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
Airbnb has made it easier to include animal experiences in your travel – they have created a roster of ethical rescue organizations and sanctuaries that are supported by World Animal Protection.
You won’t find Seaworld or similar amusement parks on their list, nor African hunting safaries…instead you’ll find an inspiring list of groups working hard to save animals.
“With technology taking up so much of our lives, it’s easy to feel disconnected from nature and animals,” said Brian Chesky, Airbnb CEO and Co-Founder. “Maybe this is why social media is dominated by animal memes. Life is better with animals, but for many busy people, looking at them through a screen is the closest they can get. With Airbnb Animal Experiences, locals and travelers are just a few clicks away from being alongside them in the real world.“
“We know people love animals and want to see and experience them when they travel, but we also know they most want to see animals in a setting that respects their well-being,” said Alesia Soltanpanah, Executive Director World Animal Protection. “This new animal welfare policy created in consultation with our animal welfare experts combined with the creativity and dedication of Airbnb will ensure that adventurers have many options to experience the beauty of animals in a way that considers their welfare first.”
“Airbnb Animal Experiences are hosted by caring experts as an antidote to typical tourist attractions that are notorious for ethical concerns. You will never find an Airbnb Experience where you can kiss a dolphin or ride an elephant.”
Their policies include:
Working animals: maximum one rider and never more than 20% of the animal’s weight, never to be overworked
Marine mammals: should never be in captivity for entertainment
Broader host business: should not feature elephant rides, big cat interactions, illegal wildlife trade, sporting events such as canned and trophy hunting, animals performing for entertainment
Wild animals: there should be no direct contact including, but not limited to, petting, feeding, or riding animals
Responsible travel: no wild animals as selfie props or any negative training techniques
Tea with Naughty Sheep(Loch Lomond, United Kingdom)
Meet the Dogs of Chernobyl(Slavutych, Ukraine)
Discover Arctic Foxes(Sudavik, Iceland)
New Zealand Getaway and Horseplay (Auckland, New Zealand)
Gibbon Research Assistant Experience (Phuket, Thailand)
Urban Rooftop Beekeeping(Hamilton, Canada)
Butterflies and Caterpillars Oh My!(Columbus, Ohio)
Meet Life-Saving Animals(Siem Reap, Cambodia)
See Released Macaws(Nosara, Costa Rica)
Ultimate Cape Town Birding(Cape Town, South Africa)
Wild Brooklyn Parrot Safari(Brooklyn, New York)
Go on a Safari with a Maasai Guide (Nakuru, Kenya)
Hike Runyon Canyon with a Rescue Dog(Los Angeles, CA)
A Day in a Gaucho’s Life in the Andes(Mendoza, Argentina)
It should be noted that an earlier assessment of this “adaptation center” was conducted exactly a month prior (on December 19, 2018), with the help of other specialized experts. It had been organized by the Primorsky Office of the Investigative Committee of Russia, which then reported that all animals were in good condition—although the number of beluga whales was three less than earlier reported. The December assessment claimed that nothing was threatening the life or health of the remaining whales. The same representatives of this Investigative Committee also noted that the bay, in which the animal enclosures are located, does not freeze over in winter.
PRELIMINARY RESULTS OF AN EXPERT EXAMINATION OF ORCAS AND BELUGAS HELD IN THE “ADAPTATION CENTER” AT SREDNYAYA BAY
January 24, 2019. At the end of last week a team led by the local Border (Coast) Guard Service of the Federal Security Bureau (FSB) of Russia went out to assess the “center for the adaptation of marine mammals” in Srednyaya Bay, near Nakhodka (in Primorsky Krai)—a site that is better known as the “whale jail”. Leading Russian experts in the fields of biology, ecology, veterinary medicine, and cetacean behavior in captivity were also involved in this team.
At the time of the inspection, Srednyaya Bay was not really frozen over. But the entire “adaptation center”, together with the adjacent water area, was completely covered with dense ice measuring several centimeters thick. This is a big problem for all the enclosures (both the open pens, with the belugas, and the closed ones, with killer whales). The “center” staff were seen to spend a tremendous amount of time trying to get rid of the ice. They are forced to use heat guns and compressors, which are used to accelerate water movement and manually remove the ice from the enclosures on a daily basis. The belugas are accustomed to living in icy conditions; but they are absolutely not used to this constant splitting and clearing of ice by people in close proximity. This work is certainly causing anxiety, and is a potential source of severe stress for the animals, as evidenced by their behavior. Thus, during a check in one of the small enclosures with the belugas, it was noted that 12 people simultaneously were chipping ice and throwing pieces over the fence. And in these pens the animals were spending much more time under water during this process, and were moving noticeably less actively, than whales in the neighboring enclosures.
In the process of their evolution Beluga whales have adapted to colder climates. They lack dorsal fins (other cetaceans lose heat through this “cooling” fin, mainly because it does not have a fat layer). Orcas on the other hand are not so cold-resistant. Under natural conditions, these killer whales of the northwestern Pacific are not observed around ice. Yet in the open-air cages here in the “adaptation center” they are forced to come into direct contact with ice—a fact which probably has some effect on their health.
Several females (given the names of Zina and Gaika), as well as one male (Tikhon) show noticeable and unusual (for orcas) evidence of mottling and other changes in the skin of the dorsal fin and spinal areas. There were similar anomalies (but often larger and more pronounced—with serious peeling away of the skin) noticed in other orcas – the females named Zoya, and the youngest Alexandra, as well as in the male named Leha. However, one whale named Kirill stands out in this regard – the skin on the fin and upper back area behind his fin is peeling off in large, flapping chunks.
Or course, changes in the surface of the skin may often be associated with molting – a natural change to the outer layers of the skin. Molting of big pieces of skin was observed in bowhead and sperm whales, but it is very rare for killer whales. In this case, the abnormalities of skin may be due to external thermal injuries (from hypothermia and frostbite). In fact, this is quite likely, given that the temperature drops in the tented enclosures every night, with shallow ice and slush accumulates, despite all the efforts of the workers at the center to prevent icing over. It was seen that the killer whales also have rounded skin lesions, which could be due to fungal diseases. Samples taken from animals (skin smears) will soon allow us to more accurately determine the presence of any skin diseases.
There are many cracks and scrapes on the skin of the orca named Leha, injuries that could have been obtained while loading and unloading the animals. These scratches are seen between the pectoral fins, and on other parts of the lower body surface. Other killer whales may also exhibit similar scarring— but it was extremely difficult to inspect the abdominal underbelly of all the whales.
It should be noted that the experts who checked on the “adaptation center” last month had previously noted that the animal skin had almost no noticeable damage. This means that the condition of the skin in at least 6 out of the 11 killer whales has deteriorated.
The general physical condition of the majority of killer whales can be called generally satisfactory. But Kirill’s condition is of great concern. He is completely inactive, looks sick and floating motionless for long periods of time. He often comes into contact with the icy sludge, possibly causing hypothermia with more pronounced damage to the skin that is manifest with Kirill. His breathing is very slow and “gentle”, which can be a sign of pneumonia or other diseases of his internal organs. Next to his dorsal fin, markings on the skin similar to injection punctures may indicate that therapeutic procedures were used on this whale. The state of health of all the animals will be clarified by tests done on the skin samples and exhalations—tests which often take a good deal of time to complete.
The killer whales are divided into three groups of 3, 4 and 4 animals. They do communicate with each other and, possibly, with animals from neighboring enclosures. All the animals are eating food, and are given herring and pink salmon, which is generally acceptable forage in captivity. Nevertheless, this is not normal food for these killer whales, since they are likely to belong to the transient populations of orcas that in natural conditions feed on other marine mammals (such as seals, and sea lions, and even other whales).
Visual inspection of the belugas showed that their number has not changed since the last inspection. There are still 87 individuals. Once again these beluga whales are showing anomalies in their appearance—although not as pronounced as in the killer whales. For many of them, in the area of the back of the head, neck and breathing hole, there appeared a lot of strange dark spots, which is usually not observed in beluga whales that are kept in captivity in aquariums. One beluga whale showed signs of losing weight — a marked reduction in the fat layer appeared around the neck, which is not characteristic of a healthy, normally feeding animal. But in general, according to preliminary visual data, the general condition of the belugas is estimated as more favorable than the killer whales. They all take on food – also herring and pink salmon. It should be noted that, among the belugas, there were younger animals aged up from under a year to 3-4 years of age. The number of individuals born in 2018, the so-called “juveniles” at the time of capture, will be clarified after a thorough analysis of the photos and videos.
One particular threat to the animals’ health was noted by the experts: a complete absence of any sanitation facilities or any measures in this “adaptation center” aimed at preventing pathogenic microorganisms from entering the animal enclosures. There were no disinfecting barriers or any decontaminants or disinfectants applied at any of the entrances to the “center” as a whole, or at any entrances to the individual pens.
Also, there is no separate entrance for each of the pens; the passageway to all the enclosures leads only through the first enclosure with the killer whales, where Kirill, Alexandra and Vitas are kept. Every day a lot of “center” staff pass by, dragging their various equipment, ice-cleaning tools and heavy wheelbarrows with fish, likely causing more anxiety and stress for the killer whales.
Experts will give more detailed and substantiated conclusions later, when they process all the information obtained at the site, and conduct their research on the collected samples.
All photos and videos are the property of the public campaign known as: “Free Russian Whales” and could be shared publicly without written consent.
For more information about the campaign “Free Russian Whales” please see:http://freerussianwhales.
Press release published by the
Regional public organization “Sakhalin Environment Watch”
Sakhalin Regional Public Organization Club “Boomerang”
Regional Public Organization “Ocean Friends”
Rehabilitation center of marine mammals “Seal”
Scientific and Ecological Center for the Rescue of Dolphins and Other Marine Mammals “Delfa”
From Loro Parque (10/1/2018)
It’s now just over a week since Morgan gave birth and the entire team of carers, veterinarians, and international experts who have been monitoring the situation are delighted with the calf’s progress. The primary focus continues to be ensuring that the calf is getting all the nourishment it needs and the team has been concerned that Morgan’s milk production has been lower than required.
While natural breastfeeding is always the preferred option, nothing is more important than the wellbeing of the animals in our care – so the veterinary team has stepped in to assist at times by temporarily bottle feeding the calf.
Despite continuous attempts to help Morgan feed naturally, her milk production remains low. As a result, the only option has been to move the calf over to regular bottle feeds. Thanks to Loro Parque’s world-leading facilities and the help of the world’s top experts, we are able add the small amount of milk that Morgan is producing daily to the bottled formula feed, which is provided in a special dedicated medical pool. Using Morgan’s milk helps enrich each meal the calf receives and provides the vital antibodies that aid the development of its immune system.
Despite the challenges in breastfeeding, the bond between mother and calf continues to grow and Morgan is demonstrating exemplary maternal instincts as she swims alongside her calf at all times they are together.
We know from the many messages of support we continue to receive that many of you are closely following this news, so we will keep providing updates as and when we have new information.
After a 14 year delay, the federal government has finally decided to update the standards of care for captive whales and dolphins.
According to the Animal Welfare Institute, the updated standards do very little for the animals – for instance they don’t change the minimum tank size standard.
The current space standards were set over 30 years ago and have no basis in science or even best practices within the captive display industry.
As an example, for up to two orcas, a facility need only provide a circular tank with a diameter twice as wide and a depth half as deep as an average adult orca is long.
This standard does not even allow the animal to position itself fully in the vertical plane (its tail would touch and drag on the bottom before the animal reaches full upright orientation).
The government (USDA) claims to be ignorant of any scientific literature that demonstrates the need that whales and dolphins have for space…yet that information is readily available, and in some cases was even funded by the government. The research shows that orcas travel as much as 120 miles a day, and regularly dive over 500 ft deep.
Having paid for, completed, and published data that show the woeful inadequacies of keeping whales in tanks, why in the world won’t they change the standards?
The recent death of a killer whale with tagging fragments found embedded in his body has forced NOAA to reconsider the invasive methods they were using to find out where the orcas go in the winter. What is the point of harming an endangered species if the government is just going to ignore the data when it comes to helping captive whales?
You can let the government know your thoughts on this issue by using the Animal Welfare Institute’s convenient link, or go directly to the federal page for more detailed information.
What you can do:
If it is on or before May 4th 2016, you can easily submit your comment to the government during their public comment period by clicking here.
Contact your Congressperson at any point!
In an unprecedented move, today the California Assembly Water, Parks & Wildlife committee voted twelve to one in support of legislation what will permanently ban the breeding of captive orcas in California.
AB 2305 will not only prohibit the breeding of captive orcas, it will allow only educational displays of the existing animals. Dr. Naomi Rose from the Animal Welfare Institute, former SeaWorld orca trainer John Hargrove (featured in Blackfish) and Kim Ventre from Voice of the Orcas as well as many others spoke in support. The bill was presented by Assemblyman Richard Bloom.
SeaWorld’s decision to stop breeding killer whales was admittedly difficult, but today they showed their commitment to follow through by not fighting the proposed legislation in California to ban orca breeding in captivity.
SeaWorld was represented by Pete Montgomery who testified that SeaWorld has no position on the bill, and underscored SeaWorld’s recent pledge to stop breeding killer whales and to make other significant changes in the care and maintenance of marine mammals.
SeaWorld’s CEO, Joel Manby, openly attributed their decision in part to the inevitability of local state legislation that would force them to stop breeding the whales anyway.
Last month the San Diego Union Tribune wrote:
The presentation and discussion of the bill was recorded by Haze Sommer, who has shared it here:
If you have ever dreamed of having your own dolphin or whale, you can still do it legally in Washington State – but you better hurry! The permitting process takes a while, and the state government is now considering a bill that will close the loophole in Federal regulations that lets anyone who meets basic requirements keep their own dolphins.
The good news is that this Unlawful Cetacean Captivity bill (HB 2888) will not only prevent people from trying to keep a pet dolphin, it will also prevent roadside attractions and hotels from keeping dolphins and whales (collectively known as ‘cetaceans) too. [Please call Senator Pearson, 360.786.7676 and express your opinion by January 25th].
An unfortunate aspect of those privately owned dolphin exhibits is that they can be sold to anyone, anywhere. For instance both Miami Seaquarium (which has the killer whale Lolita, captured in Washington) and Sea Life Park in Hawaii are owned by a company in Spain, Parques Renunidos – technically they could ship Lolita or any of the cetaceans off to any of their dozen marine parks, worldwide.
Passing this bill will also make good economic sense for Washington – it will save the headache and cost of permitting and overseeing the construction and maintenance of captive dolphin facilities, of addressing animal rights concerns, as well as the issue of having the federal government looking over the shoulder of the state to make sure that federal guidelines, as weak as they are, are met.
Washington state is also fully committed to maintaining and improving the enjoyment of wildlife and has successfully balanced the needs of outdoor enthusiasts, environmentalists, hunters, and fisheries and this bill definitely reflects the state’s willingness to juggle opposing interests.
From Economic Analysis of Outdoor Recreation in Washington State January 2015:
“Outdoor recreation markets bridge urban and rural communities. Outdoor recreation provides opportunities for physical exercise, which keeps us healthy. Indeed, the recreation market is unquestionably one of the largest markets in the state for moving income from urban to rural areas and building sustainable jobs in rural Washington State. Most outdoor recreation related expenditures trickle down to local economic sectors. Overall, investment in outdoor recreation infrastructure yields high returns throughout the entire state.”
In part because the state has done a good job in addressing the condition of Puget Sound and the greater Salish Sea the abundance of cetaceans has increased to the point that we have gray whales coming close to shore and the stunning humpback whales have visited in increasing numbers. We can easily enjoy them from the shoreline or on whale watching vessels (which is a growing industry that brings economic gain to other businesses as well).
The endangered local population of killer whales has had a baby boom recently, and the state’s management of salmon will help insure that those whales have enough to eat going into the future while still leaving enough for anglers to enjoy.
There are no captive cetaceans in Washington State and there haven’t been for years so there are no negative consequences to any existing business.
Passing this bill is just good sense (and good cents), so please call Senator Pearson (who will decide in the coming days if the bill should go through to the next step in the Senate) and ask him to put the bill through so that the public can make comments.
[Please call Senator Pearson, 360.786.7676 by January 25th].
The bill, HB 2228:
Washington State House of Representatives Office of Program Research BILL ANALYSIS Agriculture & Natural Resources Committee HB 2888
Brief Description: Concerning cetacean captivity.
Sponsors: Representatives Van De Wege, Pettigrew, Stanford, Morris, Kuderer, S. Hunt, Appleton, Peterson, Fitzgibbon, Hurst, Pollet and Farrell.
Brief Summary of Bill
Creates the Fish and Wildlife Code offense of Unlawful Cetacean Captivity as a gross misdemeanor. Prescribes penalties for an Unlawful Cetacean Captivity violation of $5,000 or imprisonment for not more than 364 days, or both. Hearing Date: 2/2/16 Staff: Rebecca Lewis (786-7339).
Background: Cetaceans are aquatic, marine mammals, including whales, dolphins, and porpoises. The federal Marine Mammal Protection Act prohibits, with certain exceptions, the taking of marine mammals in United States waters and by United States citizens on the high seas, and the importation of marine mammals and marine mammal products into the United States.
Permits and exemptions allow for incidental takes, scientific research, and for first-time import or capture of wild marine animals for public display. Under state law, it is a natural resource infraction to cause a vessel to approach or be in the path of a southern resident Orca whale (Orca). It is also an infraction to feed an Orca or fail to disengage the transmission of a vessel within 200 yards of an Orca. There are a few exceptions, including: engaging in a treaty Indian or commercial fishing operation that is actively setting, retrieving, or closely tending fishing gear; engaging in rescue of a beached Orca overseen, ––––––––––––––––––––––
This analysis was prepared by non-partisan legislative staff for the use of legislative members in their deliberations. This analysis is not a part of the legislation nor does it constitute a statement of legislative intent. House Bill Analysis – 1 – HB 2888 authorized, or coordinated by a volunteer stranding network; or engaging in an activity permitted by the Department of Fish and Wildlife or the National Marine Fisheries Service. Summary of Bill: The Fish and Wildlife Code offense of Unlawful Cetacean Captivity is created.
The following acts each constitute Unlawful Cetacean Captivity: holding a wild-caught or captive-bred cetacean in captivity for performance or entertainment purposes; capturing or importing into the state a wild-caught or captive-bred cetacean with the intention of using the cetacean for performance or entertainment purposes; breeding a cetacean in captivity; or importing, exporting, or collecting semen, other gametes, or embryos of a cetacean for the purpose of artificial insemination.
A person may lawfully hold a cetacean for rehabilitation, rescue or stranding, or research purposes. If possible, a person or entity holding a cetacean for rehabilitation or research purposes must return the cetacean to the wild. If it is not possible to return the cetacean to the wild, the person or entity must hold the cetacean at a location approved by the National Marine Fisheries Service and may not use the cetacean for performance or entertainment purposes.
A violation of Unlawful Cetacean Captivity is a gross misdemeanor and is punishable upon conviction by a fine of not more than $5,000 or by imprisonment of not more than 364 days, or both.
Seaworld, what are we to make of you now?
The company has pledged to reinvent itself from the inside out, and to refocus into helping the public find ways to make a difference to the environment. The plan is well thought out and genius. And, it would appear, keeping killer whales doesn’t figure prominently in the long term game plan in the U.S. parks, or at least reliance on the iconic whales was underplayed in their presentation to stockholders. They want to broaden the park’s theme considerably by encouraging passion for the environment through their rides and education outreach.
From that point of view, then, the company appears to have taken the only road open to them. Phase out the killer whales and the glitz without admitting it was wrong in the first place. Ignite passion in a broader cause. Tie together theme park excitement with that theme, as exemplified here:
The presentation for investors was interesting and almost inspiring right up until someone trotted out the same old tired and bitter arguments against animal welfare claims; it cast a shadow on the believability of the entire presentation. They went from speaking their truth to speaking their truthiness.
That is a big problem.
Can they overcome this and convince the public that they are changing? Not until they can stand up and admit that they were wrong to take whales from the wild, and that the reason they haven’t taken any in 35 years is that no one would let them – SeaWorld tried. They need to admit that the conditions and treatment they have to do to keep the orcas alive are brutal. End captive breeding. SeaWorld Fact Check is an excellent resource for accurate information on these issues.
Their claim that they are ending the killer whale shows at their San Diego park seems disingenuous, but if we take a step back and ask ourselves what Seaworld can do right now for the killer whales in their tanks it becomes clear that they don’t have a lot of options. They can continue business as usual with the circus shows. They can try to build a bigger tank and make life better for the whales. They can ship them off to foreign countries. They can build sea pens and move the whales there.
It doesn’t look like they can’t really do any of those in the short term, even if they wanted to. They could ship the whales off but the problems they have now are nothing compared to what would rain down on them if they tried. Sea pens are a huge undertaking and SeaWorld is short on capital – although a caring company, Munchkins, has offered to help them out with that, as the video below shows (it is not an ad, but an inspirational message):
After running into public opinion and a thoughtful ruling by the California Coastal Commission, building a larger tank isn’t feasible and Seaworld is considering using money that they set aside for that project in order to build a resort.
So that just leaves the decision they did make: keep the orcas for now, but end the circus shows. However, they can’t just let the whales log around 24/7 like ocean couch potatoes, the orcas need to be engaged and stimulated. The plan to change the style and content of the shows will let Seaworld recoup on the cost of keeping the whales engaged and fed, which Seaworld will have to do anyway.
There is a lot of content in the presentation besides orca issues, and it is worth taking the time to listen. Examples are: they are planning to concentrate on people who live withing a 300 mile radius of the park, focus on millennials and moms, target schools, use a different price structure, make navigating the parks easier, and they hinted at using ideas from their wildly successful Discovery Cove theme park (which includes a swim-with-dolphins facility…good luck with that in California, although Las Vegas was mentioned.).
Can a company that has persisted in showing indifference to both the quality of life it offers whales and dolphins in its care and which also denies accountability for damage it wrought to wild dolphins and whales in the past be the one uniquely poised to bring true environmental awareness to the public?
If that company is Seaworld, they have a lot of work to do, and they say they are ready to do it. They make no bones about being in it for the money – at one point CEO Joel Manby sounds very gleeful about getting everyone to donate 50 cents – the question is can they really become the Whole Foods of theme parks as Manby mentioned, or just the Whole Rest of the Paycheck?
Born 19 years ago, the killer whale ‘Valentin’ lived his entire life in the confines of Marineland’s tanks – tanks which ultimately may have been the cause of his death. Recent flooding in the south of France overwhelmed Marineland’s filtration system causing the water quality to plummet. The mud and debris led to other animal deaths, including turtles, rays and fish.
Valentin’s mother, Freya, died four months ago of an undetermined illness and the stress of losing her may have played a part in Valentin’s death as well. According to an article at Orca Aware, in some populations in the wild male survival is linked to their mothers and once the mothers die their sons often don’t live long. Yet Valentin had displayed aggressive behavior to his mother along with a suite of abnormal behaviors including chewing on concrete and bumping his head on the tank, according to the Orca Aware article.
In an article in The Economic Voice, former trainer and author John Hargrove expressed his concern about the contaminated killer whale tanks. He shared the letter he wrote to the managing director of Marineland, pleading with them to take swift action to help the whales before it was too late:
Marineland Antibes France
Via e-mail: B.Giampaolo@marineland.fr
Dear Mr Giampaolo,
It breaks my heart to hear that Valentin, Inouk, Wikie and the other orcas at Marineland whom I love and once cared for are in grave danger.
Incredibly, the horrific water quality at the killer whale stadium today is not much worse than when I was a trainer there, when the subpar filtration system was ill-equipped to handle the volume of water and bioload of, at that time, seven orcas. There was no chilling system, which resulted in dangerously high levels of bacteria in the water, leading the whales to develop infections – as did I, since I was swimming with them every day. The filtration system was so inadequate that there was often zero visibility, and it could take close to a week before all the water was completely exchanged, resulting in standing algae on the water surface – proof of stagnant water. The malfunctioning chlorine-injection system caused eye burns so severe that they could potentially lead to blindness. The whales were once so badly burned that they couldn’t open their eyes for days, and sheets of skin from their head and back just peeled away. The whales were obviously in terrible pain.
How many more examples do you need to see that captivity is wrong and cruel? These social, emotional, intelligent animals have suffered their entire lives and now are in critical condition, all because they are being held captive for profit and greed.
Marineland must do the right thing and release the orcas. The situation is perilous and their lives are in grave danger as they try to survive in a pit of muddy water. There is no time to waste.
The captive industry insists that killer whales get the highest standard of care, and that the whales are safer in tanks than they would be in the ocean (where dangerous things like sharks lurk). Repeatedly we are told that the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and the Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums are self-monitoring organizations that ensure that orcas are kept in standards that meet or accede government regulations – yet there were no backup measures in place at Marineland even though the park has been flooded and closed in the past.
It just doesn’t seem as though amusement parks are able to follow through on the promises they make to the public and to the animals that are forced to spend their lives entertaining us. The whales are not provided with adequate space, normal social interactions, or any guarantee that the parks can keep them safe.
The video below is long, but it will take just 30 seconds or so of viewing to understand what kind of life Valentin had, and to witness how few people even want to see those shows anymore.
Valentin was born for our amusement, and died after a shortened life spent doing tricks. And ultimately he wasn’t even safe in the tanks that were his home.
“No words can describe the feeling that is left after meeting a living nerpa (Baikal Seal) somewhere in a quiet bay or near Ushkany Islands. The trustful, open look of the seal’s big clever eyes will charm everyone. For hours the animals can bask in the sun playing with their kin.”
Then there is this:
These Baikal seals, while not endangered, are unique in that they are the only fully fresh water pinniped species known to exist. They are fascinating animals in their own right, yet it is this show that brings them and the Aquatic Park in Irkutsk, Russia notoriety…no doubt you will laugh out loud at the absurdity.
According to the aquarium:
A pair of seals joined the entire Russian nation in the annual celebration of Victory in Europe Day, or VE Day, on May 8. This year, 2015, two seals staged a show wearing military outfits and holding toy weapons while performing tricks in the water.
The Baikal seals, named Winnie the Pooh and Laska, are from Irkutsk’s aquarium located in the Siberian town. The show featured them wearing military headgear and shooting on targets placed in the aquarium. ibtimes.com.au
The seals look healthy, and while the act is as kitschy as any I’ve ever seen, it is pretty clear that their lives would be even more sterile and dull in their pool without training – their trainer thinks the seals are ‘smarter than dolphins’, and if so it is an even more compelling reason not to keep them in those circumstances. By no stretch of the imagination do these conditions ‘resemble their wild habitat”.
Siberian Times reports that the seals are placed in an aquarium with conditions that resemble their wild habitat. They stay in 2-3-degrees Celsius aquariums much like the temperature in Lake Baikal. They also eat the same food they eat when in the wild.
Evgeniy Baranov, founder of the first seal circus in the world, told Siberian Times that the new show is an improvement of the tricks that the seals have learned previously and that these animals get better with practise. Baranov said he has worked with seals for more than 25 years and thought they are smarter than dolphins. ibtimes.com.au
But what does the public learn from these shows? I found little on the Baikal Seal Aquarium website, although that may be a problem with the English version. To get the facts on the seals’ life history I had to do a quick internet search.
What is truly fascinating about these seals (sources: Seal Conservation Society, Science Blogs, Irkutsk.org, BWW.ir.ru) is how they are adapted to fill a unique ecological niche:
- The Baikal seal, one of the world’s smallest pinnipeds, is in fact the only pinniped species that lives solely in freshwater. Individuals are also sometimes found wandering up the rivers surrounding the Lake, one seal having been found 400km upstream.Despite their small size, they are surprisingly long-lived, with males living to 52 and females to 56 (incidentally, Caspian seals are also long-lived, surviving to age 50). Further remarkable is that female Baikal seals continue to reproduce while in their fourth decade. They don’t begin to breed until they are around 20 years old.
- They forage day and night, and vary their hunting strategy accordingly.
- Most of their diet consists of a high fat fish found only in Lake Baikal – this fish is not commercially taken, and the seals actually help preserve other fish species by consuming these predatory fish:
The golomyankas – the big and the small species – live only in Baikal. Their size does not exceed 24 centimetres, they have no scales, and they are nacreous (mother-of-pearl) in colour and transparent. They contain up to 35 per cent of medicinal oil rich in vitamin A.
The golomyanka is the most numerous fish in Baikal, its resources amounting to about 150 thousand tons. However, in neither of its life stages does it swim in schools, so it is not included in the food-fish list. Old residents say that a long time ago, after storms, golomyankas were gathered alongside the shores and the fat was melted and used in treatments for rheumatism, atherosclerosis and for healing wounds that would not scab over for long.
- One of the reason for [a] migration to the bays and shallows is for a ‘course’ of “self-treatment”. Here they feed mainly on the sandy big-headed sculpin whose intestines always contain differing amounts of sand or silt. The sand and silt builds up in the nerpa’s stomach and has an effect on the parasites (worms) forcing them to leave ulcerous pits in its stomach and leave the body in a mass with the faeces. It is specifically in the autumn that one can find such silted up stomachs in nerpa, cleaned of parasitic worms, with the wounds of ulcers healing and healed.
- The hunting of young seals (“kumutkans”) is thought to be the main factor that led to a change in the population structure and a decrease in the reproductive success of the species in the 1980s. As well as the official hunt there is an increasing problem with poaching caused by weakening enforcement and rising prices for the fur of young seals. Fur hats made from seal fur cost approximately 700 rubles each. Undocumented kill has been estimated at 20-40% of the official kill.
- There is a serious problem of pollution in Lake Baikal, research showing that organochlorines and other chemical pollutants build up through the food web in the Lake and accumulate in the seals as top-level predators.
&Do you think that the sheer absurdity of this particular show does anything to educate the public about Baikal seals?