Tag Archives: Seaworld

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.

New baby killer whale born to ‘deaf’ mother Morgan, who was once claimed by SeaWorld. UPDATE: Calf’s nursing not going well.

Morgan has been documented repeatedly bashing her head against the side of the gate opening mechanism. (Freemorgan.nl)

Loro Parque now has five orcas that belonged to SeaWorld, along with the Dutch orca Morgan – who SeaWorld bizarrely claimed to own before turning the lot over to this Spanish amusement park. Eventually it was determined that Morgan lost her hearing along the way (it is unknown if she was deaf when stranded or became deaf later) and after a spat with SeaWorld, Loro Parque bred her. (For background on this farce, please see Orca whale Morgan’s fate follows the golden rule: those who have the gold make the rules.)
At this writing, nothing more is known about the calf, or whether a “deaf”, young, mother whale will be able to communicate with the infant. Watch this space for updates.
UPDATE September 24th: From Loro Parque –

The first days in the life of a cetacean are critical and we have all been encouraged by Morgan’s strong maternal instincts and the way she is nurturing and taking care of her calf. Establishing breastfeeding is crucial in this early phase and our team of veterinarians and external consultants are closely monitoring both mother and calf to see that this happens.

Over the first 24 hours Morgan’s milk production has been lower than we would like, meaning it may be necessary to introduce bottle feeding to ensure that the calf is getting the nourishment it needs. We sincerely hope that nature can take its course and that Morgan can feed her calf independently.

However, we are watching the situation carefully and will assist with bottle feeding, if the experts consider that the life of the calf is at risk.

We wish to take this opportunity to say thank you for all the kind messages we have received from all over the world as we celebrate the birth of Morgan’s calf. We will continue to provide updates as they enjoy their first days together.

Background information:  In 2006, SeaWorld sent four orcas from the US on a breeding loan to Loro Parque (in the Spanish owned Canary Islands off the coast of Africa).
From SeaWorld’s Shell Game – Are They Trying to Get the Young Orca That Stranded in Dutch Waters? :

 In his excellent article, Blood in the Water, author Tim Zimmermann gives a thorough and engaging account of the events that led to the death of a trainer by one of SeaWorld’s whales, Keto, in Spain’s Loro Parque amusement park. In the telling of the story, Zimmermann shows that Loro Parque’s orcas were shipped from SeaWorld’s Texas and Florida amusement parks in 2006 to ‘help it [Loro Parque] start Orca Ocean’ and to ‘showcase these remarkable animals’.

Loro Parque’s announcement about the birth:

Loro Parque has good news to share: the orca Morgan that was rescued after being found near dead near the coast of the Wadden Sea in the Netherlands and that forms part of our group of orcas, gave birth to her first calf this morning, which finds itself in a perfect state of health. From the very first moment, Morgan demonstrated to be an exemplary mother attending to her newborn, which is swimming next to its mother in the installations of the ‘OrcaOcean’.
The orca Morgan was rescued at the coast of the Wadden Sea in 2010 and was attended by a team of experts of the Harderwijk Dolphinarium in an effort to help the lost animal, which showed such a severe malnutrition that the animal was only skin and bones. In this moment, Morgan only weighed 430 Kg and the keepers of the Dutch dolphinarium were not sure that the animal was going to survive the first night after its rescue. They, however, were hopeful that with a proper level of care, affection and attention of the care givers, as well as with the adequate nutrition, the animal could make a recovery.
Thanks to all these efforts of the team at Harderwijk, the animal began to recover its weight and strength, and as the Harderwijk installations were not prepared to keep orcas, the Dutch authorities initiated a formal commission to determine the future of the orca Morgan. A group of international and independent experts came to the conclusion that there were only two viable alternatives for the animal: euthanasia or to be kept at an installation of an aquarium that complied with the necessary conditions for this animal species.
At this moment, as Loro Parque had the most modern installations for orcas in existence, the Park was contacted to see if it would accept the animal. Despite all the challenges that this request represented, Loro Parque accepted the petition, thus, avoiding the only other alternative that was left for the animal: the euthanasia.
After a few months at our installations, the orca Morgan adapted to the new conditions and integrated perfectly into the existing group of orcas at Loro Parque. At the same time, it was discovered that the orca suffered a severe hearing deficiency, which was yet another argument to confirm that animal was incapable to survive on her own in nature.
Given this last circumstance, there were a number of questions as to what exactly a delivery would imply for the animal without a hearing capacity. Today, Loro Parque would like to share the great news: the delivery went in a completely normal manner and the first hours after the birth have been developing in accordance with the best expectations.
It is impossible to know the gender of the new calf yet, although the most important issue now is that both, the mother and the calf, find themselves in a perfect state of health. Loro Parque will be informing the public about the development of the situation, and would like to take this opportunity to thank all its visitors from many different parts of the world, the tour operators and all the collaborators in the scientific field for all the support to the Loro Parque mission: to protect and conserve animals and their natural habitats for future generations.

Morgan with her new calf. Credit: Loro Parque

Orca whales’ amazing ability to imitate people, each other, and in Luna’s case a boat motor (video)


Even though the young orca in the video above is likely being cued and rewarded for imitating people, it shows the whales’ remarkable similarity to humans in that the orcas possess the ability to copy what they observe –  in this case, the behavior of another species (humans) behind a glass barrier where the whales are not even able to use their full senses.  Their phenomenal sound perception is useless to them in this visual task.

Read more about Luna
Scientists acknowledge that this ability most likely contributes to their development of different cultures in the wild throughout the world:

Experimental evidence for action imitation in killer whales (Orcinus orca)

Comparative experimental studies of imitative learning have focused mainly on primates and birds. However, cetaceans are promising candidates to display imitative learning as they have evolved in socioecological settings that have selected for large brains, complex sociality, and coordinated predatory tactics. Here we tested imitative learning in killer whales, Orcinus orca. We used a ‘do-as-other-does’ paradigm in which 3 subjects witnessed a conspecific demonstrator’s performance that included 15 familiar and 4 novel behaviours. The three subjects (1) learned the copy command signal ‘Do that’ very quickly, that is, 20 trials on average; (2) copied 100 % of the demonstrator’s familiar and novel actions; (3) achieved full matches in the first attempt for 8–13 familiar behaviours (out of 15) and for the 2 novel behaviours (out of 2) in one subject; and (4) took no longer than 8 trials to accurately copy any familiar behaviour, and no longer than 16 trials to copy any novel behaviour. This study provides experimental evidence for body imitation, including production imitation, in killer whales that is comparable to that observed in dolphins tested under similar conditions. These findings suggest that imitative learning may underpin some of the group-specific traditions reported in killer whales in the field.

 
But what about in captivity? Do the orcas have an opportunity to learn by observing each other? At Seaworld, San Diego, the orcas have a hobby of hunting birds by baiting them with fish – at least three different whales do this – did they learn from each other?


If the orcas do learn this hunting technique from each other, what other behaviors do they learn, unperceived by people?
Dr. Ken Norris, a pioneer in the study of marine mammals, often speculated on how whales and dolphins might use their sonar to look into each others bodies and therefore be able to observe subtle physical cues that we can’t see. (Personal communication).
Ultimately, this ability to imitate is another reason why captivity fails these whales – a young whale who learns a language of behavior and sound in one park probably finds it worthless when moved to another, perpetuating the cycle of aggression.
And who knows what they teach each other about people, other than the wild whales that are taught not to harm us.

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.

Killer whale recovery projects to get $2.18 million from partners including SeaWorld, Shell Oil, and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation

Media release:  SEATTLE, WA (November 16, 2017) –The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) today announced the awarding of $888,265 in grants to increase the recovery potential of the endangered Southern Resident killer whale. The grants will generate $1.3 million in matching contributions for a total conservation impact of more than $2 million. [Please note, NFWF is not a government agency].

The Center for Whale Research has studied the Southern Resident orcas for almost forty years.

The grants were awarded through the Killer Whale Research and Conservation Program (KWRCP), a partnership that began in 2015 with support from SeaWorld Entertainment, Inc. and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. This year, Shell added its support to the effort. The company has been a part of the Anacortes community since 1955, and has identified the KWRCP as a key local conservation effort for the region.

The projects supported by the nine grants announced today will help to restore and enhance populations of Chinook salmon, a key prey item for the whales. These projects will focus on scientific research, habitat restoration and bolstering of forage fish levels. Specifically, grantees will work with recreational fishermen to understand the potential significance of the resident Chinook population to killer whales. Additionally, grantees will work with the seven Northwest Straits Marine Resource Committees to protect and restore important forage fish habitat, and support the restoration of 8 acres of juvenile salmon habitat in the Skagit River.

“We are excited to welcome Shell, a long-standing partner of NFWF in several regions of the country, to the Killer Whale Research and Conservation Program,” said Jeff Trandahl, executive director and CEO of NFWF. “Saving this apex species is an ‘all hands on deck’ situation. It is only through partnerships supporting a comprehensive approach to conservation that we will be able to reverse the decline of this iconic species of the Pacific Northwest.”

A wild, vibrant, male orca. Photo by Simon Piddock

The program also supports cutting-edge science, including genetic research, acoustic monitoring and aerial surveys using helicopter drones. This research will provide managers with the tools they need to help killer whales overcome the threats they face from poor water quality, noise pollution, vessel traffic, malnutrition and disease.

“Protecting this species has been at the core of SeaWorld’s purpose and mission for decades,” said Dr. Chris Dold, chief zoological officer for SeaWorld. “It’s more important now than ever to support efforts like the Killer Whale Research and Conservation Program, and SeaWorld remains committed to giving these animals a chance at survival.”

Less than 90 Southern Resident killer whales remain. While the species has been protected since the 1970s, its numbers have failed to rebuild the way neighboring populations to the north have. The Killer Whale Research and Conservation Program works to understand why the population has failed to recover and takes steps identified in the recovery plan to bring this population back from the brink.

“Working with this diverse group of partners to aid in the recovery of this incredible species is an honor, and we are proud to have this opportunity to help affect change,” said Shirley Yap, Shell Puget Sound Refinery General Manager. “Our refinery has a long history of collaborating with numerous environmental organizations to protect and preserve the communities we live in. By investing in projects that address salmon research and the monitoring of killer whale health and habitat restoration, we hope to help increase the killer whale population off the coast of  Washington state.”

A complete list of the 2017 grants made through the Killer Whale Research and Conservation Program is available here.

About the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation
Chartered by Congress in 1984, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) protects and restores the nation’s fish, wildlife, plants and habitats. Working with federal, corporate and individual partners, NFWF has funded more than 4,500 organizations and committed more than $3.8 billion to conservation projects. Learn more at www.nfwf.org.

About SeaWorld Entertainment, Inc. 
SeaWorld Entertainment, Inc., supports two initiatives at the Foundation that focus on coastal and marine resources, the Killer Whale Research and Conservation Program and the Ocean Health Initiative. The Killer Whale Research and Conservation Program funds efforts to advance the knowledge and conservation of killer whales with a primary focus on activities that aid in the recovery of the Southern Resident killer whale Distinct Population Segment (DPS) and the Northern Pacific Resident population. The Ocean Health Initiative works through other Foundation programs to support a portfolio of projects that bolster the health of threatened marine and coastal species and habitats while engaging communities in these conservation efforts. For more information, visit SeaWorldCares.com

About Shell Oil Company
Shell Oil Company is an affiliate of the Royal Dutch Shell plc, a global group of energy and petrochemical companies with operations in more than 70 countries. In the U.S., Shell operates in 50 states and employs more than 20,000 people working to help tackle the challenges of the new energy future. 

Environmental stewardship is one-way Shell has continued to share benefits with communities over the past 100 years. Since 1999, Shell has focused our partnerships with many organizations in the U.S. to protect more than 13 million acres of wetlands, clean and remove 600,000 pounds of debris from shoreline, and conserve more than 1.8 million acres of critical habitat.

Sad news from SeaWorld, their last orca calf has died

Kyara with her mom, Takara. Credit: SeaWorld

This news must be heartbreaking for those who spent almost two years in waiting for and caring for Kyara, SeaWorld’s last captive bred baby whale. No matter what your views on captivity, the whales require an enormous amount of daily care by people who are genuinely dedicated and concerned about their welfare and those people deserve acknowledgement for the difficult time they must be going through.
In SeaWorld’s statement below it is reported that Kyara’s family is already back to normal, which implies either the whales don’t know that the calf is dead or that she was dead to them once she was taken away for treatment – either way, it has to been difficult for the calf’s family.
Whales and dolphins have been shown to need time to grieve (Adult Male Pilot Whale Carries Dead Calf; Cetaceans Need Time To Grieve)  and I hope the calf’s family was given time with her body even though it is not traditionally done in captivity. Wild orca mothers have shown what is interpreted as mourning (Mother Orca And Her Dead Calf: A Mother’s Grief? ) so it is logical to think that this would be true in captivity as well.
Be that as it may, SeaWorld has been relatively forthcoming and has given a somewhat detailed report on Kyara’s death – in the past they would have covered up or clammed up entirely. It’s progress.

SeaWorld Is Saddened To Announce The Passing Of Kyara

July 24, 2017
This weekend Kyara, the 3-month-old killer whale calf at SeaWorld San Antonio, was being treated at the park’s Animal Hospital for an infection. The dedicated team of veterinarians and care staff spent the last three days providing critical care for Kyara, but despite their best efforts, her health continued to decline and she passed away earlier today.
She was surrounded by the dedicated teams that cared for her over the last three months and fought tirelessly for her over the last several days.
Julie, just one of the orca trainers that spent countless hours caring for the San Antonio orca pod, including many nights with the calf, said “Kyara had a tremendous impact on each of her care staff, not to mention all of the guests that had the chance to see her. From late nights to early morning, rain or shine, we dedicate our lives to these animals, and this loss will be felt throughout the entire SeaWorld family.”
The team’s attention now turns to the rest of the orca pod, especially Takara, to provide the care and attention they need. The veterinary team will conduct a full post mortem examination to determine the cause of death. It may take several weeks before results are finalized.The global SeaWorld team is united in support of our San Antonio family as they go through this extremely difficult time.
Question & Answer:
When did Kyara die?
Kyara passed away early today, July 24, surrounded by the dedicated SeaWorld staff that not only cared for her for the last several months, as well as the staff that fought tireless to save her life over the last several days.
How did Kyara die?
Kyara had faced some very serious and progressive health issues over the last week that the animal care and veterinary teams had been aggressively treating. While the official cause of death will not be determined until the post-mortem exam is complete, we know that Kyara had an infection, likely pneumonia, and that her health continued to decline.
When was Kyara born?
Kyara was born in April to mom Takara at SeaWorld San Antonio.
Do you know what illness she had?
While the official cause of death won’t be determined until the post-mortem exam is complete, through monitoring Kyara’s behavior, and a physical examination, SeaWorld’s veterinary and animal care teams identified that she had an infection, likely pneumonia, that they were aggressively  treating. Pneumonia has been identified as one of the most common causes of morbidity or illness in whales and dolphins, both in the wild and in aquariums.
Why did you remove Kyara from her mom?
Our primary concern was the health of Kyara. The expert veterinary and animal care teams made the decision to bring Kyara to the husbandry pool at the Animal Hospital to ensure she received the necessary hydration and treatment. Additionally, Kyara had not been receiving the daily nutrition that she needed, so the teams supplemented that nutrition through hand-feeding multiple times each day.
How were you treating her? What medications was she receiving? 
Kyara was under 24-hr care and watch at the animal hospital at SeaWorld San Antonio. In addition to monitoring her 24/7, the expert veterinary staff was treating her with antimicrobials, including antibiotics, for any infections she was fighting. Additionally, the team was hand-feeding her in an effort to ensure she received the nutrition she needed.
How is her mom, Takara, and the rest of the pod doing? 
Takara’s behavior was back to normal by the end of the weekend. Additionally, the rest of the pod is responding well and behaving normally. While the loss of Kyara is heartbreaking for the animal care, veterinary and training teams, as well as the entire SeaWorld family, our focus is now on continuing the care of the rest of the orca pod back at Shamu Stadium.
Is there any chance other killer whales will get this illness?
No other members of the SeaWorld San Antonio orca pod are showing any signs of illness, but they continued to be monitored and cared for by SeaWorld’s expert veterinary and animal care teams.
How will this impact the killer whale shows?
The One Ocean shows at SeaWorld San Antonio will be cancelled for the rest of the day, July 24. Guests should check the SeaWorldSanAntonio.com website, or with Guest Services, for scheduling for thre rest of the week.
Was this caused by being in captivity?
No, Kyara’s pneumonia has been identified as the most common cause of mortality and illness in whales in dolphins, both in the wild and in zoological facilities.
Will you make the results of the necropsy public?
Post mortem exams are detailed clinical investigations that include a good deal of laboratory testing. We will provide an update on SeaWorldCares.com as soon as the full results have come back.

SeaWorld’s new orca show – informative and poignant

Natural exuberance in the wild!

There’s lots to love about the new orca show at SeaWorld, San Diego.
Called ‘Orca Encounter’, the show lives up to its promises to provide educational content with stunning film and virtual reality displays which do an admirable job of teaching the basic biology and ecology of the whales. The orcas perform tricks that synchronize with the video, and the trainers’ low key presence is a welcome change from the glitzy days past.  Shamu, the lovable sea panda is gone, replaced with a more accurate portrayal – orcas are shown hunting seals and whales.
Of course there is no escaping the fact that the captive orcas are living very different lives than their wild counterparts, a poignant reminder that while SeaWorld has pledged that the orcas they now have will be the last they own they remain adamantly against allowing these whales to find their way to future ocean sanctuaries.  But up until a few years ago SeaWorld would never have decided to stop breeding the orcas either, which they now have done.
From the whales’ point of view it may be true that they are just learning new tricks for pieces of fish, but the process of learning is of itself stimulating for them.
Can SeaWorld provide enough enrichment in the barren tanks to improve the living conditions for the orcas enough to significantly impact the well-being of the whales and dolphins in their care going into the future?  Will they? After all, SeaWorld has made a commitment of 30 – 50 years to take care of the whales they have – whales who have nowhere else to go unless they are sold overseas or released into managed care in sanctuaries, neither of which is a viable option at this time. As a business, their bottom line is money, and maintaining the cetaceans is very expensive.
In large part what SeaWorld does going forward will be shaped by the response to the actions taken so far, and by SeaWorld’s ability to fulfill their promises to help wild marine animals navigate the changing ocean environment.
I hope the public response is positive, because look around – who else is stepping up to the plate? Environmental regulations are being stripped at an alarming pace, and the Marine Mammal Commission will effectively be terminated in October. There are few options to rescue and rehabilitate whales and dolphins at present, and rescue groups struggle to find funds. The trickle of money that they operate on may soon dry up.
Love ’em or not, SeaWorld may be our best option. At least until the next elections.
Below are two videos of the new show, the first focuses on the presentation, the second focuses on the whales themselves – together they appear to cover the show well.


 

Tilikum, the whale made famous in the film Blackfish, has died at SeaWorld

12000 pound Tilikum, no tank is big enough.
12000 pound Tilikum.

His iconic life represented all that was wrong about keeping these majestic whales in tanks. Rest in peace, Tilikum.
 SeaWorld’s media release:

The Life and Care Of Tilikum At SeaWorld

The SeaWorld family is deeply saddened to announce that one of its most well-known orcas, Tilikum, has passed away. Tilikum passed away early this morning, January 6, surrounded by the trainers, care staff and veterinarians that provided him around-the-clock world-class care.
Like all older animals, Tilikum had faced some very serious health issues. While the official cause of death will not be determined until the necropsy is completed, the SeaWorld veterinarians were treating a persistent and complicated bacterial lung infection. The suspected bacteria is part of a group of bacteria that is found in water and soil both in wild habitats and zoological settings.
Tilikum’s veterinarians and caretakers delivered various treatment regimens over the course of this illness, which consisted of, among other things, combinations of anti-inflammatories, anti-bacterials, anti-nausea medications, hydration therapy and aerosolized antimicrobial therapy.
While today is a difficult day for the SeaWorld family, it’s important to remember that Tilikum lived a long and enriching life while at SeaWorld and inspired millions of people to care about this amazing species.
Tilikum’s life will always be inextricably connected with the loss of our dear friend and colleague, Dawn Brancheau.  While we all experienced profound sadness about that loss, we continued to offer Tilikum the best care possible, each and every day, from the country’s leading experts in marine mammals.
“Tilikum had, and will continue to have, a special place in the hearts of the SeaWorld family, as well as the millions of people all over the world that he inspired,” said President & CEO of SeaWorld Joel Manby. “My heart goes out to our team who cared for him like family.”
Tilikum became a part of SeaWorld’s family 25 years ago. Estimated to be about 36 years old, Tilikum was near the high end of the average life expectancy for male killer whales according to an independent scientific review.
Tilikum was not born at or collected by SeaWorld. He came to us from Sealand of the Pacific in Canada. SeaWorld has not collected a whale from the wild in nearly 40 years, and this past March we announced the end of the orca breeding program effectively making the whales currently at SeaWorld the last generation of orcas under human care.

SeaWorld is investing heavily in stranded marine mammal rescue

SeaWorld plans to build state of the art marine mammal rescue facilities at their San Antonio park as well as at their new killer whale-free park in Abu Dhabi.
They are pumping millions of desperately needed dollars into rescue and “return” (they don’t call it rescue and release anymore, possibly because “return” is specific while “release” leaves the door open to release captive animals in general). Dolphins and whales seem to be stranding in increasing numbers as human-caused noise and pollution pair with climate change to disrupt much of the ocean environment.

Money is tight for most stranding organizations, and governments are limited in what they can and will do so if SeaWorld helps the animals and doesn’t just cherry-pick unreleasable dolphins and small whales for exhibits, they have the potential to make a huge difference.
We’ll see, but I’m optimistic.

Screen Shot 2016 01 26 at 5 07 57 PM 850x500

 

“Over a three year period, SeaWorld San Antonio is committing over $1 million in additional funding and resources, including having SeaWorld animal care professionals and veterinarians dedicated to work with [Texas Marine Mammal Stranding Network] TMMSN. Plus, the park is committed to building a new state-of-the-art facility at SeaWorld San Antonio where they will provide 24-hour care for sick and stranded animals that need long term rehabilitation.”

“TMMSN is one of the nation’s most dedicated animal rescue organizations, relentless in its work to help marine mammals in the wild,” said Chris Bellows, Vice President of Zoological Operations, SeaWorld San Antonio. “I am personally and professionally moved by the many volunteers who tirelessly donate their time and energy.  It is a pleasure to work alongside the TMMSN and offer our professional resources as we join together to help rescue and rehabilitate stranded animals with the shared goal of returning them to the wild.”

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“And the stakes are high. This announcement comes at a critical time, as January marks the beginning of the annual stranding season which is triggered by winter weather, changing water temperatures and the calving season. The TMMSN typically can see up to 150 stranded or injured marine mammals each year along the Texas coast, with the most common being the bottlenose dolphin.”

“State Senator Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) commended the partnership between SeaWorld and TMMSN as an example of the private and non-profit sector working hand-in-hand for the betterment of Texas wildlife.  “Protecting our marine mammals and the beautiful natural habitat of the gulf coast is important to the quality of life for all Texans,” said Taylor.  “I commend TMMSN for its commitment to assist and rehabilitate injured animals.  With the resources that SeaWorld provides, we are helping to ensure that our marine mammal populations will continue to thrive for generations to come.”

For more information about Texas Marine Mammal Stranding Network visit:  www.DolphinRescue.org

Why is the government ignoring its own research on orcas in setting captivity standards? What you can do.

(Courtesy Orca Network)
(Courtesy Orca Network)

After a 14 year delay, the federal government has finally decided to update the standards of care for captive whales and dolphins.
Sort of.
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.

This graphic compares a single dive by a wild orca to the legal tank size.
This graphic compares a single dive by a wild orca to the legal tank size.

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.

In this file photo taken Jan. 18, 2014, a satellite-linked transmitter is visible on the dorsal fin of L87, an orca from the southern resident group of killer whales, while swimming in Puget Sound west of Seattle. Federal biologists have temporarily halted the satellite tagging program after another endangered Puget Sound orca was found dead, with pieces of a dart tag lodged in its fin. Canada's Department of Fisheries and Ocean says the initial exam of the 20-year-old whale found off Vancouver Island last month found no clear cause of death. (AP Photo, Elaine Thompson, File)
“In this file photo taken Jan. 18, 2014, a satellite-linked transmitter is visible on the dorsal fin of L87, an orca from the southern resident group of killer whales, while swimming in Puget Sound west of Seattle. Federal biologists have temporarily halted the satellite tagging program after another endangered Puget Sound orca was found dead, with pieces of a dart tag lodged in its fin. Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Ocean says the initial exam of the 20-year-old whale found off Vancouver Island last month found no clear cause of death. (AP Photo, Elaine Thompson, File)”. PhysOrg

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!