federal agencies went nowhere. For several years he argued that the orca whale Lolita’s holding tank was too small, again to no avail.”
Rector did, however, embarrass the Seaquarium in January 2001 when he obtained and disclosed evidence that in April 2000 Seaquarium veterinarian Maya Dougherty and animal care supervisor Chris Plante had improperly allowed a Trinidad-and-Tobago native on staff named R. Stollmeyer to take home and stew the meat of an endangered leatherback sea turtle. The turtle died at the Seaquarium while receiving treatment after stranding. Stollmeyer reportedly shared the stew with other members of the Seaquarium staff.
Dougherty, Plante, and Stollmeyer were reprimanded by Seaquarium general manager Robert Martinez, but were not charged with violating any laws.
Electrical code violations
Eventually Rector “documented scores of electrical code violations at the Seaquarium. This time Miami-Dade County officials responded,” the New Times said, “slapping the attraction with 137 violations. Cost for repairs: roughly a half-million dollars.”
Further complaints found “more alleged violations, including inadequate emergency exits for Seaquarium visitors. Is Rector obsessed?” asked the New Times. “Yes. Is he overbearing? Yes. Is he a hero? Certainly not to Arthur Hertz, CEO of Coral Gables-based Wometco, which owns and operates the Seaquarium. But to many other people, here and elsewhere, the answer is yes. He’s a hero.”
Skeptical of Lolita release prospects
Though often identified with the “Free Lolita!” campaign long directed by PETA and the Orca Network, Rector by 2002 had become skeptical that she could be released successfully.
“Rector believes Lolita is now too old to survive in the wild––and also to perform,” Rector told Miami Herald reporter Curtis Morgan in 2010.
By then Rector’s focus had become trying to pressure the Seaquarium to remove a work island used by trainers in performances from the middle of Lolita’s habitat. The work island leaves the useable portion of her tank smaller than is allowed by the Animal Welfare Act. Removing the island would double the swimming space available to Lolita––and ensure a permanent end to marine mammal shows using the island––but because Lolita’s tank predates the passage of the Animal Welfare Act, the USDA Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service has repeatedly refused to order the Seaquarium to modify it.
A series of unsuccessful lawsuits brought by PETA and the Orca Network eventually brought a judicial ruling that the Seaquarium could be obliged to remove the island only by an act of Congress.
Rector escalated efforts against the Gulfarium after the April 2007 deaths of Daphne, a female pantropical spotted dolphin, and Buster, an Atlantic spotted dolphin, who died two days later.
A surprise inspection by agents of the National Marine Fisheries Service and the USDA Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service found that the Gulfarium had failed to file federally required reports of marine mammal deaths since 1988. At least six deaths had not been reported.
Daphne, a Gulfarium resident since 1998, died from the effects of prolonged treatment with the drug metronidazole, USDA inspector Michelle Williams discovered. As result of employee error, Daphne had allegedly received metronidazole for far longer than she should have, despite exhibiting signs of a neurologic problem caused by the drug.
Prince was Pearl?
“Questions were also raised about a dolphin named Prince,” wrote Tom McLaughlin of the Northwest Florida Daily News, “whose name doesn’t appear in an inventory of Gulfarium marine mammals kept by the National Marine Fisheries Service.
Gulfarium general manager Don Abrams told McLaughlin that Prince “was a dolphin listed as Pearl, who was captured in 1985 and died as result of damage done to the Gulfarium by Hurricane Ivan in 2004.”
Rector said that the dolphin died due to sea water surging over her tank and contacting an electrical outlet.
Longtime Gulfarium curator Greg Siebenthaler resigned in June 2007, citing health issues, but the Gulfarium itself remains in business.
Marine Mammal Conservancy
Rector took on the Marine Mammal Conservancy in February 2009.
“There is a rescue group in the Florida Keys called MMC,” Rector e-mailed to supporters. “I used to support this group and helped set it up. But now it has been taken over by people who support captivity and swim-with-dolphin programs. Dolphins Plus and Dolphins Cove have taken over MMC.”
The immediate issue, Rector explained, was that MMC had “rescued” a young dolphin under circumstances that Rector considered more a capture for exhibition.
Rector told media in April 2009 that he had been hit by a truck while protesting outside the Marine Mammal Conservancy rehabilitation facility in Key Largo.
“Deputy Edwin Grove spent more than two hours at the scene speaking with witnesses. No charges were filed,” reported Kevin Wadlow of the Keynoter.
Rector clashed with the Marine Mammal Conservancy again in 2011 over the fate of two pilot whales who had been taken to SeaWorld Orlando after they were rescued from a mass stranding at Cudjoe Key. Fifteen other pilot whales had died at the scene.
Rector argued that both of the pilot whales who were transported should have been euthanized instead, and that keeping them alive with no chance of either recovery or survival in captivity was torture.
Both pilot whales were eventually euthanized.
Rector continued to conflict with the Marine Mammal Conservancy and other marine mammal rescue organizations that routinely transfer stranded animals to exhibition facilities.
“How do you know an animal cannot be released until you try?” Rector often said.
SeaWorld & Tilikum
Rector before February 2010 had paid relatively little attention to SeaWorld Orlando, but had warned that the male orca whale Tilikum, in particular, could be dangerous.
Tilikum on February 24, 2009 seized trainer Dawn Brancheau, 40, by her ponytail as she lay on a submerged ledge facing him during a show, pulled her into the water, grabbed her waist in his mouth, and killed her, inflicting multiple traumatic injuries while repeatedly dunking and shaking her.
Observed Mathieu Belanger of Reuters, “Tilikum was not a first-time offender. In 1991 — eight years after he was captured off the coast of Iceland — he and two other killer whales drowned a trainer,” Keltie Byrne, 20, “during a performance at SeaLand of the Pacific,” a marine mammal park in Victoria, British Columbia, that closed permanently less than a year later.
“In 1999,” Belanger continued, “a man who trespassed at SeaWorld after hours and apparently jumped in the whale tank was found dead the next morning, lying across Tilikum’s back.”
Tilikum “like a shotgun”
“When Tilikum was wild, he was a transient, not a resident,” Rector told Belanger. “Resident whales live in a fixed place, like Puget Sound. Transients travel the world, eating dolphins, fish, other whales, basically anything that gets in their way. Captivity is abusive to these animals. And the abuse mounts up. And when these animals snap — just for a minute — they’re so big and can be so dangerous that it’s like a shotgun. It does an incredible amount of damage in just a moment.”
Added Rector to Jason Garcia of the Orlando Sentinel, “Tilikum is a killer. If a dog had killed Keltie Byrne, the dog would have been put down. Three years ago,” Rector reminded, “SeaWorld was warned that an orca was going to kill a trainer. And they didn’t listen. Instead they tried to kill the messenger.”
(See Did bad teeth kill Tilikum? Necropsy would tell us––if released.)
1,057 pages of documents
After nearly four years of filing Freedom of Information Act requests, Rector in August 2014 obtained 1,057 of the 1,084 pages of documentation that the National Marine Fisheries Service acknowledged having on file pertaining to the transfer of Tilikum to SeaWorld from SeaLand of the Pacific.
By then, however, the 2013 documentary Blackfish had already turned the tide of public opinion against SeaWorld, triggering an attendance slide marked by multiple rounds of layoffs.
And Rector upstaged himself by denouncing the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission for killing a rare American crocodile in Coral Gables, after “the first documented attack on a human by an American crocodile in Florida,” reported Monique O. Madan of the Miami Herald.
“What a waste of a fine animal”
“The two had left a party around 2:00 a.m. to go for a dip in the canal behind the home,” Madan wrote. The presence of the crocodile was well-known to locals, who called him Pancho.
“Both were bitten, but the injuries were not life threatening. An FWC report noted that the incident was alcohol related,” Madan said.
“These people screwed up and Pancho paid the price. What a waste of a fine animal,” Rector told Madan.
Rector also spoke out for the Sarasota Bay resident dolphins, especially after four were hit by boats, apparently killing a dolphin calf, in August 2012.
“Sit with their heads up & beg”
“In the Panhandle, epicenter of ‘swim with the dolphins’ tours, illegal feeding has trained generations of dolphins to associate boats with free meals,” explained St. Petersburg Tampa Bay Times staff writer Stephen Nohlgren.
“Propeller scars illustrate the consequences, as do occasional brutalities from fishermen tired of dolphins stealing their catch.”
“They sit with their heads up and beg,” fumed Rector. “They will stick around about 15 or 20 seconds and if you don’t feed them, they will go on to the next boat. Then boats pursue them.”
Feeding the dolphins from boats, Rector warned, made them “humanized and vulnerable to people who kill them.”
Zookeeper killed by tiger
Returning to lessons that Rector believed should have been learned from Dawn Branchau’s death, Rector in April 2016 detailed to Emily Miller and Kate Jacobson of the Fort Lauderdale Sun Sentinel alleged safety violations that led to the fatal mauling of Palm Beach Zoo keeper Stacey Konwiser, 38, by a tiger. Seventeen minutes elapsed before staff were able to isolate the tiger and enter the cage to attempt a rescue.
“They should have had a protocol in place. If there is a vicious animal, the animal should be killed,” Rector said, pointing out to ANIMALS 24-7 later that his preference would be that big cats not be exhibited in zoos at all.
“If you had someone there [at the zoo] with training, the ability and the expertise,” Rector said, “that animal could’ve been put down with one shot and nobody else would have been hurt.”
Reviving a campaign Trout has pursued for more than 30 years now, he and Rector in January 2016 introduced an ongoing Campaign To End the Obsolete Navy Marine Mammal Program. Though most of the Navy dolphins have had no verifiable military mission to perform in more than 40 years, proved not very useful even then, and are now geriatric, they remain “in very small pens, 30 feet by 30 feet by 12 feet deep,” Rector told CBS News 8 of San Diego, after he and Trout directed and funded months of videography from the Harbor Drive Bridge in San Diego to document the conditions.
“How would you like to spend your life in 30 feet by 30 feet by 12 feet?” Rector asked.
Space Naval Warfare Systems Command responded by floating a scheme in January 2017 to deploy some of the Navy dolphins to try to locate the last 20-odd endangered vaquita porpoises surviving in the Sea of Cortez, the northern end of the Gulf of California, who would then be brought into sea pens for attempted captive breeding.
(See Campaign to pull the plug on Navy dolphin program takes to the air.)
“Going to cause extinction of the vaquita”
Rector denounced the idea as “a makework project for trainers who haven’t done anything useful since the Navy dolphin program began. Do you know what they’ve trained the dolphins to do? According to their publicity,” Rector summarized, “they can find lost divers. Do you know what you do if you’re a lost diver? You float up. You don’t just wait around the bottom for a dolphin to find you.
“It’s going to cause the extinction of the vaquita,” Rector charged. “The Navy uses bottlenose dolphins. Bottlenose dolphins are mortal enemies of porpoises. They kill them for fun. You can’t train this behavior out of them. But even if you could, and you can’t,” Rector noted, “nobody has ever kept porpoises alive for long in any kind of captivity.”
As Rector predicted, two vaquitas were captured, a baby who was released on the verge of death and an adult female who did die.
(See Vaquita captures suspended after death of female of breeding age.)
Rector during the latter half of 2017 helped to lead efforts to bring charges against several men who videotaped themselves in the act of cruelly killing sharks.
The Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission and Hillsborough County State Attorney’s Office on December 12, 2017 announced that two third degree felony counts each of aggravated animal cruelty had been filed against three men who participated in dragging a live blacktip shark behind a speeding yacht.
But Rector argued that the felony charges brought against Michael Wenzel, 21, and Spencer Heintz, 23, of Palmetto, Florida, and Robert Lee Benac, 28, of Bradenton, Florida, should have been just the beginning.
Exposed Siesta Key star
The MTV reality show Siesta Key, which debuted on July 26, 2017, became involved in the controversy after photos surfaced showing Wenzel with Siesta Key star Alex Kompothecras.
Though Kompothecras was not involved in the shark-dragging incident, he appeared in another video also allegedly showing sadistic behavior toward a shark, which Rector obtained and released to media on August 3, 2017.
“There are images of me and I feel horrible,” Kompothecras acknowledged to Patrick Gomes of People, after deleting a video from his Instagram account that was apparently the same one Rector released to media.
(See Felony charges filed against Florida shark-draggers.
“Stings my heart”
Wrote New Times reporter Jonathan Kendall, who had known Rector since 2015,
“It stings my heart that I won’t hear from Russ ever again. Will there really be no more conversations about whether the birds in Laura Quinn Wild Bird Sanctuary are being properly cared for? Will there really be no more discussions about how certain animal rights activists profit more from their efforts than the animals themselves?
“I didn’t know that my longtime source was ill,” Kendall said. “I’m not even sure if Russ would have told me. He talked about animals and their medical histories, but very seldom talked about his own. As a reporter, I suppose I should simply call him a source of information. But what do you call someone you trust, you argue with, you put up with, because you’ve journeyed so far together in your quest to uncover the truth? The word is friend. Russ Rector — the feared activist even among activists — was my friend.
“Won’t stop protecting the voiceless”
“Goodbye, Russ. We won’t stop protecting the voiceless.”
ANIMALS 24-7, acquainted with Rector for far longer, really could not express our appreciation of him any more eloquently.
(ANIMALS 24-7 thanks Linda Rector for suggesting that memorial donations be made to us.)
Annoula Wylderich says
Need more activists like him who place the welfare of animals ahead of their own personal agendas or enrichment. Many of us struggle to remain diplomatic and professional while advocating for animals; Russ obviously wasn’t concerned about that and let his passionate heart rule, but it worked for him and the many animals he saved. Very sad to lose such a legendary member of the cause.
LINDA RECTOR says
Thank you for this beautifully written tribute to my beloved husband and in my mind – one of the most interesting men in the world ! You touched on so many events that helped form Russ into the passionate, relentless , crusader for the protection and respect of marine mammals thruout the world . I was witness to his efforts – whether the end result was successful / or not – He never waivered or bowed down . It was his personal quest to right a wrong – and you covered this with great accuracy and respect . He did make a difference !