Why Japan Is Preparing to Battle Over Whaling – Their Other Agenda

On the face of it, the government of Japan seems to be run by escapees from The Cuckoo’s Nest, taking their country down a path that is sure to end up in ruin, but things are not what they seem and Japan has a second agenda.
Their stance on whaling has gone from puzzling to illogical as they pump millions into the costly whaling industry, when Japan has yet to recover from the devastation of last year’s earthquake. Their government recently announced that they will give their fishermen 28 million dollars to support a renewed whaling venture into the Southern Ocean, and are considering granting the whalers 30 million more to provide protection from the protests by anti-whaling groups.

Neither side is backing down, and it could get deadly down there this year – if the Japanese whalers hurt or kill humans who just want to protect the ocean’s greatest inhabitants, then Japan is going to be seen as murderously ruthless as well as pridefully ego driven.
Why in world would Japan make such a choice? Nothing is quite like it seems and if, like Alice in Wonderland, you are ready to tumble down the rabbit hole into the crazy logic behind this, this quick summary will get you started (references at the end if you wish to learn more).
The number of whales Japan is allowed to take for food is strictly controlled by the International Whaling Commission, but the number allowed for scientific research is very loosely controlled, if at all in some cases. Japan uses this loophole to kill more whales to eat than would otherwise be allowed, to take endangered species, to kill pregnant females, and slaughter mothers with their calves.
Like many other whaling nations, Japan claims to have an aboriginal right to kill whales, but that does not extend to the Southern Ocean where Japan has been whaling only since 1987. They were supposed to conduct ‘research’ for five years, but that has been extended and number of whales they target has doubled, to just over 1000 minke, fin, and humpback whales.
They justify continued ‘research’ by repeating the same studies ad nauseum, or by doing bizarre research (such crossing whale sperm with cow embryos).
The profitability of whaling has gone down with rising fuel costs, the world is losing its appetite for eating whales, Japan has huge problems with its recovery, and already has stockpiled whale meat (some of which it gets from Iceland, also illegal). Protecting their fleet is going to be expensive, and could be disastrous.
Here is where we enter into ‘nothing is as it seems’ – Japan has both a secondary and tertiary motive for this costly, brutal, and unpopular stance: first of all, the whales down near Antarctica carry a less significant load of pollutants and radioactive contamination than their northern cousins.

Second, and this is fairly devious, Japan also has a significant fishery for krill and fish down there, and have dedicated a great body of research (by killing whales) into calculating how much each species of whale eats. They view the whales as competitors, and think that the whales they kill will allow their fishermen to increase their catch of krill and fish.

So, Japan sends both a whaling fleet which profits from killing whales, and a fishing fleet which they think will get more krill and fish because they have killed so many whales:

Growing concerns about the possible consequences of competition between marine
mammals and fisheries make this an increasingly important issue in fisheries management and
conservation in the future. For this purpose, comparative research on the seasonal, local and
annual distribution and abundance of cetaceans and their prey should be extended. This should
make it possible to develop a blanket, multi-species management plan for marine organisms that
also involves marine mammals such as whales, dolphins, porpoises and pinnipeds, in order to
allow a more realistic fisheries management strategy, aiming for both short- and long-term
sustainability of marine organisms, including marine mammals and their conservation in the
world.
In the Antarctic, baleen whales, excluding Bryde’s whales, feed mainly on krill during
austral summer, where the krill fisheries decreased recently because of diminishing markets. Of
these species of cetaceans, the minke whales play an important role in the prey web in the
Antarctic in particular. Armstrong and Siegfried (1991) indicated that the minke whales consume
95% of the total biomass of krill that is consumed by baleen whales in the Antarctic. This study
showed that the annual crustacean consumption by minke whales was 42-64 million tons, and that
this amounted to 40-54% of total annual crustacean consumption by cetaceans in the Southern
Hemisphere. Tamura et al. (1997) estimated the prey consumption of krill by minke whales
around the Ross Sea in the Antarctic to be an order of magnitude greater than the estimated
consumption by Adelie penguins and crabeater seals. The writer considers that there was direct
competition for krill among cetaceans, seals and seabirds in austral summer in the Antarctic. Krill
fishery appears to be of minor importance now. However, any development of this fishery could
lead to increased competition between cetaceans and fisheries. For better understanding of this
phenomenon, it will be necessary to have more abundance estimates of cetaceans and quantitative information of prey species to assess the interaction between fisheries and cetaceans, especially as
– as for the Indian Ocean – there is no available abundance information for cetaceans. (FAO)

Until the early 1990s, the Soviet Union led in harvesting Antarctic krill, but following
the Republic’s break-up in 1991, Japan moved in front, accounting for
more than 50 percent of the annual catch; in some years it landed as much as
75 percent. (Krill Count)

Japan’s whale/krill/fish calculation doesn’t take into account that the whales are part of the ecosystem, and without whales to fertilize the water (supplying iron, a vital and limited nutrient), the whole food chain may collapse as environmental climate change affects the nutrient distribution as well.
Seriously Japan? What are you thinking?


And why is the rest of the world sitting by and letting Japan wreck havoc on an environment for which the Japanese have no historical or present right to do?


Japan is nearly at the top of the planet, the southern ocean is at the bottom.

Profitability of whaling http://www.treehugger.com/files/2010/04/sea-shepherd-harassment-cuts-japanese-whale-catch-in-half.php
FAO ftp://ftp.fao.org/fi/document/reykjavik/pdf/09Tamura.pdf
Southern Ocean iron balance http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1467-2979.2010.00356.x/abstract
International Whaling Comission http://iwcoffice.org/index.htm
Krill Count http://www.krillcount.org/report/krillcount.pdf
http://books.google.com/books?id=XGbgRmq5G5kC&pg=PA270&lpg=PA270&dq=contaminants+in+southern+ocean+versus+arctic+whales&source=bl&ots=wzCTrvmAvg&sig=kJbJhIhQjEkAvYuwQ3el4roBjSk&hl=en&ei=kGasTtPZOueOiALl95X-Cg&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=7&ved=0CEsQ6AEwBg

“Death at SeaWorld” – Exposing the Dark Side of Captivity

This press release could not have come at a better time, as SeaWorld continues to battle the U.S. Government on the wisdom of forcing trainers into life endangering routines, fights with Marineland over where an orca should live, faces a lawsuit from PETA on 13th amendment rights (slavery), copes with leaks about their links to the dolphin slaughter in Taiji, and is shown to have huge influence over government decisions about rescued animals. People need cogent, compellingly written explanations of what really goes on at SeaWorld – and this book will deliver.

DEATH AT SEAWORLD
Shamu and the Dark Side of Killer Whales in Captivity
DAVID KIRBY – April 2012
From The New York Times bestselling author of Evidence of Harm and Animal Factory—a groundbreaking scientific thriller that exposes the dark side of SeaWorld, America’s most beloved marine mammal theme park.
Death at SeaWorld centers on the public battle with the multimillion-dollar marine park industry over the controversial and even lethal ramifications of keeping killer whales in captivity. Following the story of marine biologist and U.S. Humane Society advocate Naomi Rose, Kirby tells the gripping story of the two-decade fight against PR-savvy SeaWorld, which came to a head with the tragic death of trainer Dawn Brancheau in 2010.  Kirby puts that horrific animal-on-human attack in context.  Brancheau’s death was the most publicized among several brutal attacks that have occurred at SeaWorld and other marine mammal theme parks.
Death at SeaWorld introduces real people taking part in this debate, from former trainers turned animal rights activists to the men and women that champion SeaWorld and the captivity of whales. In section two the orcas act out. And as the story progresses and orca attacks on trainers become increasingly violent, the warnings of Naomi Rose and other scientists fall on deaf ears, only to be realized with the death of Dawn Brancheau. Finally he covers the media backlash, the eye-witnesses who come forward to challenge SeaWorld’s glossy image, and the groundbreaking OSHA case that challenges the very idea of keeping killer whales in captivity and may spell the end of having trainers in the water with the ocean’s top predators.
Death at SeaWorld exposes the backroom politics, profit-centered policies and dangerous conditions at SeaWorld, America’s most beloved marine mammal park.
DAVID KIRBY is the author of Evidence of Harm, which was a New York Times bestseller, winner of the 2005 Investigative Reporters and Editors award for best book, and a finalist for the New York Public Library Helen Bernstein Award for Excellence in Journalism, and Animal Factory, a highly acclaimed investigation into the environmental impact of factory farms. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.
Pre-order your copy now DEATH AT SEAWORLD.

Kids “Take a Stand in the Sand” for the Oceans

For 10 years almost 50,000 kids along the west coast of the U.S.  have marked Ocean Day as a finale to their in-school environmental education by standing up and creating giant images in the sand to serve as lasting reminders of the need to protect our oceans .
These images are formed by thousands of children standing together, and need no words to explain – the dedication speaks for itself.

http://www.oceanday.net/archive.html

http://www.oceanday.net/archive.html

http://www.oceanday.net/archive.html

http://www.oceanday.net/archive.html

http://www.oceanday.net/archive.html

http://www.oceanday.net/archive.html

http://www.oceanday.net/archive.html

Let’s hope that even more communities, world wide, participate in this event in 2012. (More information on how to organize your community to participate coming soon!)

Killer Whales Followed Swimmer for 12 Miles Across the Strait of Gilbraltar, He’s Happy No One Told Him

Chicago police officer and endurance swimmer Nial Funchion swam between Spain and Morocco in order to raise funds to benefit fallen officers, and made the 12 mile distance in a little less than four hours. When he was safely on the shores of Morocco, his support team told him that 5 orcas had followed him at a distance of 100 yards for nearly the entire time. “Oh man, thanks for not telling me” was his response when he finally learned of his cetacean companions.  (abc news)


Most likely those were a pod of whales who feed on the tuna that pass through the Strait (often these whales eat tuna caught by the local fisherman as they pull in their lines), and they must have found this small group of humans entertaining.
No human has ever been intentionally hurt by a wild killer whale, nor has anyone ever been killed by one. Still, their name, their size, and their ability to take on even the great whales make them sound frightening. Because their lives in captivity are so unnatural, and so stressful these animals do behave aggressively towards trainers, their image gets distorted. In this case, Funchion and his companions might even have benefited from the presence of the orcas since sharks are not known to attack them (and orcas can be adept at catching and killing the sharks).
Still, one has to wonder how fast the swimmers would have made the crossing had they known they were being followed by the killer whales….

Follow The Whale Trail to See Whales All Year in the Greater Puget Sound Region, Read About Them on the Ferries


October 18, 2011
From The Whale Trail:

IDENTIFY MARINE MAMMALS USING NEW WHALE TRAIL SIGNS ON STATE FERRIES.
Just in time for Fall when orcas travel into Puget Sound, Washington State Ferries and The Whale Trail have partnered to provide ferry passengers with onboard guides to identifying Puget Sound marine mammals. “Our Southern Resident orcas are endangered.  Ferries are perfect places to observe them and our many other marine mammals,” said Donna Sandstrom, executive director of The Whale Trail. “Our orcas depend on the health of the entire Puget Sound. Having these signs on the ferries is a good way to let folks know they use the entire region.”
The signs on the ferries and in the terminals provide descriptions of orcas, gray whales, Dall’s porpoise, harbor seals and California sea lions and explain the habitat needs for the animals, and are the first generation of Whale Trail signs to feature a “QR” code that allows linking via mobile devices to The Whale Trail’s web site.
“Washington State Ferries is happy to be a partner with The Whale Trail on this important project,” said Washington State Ferries’ communication director Marta Coursey. “The educational signs displayed in our terminals and aboard our ferries are an added value to our customers.”
“This is an excellent example of the kind of partnership it takes to recover our endangered Southern Resident orca population,” said Lynne Barre of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “The Whale Trail implements actions from the Recovery Plan that includes raising awareness and inspiring appreciation and stewardship of whales and our marine environment.”
The Whale Trail has established 20 sites in Puget Sound, the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the Washington coast, with many more to come.
“The Whale Trail is profoundly grateful to all our partners, especially Chuck Gibilisco and Mike O’Malley at the Department of Fish and Wildlife for printing the signs, and to the The Seattle Aquarium for donating the graphic design services,” said Sandstrom.
The Whale Trail is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to inspiring appreciation and stewardship of whales and our marine environment by establishing a network of viewing sites along the whales’ trails through Puget Sound and the coastal waters of the Pacific Northwest.
The Whale Trail’s partners include Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary, People For Puget Sound, Seattle Aquarium, Washington State Ferries, and The Whale Museum.

For more information, see The Whale Trail, http://thewhaletrail.org/

Orca Network Reports That Whales Have Started Their Winter Visits to Seattle Area

Press release from Orca Network October 19, 2011
The Orcas are Here!
After spending most of the summer in the San Juan Islands, our Resident orca pods have just begun venturing south into inland waters for the fall and early winter months, traveling down Admiralty Inlet chasing blackmouth and chum salmon runs into lower Puget Sound. Orca Network observed members of J, K and L pods in Admiralty Inlet on Oct.1st and 2nd.
Since the Federal listing of the Southern Resident Orcas under the Endangered Species Act, Orca Network has been assisting NOAA Fisheries, the Center for Whale Research and the Whale Museum in conducting research to track the winter travels of the Southern Residents both in Puget Sound and along the coast. Through our Whale Sighting Network’s toll free number (1-866-ORCANET), whale sightings are collected and shared with researchers, agencies, and the public through our website ( www.orcanetwork.org), Whale Sighting Email list, and Orca Network Facebook page. Whale sightings from the public provide critical information about the travels of the whales, and timely reports enable Orca Network to alert researchers who can then obtain photo identification and prey and fecal samples from the whales during their visits into Puget Sound.
You can help by calling in any whale sighting immediately, so research boats can be deployed and land observers can get out to track and photograph the whales while they are in the study area and/or Puget Sound.  Whale reports may be called in to our toll-free number: 1-866-ORCANET, emailed to info@orcanetwork.org, or posted on our Orca Network Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Orca-Network/79401335600.
Please provide us with the species, location, time, direction of travel, approximate number of whales, and if there are any adult males (with large five – six foot dorsal fins). Also include any behaviors you may observe (breaching, spy-hops, feeding, etc). If you are able to obtain photographs, please send those to the email address above.

Photo by Susan Berta, The Orca Network
This time of year offers wonderful opportunities to observe the orcas from the many miles of shoreline on Whidbey Island, the Kitsap and Olympic Peninsulas, and the inland waters of Puget Sound. For over 10 years, Orca Network has encouraged shore-based whale watching, or watching for whales while commuting on Washington State Ferries. We offer a website, email list and Facebook and Twitter pages of recent whale sightings to increase opportunities for seeing the whales – it always helps to know when they are in the neighborhood! The Whale Sighting Network and Orca Network website also provide up to date information on the latest research and issues related to orcas and their habitat, as well as information on the new whale watching regulations and Be Whale Wise guidelines for viewing marine mammals.
If you would like to be on our Whale Sighting Network Email List to receive whale sighting information to improve your chances of observing whales off our shorelines, sign up on our website: www.orcanetwork.org.
A map of recent whale sightings and reports as well as archived reports may also be found on our website “Sightings” page, and daily news, events, and sightings are posted on our Facebook page.
Thank you for your help in keeping track of our whale neighbors – we are very fortunate to live in a place where we can look out our windows and see those majestic black fins parting the waters!
Susan Berta and Howard Garrett
Orca Network

Effort to Release the Young Orca Morgan to the Wild is Gaining Momentum





Morgan's life hangs in the balance




“A juvenile killer whale called Morgan was found alone in Dutch waters last June 23 and has been cared for since then by the Harderwijk Dolphinarium. Now that Morgan appears to be in good health, the Free Morgan Support Group, together with a global team of experts, has presented a solid plan to return her to her native habitat. The plan was designed and endorsed by scientists and experts in orca physiology, behaviour and acoustics.” The Orca Coalition has been providing legal defense to keep Morgan from being sent to Loro Parque, Tenerife, off the coast of Africa. Dutch Secretary of State Bleker recently ruled in favor of sending the whale to Loro Parque
Today’s press release by The Orca Coalition announces that they have succeeded in raising the funds to initiate an appeal against the recent ruling:

Last week, Secretary of State Bleker announced that Morgan will be transferred to  Loro Parque in Tenerife. Within a short time the Orca Coalition received sufficient financial resources from animal lovers and “FOUR PAWS” to start an appeal procedure against this decision. “International regulations for the care of a protected animal have still not been followed. Only if rehabilitation is deemed impossible, other options are allowed to be considered.
“International regulations for the care of a protected animal have still not been followed. Only if rehabilitation is deemed impossible, other options are allowed to be considered. But the Dolfinarium has so far not been able to mention one action that shows that they are trying to prepare Morgan for a life in the wild”, according to Marq Wijngaarden, lawyer of the Orca Coalition. Because of the court ruling in August the Dolfinarium has to wait at least five more weeks before they are allowed to export Morgan. The Dolfinarium appears to have no intention to uphold this term, and again wants to violate the rules.




Skin covered in rake marks (Courtesy MonchoParis)

According to a recent study Morgan will be placed in an even smaller pool than where she is located now. Moreover, the group of orcas on Tenerife is not a ‘nice adoptive family’ that the Dolfinarium would have us believe. There is so much aggression amongst the animals that they are kept separate and only swim together during the shows. One of the animals is covered in scars, and in December 2009 another animal killed his trainer.


In his thoughtful essay on the conditions at Loro Parque  (The Trials Of Tekoa) Tim Zimmermann writes about the physical condition of one of the young orcas and describes the detrimental effects of Loro Parque’s management on the behavior of the orcas there,  underscoring the importance of returning Morgan to the wild:

The source said that the Loro Parque orcas spent a lot of time spy-hopping and leaning on the safety bars, and that the spikes were added to the bars to discourage the orcas from sliding from one pool into the other (the bars at SeaWorld California have also been retrofitted; apparently Orkid was one orca known to slide over the bars before the retrofit).
Part of the backstory, I was told, is that the Loro Parque trainers used to remove the safety bars as part of playtime with the orcas, so they could slide back and forth between the pools.

Whale Wars on the Internet: Iceland, Japan and Yahoo! Marketing Meat from Endangered Species

Today’s press release from The Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) (a UK-based Non Governmental Organization that investigates and campaigns against a wide range of environmental issues) calls for the online community provider Yahoo! to get out of the illegal trade business and develop a social consciousness.
These days, with Facebook and Google competing for network dominance, Yahoo! can’t afford to lose it’s users, a fact that will leave them open to a boycott.  For those of you who feel frustrated by the slow progress of international politics to end whaling, here is something you can do:  stop using Yahoo! until they decide to stop trading products from endangered species.

NEW FIN WHALE EXPORT BY UNREPENTANT ICELAND, Yahoo! urged to stop selling the meat of endangered whales.



Canned Icelandic fin whale on sale in Japan (c) Environmental Investigation Agency

LONDON: The Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) today confirmed that a further 131 tonnes of Icelandic fin whale has been shipped to Japan and renewed its call for global retailer Yahoo! to immediately prohibit the sale of the endangered species via Yahoo! Japan.
The latest shipment brings the total of fin whale exported to Japan since Iceland resumed commercial whaling to more than 1,500 tonnes, despite the CITES Appendix 1 listing of fin whales clearly prohibiting international trade
In July, the EIA report Renegade Whaling identified Icelandic company Hvalur and its multi-millionaire boss Kristján Loftsson as hunting fin whales for export to Japan via a company he helped to set up.
But despite Iceland being certified under the US Pelly Amendment later that same month, it has now been confirmed that in August a new export to Japan took place of 131 tonnes of fin whale product with an estimated value of 209 million Icelandic króna ($1.7 million).

“On September 15, US President Barack Obama stated that Iceland’s whaling and trade in the meat threatens the conservation status of an endangered species and undermines multilateral efforts to ensure greater worldwide protection for whales. Stopping short of targeted trade sanctions, he nevertheless announced diplomatic measures aiming to push Iceland to halt the trade.

Fin whale meat packed for transport - Iceland (c) EIA

Yahoo Japan! sells numerous Icelandic fin whale products, including large (1.5kg) blocks of meat, bacon (blubber) and canned products. As of September 2011, these products and many more were still available on the internet from Yahoo! Japan shopping sites; a survey by EIA found 10 different retailers offering Icelandic fin whale meat products for sale via Yahoo! Japan.
“At a time when the US Government is applying international pressure to force an end to Iceland’s whaling and international trade, Yahoo! Japan is effectively encouraging further hunting of the species by selling endangered fin whale meat products on its website,” said EIA Senior Campaigner Clare Perry.
“It’s long past due that Yahoo! put its house in order and stopped profiting from, and stimulating, this bloody and wholly unnecessary slaughter.”
EIA first called on Yahoo! Japan in April 2010 to ban all sales of whale, dolphin and porpoise products on its store and auction websites after discovering that many products contained high levels of the neurotoxin mercury.”
Read EIA’s Renegade Whaling report at http://www.eia-international.org/renegade-whaling
Environmental Investigation Agency
62-63 Upper Street
London N1 0NY
UK
www.eia-international.org

Japan Whaling to Resume, Violence Is Feared

Japanese officials recently announced that Japan fully intends to return to the Southern Ocean in Antarctica and resume its brutal whaling practices in the designated marine sanctuary.  Although Japan claims that the whaling is for scientific research, this bogus claim fools no one and just makes the Japanese look ruthless, foolish, and worst of all, irrelevant in a world that condemns that practice.  The fact that Japanese fishermen continue to slaughter dolphins in Taiji because they feel it is their right just adds a layer of making the Japanese seem pridefully self important.

Minke whale and calf

Most of humanity rallied behind that island country when they were rocked by earthquakes and devastated by nuclear fallout following the tsunami last March, so this decision by Japan feels like an insult to those who respect international agreements and refrain from the wanton killing of whales – resulting in a cloud of anger and resentment that engulfs the warm support recently offered to Japan.
The fact that last year almost all of the female minke whales they slaughtered were pregnant signifies to the Japanese that the whaling was an important scientific find, while the rest of the world sees killing pregnant whales as both bad management and barbaric.

Japan’s whaling research body, the Institute of Cetacean Research, today said 91.6 per cent – or 262 of the 286 mature female minkes taken during the last hunt – were pregnant.
“Almost all of the whales are becoming pregnant each year. This is good news. This is great. It shows that the Antarctic minke population is increasing rapidly,” the ICR’s Glenn Inwood said today.  (Sydney Morning Herald)

Worse yet, Japan claims it is willing to up their game in dealing with activists, threatening to ‘do what it takes’ to fend off anti-whaling efforts and to slaughter the whales just to bring the meat home to a country that is losing its taste for both the meat and the conflict. Needless to say, the U.S. finds this stance to be unpalatable.

“We are very concerned about Japan continuing its whaling program in the Southern Ocean Sanctuary,” said Monica Medina, U.S. commissioner to the International Whaling Commission (IWC) and principal deputy under secretary of commerce for NOAA. “These catches will only increase the growing friction within the IWC over how to deal with the large number of whales that continue to be killed while a moratorium remains in place. There is no reason to kill these creatures in order to learn about them. All the necessary science that we need for the management of whales can be achieved using non-lethal techniques.”

“The safety of vessels and life at sea is the highest priority for the United States.” said Medina. “I ask all parties to respect the Commission’s wishes and immediately refrain from any acts at sea that risk human life or safety. These dangerous confrontations in the Southern Ocean must stop before someone gets seriously hurt or even killed.” (Westmoreland Times)


John Daly's rally applies here...

And activists are prepared to meet the challeng
e:

In a statement issued last Friday, Sea Shepherd vowed to take on the whaling vessels again. “They will have to kill us to prevent us from intervening once again. … We will undertake whatever risks to our lives will be required to stop this invasion of arrogant greed into what is an established sanctuary for the whales,” Sea Shepherd’s leader, Paul Watson, said in a statement on the organization’s website. Sea Shepherd will have more than 100 people in the Southern Ocean to block the Japanese whaling fleet, according to the statement. (CNN)

Hopefully the responsible governments of the world will wake up and intervene, and Japan will choose a peaceful path in time to avert disaster.

Update – SeaWorld to be Involved in Orca Necropsies, Do They Want Alaska’s Young Killer Whale? (Updated 10/16/11)

(The last orca was found dead, see updates below)

According to Alaska’s News Source, SeaWorld is sending a veterinarian along as scientists try to determine what caused two orca deaths.  Reports vary as to whether the SeaWorld veterinarian is actually in charge as this article states, or whether that vet is being allowed to participate on a lower level – but it is odd that SeaWorld is involved at all.

ANCHORAGE, Alaska—

A killer whale expert from SeaWorld in San Diego will lead a team of four veterinarians headed to Southwest Alaska to perform necropsies on two orcas found dead in the Nushagak River near Dillingham.
According to witnesses, the trio of killer whales had been in the river for weeks, and biologists feared they would die of starvation or from spending too much time in freshwater.  The carcasses were discovered Saturday.

The team plans to perform the first necropsy on Tuesday on the whale that was found floating in the Nushagak and later moved to a bank near Dillingham.  Wednesday, the team will perform a necropsy on the other whale that was found beached further upriver.
The  third whale, a younger orca, is still missing.  It was last spotted on Saturday in the saltwater tidal area.

There are two likely explanations as to why SeaWorld would invest in sending staff to Alaska, and they are not mutually exclusive – SeaWorld may hope to somehow ensnare the missing juvenile whale for their amusement parks, and/or they may also hope to gain tissues for their artificial insemination project (see “SeaWorld Has a Vested Interest in Helping Stranded Whales and Dolphins“) from the dead animals.
Hopefully the young whale has managed to return to salt water and has already reunited with extended family members, but at this point no one knows about the type of orcas that went up the river, their culture, or their families.
One thing is certain, Alaskans aren’t likely to just let SeaWorld swoop in and take the juvenile if it comes to that, not without first getting legal documents assuring the return of the orca once it is rehabilitated.  The days when SeaWorld could just send vets in, pronounce an animal ‘non-releaseable’, then proceed to keep it without being held accountable are gone.
These whales are worth millions of dollars to amusement parks, but to Alaskans they are a priceless part of the natural world.

Update 10/15/2011, information from NOAA :

The first orca necropsied had been pregnant with a near term fetus.
Based on anatomy, the necropsy team believes the whales were of the ‘transient’, or mammal eating type.
When asked what types of tissues the SeaWorld veterinarian would take and whether Fisheries biologists would conduct independent tests, no information was available.
No information was available as to what circumstances would determine if the juvenile would be captured, other than it depends upon circumstance and the health of the whale.  When asked if a game plan had been established and if those details are available, that information was not known.

Nushagak Killer Whale Update,
Public Affairs Office
NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service
Thursday, October 13, 10:45 a.m.:
A team of six veterinarians Wednesday performed a necropsy on the second killer that was found dead along the Nushagak River last weekend. The necropsy took place near Black Point, downriver from Portage Creek on the Nushagak River. Veterinarians report the killer whale was an adult female which measured 6-meters, 45-centimeters (slightly larger than the adult female examined Tuesday, which measured 6-meters, 20-centimeters). It showed signs of moderate scavenging, but no signs of human interaction. The necropsy revealed no specific indication as to cause of death. The team collected a full range of samples from the animal.
At this time, there is no specific concern that ties the deaths of the two killer whales together, but that is a question that is under investigation.
There have been no reported sightings of the third killer whale, a smaller whale thought to be a juvenile, since it was last seen swimming downriver of Portage Creek on Saturday.
The team of veterinarians plans to depart from Dillingham today, taking with them over 100 samples to be analyzed. A full necropsy report is expected in 4-6 weeks.

The public affairs official at NOAA responded to my questions on the choice of veterinary staff for the necropsies as follows:

Basically, the decision to have [SeaWorld senior veterinarian] Dr. St. Leger participate was objective, and based on two factors:

  • Credentials (qualifications and expertise on killer whales)
  • Her availability on short notice

Dr. St. Leger is also a marine mammal stranding network member, and a stranding network pathologist.
When NOAA puts together a necropsy team, we draw participants from other government agencies, academia, etc., which aids in information sharing and provides diversity on the team.

Dr. Judy St. Leger is on the board of directors at SeaWorld Conservation Fund, more information about St. Leger and SeaWorld’s board of directors can be found here.
Update 10/16/11:
NOAA UPDATE:
Sunday, October 16, 2011
Nushagak Killer Whales
The third of three killer whales that had spent at least three weeks
in the Nushagak River has been found dead. The carcass of the juvenile
killer whale was found Friday near Grass Island, an island in the
Nushagak River across from Dillingham in an area that is tidally
influenced. Based on the description of the location where the animal
was found by a local resident, biologists believe the juvenile whale
would’ve had to have swum there, rather than having been carried there
by the tide.
There is no word yet on plans for a necropsy or to collect samples
from the marine mammal carcass.