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.
Fifteen years ago, Springer, an orphaned and lost orca calf was successfully rescued, rehabilitated, and returned to her wild family.
“Springer’s story is an inspiration on many levels,” said Paul Spong of OrcaLab. “It proved that an orphan orca, alone and separated from her family, can be rehabilitated and returned to a normal productive life with her family and community; and it showed that disparate parties with diverse interests can come together and work together for the common goal of helping one little whale.”
“The Springer success story continues to be an inspiration for all of us working on conservation in the Salish Sea,” said Lynne Barre, the lead for orca recovery at NOAA Fisheries’ West Coast regional office in Seattle. “The partnerships created during Springer’s rescue provide a strong foundation for international cooperation as well as coordination between government, state, tribal, and non-profit groups to benefit both Northern and Southern Resident killer whales.”
Fifteen years later, Springer is still healthy and in 2013 had her first calf, Spirit. They are most often seen on the north central British Columbia coast and occasionally return to Johnstone Strait in summer.
“Springer’s reunion is an unqualified success – the only project of its kind in history,” said Donna Sandstrom, director of The Whale Trail and organizer of the Vashon Island event. “To get the little whale home, we had to learn how to work together, as organizations, agencies and nations. Above all, we put her best interests first. Community members played a key role in shaping Springer’s fate. We hope her story inspires people to join us in working on issues facing our endangered southern resident orcas today, with the same urgency, commitment, and resolve.”
The 2002 Springer rescue team will reconvene in programs and events in Puget Sound, Georgia Strait and Telegraph Cove in May, June and July to give first-hand accounts of how Springer was identified, rescued and rehabilitated. She was taken by jet catamaran to the north end of Vancouver Island and reunited with her Northern Resident family.
“Celebrate Springer!” begins on May 20 on Vashon Island near the waters were Springer was found. The Vashon Theater program of “Springer’s Story” will feature members of the rescue team, a dance performance by Le La La Dancers, who were present at Springer’s release, and followed by a late afternoon Whale Trail sign dedication at the Point Robinson Lighthouse.
The event will continue in June and July with programs at NOAA Fisheries, Whale Trail Orca Talk, Whale Trail sign dedications, and conclude with a three-day program at Telegraph Cove, British Columbia, where Springer was released in 2002 and rejoined her Northern Resident family.
For more information, check out the Celebrate Springer Facebook page and The Whale Trail.
“Celebrate Springer!” partners include NOAA Fisheries, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, OrcaLab, Whale Interpretive Center, Vancouver Aquarium and The Whale Trail.
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.
“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.”
“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.”
FIRST REPORT, 7:58 AM: In just the past few minutes, we’ve received multiple messages about what people describe as a whale in trouble south of the Fauntleroy ferry dock.
One texter says Washington State Ferries has contacted NOAA; before that, we advised the first person to contact Seal Sitters Marine Mammal Stranding Network, which deals with more than seals, at 206-905-SEAL. Some have texted images including the photo and video above. On our way for a firsthand look. 8:27 AM: We’ve just arrived at the dock, as has Robin Lindsey of Seal Sitters. This is definitely a humpback whale – Robin describes it as juvenile. It’s raised its fluke out of the water and has been heard trying to breathe, but it’s in very shallow water. Photo added. The tide is going out – we’re an hour past the highest tide of the day already. It can still be heard breathing, loud chugging sounds. We can’t recall a stranded whale in West Seattle since the gray whale that died in The Arroyos in 2010. 8:43 AM: Robin says cetacean experts are on the way. Since the tide is going out, volunteers will guard the beach and as the tide goes out, will use buckets and towels to keep the whale hydrated if needed. It’s definitely still alive – it spouted a few minutes ago and we could feel the spray. 9:27 AM: The whale is still breathing – we’ve added a short video clip atop this story. The fence along the ferry-dock walkway is lined with spectators. We’ve also talked with Jeff Hogan of Killer Whale Tales, a local whale researcher who we first met at the Arroyos whale stranding six years ago. He also told us that Cascadia and NOAA are on the way. If you come to this area, please remember that the beach south of the ferry dock is private. There might be a call for volunteers later, if needed to keep this massive animal – a juvenile, but still massive – hydrated, so check back. We’ll be here for the duration. A WSF employee tells us she first saw it around 6:40, almost an hour before we started getting tips. 9:43 AM: As the water gets shallower, more of the whale’s head is visible, and its fluke is at the surface. Haven’t heard it breathe for a while now, sorry to say.
10:08 AM: Hogan and another whale expert are out with the humpback now, pouring water on it to keep it hydrated. We still haven’t heard it breathe for a while.
Listed below are updates on some of the most compelling stories about marine mammals that occurred in 2011: *The captive orca “Lolita” (also know as ‘Tokitae’) continues to live in a substandard tank, but a recent lawsuit may bring an end to her captivity based on the fact that she was illegally and intentionally deprived status as ‘endangered’, the status that was granted her wild kin. *Meanwhile Lolita’s family, the Southern Resident orcas, had a good year, with three new calves and no deaths (the iconic male, J1 who was called ‘Ruffles’ because of his wavy dorsal fin was listed as dying in 2010, although2011 is the first summer he was not seen since records began in the mid 70’s. His imposing presence was missed by all to went whale watching in the Salish Sea this year). J2, Granny, was granted an 100th birthday celebration because her age range is estimated to be close to 100, although she may be as young as 70 years old – still an impressive age.
Dave Ellifrit from the Center for Whale Research reports: ” As far as we know, we should be at 89 whales in the population at the moment after J16 had a new calf (now 27 whales in J pod, 20 in K, 42 in L). The new J pod calf ( J48, first documented by Northwest Fisheries Service on the 17th of Dec) is the only new addition since K44 was born in the first week of July. L90 was seen the last time that group of Ls was in the area back in early November so there is still hope she will be around next year.
*The court trial against SeaWorld in the case of the death of trainer Dawn Brancheau has not been resolved, but arguments are closed and it is before the judge: See Now We Wait, by Tim Zimmermann *Tilikum, the whale that killed Brancheau, has had an undisclosed illness for the last few weeks, and has not performed regularly. It has been reported that he is in the medical pool at SeaWorld, Orlando. *Ikaika, the young male orca that SeaWorld won against Marineland (see The Orca Project) in a lengthy court battle seems to have adjusted to life bobbing endlessly in SeaWorld’s tanks. To experience 10 mind-numbing minutes of the life he leads 24/7, please check out http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_7lzA_BIeyw. No need to sit through the whole thing, it barely changes. *Pregnant orcas – SeaWorld may have three pregnant females sired by an Argentinian male, and rumors are flying that the female who was housed with Ikaika in Marineland is pregnant as well (not confirmed). For more information, see More SeaWorld Orca Pregnancies? :
The use of sperm from Kshamenk, a killer whale who was captured in Argentina in 1992 and now lives at Buenos Aires’ Mundo Marino, is a new wrinkle in SeaWorld’s captive orca breeding program. A majority of SeaWorld’s killer whales have Tilikum’s genes, and there has been a lot of concern about a genetic bottleneck within SeaWorld’s breeding pool. Training Kshamenk to give sperm donations, and using his sperm to impregnate Kasatka and Takara adds completely distinctive Argentinian killer whale DNA to the SeaWorld sperm pool.
*Pilot whales – of the 23 that stranded near Cudjoe Key, Florida in early May just four survived, two male whales were fitted with satellite tags and were released after being deemed healthy enough to survive in the wild. One tag stopped working, but the other was tracked for two months.
He moved “a total of about 4100 miles (6022 KM). It moved from the Keys north to off of the South Carolina coast, and back down into the Caribbean. The last few weeks before transmission was lost were spent off the northeastern coast of Cuba.
The whale made occasional dives to 1,000-1,500 meters, and occasionally stayed down for more than 40 minutes. These are among the deepest and longest documented dives for this species.” http://sarasotadolphin.org/2011/09/15/freed-pilot-whale-final-update/ Two female pilot whales, Fredi and “300” are the only other survivors and they were both given to SeaWorld. Fredi, the youngest captive, seems to be healthy, but 300 developed a spinal curvature during treatment. Attempts are underway to repair the damage. *No response from SeaWorld as to the identity of the pilot whales they claim is the original “Bubbles” from the 1960’s.(See earlier post) *Whaling persists, against all reason. (See Environmental Investigation Agency updates.)
“Only a handful of countries still practice industrial whaling; Iceland is one of them, pursuing endangered fin whales in order to turn a profit. But rumours have persisted that there is a lack of demand for this whale meat in both Iceland and Japan, its main export market. With this in mind, EIA investigators pack their hidden cameras and attempt to locate and understand the driving force behind the trade.”
It is highly likely that there were continued direct releases from the reactors or storage tanks, as well as indirect releases from contaminated groundwater or coastal sediments, according to the report. Tokyo Electric Power Company, the owners of the Fukushima reactors, disclosed that 45 tons of highly radioactive wastewater containing strontium escaped from a treatment facility this past weekend. “This latest news suggests that the releases have not ended, so that is of concern. If the contaminants end up in the marine sediments/muds, then they will remain there for decades to come, and thus potentially be of concern for benthic biota and consumers of benthic fish/shell fish, i.e. any local filter feeders near the source waters at the coast,” said Buesseler
The facts as I have been able to establish them are as follows: Location: Blue Cliffs Beach near Tuatapere, Southland Date: 26 December 2011 No. of killer whales: 6 No. of sharks: at least 6, only one beached but others seen and filmed in the shallows Species of shark: broadnose sevengill (Notorhynchus cepedianus) The film and still images I have seen show a large, probably mature female sevengill stranded alive on the beach; an adult male killer whale pursuing and probably capturing at least one other in the surf zone; and a third in the wash. The whale was shallow enough that at times you could see that it was momentarily grounding as the waves drew back. What appeared to be happening was a co-ordinated hunt of the sharks by a group of up to 6 whales, resulting in a number of sharks attempting to escape them by swimming into shallow water, several of which following the wave run-up into water so shalllow that they risked being stranded (only one did and it was left there to die by the witnesses and the carcass washed out on the next high tide). I have seen a group of five killer whales hunting this way in Hawke Bay, North Island. They send a ‘sweeper’ in along the shore to flush fish out to the other whales which are swimming line abreast or in an arc offshore. Very effective! In the instance that I saw the ‘sweeper’ was also an adult male, and it possible that the whales involved in the Boxing Day hunt was the same pod. Regards Clinton Duffy Scientific Officer (Marine Species-Fishes) Marine Conservation Team Department of Conservation
Please email me at email@example.com if there is a cetacean story that might have been missed, and have a terrific new year! Thanks to the Orca Network for catching a typo, and for all the great work you do!
There is something deeply soul satisfying, deeply human, about rescuing animals that need our help. This capacity to empathize with other species represents what is good about being human, yet science has shown that it is not uniquely human – a good example of this is the remarkable relationship we have with dolphins, known to save us from drowning and to protect us from shark attacks.
The recent discovery that cetaceans have a special type of cell (called a spindle cell) previously found only in humans and the great apes implies that they are sentient and feeling as well because, those cells are associated with our deeper emotions and social bonds. Yet inevitably, sooner or later when the best interest of an animal conflicts with human greed, the wealthy and powerful of this planet try to run rampant over the will and rights of the average citizens, citizens who pass laws, donate money, and tax themselves to protect what is left of wild populations. It is another example of 99% of humanity having to stand by and watch 1% profit from our good intentions.
And now, according to the Dutch News, the junior environmental minister of The Netherlands has decided that it is too risky to attempt to release the rescued orca Morgan back into the wild. At this point the whale is again slated to be sent to an amusement park in a Spanish island chain off the coast of Africa, where she will live in the company of some of SeaWorld’s killer whales at Loro Parque.
But Loro Parque’s orcas are actually owned by SeaWorld, they have no orcas of their own. In essence, SeaWorld will get a whale worth millions to them, and the Dutch people will get nothing, they will not get the satisfaction of having returned her to the wild, nor will they be able to see her because she will be living in a Spanish island amusement park, a park that is designed to show parrots. (Loro Parque means ‘parrot park’).
It is time to help the people of Holland gain ownership of the good deed they did in rescuing Morgan. Please help support Morgan’s legal defense to give her a chance to live with her family again. Contact the Dutch nonprofit group, The Orca Coalition for more information. Time is short for Morgan.
This video segment, taken from the feature length documentary “A Fall From Freedom” illustrates the way that marine amusement parks have skirted regulations for decades and continue to thumb their noses at regulations designed to protect wildlife. SeaWorld is documented to have obtained whales from the brutal capture in Japan (see previous post), and then “laundered” them through the Middle East and the Dutch aquarium where the animals were used as barter.
Now SeaWorld is again working with the Harderwijk Dolphinarium in The Netherlands in an attempt to get the young orca that was found separated from her family in the Wadden Sea last year. After originally stating that they intended to restore the little orca to health and release her back to the wild, the aquarium quickly called in SeaWorld veterinarians and it was not long before the aquarium began to reverse its initial position.
Plans were laid to transport the whale, now called Morgan, to the Loro Parque amusement park in the Canary Islands (off the coast of Africa) where SeaWorld houses, and breeds, some of their whales. For a while it seemed inevitable that Morgan would wind up another captive, destined for a life of circus shows and as a cash cow for SeaWorld’s captive breeding program.
But Morgan has a team of attorneys fighting to give her a chance to be returned to the wild – to live free with her family – and the government of The Netherlands is now debating what to do. If they decide to cave into SeaWorld and send the young orca to Loro Parque, Morgan’s legal defense team will appeal the decision. They need your help – please go to Morgan’s Legal Defense Fund at the Orca Coalition to make a donation or to learn more about the importance of this young whale’s legal appeal.
Having survived beaching, illness, and the stress of finding themselves constantly in the hands of humans, two lucky pilot whales will at least find themselves together in the capable hands of SeaWorld veterinary staff, and will be able to live out their lives together. Deemed too young/damaged to survive in the wild, the National Marine Fisheries apparently decided that placing the two whales in a facility where they could find solace in each other and the company of others of their own species was the best option, and in so doing they have opened a world of opportunity for SeaWorld to take the next step in husbandry. The conceivable benefits of housing them together are huge, since these two pilot whales came from the same pod and will communicate in the same dialect, and may exhibit unique behavior patterns – all of which will be helpful in exploring more natural ways to maintain captive cetaceans in general. It really is an unrivaled opportunity, and hopefully SeaWorld will take a step back from their usual methods of controlling, training, separating whale families – instead choosing to observe behavior and listen to the vocalizations of the whales.
This video shows the last pilot whale where she is now, next to a hotel and surrounded by staff and volunteers in a more natural aquatic environment. Soon she will be living in a sonically sterile cement tub while she is quarantined and her health monitored, but after that she will be able to join the calf in a larger tank.
Imagine watching a talk show – maybe you’re puttering around the house or emailing a friend – when something comes on the TV that you find hard to fathom. Your attention is now fully focused on the television screen and confusion enters your mind when you hear the what the orca expert says in answer to the hosts’ question – “yes”, he says, “orcas eat humans”. So much for the effectiveness of amusement park education programs.
The absurdity of having the person in charge of the well-being of the little lost orca Morgan being so misinformed or disingenuous would have been impossible to miss and difficult to ignore, even if you’d never seen an orca or really new much about them. Some things are just wrong, and as time goes on it dawns on you that the Dolphinarium where Morgan is being kept has no plans to really help the young whale find her family.
Instead they are making plans to ship little Morgan to a Spanish amusement park off the coast of Africa where she will have to live her life in captivity, in the company of SeaWorld’s displaced orcas.
So what do you do? If you are Nancy Slot-Slokker you become increasingly concerned that nothing is being done to ensure that the orca is well cared for or will ever have an option to be released into the wild. And one day you just decide to do something, the result of which culminated in the successful legal effort that has stalled the plans to send Morgan into a life of captivity. (For more information on Morgan and the organizations involved, go here). The effort is huge, and like Nancy you can jump in and help. For more information about the legal defense for the orca Morgan, or to make donations (they have some terrific t-shirts for sale here) please go to The Orca Coalition website.
In Nancy’s own words:
“Never in my life have I seen a killer whale, so I honestly don’t know what came into me…
Something very wrong was going on, that much was clear, and I hoped someone would do something for Morgan. Suddenly it came to me… why should I expect somebody else to take action?
One thing led to another and before I knew it I was having coffee with Wietse van der Werf to see what we could do. Neither of us really had the time (I have two young kids), so we agreed we would do something small, mainly to raise awareness.We each found people willing to join forces…if we’d all do something we should be able to pull this off.
Our group grew, and soon we were a coalition of several animal welfare organizations: The Orca Coalition.
I never expected it to be this difficult, time consuming and frustrating, but at the same time, the longer the battle lasted, the more determined we were to see that Morgan is released! I’m proud to say I am part of this fantastic group of inspiring people who are fighting relentlessly to save this magnificent creature from captivity!
In spite of all the setbacks we’ve encountered, we never lost hope, and recent developments have given me enough confidence to say: I look forward to the day I’ll see Morgan for the first time in my life, the day she is released into the wild, where she belongs…”
Update 8/28/11: “SeaWorld received federal approval today to provide a permanent, caring home for the remaining rescued pilot whale that has been deemed non-releasable,” SeaWorld spokeswoman Becca Bides said Friday. (KeysNet.com)
Over the last couple of weeks there has been an increasing chorus drifting through the internet. Those well-intended voices had begun to call for the euthanization of the last rescued pilot whale, clinically known as #300, because after months of round the clock care her condition seemed only to worsen. 300’s back is twisted from a combination of an unfortunate feeding regime and lack of exercise, and she suffers from damage to her lungs. Three months of intensive care just seemed futile, and to so many it just seemed the kindest thing to do would be to put her out of her misery.
It was all made much worse in the public eye when SeaWorld was able to secure the youngest, healthiest whale of the dozens that stranded in early May in the Florida Keys – most died, two were released, and two have survived – and took her to their brand new rehabilitation facility, leaving the sickest one behind. Although it seems like just another attempt by the captivity industry to side-step government protocols, I held out hope – small though it was – that SeaWorld was planning to do the right thing and take 300 once the younger whale was processed through the rehab system. This makes sense on many levels, from not trying the new facility on the most fragile animal, to waiting until the sicker one was healthy enough to move. Now that the ‘powers that be’ have decided that 300 can’t be released, she deserves to go to the best facility possible, one where she can be with others of her own species and hopefully the calf from her original pod. All the people who worked so hard to save her, enduring cold, wet, unhealthy conditions for hour upon hour deserve to know that the rest of us care enough to support the choice to keep, rather than euthanize this unfortunate whale.
Although 300 is up for bid to anyone with appropriate facilities, SeaWorld is the only place in North America with other pilot whales and is the logical place to send her, if for no other reason than to make it possible for all the hundreds of people who helped in her rescue to go visit her.
300 may never be able to jump through hoops or give birth to a healthy calf, limiting the financial gains possible – not that the captive industry won’t find other ways to use her – so it will be interesting to see what develops. Personally, I think SeaWorld and other amusement parks have already figured out that public sentiment is turning away from circus shows, and towards true rescue and rehabilitation. We’ll be watching.