Category Archives: Orcas

Is the captive Southern Resident orca Lolita dying?

Miami 6 February 2022 – PETA has just learned from confidential sources of egregious developments and animal failings at the Miami Seaquarium. Beloved Lolita the orca—whose small, shallow, barren concrete tank has been closed to the public for months—is reportedly suffering from pneumonia and is in danger of not receiving adequate care. The current attending veterinarian, Shelby Loos, reportedly possessed no orca experience when she was hired in 2019. She left in 2020 but was rehired last year after the Seaquarium fired its longtime head veterinarian after she expressed concern about the extent of animal suffering at the park.

“Lolita has suffered for five decades in this despicable animal prison, and if she has pneumonia, that greatly increases the risk of dying she faces in this inadequate facility,” says PETA Foundation Vice President and Deputy General Counsel for Animal Law Jared Goodman. “PETA is calling on the Seaquarium to shut down before any more sentient beings suffer and die in its tiny tanks.”

The whistleblowers also shared with PETA horrific photographs of Abaco, a 19-year-old dolphin who drowned after his rostrum became entangled in a net separating two pools and, as his necropsy revealed, had also incurred injuries from being attacked by incompatible dolphins. Abaco was one of six animals who died at the Seaquarium in 2019 and 2020, all from trauma-related causes—including to the head and neck with hemorrhaging.

In September, PETA obtained a damning 17-page federal inspection report revealing a slew of animal welfare violations at the Seaquarium, including that it had failed to provide Lolita and several other animals with sufficient shade, leaving them in direct sunlight, which can cause painful damage to their eyes. This is the first time the USDA cited the facility for insufficient shade, even though PETA has been raising the issue for years. Lolita has been held alone there for more than 40 years. She displays repetitive and abnormal behavior, which, according to marine mammal experts, indicates severe psychological trauma. The Seaquarium is currently under further investigation by the USDA.

From Peta’s media release

4 released captive orcas in Russia are hunting together, including little Alexandra

It looks as though Alexandra, the youngest killer whale to be released, has joined three of the other freed orcas in the Shantar Islands area of the Sea of Okhotsk.

Of the 10 killer whales who were returned to the sea where they had been captured, only Alexandra needed initial support following her release.
She had become separated from the other two orcas in her group (Vitas and Nut) and wound up hanging around fishing boats where she was fed. Then she headed over a hundred miles to the north, where she continued to pluck the occasional fish from nets and appeared to hunt successfully on her own.
But what great news; Alexandra has returned south and joined up with Tikhon, Zoya, and Gadget who were released a few weeks after her. If she stays with them, her chances of survival are as high as the others.

Map of locations
Alexandra, Tikhon, Zoya, and Gadget together in the Shantar Islands (Sea of Okhotsk) Image Credit: VNIRO

It’s inspiring to follow these intelligent animals as they adjust to life back in the wild – studies of wild orca populations have shown that their cultures and dialects vary and at this point, we don’t know how those factors play into which whales remain together. Gender, age, personality, food abundance, locating family members, and changing ocean conditions may also contribute to the ultimate success of each whale.
Genetic tests showed that these are mammal-eating type orcas…yet they had been fed fish while they were in captivity. Will they expand their dietary preferences now? Or go back to eating the seals and sea lions of the region exclusively? The winter conditions in that region are challenging, and it is most likely that they will select the more calorie rich mammals, but a lot depends on what they can find.
One of the first released orcas, Vasilyevna, has found a place in a group of wild whales, where she was observed hunting seals and food sharing with others. She was released with Lyokha, but his satellite tag stopped working and there are no reports on his location.
There are no updates as yet on Forest and Kharya, the last to be released.

Freed captive orca photographed with a group of wild whales in Russia; hunting and sharing food

Freed captive orca Vasilievna is now hunting and food sharing with a group of wild whales.  She is on the far right, identifiable by her tag.

How often we wake up to good news these days is anyone’s guess, but when that news involves a project that required people to put aside political beliefs, to work with groups who opposed each other in fundamental attitudes about cherished wildlife, to find funding…this success is stunning. At least one of the freed killer whales in Russia has been accepted into a wild group.
It means that captive orcas can be released back into the wild and successfully find their families (or at least into a group that will accept them).
And hopefully, it means that there is as much public support to see these kinds of reparations to nature as there is to see the babies taken to captivity for our amusement.
A huge amount of work has gone on behind the scenes by people who may never be known; so congratulations to you too. And to those who gave financially, and to the public worldwide for caring.
The trials of adjustment aren’t over for the whales (more on that later) but whatever the final outcome, this tremendous effort has shown the world that it can be done.
From The All-Russian Research Institute of Fisheries and Oceanography (VNIRO):

LOCATION OF KILLER WHALES AND BELUGA WHALES ON AUGUST 29

According to data from satellite tags installed on animals released into the Sea of ​​Okhotsk on August 27, 2 killer whales Kharya and Forest moved 50 km from the place of release and are moving towards Sakhalin.

The trajectory of their movement is very similar to the one along which the youngest female killer whale Alexander from the second release.

Locations of the released captive orcas in Russia. 29 Aug 2019  Image Credit:  VNIRO

Killer whale Alexandra reached the Shantar Islands, where now there are other animals released from the Srednyaya Bay. It is 40 km from the three killer whales of Zoe, Tikhon and Gadget, which hunt in the region of Udskaya Bay.
As part of a joint monitoring and exchange of information between VNIRO and the Coalition “For the freedom of killer whales and whales”, Grigory Tsidulko, a member of the Council for Marine Mammals, said that during the study of bowhead whales in the Shantar Sea, he and other members of the Council: Svetlana Artemyeva and By Stanislav Zakharov, on August 20 a tagged killer whale was discovered, one of the ones released in the summer of 2019. The killer whale was [encountered] in the bay of Constantine.
At the time of the meeting, she was in a group with other seven killer whales and participated in the hunt. In front of observers, a family of killer whales caught two seals, which were divided between the group members and eaten.
Analysis of images taken during [observation] of killer whales [taken] allow us to define the tagged killer whale as “Vasilievna” – this is a female released into the Sea of ​​Okhotsk in the first installment on June 27.

Photo Credit: VNIRO

Belugas are located 25 km from Cape Perovsky and move in the opposite direction from killer whales towards Alexandra Bay.
VNIRO Press Service

Freed captive orca Alexandra is thriving, as are 5 of the other young killer whales

Satellite tags on the orcas allow scientists to locate them.

According to the Russian Federal Research Institute Of  Fisheries and Oceanography (VNIRO),  little Alexandra is thriving. She’s hunting on her own in a biologically rich part of the Sea of Okhotsk, although she occasionally snacks on the buffet offered by fishing nets.

The youngest female Alexandra, released on July 16, has come a long way across the Sea of Okhotsk and is now in the North Okhotsk Sea subzone, about 600 km north of the Shantar Islands.
During her free life, she has eaten fish in fixed nets near Chkalov island, hunted near the Northern shores of Sakhalin, then spent more than a week in the open sea north of Sakhalin, prowling on the migration routes of Pacific salmon.
Then she, at high speed, overcoming more than 100 km per day, which indicates its good physical shape, crossed the Sea of Okhotsk from east to west, and now has come to the fishing areas in the North Okhotsk Sea Subzone.

Because she is hunting in areas of high fish abundance, the scientists believe she may have been misidentified as a mammal-eating type:

In general, the nature of Alexandra’s movements after her release indicates that she consistently checks the main areas of summer fishing in the Sea of Okhotsk. This behavior of Alexandra casts doubt on her belonging to the so-called “carnivorous” ecotype, previously determined on the basis of DNA marker analysis.

Please note, however, that she may be hunting for what she is accustomed to having been fed in captivity. Also, while seals and sea lions are present in the region they are difficult to catch so the possibility that she is genetically a mammal-eating type can’t be ruled out. What we may be witnessing here is an adaptation by an intelligent and sentient species.

 Press Service:

According to the latest data from satellite tags, three orcas – Zoya, Tikhon, and Gayka, released on August 6, are moving towards the Shantar Islands. Being close to the place of release for about a week, the animals actively moved, adapting to the natural habitat conditions, ate fish, which now go to spawn in large shoals in this area. Now the killer whales have left the Sakhalin Gulf and are approaching the Academy Bay.
Two large females from the first and second release groups are located at a distance of 30 km from each other in the Shantar Sea. These are the traditional habitats of wild killer whales. Their families were discovered by VNIRO scientists, who monitored these places from August 8 to 12.

At this time the locations and condition of the other two freed killer whales has not been released. They may have lost their tags or the tags may have failed so it is premature to assume that they have died. For background information, please read “3 more young orcas are on their way to freedom from captivity in Russia, bringing the total freed to 8“.
Sea of Okhotsk Photo Credit: https://vbpr.no/

The trio of captive orcas have been released into the wild

Update 13 Aug 2019:  Freed orca Alexandra is thriving, as are 5 of the other young killer whales
Update 7 Aug 2019 – video has been released (please see below).

Photo Credit: Greenpeace

After five days in containers aboard trucks and a barge in weather that ranged from blazing heat to a downpour, Tikhon, Zoya, and Gadget were released into the Sea of Okhostsk. According to Greenpeace, once the three young killer whales were released they swam together for a couple of hours then headed out to sea.
Like the other released captive whales, satellite tags were bolted through their dorsal fins in order to keep track of them.
DNA samples were taken, which will help identify them – hopefully the tags are designed to fall off after a certain time period, and a good guess is that if any of the whales don’t make the adjustment to life in the wild and their body is found (big ifs) the authorities will know which orca it is. And who knows, the whales may one day have offspring of their own who can be traced through genetic samples.
Tikhon, Gadget and Zoya as they swim to freedom.
Photo Credit: Greenpeace

In case the hunters are allowed to capture orcas for the captivity trade in the future the genetic tests may even protect these from recapture. Because of the time they spent in captivity they are accustomed to people and so it is likely that they will be easily approached – or may even approach boats and docks as did Alexandra. It would be a travesty if they were recaptured in the future.
There should be an update soon on Alexandra and the other released whales (there are eight total). The Russian Federal Research Institute Of  Fisheries and Oceanography (VNIRO) plans to visually monitor all eight of the freed orcas in the coming days.
And hopefully, in the near future the last two killer whales and 80 plus belugas will soon be freed.
 

Update on the Russian orcas via Greenpeace – tomorrow the whales will be free

Photo Credit: Greenpeace Russia
  • Rain brought relief from the heat as the three orcas were prepared for the last leg of their trip to freedom.
  • Once again, the water was changed in each container, and the whales were massaged where it was needed to counter the effects of the cramped space in their containers. In the wild, orcas rarely rest motionless and travel as much as a hundred miles in a day, and this is the fifth day that they have been in those small tanks.
  • When needed, they have had their skin covered with protective ointments and have been provided with shade during the hot portions of the trip.
  • Two tons of ice were used in cooling their water.
  • The final part of the trip will be by trucks again.
  • Tomorrow (6 Aug 19) they will be released into the Sea of Okhostk.
  • Once these three are released, plans are in place to locate and visually assess all 8 of the freed killer whales.

 

The 3 killer whales are stressed by shipping but are monitored by Greenpeace

Photo Credit: Greenpeace Russia

“The cold reception [received] by Greenpeace in the Khabarovsk heat is nothing compared to the stress experienced by killer whales. As one of our team members said later in the evening: “In the creak of doors…I now hear screams of killer whales.” Greenpeace Russia
It was a long, hot, loud trip, in which the orcas vocalized “almost constantly” – and it’s not over yet.
As they were driven from Stredanaya Bay on their journey to freedom in the Sea of Okhotsk, the sweltering heat raised the water temperature inside their containers to 68 degrees (20 C) before the three young orcas finally got some relief; fresh salt water and ice brought the water temperatures down to 54 degrees (12 C) to prepare for the next leg of their trip from captivity.
From the afernoon to midnight they waited, until finally they were loaded on a barge for what will be a two day trip down the Amur River to Innokentyevka. From there they will again be loaded onto trucks.
Photo Credit: Greenpeace Russia
These details have been made available by Greenpeace volunteers who are monitoring the care and health of the whales, even though their presence is only grudgingly tolerated and their access is strictly limited by the companies that hunted the killer whales originally.
“It turns out that secrecy around the operation and the prevention of independent observers are needed so that no one can steal and repeat the technology of loading and transporting killer whales,” wrote one observer. “Traders are sure that current events are temporary difficulties, and after them they will continue their business. They are convinced that the catch ban will not be accepted.”
In other words, the hunters plan to continue the nefarious captures of orca calves to sell to amusement parks in China.
We’ll see about that…

Please send donations to Greenpeace, they are the people who actually have boots on the ground and who are working hard to help these whales survive their arduous journey. Here is the USA Greenpeace donation page, from there you can navigate to their organizations around the world.

3 more young orcas are on their way to freedom from captivity in Russia, bringing the total freed to 8

Homeward bound – their journey may be arduous, but just imagine their joy as the young killer whales swim far and deep to once again hunt their prey in the bays and fjords of the Sea of Okhotsk.

Orca being loaded for journey to freedom
Heading for freedom (Greenpeace photo)

This is the third group to go, and each time improvements are made in transporting and freeing the whales. This time
Greenpeace Russia has been granted limited access to observe and record the process, although they are forced to observe from a distance of 300 meters (328 yards).
Officials from the Russian Research Institute of Fisheries and Oceanography (VNIRO) has apparently allowed a single media representative to observe as well.
The whales were initially captured by companies that used loopholes to obtain permits to capture a dozen orcas and around 90 beluga whales which they planned to sell to amusement parks in China. However the permits did not grant the captures for the purpose of display, and now the whales are in various stages of being returned to the wild.
According to representatives of VNIRO, the three orcas – two males and one female – were housed together and range in age from around six to 10 years old. It is hoped that they are a well-bonded group who will stay together, unlike the situation that left a young orca, Alexandra, alone and unable to hunt on her own.
Once again the orcas will face a challenging 5 to 6-day road and barge trip in modified tanks, and this time through heat in the 90’s. Greenpeace reports that adequate measures have been taken to prevent the whales from overheating:

“On the day of issue, the temperature on the Nakhodka-Vladivostok road reached +35 [95 F], on the coast it was +30 [86 F]. VNIRO is stocked with ice and good insulating bath materials. On the barge, in which orcas swim on the Amur there will be three tons of ice.
We very much hope that orcas will survive this adversity and safely dive into the waters of the Sea of ​​Okhotsk, forgetting the past year like a bad dream, ”said Oganes Targulyan, leading expert of the project on the release of killer whales and beluga.

There are two remaining orcas and over 80 beluga whales at the holding facility, although 7 belugas have been released. VNIRO and Greenpeace Russia collaborated in putting together this video of the belugas’ return to the sea (in June):

Saving the lonely orca calf, Alexandra: What are her options? (Videos)

An unprecedented effort is underway to return illegally caught whales to the wild in the far northwest Pacific Ocean, but what about the one who just won’t leave? While the four other orcas released into the ocean seem to have adapted to life in the wild, Alexandra has chosen to hang out with the fishermen who provide her with salmon.

[Video originally posted on the Russian Orcas Facebook page.]

Why the whales are being freed

The heartbreaking photos of nearly 100 whales suffering in iced-over pens off the southern coast of Russia changed the trajectory of their lives and set them on a path to freedom.
It was public knowledge that 12 orca calves and around 90 belugas had been illegally captured and were being warehoused in marginal conditions, but it never really hit home until the world saw the pictures. The sight of frostbitten calves huddled together for warmth in their nearly frozen-over pool galvanized a response, even from those who approve of the captive display of whales and dolphins.

The conditions in captivity. Photo Credit: mmrescue.ru/news/

The public outcry that resulted from the images, teamed with the expense of maintaining the whales and the illegality of the captures, tipped the balance in favor of releasing the orcas and belugas. It was a momentous decision, never before attempted.
Five of the ten orcas (two others mysteriously disappeared while in captivity) have been returned to the ocean, with mixed results. At this point, all are believed to have survived. The first two, released at the end of June, seem to have adapted back to life in the wild. Of the last three, the two older calves have been tracked about 100 miles away from the release site.
Alexandra, only two or three years old, has found friends among the fishermen where she was released. And that could be a problem when winter sets in.

Timeline

Alexandra and the other calves are often referred to as the “Srednyaya orcas” because they were held captive there, in the Sea of Japan, but they originated far to the north in the Sea of Okhotsk. Their release site is in the Gulf of Sakhalin (in the Sea of Okhotsk).

Capture and release sites. Image credit: timesUK.co

Genetic tests show that Alexandra is a type of orca that normally hunts marine mammals (variously known as transients, Biggs, or T-type). From Russian Orcas:

Orcas in Srednyaya Bay are mammal-eaters!
We confirm that all 10 orcas kept in Srednyaya Bay belong to the North Pacific mammal-eating ecotype, also called ‘transients’ or ‘Bigg’s killer whales’ in Canada and the US, and T-type killer whales in Russia.
This was determined by FEROP experts through sequencing their mitochondrial DNA control region haplotype.

Alexandra is trained to accept fish even though it’s not her normal diet. If she continues to be fed she will have a chance of surviving long enough to be reunited with her family.

What should happen now to assure Alexandra’s successful assimilation into the natural world?

Probably the best option is to follow the recommendations of scientists for her to continue to be fed until the next group of orca calves is transported to that area for release. The whole group will need time to bond with each other before being freed. It’s likely that the older calves know how to hunt the prey they evolved to eat, and together the group may successfully readapt to the wild.
A second option is that by using genetic tests and recorded vocalizations scientists can manage to identify and locate her family. This is not a simple task, but it has been done before – a lost orca was matched using those methods in the Netherlands – although that case is still tied up in the courts and she has remained in captivity in Loro Parque, Spain.

[hdnfactbox title=”Orcas: Black and White Gold”]  The orcas were captured to be sold to aquariums and amusement parks in China and other countries.

Each orca calf has a market value of 5 – 6 million dollars US.

The whales were caught illegally – the permits were for education and research, not display.

Over 20 biologists, philanthropists, and conservationists signed a letter to President Putin requesting the release of the whales, and an online petition garnered over a million signatures.

[/hdnfactbox]

 
It is political will, driven largely by popular opinion, that can make a difference for Alexandra.
The expense of even attempting to locate Alexandra’s family may be prohibitive but the knowledge gained about the local orca populations would justify the effort even if no match is found.
There is a possibility that she was taken so young that she will still prefer to hang out and get fed, but that can be dangerous for her as well.
In 2001 L 98 (Luna), a lost calf from the Southern Resident orcas won the hearts of everyone who knew his story ( This enchantingly adorable wild killer whale calf befriended and pranked people for years. (Video)  ), but the politics of the time meant that no effort was mounted to return him to his family before his untimely death.
This charming film was made about Luna’s life and the people who loved the merry prankster:

There’s hope for a better outcome for Alexandra, as more is learned with each release. Also, because unlike Luna she is trained to accept food as a reward for her behavior she may be able to live free and friendly.
One way or the other, we’ll watch her story unfold.

[hdnfactbox title=”Beluga Whales; Canaries of the Sea”]

Belugas are known as the “canaries of the sea” because they produce many different sounds, including whistles, squeals, moos, chirps, and clicks. They rely on their hearing and ability to echolocate, using sound to navigate and hunt for prey. Belugas also have sharp vision both in and out of water.

Beluga whales have a varied diet consisting of octopus, squid, crabs, shrimp, clams, snails, and sandworms. They also eat a variety of fishes, including salmon, cod, sole, herring, smelt, and flounder. (NOAA)[/hdnfactbox]

Beluga whale. Photo Credit: NOAA

An orca rescue, rehab, and retirement facility in the San Juan Islands; please share your thoughts at a town meeting

Orcas
Photo credit – Dale Mitchell, Eagle Wind Tours

Media release:

The Whale Sanctuary Project is holding a series of town meetings in Washington State to discuss the concept for a rehab/rescue facility for the endangered Southern Resident orcas, which can also serve as a retirement home for orcas retired from entertainment parks and aquariums.
The meetings will be held in Olympia, Gig Harbor, Seattle, San Juan Island, Orcas Island and Lopez Island.
A rehab/rescue facility that can also be home to orcas retired from marine parks Lori Marino, President of the Whale Sanctuary Project, and Charles Vinick, Executive Director, will present their vision for a 60 – 100 acre seaside sanctuary that will be a full-service veterinary and “urgent care” facility in the San Juan Islands for free-ranging orcas who live-strand or need special assistance in a controlled setting prior to being returned to their pod. In addition, the facility will house orcas who have been rescued from life in concrete tanks at marine parks and aquariums.
The team is looking forward to making a visual presentation and engaging in discussion with the local communities in the Puget Sound area to hear their input on the sanctuary idea, answer all questions, and discuss all concerns. That’s because any successful sanctuary involves a partnership between the organization creating it and the community that embraces it.
We hope everyone will come out to these meetings to meet Lori and Charles and hear about the Whale Sanctuary Project.

Town Meeting Details

Olympia – Tuesday, July 16, 7pm (doors open at 6:30)
DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel – Capitol Room
415 Capitol Way N
Street parking and small adjacent lot.
Gig Harbor – Wednesday, July 17, 7pm (doors open at 6:30)
Ocean5 – Atlantic Ocean Meeting Room
5268 Point Fosdick Dr.
Parking on site.
Seattle – Thursday, July 18, 7pm (doors open at 6:30)
Great Hall at Green Lake LLC – Great Hall
7220 Woodlawn Ave NE
Paid underground parking below PCC Community Market (one block from venue)
San Juan Island (Friday Harbor) – Sunday, July 21, 2pm (doors open at 1:30)
Brickworks Event Center
150 Nichols St.
Plaza parking and street parking.
Orcas Island (Eastsound) – Tuesday, July 23, 7pm (doors open at 6:30)
Emmanuel Episcopal Church – Parish Hall
242 Main St.
Street parking.
Lopez Island – Wednesday, July 24, 7pm (doors open at 6:30)
Woodmen Hall
4102 Fisherman Bay Rd.
Parking on site.