Tag Archives: orca

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

Another update on the captive orca mother Morgan and her calf (1 October 2018)

orca calf, killer whales at Loro Parque
2010 photo of Kohana’s calf Adan being bottle fed. ( Ulrich).
Bottle-feeding has resumed for the calf, although the formula is augmented by the addition of Morgan’s milk. The videos below show how this was done when another of Loro Parque’s mother orcas, Kohana, rejected her calf.


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.

 

Orca mom and baby doing well after a rocky start – video shows that more (former) SeaWorld killer whales will be bred

Morgan with her new calf. Credit: Loro Parque

After a worrisome few days in which the whale calf needed supplemental feeding by park staff, the still unnamed baby orca is no longer being bottle-fed. The mother, Morgan, was rescued and rehabilitated in the Netherlands in 2010 before being transferred to Loro Parque, Spain where she was bred with SeaWorld orcas. (The Whale Sanctuary Project has a great summary of how Morgan wound up at a Spanish zoo.)

Ex -SeaWorld representative talks about breeding the whales in Loro Parque – these orcas belonged to SeaWorld until relatively recently. (Published on Mar 30, 2018):

Morgan and her calf update

(From Loro Parque).

Nothing matters more to us than the health and wellbeing of the animals in our care. As we updated earlier this week, a team of veterinarians and external consultants has been monitoring the progress of Morgan and her calf around the clock since birth.

The primary focus during these crucial first days has been ensuring the calf is getting all the nourishment it needs. While natural breastfeeding is always the preferred option, Morgan’s milk production has been below what is needed in these first few days. Therefore, the veterinary team has assisted by temporarily bottle feeding the calf while giving Morgan the chance to increase her milk supply.

We are glad to say that mother and calf have now resumed natural breastfeeding and the experts are pleased with the strong bond the pair have developed. With the help of our state-of-the-art facilities and assistance from world-leading experts, the team continues to closely observe the situation to ensure that Morgan and her baby establish a good, healthy and natural feeding routine. However, we are, of course, ready to step in to help if there is the slightest concern that the calf’s nutritional needs are not being met.

We wish to thank everyone who has been in contact with us in these past few days and have been touched by the many messages of support. We will keep you posted with all the latest information as things unfold.

Urgent search for the orca J 50 has begun, now missing for several days (13 Sept 2018)

 

NOAA biologists on a previous encounter with the Southern Resident orcas.

From NOAA:

Unfortunately J50 has not been seen in several days of favorable conditions and sightings of her pod and family group, including J16, her mother.
Teams were on the water searching yesterday and are increasing a broad transboundary search today with our on-water partners and counterparts in Canada.
We have alerted the West Coast Marine Mammal Stranding Network, which is a tremendous resource in such situations.
Airlines flying in and out of the San Juan Islands are also on the lookout.
We greatly appreciate all the help and concern. The hotline for stranding reports is 1-866-767-6114.
Further updates at bit.ly/NOAAJ50J35.

The Wild Orca seaplane. – Photo: Lee Zerrilla | AirlineReporter

The starving orca J 50 (Scarlet) has been given a second dose of antibiotics

J 50 and her mother, J 16                                                                                Photo Credit: Nomad Expeditons via NOAA

 
After a worrisome two day period in which the Southern Resident orca J 50 (Scarlet) couldn’t be located, Vancouver Aquarium veterinarian Dr. Martin Haulena, was able to dart her with a second dose of antibiotics.

NOAA spokesman, Michael Milstein, stated:

While there was some concern that the first dart in early August did not deliver the full dose, Dr Haulena believes the dart yesterday did deliver most of the dose this time. They did not get an opportunity for a second dart with the dewormer, and that remains the next priority in the treatment.

The team noticed that while J50 remains severely emaciated, she also remains very active and was staying tight with her mother, J16, and diving just as healthy whales do. So she continues to defy the odds.

The whales appeared to be moving into Canadian waters last night, so it will depend on where they are, what vessels are available, and what conditions are like, in terms of whether they can deliver a second dart with dewormer today.”

We all know J50 as tough and tenacious. One of the last sightings by Department of Fisheries and Ocean  on Thursday (8/30) reported that her mother J16 (Slick) and J26 (Mike), her brother, were lagging behind most of J Pod by about three nautical miles, and J50 was lagging about a half-mile behind them. Sometimes she got closer, but she looked to be struggling to keep up.
We and our many partners are hopeful that the additional efforts to follow up on sightings and take advantage of all the organizations on the water today will give us more information about J50 and J Pod.

Dr. Martin Haulena, Dr. Brad Hanson, and Trevor Foster prepare to administer an injection of antibiotics to J50 (Photo: Katy Foster) (Photo is from the first injection attempt).

“I recall J15* long ago following miles behind the pod for days before finally disappearing” ,said the Center for Whale Research (CWR) senior scientist, Ken Balcomb . “It is amazing that she has lasted so long in the condition we saw her at the beginning of summer.
This is what extinction looks like when survival is threatened for all by food deprivation. The Southern Resident killer whales scarce presence in the Salish Sea is another indication that sufficient food is not available for them here, or along the coast. Natural salmon runs must be restored. Chief Seattle was right: ‘All things are connected.’”
*J15 was the first calf that Ken assigned a number to when he began his studies 43 years ago. The calf was born in 1975 and died in 1981. His sister, J 19 (Shachi), is now a grandmother to J 51 (Nova) – born around the same time as J 50.
NOAA will release more information on the successful second injection later today.

Entangled orca calf saved by whale watchers (video)


On Wednesday (August 1st) three whale watching boats off the coast of Portugal happened upon a killer whale calf that they thought was spyhopping repeatedly. As they drew closer however they discovered that the calf was entangled in a fishing net and was barely able to raise its head to breathe.
In a Facebook post, SeaXplorer Sagres reported that the mother was nearby but could only watch as her calf struggled against the grasp of the netting that ensnared the young whale. The people on the boats were determined to help, but the first attempts to cut the calf free were fruitless, raising the emotions even higher.
When emotions run high there is a tendency to act without forethought – but these seasoned crews took the time to assess the entanglement, then developed a successful plan.
One of the boats threw their anchor out, then circled the calf several times until the anchor line wrapped around the net’s line.  The crew and some of the passengers then pulled up the anchor and attached net until finally there was just the rope around the calf’s tail fluke.
When the line was cut the freed calf rejoined it’s mother and everyone rejoiced – and people everywhere share in celebrating the actions by these quick acting, yet thoughtful, whale watching crews.
Kudos.

On this video you can see how everything went. The cutting of the rope and the young orca happily swimming next to her mum!
A very happy outcome by teamwork of all dolphin watching companies:
SeaXplorer Sagres Mar Ilimitado Sealife – Dolphin watching Algarve

This Photo shot by @mafaldammmmoore from @sealife.dolphinwatching.lagos shows the moment when the orca calf was freed.

Another young killer whale on the brink of death may be saved by NOAA’s quick action

NOAA biologists on a previous encounter with the Southern Resident orcas.

From NOAA Fisheries West Coast:

Biologists assess condition of Southern Resident killer whale J50    August 3, 2018
Biologists, veterinarians, and other whale experts took stock on Thursday of what they know about the condition of J50, also known as Scarlet, the juvenile female Southern Resident killer whale that has been seen in poor condition. They also discussed what other information they need to inform next steps.

Sightings indicate that the whale is emaciated and is sometimes lethargic in the water, but still has periods of activity, including feeding. Analysis of a small sample of her breath did not definitively indicate an infection or illness, although it does not rule one out either. The scientists who have observed the whale agreed that she is in poor condition and may not survive.
Endangered Southern Resident killer whales are critically endangered, now numbering only 75 animals, the fewest in more than three decades. NOAA Fisheries has been working with partners to implement an action plan addressing the three main threats to the whales: availability of prey, vessel traffic and noise, and contaminants.
Experts agreed during a conference call on August 2nd to focus efforts over the next few days on obtaining better photographs of the whale and conducting a veterinary health assessment to better track her condition and evaluate a white patch behind her blowhole that may be a symptom of infection. They will also try to obtain fecal samples and possibly a breath sample if there is an opportunity, which could help identify the cause of her condition. That would better inform a decision on whether biologists could or should take any further action to help or treat the whale.
The experts on the call convened by NOAA Fisheries will confer again as new information is collected over the next few days. We will continue to provide updates as they are available.

 

Scarlet (J50) loved to breach when she was healthy and once breached 60 times in a row. She is small for her age, and now appears emaciated.  Photo courtesy of Clint Rivers Showtime Photography.

Grieving mother whale is now on her third day of carrying her dead calf – the face of extinction

Now on her third day of carrying her dead calf, the mourning of the Southern Resident killer whale, Tahlequah (J35) has reached hearts the world over. Her palpable grief over the loss of her newborn baby is something we all relate to, even though humanity is just beginning to acknowledge that animals suffer and grieve as we do.
This orca family is showing us what it really means for a species to go extinct – we tend to think of the path to extinction in clinical terms that we show graphs…but the real process is painful, and for these whales it is the mothers that die giving birth and the babies that fail to thrive that are racking up the biggest losses.
Photo credit:  Center for Whale Research
They have been hit hard over the last few years.

In the fall of 2016, Tahlequah’s sister (Polaris J28) succumbed to complications thought to be related to the birth of her last calf, Dipper (J54). Her death left her calves, six year old Star (J46) and ten month old Dipper, orphaned but not alone. Tahlequah helped them find food – she had brought salmon to Polaris, and now she helped Star care for Dipper. 

Dipper was still milk-dependent and continued to lose weight even though they brought him pieces of salmon. As he neared death, Tahlequah and other family members helped Star keep Dipper afloat until inevitably he took a final breath, lost consciousness, and disappeared below the surface, joining Polaris in an untimely death.

Photo credit: Mark Malleson               Star cradled her dying brother, helped in these photos by her cousin Notch (J 47) on the other side.

                           As Dipper’s energy faded, Star and their cousin Notch had held him afloat on the surface, easing his struggle to breathe.
The tragic losses that have devastated this orca family parallel what scientists have discovered about the severe consequences of food shortage, consequences that interact with contaminants and anthropogenic noise to blossom in a deadly suite that even survivors like Tahlequah and Star may not be able to withstand.

The family bonds are strong – Star is now reported to be helping the grieving Tahlequah keep the dead neonate at the surface – and the Southern Resident orcas may still recover if Chinook salmon populations are allowed to rebound.

But the incomprehensible lack of action by our government is confining them to a long, drawn out, painful path to extinction. Without more salmon they will suffer hunger, but that pain is eclipsed by the suffering when family members die.
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Regrettably, approximately 75% of newborns in the recent two decades following designation of the Southern Resident killer whale (orca) population as “Endangered” have not survived, and 100% of the pregnancies in the past three years have failed to produce viable offspring.

We are saddened to report that a baby Southern Resident killer whale (SRKW) died a short time after it was born near Victoria, British Columbia on July 24, 2018. The newborn whale was reported alive and swimming with its mother, J35, and other members of J pod near Clover Point on the Victoria shoreline in mid-morning.

A Center for Whale Research team was on the water in Haro Strait at the time and immediately responded to photo-document the newborn calf for the long-term census study we maintain for the US and Canadian governments. Unfortunately, by the time the CWR crew arrived on scene, the newborn calf was deceased, and the pod had traveled several miles eastward of the reported sighting location.

The baby’s carcass was sinking and being repeatedly retrieved by the mother who was supporting it on her forehead and pushing it in choppy seas toward San Juan Island, USA. The mother continued supporting and pushing the dead baby whale throughout the day until at least sunset.

A resident of San Juan Island near Eagle Cove reported: “At sunset, a group of 5-6 females gathered at the mouth of the cove in a close, tight-knit circle, staying at the surface in a harmonious circular motion for nearly 2 hours. As the light dimmed, I was able to watch them continue what seemed to be a ritual or ceremony. They stayed directly centered in the moonbeam, even as it moved. The lighting was too dim to see if the baby was still being kept afloat. It was both sad and special to witness this behavior. My heart goes out to J35 and her beautiful baby; bless it’s soul.”

Killer whales and dolphins have been known to support and transport their dead calves for as long as a week – a testament to the amazingly strong mother/offspring bond and caring.

 

This enchantingly adorable wild killer whale calf befriended and pranked people for years. (Video)


When Fisheries tried to lure Luna into a netted pen, people watched him push the boat into the pen instead.
On its surface, Luna’s story is about an impish lost killer whale and the people who cared deeply about his welfare, yet the deeper message it delivers is that we can – and maybe should – have an entirely different relationship with the social and intelligent animals that share our world.
He was a whale who showed us that he ‘got’ us, who found eye contact with us invaluable and refused the dead fish (along with some snacks and fruit) offered to him:

Was Luna fed by humans when he lived in Nootka Sound?

People sure tried to give him goodies. They threw him chocolate and oranges. Even vegetables. He spit out anything he couldn’t play with.
Fisherman would sometimes toss Luna dead fish from their fishing lines, and he’d carry them around, sticking out the side of his mouth like cigars. But he didn’t seem to eat them. He was wild, and he clearly preferred hunting for live fish.
That’s what made his efforts to make contact with us so unusual. It wasn’t for food, so why did he do it? The only answer that seems to make sense is that without his family around he was, in some way different but perhaps in some way the same as us, lonely. Somehow maybe he thought we could be friends. And a lot of people thought the same thing. The Whale

Groups and individuals clashed or coalesced in an effort to do the right thing for the lost young whale, and government officials tried their best to do what they thought was right as they weighed risks for everyone.
The more Luna was ignored the more he amused himself with boats and seaplanes or whatever else caught his attention, and by time the government decided to net him and transport him back to his home waters he seemed to think it was a game.

 
In the years since Luna came to live and play among the people in Nootka Sound, his whole clan – the Southern Resident orcas – has struggled to survive. Recently Crewser (L 92) disappeared, and the Center for Whale Research now reports that four-year-old Scarlet (J 50) is very thin and may not survive. Their situation is growing desperate.
We’re running out of time to help these precious whales, and if they abandon the region or go extinct they will take their culture with them, a culture that includes an interest in the humans that share their waterways.
The video below recounts Luna’s adventures, and was made by The Whale filmmakers prior to the final version. (25 minutes).

 


[hdnfactbox title=”More About Luna”]
September 19, 1999: Luna is first seen with his mother, Splash (L 67) only hours after being born and is given the number L 98.
In a highly unusual situation, Luna is then seen with Kiska (K 18) who had recently given birth to a stillborn, and for a period of weeks alternates between the two females, possibly nursed by both. It is unknown if this situation is related to his eventually becoming lost, since K pod and L pod don’t always forage together. (Center for Whale Research).
 In 2001: Luna failed to return with his family and is thought to have died. A lone orca calf is discovered in Nootka Sound, and is identified as Luna, although this isn’t publicly announced.

This killer whale imitates human words – hear her speak here

Whale learns to speak words. blog.seattlepi/candacewhitingHot from the presses is the news that Wikie, a captive orca in Marineland Aquarium, Antibes, France, has learned to mimic human language.  The scientific study is well conceived and thoroughly done (please see the abstract at the end of this article), and essentially was done to validate that orcas can learn dialects from both conspecifics and humans.
But the benefit to the whales may lie in having something novel to occupy their time.

As you listen to the full sequence of sounds in the link above you’re likely to experience wonder, curiosity, and amusement – it’s a challenge to form words through a blowhole after all and the less than successful attempts sound like noises that could have been made by eight year old kids at a sleepover.
But just challenging the whale at least gives her something to do besides tricks.
Ask any former cetacean trainer why they walked away from their dream jobs, and somewhere in the list of reasons will be the frustration of trying to do right by the animals in their care. The shackles imposed by training regimes designed to get captive whales and dolphins to perform precise tricks and maneuvers curtail innovation, and innovation is exactly what is needed to keep highly intelligent animals mentally stimulated.
The whales are told what to do, and are rewarded when they do it correctly. They also have structured play time and enrichment activities during the day, but what about at night? Cetaceans don’t sleep for long stretches so how do they entertain themselves in the sterile tank environments?
In the early 80’s with the help of  Steve Leatherwood I submitted two ideas to SeaWorld designed to improve the lives of the captive cetaceans. One idea was to cover the tank walls with the coating that submarines used to absorb sound, and the second was to introduce a ‘busy box’ that could be placed where the whales could push paddles and ‘request’ an activity of their choice. SeaWorld’s polite reply thanked me for the suggestions and basically indicated that it would go in their future file (obviously it meant their circular file).
Little changed over the decades, until Blackfish and Voice of the Orcas emerged and forced the captive industry to change by increasing public awareness of the animals’ plight. Since then, many changes have been made by theme parks in the care of their animals and heartening progress has been developed towards conservation, rescue and rehabilitation…but still, there’s not much for the whales to do most of the time.
While two-way conversations with cetaceans may happen in the future, it won’t be by asking them to speak human language since our languages vary, and accents, intonations, syntax etc are difficult to process, let alone mimic. Cetacean brains are different, the context for communication varies, and in in the water medium where they evolved sound behaves differently.
That said, there is no reason why whales and dolphins can’t learn to understand words and context – for instance dogs are good at understanding words, and attach meaning to what they hear. A riding instructor I knew had to spell out what she wanted the riders to do because the lesson horses understood the basic commands (walk, trot, canter) and would go into the gaits before the students could cue them.
Anything done with kindness to help animals in captivity is worthwhile, at least until the era of keeping them captive has passed into history. Hopefully this study will give theme parks new ideas to make their charges lives meaningful in the interim.
The study:

Abstract

Imitation of novel conspecific and human speech sounds in the killer whale (Orcinus orca)

Vocal imitation is a hallmark of human spoken language, which, along with other advanced cognitive skills, has fuelled the evolution of human culture. Comparative evidence has revealed that although the ability to copy sounds from conspecifics is mostly uniquely human among primates, a few distantly related taxa of birds and mammals have also independently evolved this capacity.

Remarkably, field observations of killer whales have documented the existence of group-differentiated vocal dialects that are often referred to as traditions or cultures and are hypothesized to be acquired non-genetically. Here we use a do-as-I-do paradigm to study the abilities of a killer whale to imitate novel sounds uttered by conspecific (vocal imitative learning) and human models (vocal mimicry).
We found that the subject made recognizable copies of all familiar and novel conspecific and human sounds tested and did so relatively quickly (most during the first 10 trials and three in the first attempt).
Our results lend support to the hypothesis that the vocal variants observed in natural populations of this species can be socially learned by imitation. The capacity for vocal imitation shown in this study may scaffold the natural vocal traditions of killer whales in the wild.