A Tribute to Mike Layton, Retired Seattle P.I. Journalist, Who Was Instrumental in Ending Local Orca Captures (by Ralph Munro)

A tribute to journalist Mike Layton from former Washington Secretary of  State Ralph Munro.  Both individuals worked to secure the release of the last orcas caught in Puget Sound, and to prevent further capture attempts.  Mr. Munro continues to support the protection of the endangered orca population and was instrumental in developing the Whale Watch Park on San Juan Island.
The following was written by Mr. Munro, and shared by Orca Network:

“All of us who support orcas in the wild , lost a real friend this week. Journalist Mike Layton, formerly with the Seattle PI, died after a long illness.”

Photo courtesy Orca Network

“After Karen and I watched the horrific capture in the shallow waters of the Olympia harbor in 1976, we knew that we had to get the attention of the press. It was a Sunday night and every phone call to a news room went unanswered. Finally we reached Mike Layton at home. He was on his way to visit a sick relative and was very gruff with us as we explained what we had seen from our sailboat. We told him of Sea World herding the whales with explosives, seaplanes, etc. The screams and cries from the orcas as they were separated by the capture nets, the  attempts by the captors to chase us away, etc.
Mike Layton agreed to go over and ‘take a look’ before it got dark.  We went to bed that night, not knowing if he had taken the time to see the netted whales off of Gull Harbor or not.
We could not sleep that night. Both Karen and I tossed and turned, wondering how we could awaken the public to this tragedy that we had witnessed. About 4:30 am, I heard the Seattle PI deliveryman drive by our mailbox. So I got up and put on my bathrobe and walked to the paper box.
I pulled out the PI and the headlines jumped off the front page. Big black headlines, front page, above the fold.
Reporter Mike Layton (courtesy nwsource).

I took the newspaper back into the bedroom and told Karen, ‘We just won Round 1.  Mike Layton has written one hell of a good story”.

To make a long story short, after many similar articles in the press, court hearings in federal and state courts, legal cases argued by our Attorney General Slade Gorton himself, etc. the whales were released.  And that was the ‘LAST’ whale capture in America. And one of these same whales still makes frequent calls on Puget Sound and Hoods Canal to dine on seals (T14, “Pender”).

T 14 ("Pender") was released from capture and still swims free today.

Mike Layton was a friend that will long be remembered.”

Ralph Munro, long-time WA Secretary of State and friend of the whales

Olympia, WA

How Japan’s Nuclear Crisis Might Affect Whales And Dolphins

Japan’s attempts to control the damaged nuclear reactors at the Fukushima plant by using sea water hopefully will succeed in preventing a complete disaster, but the price paid both to the nearby marine life and to the people of that battered country will be huge and long lasting.  Unfortunately, the runoff of millions of gallons of contaminated water cannot be scrubbed before it flows back into the ocean, and what happens to that water is very complex –  as reassuring as it may be to think that the radioactive waste is immediately diluted in the vast seas, that is really not what happens.  Instead, much of the contamination is likely to be deposited in the sediment of the shoreline, and to be transported along the coast.  Depending upon how warm and salty the runoff is, masses of the water may be able to travel huge distances relatively undiluted and unmixed, to be absorbed by tiny planktonic creatures before working it’s way up the food chain to whales and dolphins.

The warm Kurashiro Current travels along the east coast of Japan and tends to meet the colder north Pacific water near the region of the Fukushima plant.

The processes at work in the ocean are so complex that even computer generated models can’t predict small scale events with certainty, but there are some basic principles that guide scientists, and for an easy to understand summary of those principles you might check here.
Near Japan, the warm Kurashiro current transports water from the south  until it runs into the cold northern water where  cooling begins.  The Fukushima plant is located where the two masses of water meet, helping keep most offshore contamination away from major urban coastal regions, but the present unforeseen highly contaminated near-shore runoff is not immediately transported to where those currents operate.
Assuming that the runoff is both warmer and saltier (due to evaporation) it will tend to mix and warm up the water in the immediate area, and changes in both temperature and salinity can be crucial to marine life.  This in turn affects how much and what types of the radioactive isotopes get taken up in the sediment and the creatures that live there before moving up to the 21 species of whales and dolphins found in the Sea of Japan alone.
Making the situation even worse is that Japan is heavily invested in fish and shellfish hatcheries, and produces everything from crabs to salmon in mass quantities, often with several species produced in the same hatchery.  Many of these hatcheries are vulnerable to fallout and/or pump sea water into holding tanks. The organisms raised there are released into the environment at various life stages, and the different life stages again take up isotopes at various rates, and further disperse into the marine environment where they can be eaten by bigger fish.

Japan depends heavily on fish and shellfish hatcheries.

The radioactive isotopes from the runoff may quickly move up the food chain in the local marine environment, leaving the fish-eating (resident type) orcas and other dolphins highly vulnerable to fairly immediate exposure as well as long term consequences.  Gray whales, which eat by scooping up the bottom sediment to filter out the shrimp-like organisms they favor, are possibly at the highest direct vulnerability.
Add the consequences of the fallout from the air in the region (which will be immediately taken up by plankton) and the effects are compounded.
Whale tissue, already highly contaminated with heavy metals and toxins, will become even more dangerous to eat and hopefully people worldwide will reconsider their policies towards hunting these animals. Many species migrate long distances, so it is difficult to be sure that a whale taken in one part of the world was not exposed to radiation in another – even the resident type orcas off the coast of Japan are believed to travel a thousand miles or more to more southern latitudes (based on the presence of unique ‘cookie cutter’ shark bites).

American Dolphin Observers Experience Hospitality in the Midst of the Japan Earthquake

The people of Japan are showing the world how to face cataclysmic tragedy with dignity, even as they continue to be pummeled by the trifecta of earthquake, tsunami, and damaged nuclear reactors.  Short on food and water, the people of Japan stand in orderly lines and wait patiently for aid.  The winter temperatures reach down to freezing, and parts of the country are without power.  Yet there is no looting, no gangs, no violence among the citizens.
A group of Americans who were in that country to observe dolphin capture narrowly missed being in the path of the tsunami, and in the midst of their own difficulties the Japanese people reached out to help.  The following is taken from dolphin activists Ric O’Barry’s account of the events, be sure to visit the web page to get the full story.

COVE Volunteers Safe After “Apocalyptic” Experience; Taiji Dolphins Perish

March 13, 2011

By Ric O’Barry Save Japan Dolphins

As we reported yesterday, volunteers from Save Japan Dolphins and Sea Shepherd were in Iwate Prefecture, which was one of the areas hit the hardest by the earthquake and tsunami.   They were monitoring the Dall’s Porpoise hunts when the earthquake hit.  Thankfully, today we can report that they are all safe, and on their way home!
After the earthquake hit, both teams headed for the mountain overlooking the city of Otsuchi.  The tsunami hit almost immediately after Brian’s last video post, http://media.causes.com/ribbon/1032459.  They watched in horror as the tides rescinded and then came back with such fierce velocity that the city was quickly submerged.  When it ended, they descended into absolute turmoil.  The city was ravaged – cars toppled, houses and buildings totally destroyed.  Bodies were strewn about – one in a tree, others in cars, several in the wreckage.  We can’t begin to imagine how horrible it must have been.
…It was impossible to drive, so the teams opted to walk to Tono, roughly 30 miles away.  All along the way they ran into locals, who in the midst of their own nightmares, went out of their way to help, offering food, shelter and complete compassion.  Imagine – at this dire moment when they are facing such loss and an uncertain future – they reach out to complete strangers and offer their help.  We are so grateful to them.  Several times our volunteers were given rides towards Tono.

*The bottlenose dolphins which had been captured in Taiji were not able to survive the wave action generated by the tsunami.

Orca Whale “Lolita’s” Condition Shrouded in Mystery: How to Prevent This Situation in the Future

For over a week the Miami Seaquarium has been tight-lipped about why they pulled their star performing orca from display, only reporting that the whale has had a flare up of the chronic toothache that has bothered her since 1994.  Observers have reported odd comings and goings, including the arrival of a helicopter carrying four individuals with backpacks on Sunday (complete story can be found at the Orca Project).  When inquiries are made to the amusement park, concerned individuals and media alike are given the same message – “Lolita has a toothache, is being treated with antibiotics, and is eating normally”).  Yet visitors are told that the tank is undergoing repairs by some employees, and some visitors have seen or heard the whale working with trainers.  All this has caused upset and frustration to those who are concerned with the welfare of captive orcas, and the attitude of indifference from the staff at the theme park has put a match to the short fuse of tolerance exhibited to this point by activists.
The Seaquarium’s petulant meta-message is that they consider the orca  to be their property and that they don’t have to say or do anything they don’t want to;  but like a child who can’t resist poking a hornet’s nest they might just find out that their handling of this situation is about to cause them real difficulty. They have flipped a virtual finger at the world, and certainly no one appreciates that little gesture.
To date, people have lit candles, protested, had call-ins, and held community rallies, all in an effort to get some accurate information – to no avail – and are now looking to legal means to force compliance from the Seaquarium.
The best bet?  A simple modification of a tiny sentence buried in a government document will do the trick to force compliance and open communication. In 2005,  “Lolita” was deprived of the status of ‘endangered species’ when the rest of her family was granted it, a status which would force the Miami Seaquarium to obtain permits before transporting or breeding her, and would have allowed for more thorough inspections.  A handful of public employees made this decision, no doubt with input from the amusement parks that exhibit orcas:
69910 Federal Register / Vol. 70, No. 222 / Friday, November 18, 2005 / Rules and Regulations
“Based on the best scientific and commercial data available, the comments received, and after taking into account efforts being made to protect Southern Resident killer whales, we (NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS)) are listing the Southern Resident DPS as endangered. The Southern Resident killer whale DPS [Distinct Population Segment] will be listed under the ESA [Endangered Species Act] as endangered as of the effective date of this rule.
The Southern Resident killer whale DPS
does not include killer whales from J, K
or L pod placed in captivity prior to
listing, nor does it include their captive
born progeny.”

(“Lolita” is the only whale to which this applies).
The standards for the Animal Welfare Act are set by Congressional legislation; responsibility for a specific whale or whales in general can be changed only via legislation. Because “Lolita” was captured prior to the enactment of the marine mammal protection act, she is also deprived of the rights given to all free roaming marine mammals today.  But here is the good news, these laws can be changed by an act of Congress – just another short sentence or two amending the Endangered Species Act will do the trick, and this is done frequently and easily.
It is my hope that someone will organize a campaign to lobby Congress, but in the meantime call or write your members of Congress and asked to have this situation fixed.  No matter how you feel about keeping whales in captivity, the idea that a few corporations could influence our laws is just plain un-American.

Creative Commons Photo

More information on the specific laws:
Quick Summary of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) Cynthia Hodges, J.D., LL.M., M.A. (2010)
With certain exceptions, the ESA protects endangered and threatened species from extinction by prohibiting the importing, exporting, taking, possessing, selling, and transporting of such species. It also prohibits the destruction of their critical habitat. ESA provisions are enforced through the use of citizen suits, imprisonment, fines, and forfeiture.
Detailed Discussion of the Laws Affecting Zoos Kali S. Grech
The laws currently in place to protect zoo animals have proved inadequate thus far. While the AWA does purport to protect the welfare of animals, only minimum standards exist, and even then, huge classes of animals are exempted from the provisions. Other statutes regulating transport and documentation of zoo animals apply only to animals specifically listed. With regard to the existing statutes, ineffective enforcement, resource shortages, and the lack of citizen suit provisions to allow concerned parties to argue on behalf of zoo animal welfare hinder the process. Voluntary standards are admirable, but not required. And in light of such exposes as “Animal Underworld,” all laws, regulations, and voluntary standards seem to be ineffective in truly protecting zoo animals. Unfortunately, under the existing circumstances, this means that zoo animals suffer simply so patrons can observe them at the zoo, which is an unfair lifetime sentence for any innocent, sentient being.
Overview of Laws Concerning Orcas in Captivity Lauren Tierney (2010)
The issue remains not of the whether facilities and organizations are following the law, but of the adequacy of the laws themselves. The minimum requirements of an orca enclosure are that it must be twice the length of the orca housed within.  Is this an adequate standard for an animal that is capable of swimming over 100 miles in a single day?  One whale expert claims that building a tank the size of Rhode Island would not be adequate to house a mammal capable of swimming one hundred miles a day (See Tilikum’s Law).  The depth of the enclosure must also be only that of half the length of the whale.  Is this an adequate standard for a whale capable of diving hundreds of feet below the surface and typically spends most of its time under the surface of the water?  It is difficult to file and win a case against a facility who is legally meeting all of the required standards.
Brief Summaries of Federal Animal Protection Statutes
Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972,
16 U.S.C. §§ 1361-1423h

The 1994 statute also amended 16 U.S.C. § 1374 to provide that the Secretary
of Commerce may issue permits “to take or import a marine mammal for the purpose
of public display only to a person which the Secretary determines … is registered or
holds a license issued under” the Animal Welfare Act. The effect of this provision
apparently is that the Department of Agriculture rather than the National Marine
Fisheries Service is authorized to regulate such marine mammals once they are held
in captivity. 108 Stat. 537 (1994).21

(21 This provision was opposed by animal rights advocates, who took the position that
“NMFS has years of experience in monitoring this act, as well as other marine mammal
issues. In contrast, the USDA has lacked both the commitment and ability to protect animals
under the federal Animal Welfare Act.” Animal Legal Defense Fund, The Animals’
Advocate (spring 1994) at 2.)

Captive Orca “Lolita” Unable to Perform Due to a Tooth Abscess: Why This Is Serious

“Lolita”, the captive Southern Resident orca now living in the Miami Seaquarium, was pulled from shows this week in order to recuperate from procedures associated with treating an infected tooth, and although the Miami Seaquarium will only admit to giving her antibiotics, the usual procedure for treating these issues is much more draconian and inconceivably barbaric.  “Lotita” must be very sick, or must have had something major done in order for the amusement park to bench their money making star attraction – not just because of the loss of revenue, but captive animals need stimulation to alleviate the boredom and loneliness…and the only thing worse than having a horrible toothache is to have nothing whatsoever to take your mind off of the discomfort, 24/7.

Although a tooth infection may seem like a relatively insignificant issue, there is mounting evidence that complications from dental problems may be partially responsible for the shortened lifespan of captive whales and dolphins. “Lolita” potentially could die from this problem, and at the very least has a whole new layer of suffering to endure in her life of captivity. (For suggestions on what you can do to help, please see the end of this article).
The following is taken from an article by The Orca Project , an excellent source for thoughtful, well researched and written articles:

“The Hidden Cost Of Captivity- Oral Health of Killer Whales Exposed

by theorcaproject

Part of our mission here at The Orca Project is to delve into the detrimental effects that captivity brings to orcas and other cetaceans at marine mammal parks. In this installment we take a look at the oral health of orcas (Killer Whales); the pervasive degradation, its causes and potential consequences.

Poor Orca Oral HealthOrcas in Captivity and Oral Degradation. Note the worn, drilled teeth

SeaWorld, Six Flags and other marine mammal parks have managed to keep this cloaked in relative secrecy: Broken and fractured teeth usually occurs from common threat displays known as “barking” or “jaw popping” as they chomp down on steel gates that separate orcas in an effort to establish dominance. Dental fragments have been retrieved from the bottom of the pool after such displays and while this behavior can temporarily alleviate stress, it generates additional stress in the long run — a vicious cycle.

Compounding damage from grinding.Chronic pain associated with poor dental health can lead to destructive behaviors such as grinding down the jaw itself.

Few people are aware of the practice where captive orcas routinely have holes drilled in their teeth (Pulpotomy) as well as “grinding” or “flattening” of their teeth, and fewer more understand, or have even thought about, how the holes are drilled.  Trainers are forbidden to speak of this practice publicly. SeaWorld trainers use a variable-speed tool (similar to a Dremel tool) to perform this Pulpotomy with a stainless drill bit attached.

The whales are conditioned to “accept” the noise, heat, vibration and obvious pain associated with drilling vertically through the tooth column and into the fleshy pulp below. Success is measured by blood spilling out of the hole, in which case it’s apparent the bore is complete.  – Former SeaWorld trainer.

Once the teeth are cracked, it leaves pulp exposed which will lead to infection unless treated.  Since they cannot perform a root canal on a captive killer whale, they perform a pulpotomy.  This entire procedure is performed without a local anesthetic for reasons which are not fully understood. For example, while the teeth of many of SeaWorld’s orcas are in “train-wreck” status, drilling and flushing routinely takes place regardless of whether the teeth are infected or in need of this procedure. The training and education staff at SeaWorld contends that the thrice daily “tooth flushes” are “superior dental care”. What they don’t tell you is that the teeth have holes in them, and if the impacted fish isn’t flushed with a Waterpick daily, an infection would likely occur. This is done by filling the reservoir of a device with a Betadine solution which is pumped down into the jaw. In the case of Tilikum, the orca involved in the February 24, 2010 death of trainer Dawn Brancheau, this procedure is, or was, performed three times a day.

Lolita, Miami SeaquariumLolita: After 40 years in captivity, her isolation, devoid of social dominance issues may factor in her overall good dental health.

Although Lolita, the sole orca at Miami Seaquarium has endured 40 years of captivity and has been subjected to numerous other detrimental issues… her teeth appear to be in remarkably good form; the front teeth are barely erupted or worn down. Perhaps this is due to Lolita’s isolation, and lack of a need for social-climbing (no competitors in her facility) or other available mechanism of injury resulting from social-climbing and/or threat displays such as “Jaw-popping”. The absence of these captive environment conditions also holds true for orcas in the wild that do not suffer the same oral degradation as seen in their captive counterparts. When compared, there is a significant prevalence of fractured and broken teeth in captive orcas which can be directly related to their confinement.

SeaWorld, for example, routinely does the following to conceal the teeth issue:

  1. They will use a juvenile or dominant orca with good teeth for all public photo shoots.
  2. They will create an angle where the photographer can only see the top jaw (in many cases the damage is to the lower jaw only)
  3. They won’t let anyone close to an animal, citing “safety” reasons (ironic, given their safety assurances).
  4. They sell the public on “superior dental care” as they often perform the tooth flush husbandry behavior publicly several times a day.
  5. PR pictures were always done mindful of avoiding mouth close-ups for fear of inadvertent disclosure.”
Wild Orca Skeleton

What you can do:  Go to SaveLolita.com, there you will find links and ways to participate.  Or come up with your own ideas and share them – lately people have been photographing, videotaping, and writing new ideas; today Stephanie Kuwasaki put together this flyer for anyone to download, post, and share, (Orca Network has a pdf version available):

Stephanie Kuwasaki created this flyer for anyone to download, print, and share.

“Lolita” the Captive Whale May Be in Trouble; Miami Seaquarium Not Talking

Update 11:45:  The Seaquarium has released a statement that “Lolita” has a tooth abscess, and is expected to recover soon.  All shows are canceled indefinitely.
The protest against the continued captivity of the Southern Resident Orca “Lolita” (Tokitae) continues to mount, and people are finding ways to keep the pressure on the Miami Seaquarium.  Today’s word through the ‘activists’ that the whale has not performed in several days is disconcerting, made worse by the amusement park’s refusal to explain the situation – and SaveLolita.com has requested that people call the Seaquarium and make inquiries about the situation:

Lolita not preforming shows at Miami Seaquarium

Lolita is not preforming shows at the Miami Seaquarium through this weekend.  This seemingly has been going on since early last week.  Since Toki is not preforming, let’s get a protest going this weekend and keep calling to inquire and pressure the Seaquarium into telling the public what is going on?! 305-361-5705-ask what is wrong and post your responses on the Save Lolita website (click here)!

Also some enterprising individual took footage of “Lolita” from a helicopter, and posted it  on Feb 26th.  Notice how the isolated whale is lurking in the only shade:

Irresistible Friendly Whale Video: If You Have the Chance, Go See the Whales!

Right now, while the world is enmeshed in a debate over the pros and cons of commercial whaling, it is more important than ever for people learn first hand what it is we are fighting to protect.  And nowhere is it more likely that you will have the opportunity to get close to a friendly whale than you will in the gray whale calving lagoons of Baja, Mexico.

There are any number of companies offering tours to those lagoons, but if you can put your life on hold last minute and get the money together fast enough, you might look into Orca Network’s trip, coming up in less than a week.  Last I checked they still had room for a few folks, and since I know them personally (they provide local orca sighting information) I can guarantee that they will provide a meaningful and safe trip.
For more information on Orca Network’s trip:  http://www.orcanetwork.org/news/2011bajatrip.html

Gratitude Towards Japan; We Should Be Showing Appreciation for Their New Stance on Whaling

Japan’s recent decision to halt whaling efforts deserves our appreciation, and in my opinion that proud nation is worthy of respect for choosing to back down on such a polarizing issue.  Yes, all those who campaign so arduously to see the end of commercial whaling have reason to celebrate, and I think those who put their lives at risk to intercede on the whales’ behalf are heroes, for they represent all that is noble about standing up to protect what is vulnerable in this world.  But I am somewhat appalled by the tone of gloating that has cropped up in some of the news articles and blogs, and I just think that it is time we all look to reaching across the ocean and giving Japan a virtual bow and a handshake.
The reasons behind Japan’s decision are no doubt complex, and include the fact that the Japanese people are learning that whale meat is highly contaminated and are less inclined to purchase it than they have been in the past.  So once again, economics plays a huge part…but then so does the Japanese’ unwillingness to ramp up the game against the protesters, an unwillingness to take human life in order to pursue commercial hunting.  They risked ‘losing face’ in that move, and I think we should offer it back while the time is still fresh.
And least we forget, it has only been a matter of decades since the U.S. closed the last whaling station. “The United States closed its last whaling station in 1971, the Del Monte Whaling Station, at Richmond, California (near San Francisco). These last whales were primarily ground up for dog food.” http://www.marinebio.net/marinescience/06future/whmod.htm

QUEST on KQED Public Media.
The United States and other anti-whaling nations often have difficulty in understanding the stance of Japan, as explained in this article from Japan Intercultural Consulting:

Mar 23, 2010
By Rochelle Kopp, Managing Principal, Japan Intercultural Consulting
“…In American culture, there is an underlying assumption of equality, that even people of different ranks are basically the same and should be treated in a similar way. Thus, even someone who is higher than you in the hierarchy is someone who is ok to disagree with. However, Japan along with other Asian cultures has the concept of “face” (mentsu). To disagree with someone in public, thus causing them embarrassment, is to make them “lose face” (mentsu wo ushinau). On the other hand, something that helps to build up a person in front of others can be said to “give face” (kao o tateru). The VIP treatment that Japanese are so good at giving to honored guests and high-ranking people can be seen as an example of “giving face.”
The desire to avoid causing loss of face for oneself, one’s organization, or for others can be said to be the motivation behind many things that Japanese organizations do that are puzzling to Americans. For example, some Americans report that Japanese companies seem reluctant to admit mistakes or discuss problems publicly. Or that Japanese will avoid expressing disagreement with their boss, even if what the boss is proposing is something that they think is not a good idea. Or that Japanese stationed overseas will avoid criticizing the parent company even when, in the eyes of American employees, such criticism is clearly deserved. The persistent fear of loss of face is behind these otherwise inexplicable behaviors.
The instinct to preserve face is something so ingrained in Japanese culture that many Japanese are not aware that it influences their behavior. It’s not something that Japanese often talk about – it’s just that when it comes to the realm of face, the warning bells automatically start to flash.
“Face” was not a concept that even existed in English before westerners encountered Chinese and Japanese cultures in the 19th century. American and other western cultures tend to put a lot of focus on straightforwardness — “telling it like it is” and “calling a spade a spade.” Worrying about someone’s feelings – which is basically what “face” is –is not something that is considered to have the first priority in western business culture. Rather, facts and the truth are given the highest degree of emphasis, feelings be damned. What many Americans fail to realize when working with Japanese, however, is that failure to pay attention to matters of face can cause such offense that it may completely sour the business matter at hand. In other words, feelings truly are important.”
This article originally appeared in Asahi Weekly.
My guess is that there is still a huge battle ahead, within Japan as well as internationally about what happens next.  Japan may lobby to restore their right to hunt whales and kill dolphins, but right now we have a golden opportunity to help that country find alternatives, and to show them our gratitude for taking a step towards resolution.