Penn Cove Orca Capture Anniversary Commemoration August 7th

Penn Cove Capture

Coupeville, Whidbey Island, WA – August 2011 marks the 41st anniversary of Lolita’s capture from her family, the Southern Resident orcas, in Penn Cove off Whidbey Island, WA.
To commemorate this anniversary, Orca Network is holding our annual event on the waters and shore of Penn Cove to remember all the orcas who died during the captures or in captivity, and to honor Lolita, or Tokitae, the sole survivor of those taken from the Southern Resident orcas.
We are excited to announce special guest Jenny Cunningham, producer at PBS’ KCTS 9 TV, Seattle, who produced “Saving Lolita” for KCTS Connects in 2008. Jenny will be onboard the Cutty Sark for the ceremony at the orca capture site on Penn Cove, and after the on-the-water ceremony will show “Saving Lolita” at the Coupeville Wharf, and talk about how the captures will be a part of her next project about orcas for KCTS.
The commemoration will take place in two parts.
First, on Sunday afternoon August 7th from noon – 2 pm, join us on Penn Cove for a ceremonial cruise around the perimeter of the capture site. Captain John Stone of Aeolian Adventures has generously offered his 52 foot classic ketch, Cutty Sark, for this two hour cruise with special guests (very limited space available – tickets $30/person), and Captain Billy Wind has offered his sailboat Stella Blue as well for those without boats who want to participate in the on-the-water portion of the event, for a $15 fee. Or you may bring your sail or motor boat, kayak, or rowboat and join our fleet by launching from Capt. Coupe Park in Coupeville, to join our vessels at the Coupeville Wharf for a group departure at noon. We’ll travel to the capture site in Penn Cove for a wreath ceremony to remember the orcas killed in the capture, and those who have died in captivity. We’ll provide flowers and cedar sprigs to toss into the water, or you may bring your own flower or other eco-friendly offering to toss in the water during the ceremony. The vessels will circle Penn Cove and the capture site, and time/weather permitting, will take a short tour of Penn Cove before returning to the Coupeville Wharf at approximately 2 pm.
Following the on-the-water events, we will gather at the Coupeville Wharf from 2 – 4 pm to watch Jenny Cunningham’s “Saving Lolita”, and for a few short presentations and stories about the captures, the orcas, Lolita, and the future of her family, the Southern Resident orcas, and updates on other captive orca news. The event is free to the public, though contributions to support Orca Network’s educational programs are appreciated. Hoodsport Orca Wine may be purchased in the Wharf breezeway, and participants may purchase snacks or lunch/dinner at Kim’s Cafe and Local Grown, conveniently located on the Wharf.
Contact Orca Network at or check out our website for more information and updates, or to reserve your space on one of the sailing vessels.
Susan Berta & Howard Garrett
Orca Network
Orca Network – Connecting whales and people in the Pacific Northwest
Orca Network is dedicated to raising awareness about the whales of the Pacific Northwest,
and the importance of providing them healthy and safe habitats.
Projects include the Whale Sighting Network and Education Programs, the Free Lolita Campaign,
and the Central Puget Sound Marine Mammal Stranding Network.

Heartwarming Video of a Beached Orca Who Seems to Show Gratitude

This is an example of a whale rescue done right – free of the pressure from amusement parks to question whether the young orca would be better off in captivity – and it is a story that warms the heart and fills the mind with wonder:

Born wild, born free, back with his family – and known to researchers, so we can keep following “Ben” as he grows (and hopefully learns his limits!). (Update: this event took place in 1997, and Ben has often been seen, most recently just a few months ago.)

A Whole New Way to Use Dolphins: Their Blubber May Contain “Natural Morphine”

With all the problems humans have caused whales and dolphins – capture, killing, ship noise, sonar, pollution – the latest idea of how to use them is perhaps the most chilling:  a medical doctor theorizes that dolphin tissue may provide miraculous antibiotic and pain killing properties. Since he ‘doesn’t have access to dolphins’ (nor is he a marine mammal biologist), he cobbled together information from various sources and published his idea without doing the laborious research to substantiate it.  Whether his idea is correct or not, it certainly will inspire research – likely financed by pharmaceutical companies – to the detriment of whales and dolphins.

From BreakThrough Digest Medical News : “A dolphin’s ability to heal quickly from a shark bite with apparent indifference to pain, resistance to infection, hemorrhage protection, and near-restoration of normal body contour might provide insights for the care of human injuries, says Michael Zasloff, M.D., Ph.D., a Georgetown University Medical Center (GUMC) scientist.”

"Tuffy", the Sea Lab dolphin, was so named due to his shark bite scars.

Following the publication of the idea presented by Zasloff, National Public Radio interviewed him and asked:

Q: Why are dolphins so good at healing?
Dolphin blubber makes compounds like organohalogens that act as natural antibiotics and keep the tissue from getting infected.

The next mystery is the recovery of contour [of the body]. When the animal restores its wound, it regenerates the complex structure of blubber. It doesn’t create a scar; it produces a sort of patch that ultimately is woven back into the surrounding tissue.
What is exciting is that there must be great numbers of stem cells [involved], and by looking at these stem cells, we would probably be able to identify what they are and possibly even the hormones or proteins that are involved in their expansion. And if we looked for comparable cells in man, these might be the very cells that we would want to use to promote healing of complex wounds in us.
Q: So what are the next steps for research?
Identification of the antimicrobial agents, which have to be in those tissues. All you’d have to do is take some dolphin blubber, extract it, and start looking for stuff that would kill bacteria.
And with the pain issue, it’s the same thing. You would take the blubber or the regenerating tissue, you’d isolate stuff—purified components or crude—and you’d administer it to mice. And lo and behold, you may find, in the regenerating tissue or the decomposing blubber, the long-sought natural morphine that we’ve been looking for.
How long before we see dolphin-inspired therapies?
I wish I could work on this, but I don’t have access to dolphins. So I’m just putting this out there for other researchers to see. Once you appreciate that this is kind of a miracle, it isn’t terribly hard to come up with ideas [for how to do the research].
The hardest part is to realize that there’s a miracle in your midst.

Actually, the hardest part is to realize that there’s a miracle in your midst, and to leave it alone.  I only hope that scientists are able to extract the answers from non-living tissue, and to replicate what they find in the laboratory.

SeaWorld Has Possession of the Youngest Stranded Pilot Whale – Not a Surprise

This bland announcement came yesterday:

Pilot whale calf moved from Fla. Keys to Orlando

The Associated Press
KEY LARGO, Fla. – A pilot whale calf that stranded May 5 off the lower Florida Keys has recovered and is being transported from a Keys-based marine mammal rehabilitation facility to Orlando.
The 600-pound, 9-foot-long female was placed in a water-filled transport unit Friday night and loaded into a refrigerated truck for the almost 300-mile trip from the Marine Mammal Conservancy to SeaWorld. It is expected to arrive Saturday morning.
Marine mammal experts and a veterinarian are accompanying the whale during the trip.
Federal officials say the calf cannot be released because it is too young to survive in the wild without its mother and requires managed care.

One pilot whale remains at the conservancy. Officials say it is still in critical condition but showing signs of improvement.

What does this really mean? It means that SeaWorld has possibly succeeded in obtaining a young female pilot whale for their breeding/entertainment programs at the expense of countless unpaid volunteers.  Day after day, hour after hour, volunteer after volunteer dedicated themselves to saving this whale.  They took shifts around the clock, holding her at the surface while the pilot whale regained strength.(For background on this, see SeaWorld Has a Vested Interest in Helping Stranded Whales and Dolphins )

Creative Commons Photo

When it was announced a few days ago that SeaWorld was ready to open their new ‘rehabilitation facility’ in the coming weeks , it seemed inevitable that the amusement park would soon take the surviving stranded pilot whales as their first occupants.  But not so.
They only took one of the whales, the healthiest one.

In a move no doubt calculated to avoid protest by activists, the whale was quietly moved yesterday by truck to the Orlando park.  If the rehab facility is not ready, this means that SeaWorld’s veterinarians have determined that the young pilot whale is healthy enough to join their circus – it is required by law that any facility taking rescued marine mammals place them on exhibit – and visitors will soon be able to see her, depending upon SeaWorld’s quarantine procedures.
On the other hand, if the rehab center is open and ready for business and they are putting the whale there, why did they leave the sicker one behind?

The most benevolent concept is that SeaWorld has actually thought through what is best for the whales, knows that separating them is liable to stress the animals, and so decided to move the healthy one in advance of moving the sicker one. The younger whale is more likely to weather the move and adapt to the new environment, and then the more fragile one will have an easier time. One can only hope.
Of course SeaWorld may claim that the one left behind is too sick to move – but then why take away her companion?

Another SeaWorld Hospital ( from their tour, on Family Vacations)

How will we know? While the amusement park must exhibit healthy rescued whales, it is prohibited for exhibiting ones that are being rehabilitated.
In a quiet corner of the park, surrounded by 8 foot walls topped with barbed wire, SeaWorld is free to conduct whatever procedures they can justify on any rescued marine mammal.

SeaWorld’s Shell Game – Are They Trying to Get the Young Orca That Stranded in Dutch Waters?

Within days, a young orca that stands a chance of being reunited with her family may wind up instead in SeaWorld’s circus. Morgan, the whale that was found lost and starving in Dutch waters last year is slated to be moved to the Loro Parque amusement park off shore of Africa where SeaWorld has some of their orcas.
Will this whale eventually be mixed in with SeaWorld’s collection? Would we even know?

First some background:
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’ (see below).

Blood in the Water author Tim Zimmermann: “As I learned, SeaWorld was a key partner in the launch of the orca program at Loro Parque, loaning the park four killer whales to help it start Orca Ocean. SeaWorld’s vice president of communications Fred Jacobs explained it to me this way in an e-mail: “Loro Parque is a highly respected zoological institution, and we have worked with them for years. The relationship was conceived primarily as a breeding loan and to allow Loro Parque to showcase these remarkable animals.” He added, “The deal differed only in scale from the dozens of similar partnerships we are part of at any given time. The addition of Orca Ocean, a facility that is comparable in size and sophistication to anything found in the U.S., also provided us greater flexibility in managing our collection of killer whales.
At the time the loan was announced in December 2005, Jacobs publicly said there was a “financial arrangement,” but he declined to give details. What’s clear is this: SeaWorld would be deeply involved in managing its killer whales from the moment they arrived in February 2006. SeaWorld personnel oversaw their care and training at Loro Parque, and Brian Rokeach, a senior trainer from SeaWorld San Diego, supervised the training session in which Martínez died. To the extent that his death might be considered a precedent for what happened to Brancheau or evidence that working with killer whales in marine parks is risky and potentially lethal, SeaWorld was intimately aware of the details.
I asked Jacobs if Martínez’s death should be considered relevant to OSHA’s conclusions regarding SeaWorld and trainer safety. “Loro Parque is an independent and highly respected zoological institution with its own protocols,” he responded. “Because it is in the Canary Islands, however, it is not subject to OSHA. Because we are contesting OSHA’s citations, we are unable to discuss it further, except to reiterate that their allegations reflect a fundamental lack of understanding of the safety requirements of caring for these animals.”

But the question is, what did SeaWorld get out of the deal?
Why would SeaWorld ship off four young, valuable whales to an island off the coast of Spain, Tenefire (part of the Canary Islands chain) to an amusement park previously known for its beautiful birds – Loro Parque translates to Parrot Park – and continue to provide supervision and trainers?
One possible answer to that showed up in the form of a calf born to one of the very young females last year, leading one to wonder if the intention was to breed these young orcas.

Some of SeaWorld\’s orcas live in the Canary Islands

But why on an island closer to Africa than Spain? Maybe the motivation lies in the laws governing corporations there: “Special Economic Zone and Special Tax Regime have been established, in order to create a favourable business environment for offshore business purposes. Thanks to its location, the Canary Islands are chosen particularly by European entrepreneurs and investors for offshore business management and offshore company formation.”
Or possibly, SeaWorld may be perched in a place where they can acquire the wild orcas they desperately need to supplement their inbred gene pool without the constraints of U.S. laws.

The fact that Loro Parque is set to acquire the young female orca, Morgan, that was found and returned to health by an aquarium in Holland last year is telling. Originally the Dutch aquarium had planned to attempt to return the whale to her family, but somehow that plan was scrapped not long after SeaWorld sent people to visit (see Why Is Seaworld Interested In The Young Orca That Stranded In Dutch Waters?).
Please help the scientists who wish to explore all the options for this young whale before committing her to a life as a brood whale or circus performer.
(Updated information) Please visit the Free Morgan website or send an email to:

SeaWorld Wants Their Whale Back From Marineland, Why?

Ikaika performing at Marineland, Ontario (Courtesy

On Tuesday, the Ontario Court of Justice ruled that SeaWorld has the right to demand the return of a young male orca, Ikaika, that they sent to the Ontario Marineland in 2006 on breeding loan – but Marineland is appealing the decision. A second agreement states that Marineland gets to keep the young whale for the duration of his life;  however the breeding loan contains provisions that allow for the contract to be broken with 30 days notice if the animal is not properly cared for – and SeaWorld claims that it has been concerned about the welfare of Ikaika since 2009. Marineland defends the care given, and disputes the right of SeaWorld to take the whale back under the provisions of the second agreement.
While on the face of it SeaWorld appears to have only the best interest of the orca at heart, there are some huge holes in their story. For starters, SeaWorld must have known exactly what the conditions were at Marineland when they sent Ikaika there five years ago, and reports say that not much has changed. Also, at that time they removed the then four year old Ikaika from his mother (in the wild, orca families stay together for life) and sent him out of the country on “breeding loan”, but male orcas don’t reach puberty until 12 or 13 year of age, and are not fully mature until their late teens/early twenties – so Marineland has basically raised the whale to this point and clearly could not breed him.
And while the courts must make their decisions based on the wording of contracts, what about the needs of the orcas involved? Ikaika has bonded with Kiska, the only other orca at the Ontario Marineland, so separating them will leave the adult female Kiska alone, and Ikaika will have to start all over again in a new place, unless he is returned to his original family at the Orlando, Florida, SeaWorld.
But this is where the story gets interesting, because Ikaika is the offspring of female Katina, and the tragic male Tilikum who has attacked and killed three people, including trainer Dawn Brancheau last year.  Returning Ikaika to his family would inevitably result in inbreeding when Ikaika becomes mature.

So what fate awaits Ikaika if SeaWorld gets him back?  My guess is that he faces the same life that Tilikum has had, to be an isolated and lonely sperm bank for SeaWorld’s captive breeding program. SeaWorld’s treatment of Tilikum has been abominable (for an excellent review of Tilikum’s conditions, read Seeing is Believing: Tilikum’s lonely life after Dawn by The Orca Project), and he is treated like some kind of Hannibal Lecter animal…one that has to be coaxed by human hands into giving up sperm.  It is kind of twisted, if you think about it.
Which is better for Ikaika?  A stable, albeit tired and small home with an unrelated female orca with whom he can live and breed, or life in a newer amusement park, but facing a life as a sperm donor?
Ikaika (Uploaded to TripAdvisor)

To get an idea of how the two amusement parks compare, I read through current experiences at TripAdvisor and tried to find comparable reviews, and have included remarks from them below to help you evaluate the parks (complete reviews can be found by following the links). Also check out for information on captive orcas.
Marineland, remarks from Trip Advisor:

3 of 5 stars Reviewed 14 June 2011

I hadn’t been to Marineland since I was little myself, and it was definitely a weird feeling going back. Felt like I was stepping right into my old photo album, because so much was exactly the same.

…From there it was on to Friendship Cove and Arctic Cove, the areas where the orcas and the beluga whales are kept in a large, open tank. We were just in time for a “splash session”, where an orca was doing tricks for the crowd. The belugas were doing an odd thing, popping up out of the water like whack-a-mole. I’m not sure what their motivation was, whether it was friendly curiosity or something else, but it was so weird to have a whale pop out of the water to look at you from a distance of about 3 feet. But then it started to rain again.
We decided to get a hand-stamp, and returned later in the day. I was charmed by the whole beluga thing and decided to pay for an “experience” for me and my daughter. For $8.50CDN you stand in line and wait for a trainer to motion you right up to the side of the tank while they bring one of the belugas up to touch and interact with. Ours was a small grayish female named Aurora and my daughter was absolutely thrilled with her. We pat-patted her cold, slippery dome and my daughter held out fish for her, and the photos my mother took made the whole visit completely worthwhile. It was worth the extra cost to be able to be so near such a beautiful creature, even for only a few minutes.
However, I did notice that many of the belugas had large, ugly gashes. When I mentioned this to the trainer, she said that the thunderstorm had spooked them and that they had scraped their heads on rocks in the tank. She said, “It’s ok, they have tough skin”. But the skin was cut all the way through, with pink flesh showing underneath. I felt horrible for them.
We went on to the front half of the deer park (didn’t do the whole loop) and saw the koi ponds and the bears. We got a lot of nice pictures, although by this time I had a lot of Free Willy guilt going on in my head.
In general, when the animals’ caretakers talked, it was more like someone describing an exotic pet. There wasn’t a real strong conservation message, like “Look how beautiful they are, and this is why we need to make sure they’re safe in the wild.” It was more, “Sea lions have ears and seals don’t, and look how high this dolphin can jump.” Which is also a very seventies-eighties mentality, if you think about it, so maybe they just haven’t updated that either.
In the end, my daughter went home with memories of how much she loved that beluga whale, and she went home with an inflatable beluga and a crazy-expensive beluga t-shirt from the gift shop. So maybe those memories will nurture some sort of environmental responsibility later on.

As far as snack bars and restaurants and gift shops…half of them were closed during our visit. The gift shop we went to, under the dolphin pavilion, was very expensive and also staffed by dour, surly employees. One character who was all over the shop was conspicuously absent in the park. Marineland’s mascot, a walrus in regal attire, was nowhere to be seen…real or in walkabout plush mascot form.

Seaworld, remarks from Trip Advisor

Reviewed 26 May 2011

  • Visited April 2011
2 of 5 stars Reviewed 21 June 2011

We were very disappointed with our visit to SeaWorld Orlando and found it to be overpriced and over-hyped. $80 per adult gives you only access to general public attractions, scheduled shows, countless souvenir shops, and horrible tasting water at the few drinking fountains. We are a fit couple, but if endless walking from show to show and waiting/planning for each show schedule amidst screaming children for a whopping $80 bucks is your idea of a good time, then SeaWorld is the place for you.

…Was there anything good about SeaWorld Orlando? Yes, the animals are amazing creatures and we loved the Stingray Lagoon where you could touch the amazing Stingrays for FREE. But even that is not worth $80 per adult admission. SeaWorld Orlando was a very disappointing and expensive experience.

“Shamu Who?”
What’s my point? If you missed the show where trainers entered the water with Tillikum, you have lost one of the greatest exhibitions of animal training ever to be seen. Now you have to settle for being splashed by him as he swoops around in his tank like a spastic goldfish. It’s sad! And it’s degrading for this magnificent creature.

The Endangered Southern Resident Orcas Added a New Calf to Its Smallest Pod

New calf (K-44) and mom (K-27). Photo by Dave Ellifrit, Center for Whale Research.

The news that a new calf has been born to the endangered Southern Resident orcas is especially thrilling, because this little guy was born to the small group of whales known as K-pod.  Of the three pods that compose the Southern Resident orca population (J,K, and L), K is the smallest and probably the most fragile, numbering just 20 whales.  During the seven year period between 1994 and 2001 there were no surviving calves (this calf”s mom, K-27  was the last one to survive until her sister K-34 came along in 2001), but K-pod has gradually added eight over the last 10 years.
The new calf’s family consists of his mother K-27, grandmother K-13 (Skagit), aunts Spock (K-20) and Cali (K-34), uncle Scoter (K-25), and cousin Comet (k-38).
Although all the orcas have not been officially documented yet this year, The Center for Whale Research believes the Southern Resident orcas survived the winter with no losses after the iconic senior male, J-1, disappeared and they estimate the population for all pods combined to be 88.
Update:  Information from The Center for Whale Research:
K44 was first observed by J. Hyde off Lime Kiln State Park at around 6 am July 6th.  The center got out shortly after and encountered K27 with a brand new calf.  Because K27 was observed the day before with out the calf and the fetal folds were still visible, we concluded that the calf had been born that morning or sometime in the night.  This is the first known calf of K27.  K27 is 17 years old and the third offspring of K13.  During the encounter K27 pushed the calf right over to the center boat and gave us a great view of then saddle patch on both sides.  She also rolled the calf over giving os a great shot of the belly revealing K44 as a little boy.  We encountered K27 and k44 again the next day and the calf seems to be doing well.  The mother and calf were traveling in a tight group with the rest of the K13’s and K12’s.  This new calf brings the population of K pod up to 20 and the SRKW population up to 88!

Photo by Astrid van Ginneken

Granny (J2) The Whale’s 100th Birthday: Poignant and Inspirational

On Saturday, 100 year old J2’s well-wishers came from all over, quickly filling the small parking lot at San Juan Island’s Whale Watching Park, and parking up the road where they could.  Families picnicked, enjoyed the music from The Kevin Carr Family Band, and were thrilled when the wild orcas showed up at the end of the day just offshore of the lighthouse.

Watching the orcas as they swam by.

There was a sense of thoughtfulness among the whale watchers as the orcas passed by, and I wondered how many might have been thinking about the fragility of this endangered population of whales, or what it might mean that an orca could have survived for 100 years.  When the Center for Whale Research’s senior scientist Ken Balcomb spoke, he explained the science behind estimating the ages of the whales, then gently pointed out that continued research will provide information on orcas over the next 100 years…provided we restore the salmon population upon which the whales depend.
Ken Balcomb (left), senior scientist at The Center for Whale Research spoke about the future outlook for the Southern Resident orca population.

Dedicated volunteers from Orca Network, Killer Whale Tales, and The Salish Sea Association of Marine Naturalists joined The Center for Whale Research in providing information, and shared one underlying message:  you can make a difference, and that it is not too late to turn the situation around.

Jeff Hogan from Killer Whale Tales has innovative, fun activities for kids and a program that teachers can incorporate into their lesson plans.

Jeff Hogan, from Killer Whale Tales, brought touchable exhibits for the kids, and innovative activities that he incorporates into programs available to teachers.  Orca Network provided materials for making paper fin hats, and the Salish Sea Association of Marine Naturalists distributed information and answered questions.
Ultimately this was a celebration of our changing awareness, as well as a birthday party for a very senior whale, so once the activities were concluded at the park many people continued to celebrate at The Center for Whale Research, some until the very wee hours. And J2, grand dame that she is, decided to show up at 8 a.m. the next morning with a splashy show of her own – getting the sleepy researchers out of bed and back to work cataloging the orcas and maintaining records.
J2 (Granny) photo by Astrid van Ginneken

You go, Granny.