There’s lots to love about the new orca show at SeaWorld, San Diego.
Called ‘Orca Encounter’, the show lives up to its promises to provide educational content with stunning film and virtual reality displays which do an admirable job of teaching the basic biology and ecology of the whales. The orcas perform tricks that synchronize with the video, and the trainers’ low key presence is a welcome change from the glitzy days past. Shamu, the lovable sea panda is gone, replaced with a more accurate portrayal – orcas are shown hunting seals and whales.
Of course there is no escaping the fact that the captive orcas are living very different lives than their wild counterparts, a poignant reminder that while SeaWorld has pledged that the orcas they now have will be the last they own they remain adamantly against allowing these whales to find their way to future ocean sanctuaries. But up until a few years ago SeaWorld would never have decided to stop breeding the orcas either, which they now have done.
From the whales’ point of view it may be true that they are just learning new tricks for pieces of fish, but the process of learning is of itself stimulating for them.
Can SeaWorld provide enough enrichment in the barren tanks to improve the living conditions for the orcas enough to significantly impact the well-being of the whales and dolphins in their care going into the future? Will they? After all, SeaWorld has made a commitment of 30 – 50 years to take care of the whales they have – whales who have nowhere else to go unless they are sold overseas or released into managed care in sanctuaries, neither of which is a viable option at this time. As a business, their bottom line is money, and maintaining the cetaceans is very expensive.
In large part what SeaWorld does going forward will be shaped by the response to the actions taken so far, and by SeaWorld’s ability to fulfill their promises to help wild marine animals navigate the changing ocean environment.
I hope the public response is positive, because look around – who else is stepping up to the plate? Environmental regulations are being stripped at an alarming pace, and the Marine Mammal Commission will effectively be terminated in October. There are few options to rescue and rehabilitate whales and dolphins at present, and rescue groups struggle to find funds. The trickle of money that they operate on may soon dry up.
Love ’em or not, SeaWorld may be our best option. At least until the next elections.
Below are two videos of the new show, the first focuses on the presentation, the second focuses on the whales themselves – together they appear to cover the show well.
President Trump issued an executive order Friday calling for the Department of the Interior to review its 2017-2022 offshore oil and gas leasing plan and all restrictions on offshore energy production, possibly opening up the Atlantic, Arctic and Pacific oceans to dangerous offshore drilling projects. Administration officials also said seismic testing in the Atlantic, which was removed from the final five-year plan, could proceed during that review.
WASHINGTON— Conservation groups have moved to intervene in an administrative appeal by the oil industry challenging a federal decision to reject six oil and gas exploration permits for the Atlantic Ocean. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management denied the seismic airgun survey applications in part because the loud blasts would hurt endangered North Atlantic right whales and other sensitive wildlife.
In denying the permits, the Bureau found that the “small, critically endangered, and declining population of” North Atlantic right whales, which recent surveys say include an estimated 476 whales, “would doubtless be disturbed by seismic activity.”
“Seismic blasts are so loud they can injure endangered right whales and other marine mammals. We’ve been working to save right whales from extinction, and we’re intervening in this appeal to ensure the safety of these rare whales from oil and gas exploration,” said Kristen Monsell, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity.
Seismic exploration surveys use high-powered airguns to search for deposits of oil and gas. They generate the loudest human sounds in the ocean, short of explosives. The blasts, which can reach more than 250 decibels, can cause hearing loss in marine mammals, disturb essential behaviors such as feeding and breeding over vast distances, mask communications between individual whales and dolphins, and reduce catch rates of commercial fish.
In addition to the Center for Biological Diversity, today’s motion was filed by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), North Carolina Coastal Federation, South Carolina Coastal Conservation League, One Hundred Miles and Defenders of Wildlife. The groups are represented by attorneys from NRDC, the Center and the Southern Environmental Law Center.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.3 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.
Fifteen years ago, Springer, an orphaned and lost orca calf was successfully rescued, rehabilitated, and returned to her wild family.
“Springer’s story is an inspiration on many levels,” said Paul Spong of OrcaLab. “It proved that an orphan orca, alone and separated from her family, can be rehabilitated and returned to a normal productive life with her family and community; and it showed that disparate parties with diverse interests can come together and work together for the common goal of helping one little whale.”
“The Springer success story continues to be an inspiration for all of us working on conservation in the Salish Sea,” said Lynne Barre, the lead for orca recovery at NOAA Fisheries’ West Coast regional office in Seattle. “The partnerships created during Springer’s rescue provide a strong foundation for international cooperation as well as coordination between government, state, tribal, and non-profit groups to benefit both Northern and Southern Resident killer whales.”
Fifteen years later, Springer is still healthy and in 2013 had her first calf, Spirit. They are most often seen on the north central British Columbia coast and occasionally return to Johnstone Strait in summer.
“Springer’s reunion is an unqualified success – the only project of its kind in history,” said Donna Sandstrom, director of The Whale Trail and organizer of the Vashon Island event. “To get the little whale home, we had to learn how to work together, as organizations, agencies and nations. Above all, we put her best interests first. Community members played a key role in shaping Springer’s fate. We hope her story inspires people to join us in working on issues facing our endangered southern resident orcas today, with the same urgency, commitment, and resolve.”
The 2002 Springer rescue team will reconvene in programs and events in Puget Sound, Georgia Strait and Telegraph Cove in May, June and July to give first-hand accounts of how Springer was identified, rescued and rehabilitated. She was taken by jet catamaran to the north end of Vancouver Island and reunited with her Northern Resident family.
“Celebrate Springer!” begins on May 20 on Vashon Island near the waters were Springer was found. The Vashon Theater program of “Springer’s Story” will feature members of the rescue team, a dance performance by Le La La Dancers, who were present at Springer’s release, and followed by a late afternoon Whale Trail sign dedication at the Point Robinson Lighthouse.
The event will continue in June and July with programs at NOAA Fisheries, Whale Trail Orca Talk, Whale Trail sign dedications, and conclude with a three-day program at Telegraph Cove, British Columbia, where Springer was released in 2002 and rejoined her Northern Resident family.
For more information, check out the Celebrate Springer Facebook page and The Whale Trail.
“Celebrate Springer!” partners include NOAA Fisheries, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, OrcaLab, Whale Interpretive Center, Vancouver Aquarium and The Whale Trail.