Orca Calf Struggles with Plastic Bag in His Mouth – Another Warning On Plastics

Most of us are guilty of lugging our purchases home in plastic bags from time to time, but when we do we have to be meticulous in the disposal both the bags and the various plastic items we buy. Once these materials enter the ocean, the plastic materials wreak havoc on the marine life, eventually entering the food web  and working their way into the flesh of the fish we eat.
Because the bags float in a whimsical way with the currents, they make interesting, if deadly, playthings for dolphins.

Orca calf playing with a plastic bag . Photo by Ken Balcomb, Center for Whale Research.
Orca calf playing with a plastic bag . Photo by Ken Balcomb, Center for Whale Research.

From Ken Balcomb, senior research scientist at the Center for Whale Research:

Someone asked me not too long ago if we ever find garbage or plastic in killer whale stomachs, as is fond in some other cetacean species. I have never heard of it but this photo, taken by Dave a few weeks ago, suggests that it is possible that killer whales might ingest trash, or at least play with it. This is T37A3 spy hopping with a plastic bag in his mouth! dave thought it was a chunk of blubber at first but when he collected it after the calf dropped it he saw that it was really was. If there ever was a good argument for limiting your use of plastic bags this might be it! Good thing the calf didn’t swallow it, but who is to say that some don’t? We go to all kinds of trouble to keep harmful substances and objects away from our own kids (hopefully no one gives their kids plastic bags to play with!) we should do the same for our neighbors, the local killer whales:)

The following was taken in Hawaii, and is provided courtesy the Wild Dolphin Foundation:

Plastic Pollution Coalition created a temporary exhibit in Vancouver in 2010 to bring home the point that plastic in the ocean kills:

Display by the Plastic Coalition. Vancouver, 2010
Display by the Plastic Pollution Coalition. Vancouver, 2010

Sea Life Park is Cleaning Up – “Empty the Tanks Worldwide” is Already a Success

A recent visitor to Sea Life Park on the island of Oahu in Hawaii snapped these photos of the sea lions’ pool. Although the enclosure does look dismal, the visitor noted that most of the tanks – from the sharks’ exhibit to the dolphins – looked as though they were newly cleaned. He reported that even the sea turtles were being thoroughly scrubbed by a keeper with a brush in their newly drained and cleaned pool!
The cleanup effort is a great first step, and shows that the amusement park industry may  be listening to public opinion at last – and the worldwide event to draw attention to the plight of captive marine mammals hasn’t even happened yet.

Sea Lion pool at Sea Life Park, Oahu. Photo taken by recent park visitor.
Sea Lion pool at Sea Life Park, Oahu. Photo taken by recent park visitor.

IMG_20130722_162016_093 sealions slp
Some algae remains, but Sea Life Park appears to be making an effort.

Elizabeth Batt in her article “First Empty the Tanks event to hit global aquariums this weekend” interviewed the organizer of the July 27th Empty the Tanks event at Ocean Park, Hong Kong and reports that this remarkably progressive aquarium fully has embraced the event:

Zoe Ng, the host of the Empty the Tanks event at Ocean Park, Hong Kong, reports that the aquarium has been surprisingly helpful and even accommodating for her protest. Ng told Digital Journal that she has enjoyed open correspondence with the park since day one.

 Having invited her to tour their facilities, Ng met with park chairman, Dr. Allan Zemen, Todd Houghland, Matthais Li and Una Wang, to discuss her protest along with her concerns over captive cetaceans.
Surprisingly, not only did Ocean Park graciously grant Ng approval to host the event by their entrance, they even offered her a display table for her leaflets.

This is the second time that Ocean Park showed their willingness to comply with public opinion on marine mammals – in 2011 they abandoned plans to import belugas due to public outcry. The Hong Kong aquarium represents a fine and forward-looking institution, and their willingness to dialog opens doors – instead of slamming them shut as do the U.S. amusement parks such as Seaworld.  Sea Life Park’s attitude towards inquiry bordered on rude and yielded only wrong information in a recent call.
The Georgia Aquarium is still trying to get a permit to import wild caught belugas (which they will farm out to Seaworld and other parks) even though the American public is largely against it.
Empty the Tanks Worldwide has united a global effort to educate the public about the need to modernize the theme parks, both in the attitude towards public opinion and their inadequate facilities.
Please click HERE find out how to participate, or to get more information on Saturday’s Empty the Tanks Worldwide event.

Owner of Marineland Threatens to Stab Protester – Caught on Video

In this video John Holer, the owner of Marineland of Canada, brazenly threatens a protester who is attempting to distribute leaflets outside of the amusement park. Holer’s reaction is over-the-top, and just lends credence to  whistleblowers’ complaints of cruelty behind the walls of Marineland.

Not satisfied with death threats, Holer has now sued the protester, Mike Garrett, for $1.5 million dollars in an attempt to halt protests. Holer has engaged whistle blowers Phil Demers and Christine Santos in a similar lawsuit, and seems both desperate and ineffective in silencing the voices of those who stand against animal cruelty.
Mike Garrett wrote the following for Marineland Animal Defense :

As many of you already know I’ve been served with a 1.5 million dollar lawsuit by Marineland, a notorious captive marine mammal facility in Niagara Falls Ontario Canada. Their suit follows several weeks of me standing on public property and offering leaflets to people exiting. At the very beginning of this peaceful action of public protest the owner of Marineland John Holer was captured on video threatening me with violence in attempt to intimidate me from exercising my fundamental freedoms guaranteed under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

During these leafleting actions the Niagara Regional Police have been called on several occasions by Marineland and have observed my presence outside the park. At no time have I ever been subject to a criminal investigation, ticket, arrest or detention due to my opposition to Marineland. I have never received an order from any member of the police to halt my actions.
In their claim against me Marineland has made numerous false and unproven accusations about my activities near the park. Along with monetary damages they seek to limit my abilities to engage in peaceful and legal opposition against Marineland.
Marineland is a giant corporation with limitless resources to engage and entangle me in frivolous and lengthy litigation. They seek to not only crush my opposition to the park but any other person in the future who would consider standing up against them and also expressing their rights of freedom of speech.
I am one average citizen who has taken up a fight against Marineland and I need your help in this battle. If they can successfully sue me into shutting up and staying away then they can and will do this to anyone. I need your help to retain proper and competent representation in order to fight this bully on behalf of all of us. As you probably know legal representation is very expensive and is certainly beyond my family’s means. A PayPal account has been setup for the specific purpose of fighting this lawsuit.
For everyone who believes this is a just cause, please help me by donating whatever you can and sharing this appeal. Thank you so much for all your support.

              Mike Garrett PayPal: mikegarrettdefensefund@gmail.com 

Fins and Flukes has created a Facebook event to raise $30,000 for Garrett, Demers, and Santos.  If this cause gets enough votes they will win the challenge, and it costs nothing to vote.

Please join to help former Marineland trainer Phil Demers and other Marineland whistleblowers win very badly-needed funds ($30,000!) to defend themselves against Marineland’s punitive legal assault for telling the truth about the deplorable conditions and treatment of Marineland’s marine mammals. Without them, none of this would have happened: http://www.thestar.com/news/investigations/marineland.htmlHow: RSVP that you are attending this event, as a sign of your commitment to…
1. Create a login for the BiLLe Celeb Charity Challenge https://thebille.com/bille-celeb-charity/all-celebrity
2. Login and vote daily thereafter (for the next 5 days) for Les Stroud/Orca Conservancy.
3. Share your vote on any social media you use and try to help rally new votes.
4. Share this Event with any friends who care about captive marine mammals. If we can get to 1000 attendees who will commit to vote every day for the next 5 days, we can win this critical legal funding for Phil and the other whistleblowers.


“Losing Nemo” – Will the World Oceans be Devoid of Fish by 2048? This Film Says Yes, Unless We Change Policies Soon

A European group, ‘The Black Fish‘, is working hard to get the message out about the state of the world’s fisheries, and their message is that without better oversight the economic gain of irresponsible fishing will drive fish stocks to extinction.  This Dutch group has been fundamental in the struggle to free the orca Morgan from captivity since her capture, but their main focus is on the fish stocks in the Mediterranean Sea, where they say that fishing laws are flagrantly violated.
The Black Fish have now produced an interesting short animated film “Losing Nemo” in which the world’s future is portrayed as very grim – it shows that not just the loss of fish will occur, but along with it will go all the marine life that is dependent upon the fish. Below is “Losing Nemo”. The group provides links to support their claims, and these references are presented here as well.
It is not too late to turn this situation around, but it is going to require that we all do our bit. If you can do nothing else, please consume fish responsibly and consult NOAA’s FishWatch to find out what kinds of fish are considered good choices.

nature01610-f1.2 fish biomass world

FIGURE 1. Time trends of community biomass in oceanic (a–i) and shelf (j–m) ecosystems.

From the following article:

Rapid worldwide depletion of predatory fish communities
Ransom A. Myers and Boris Worm
Nature 423, 280-283(15 May 2003)
Serious concerns have been raised about the ecological effects of industrialized fishing1, 2, 3, spurring a United Nations resolution on restoring fisheries and marine ecosystems to healthy levels4. However, a prerequisite for restoration is a general understanding of the composition and abundance of unexploited fish communities, relative to contemporary ones. We constructed trajectories of community biomass and composition of large predatory fishes in four continental shelf and nine oceanic systems, using all available data from the beginning of exploitation. Industrialized fisheries typically reduced community biomass by 80% within 15 years of exploitation. Compensatory increases in fast-growing species were observed, but often reversed within a decade. Using a meta-analytic approach, we estimate that large predatory fish biomass today is only about 10% of pre-industrial levels. We conclude that declines of large predators in coastal regions5 have extended throughout the global ocean, with potentially serious consequences for ecosystems5, 6,7. Our analysis suggests that management based on recent data alone may be misleading, and provides minimum estimates for unexploited communities, which could serve as the ‘missing baseline’8 needed for future restoration efforts.

Defining and estimating global marine fisheries bycatch

Unselective fishing catches non-target organisms as ‘bycatch’—an issue of critical ocean conservation and resource management concern. However, the situation is confused because perceptions of target and non target catch vary widely, impeding efforts to estimate bycatch globally. To remedy this, the term needs to be redefined as a consistent definition that establishes what should be considered bycatch. A new definition is put forward as: ‘bycatch is catch that is either unused or unmanaged’. Applying this definition to global marine fisheries data conservatively indicates that bycatch represents 40.4 percent of global marine catches, exposing systemic gaps in fisheries policy and management.
Reference: DAVIES RWD, et al. Defining and estimating global marine fisheries bycatch. Marine Policy (2009), doi:10.1016/j.marpol.2009.01.003.
Science 3 November 2006:
Vol. 314 no. 5800 pp. 787-790
DOI: 10.1126/science.1132294


Impacts of Biodiversity Loss on Ocean Ecosystem Services

Human-dominated marine ecosystems are experiencing accelerating loss of populations and species, with largely unknown consequences. We analyzed local experiments, long-term regional time series, and global fisheries data to test how biodiversity loss affects marine ecosystem services across temporal and spatial scales. Overall, rates of resource collapse increased and recovery potential, stability, and water quality decreased exponentially with declining diversity. Restoration of biodiversity, in contrast, increased productivity fourfold and decreased variability by 21%, on average. We conclude that marine biodiversity loss is increasingly impairing the ocean’s capacity to provide food, maintain water quality, and recover from perturbations. Yet available data suggest that at this point, these trends are still reversible.

Seaworld Lashes Back at the Film “Blackfish”

After years of stonewalling and hiding behind a media curtain of information that has been somewhat adjacent to factual reality, Seaworld has finally decided to engage in public debate on the issue of keeping killer whales in amusement parks.  They tried to ignore the book “Death at Seaworld” and fought the federal government on keeping trainers safe (see http://www.huffingtonpost.com/david-kirby/seaworld-suffers-legal-se_b_3041229.html) , but the sensational film Blackfish will soon hit theaters across America – and it cannot be ignored.

What does Seaworld has to say about the blockbuster documentary? (My comments are in blue):
From Seaworld Vice President of Communications, Fred Jacobs:  “Dear Film Critic:  I’m writing to you on behalf of SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment. You may be aware of a documentary called “Blackfish” that purports to expose SeaWorld’s treatment of killer whales (or orcas) and the “truth” behind the tragic death of trainer Dawn Brancheau in 2010. In the event you are planning to review  this film, we thought you should be apprised of the following. Although “Blackfish” is by most accounts a powerful, emotionally-moving piece of advocacy, it is also shamefully dishonest, deliberately misleading, and scientifically inaccurate. As the late scholar and U.S. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan famously noted: “You are entitled to your opinion. But you are not entitled to your own facts.”
“The film’s most egregious and untrue allegations include”:
“The insinuation that SeaWorld stocks its parks with killer whales captured from the wild. In fact, SeaWorld hasn’t collected a killer whale from the wild in more than 35 years; more than 80% of the killer whales at SeaWorld were born there or in other zoological facilities.”  [This is because public sentiment is against capture, and it is specifically illegal in the state of Washington where Seaworld and other amusement parks captured wild orcas in the past].
“The assertion that killer whales in the wild live more than twice as long as those living at SeaWorld.  While research suggests that some wild killer whales can live as long as 60 or 70 years, their average lifespan is nowhere near that. Nor is it true that killer whales in captivity live only 25 to 35 years. Because we’ve been studying killer whales at places like SeaWorld for only 40 years or so, we don’t know what their lifespans might be—though we do know that SeaWorld currently has one killer whale in her late 40s and a number of others in their late 30s.” [The ‘killer whale in her late 40s is Corky, taken from Canadian waters.  Her family still lives in the area near Vancouver, B.C.].
“The implication that unlike killer whales in the wild, killer whales  in zoos or parks—and specifically Tilikum, the whale involved in Dawn Brancheau’s death—are routinely bullied by other whales.  The word “bullying” is meaningless when applied to the behavior of an animal like a killer whale. Whales live in a social setting with a dominance hierarchy, both at SeaWorld and in the wild. They express dominance in a variety of ways, including using their teeth to “rake” other whales, in the open ocean as well as in parks.” [Whales are unable to escape each other in the confines of the pools.]
“The accusation that SeaWorld callously breaks up killer whale families.  SeaWorld does everything possible to support the  social structures of all marine mammals, including killer whales.  It moves killer whales only when doing so is in the interest of their long-term health and welfare.  And despite the misleading footage in the film, the only time it separates unweaned killer whale calves from their mothers is when the mothers have rejected them.” [Calves are still babies at two years old, whether or not they are still nursing. They are the equivalent of a two year old child in their development].
“The accusation that SeaWorld mistreats its killer whales with punishment-based training that’s designed to force them to learn unnatural behaviors. SeaWorld has never used punishment-based training on any of its animals, including Tilikum, only positive reinforcement. And the behaviors it reinforces are always within the killer whale’s natural range of behaviors.” [Withholding food is considered punishment].
“The accusation that SeaWorld trainers were not adequately informed about Tilikum. From the time Tilikum first arrived at SeaWorld, all trainers were warned—both as part of their training and in writing—that they were not allowed in the water with him. In fact, as was widely reported and covered at length in the OSHA proceedings, Tilikum has always had his own set of training protocols and only the most experienced trainers have been allowed to work with him.” [The trainers were not fully informed of the deaths].
The accusation that SeaWorld tried to “spin” the story of Dawn Brancheau’s death, changing its story several times and blaming her for the tragedy. As the movie itself shows, it was local law enforcement—not SeaWorld—that issued the initial report that Dawn had accidentally fallen into the water. SeaWorld’s account of what happened—that Tilikum had grabbed Dawn’s ponytail and pulled her in—never varied.  And the company has never blamed Dawn for what happened. (The person in the film who did was not a SeaWorld spokesperson.) [Was it not a Seaworld employee?]
“The assertion that Tilikum attacked and killed Dawn Brancheau because he was driven crazy by his years in captivity. Tilikum did not attack Dawn.  All evidence indicates that Tilikum became interested in the novelty of Dawn’s ponytail in his environment and, as a result, he grabbed it and pulled her into the water”. [This is contested, and all evidence indicates that Dawn was pulled in by her arm, not her ponytail.]
“These are only the most egregious of the film’s many misrepresentations.  “Blackfish” is similarly misleading and inaccurate in its account of the other fatal incidents in which Tilikum was supposedly involved, what happened at Loro Parque, the training and qualifications of SeaWorld trainers, and the care and living conditions enjoyed by SeaWorld’s orcas.” [How so?]
“And the list goes on…and on.  SeaWorld is proud of its legacy of supporting marine science and environmental awareness in general and the cause of killer whales in particular. Our point in sending you this note is to make you aware that what “Blackfish” presents as unvarnished reality is anything but. We don’t expect this to settle the debate, but rather we hope it will begin one. If you are interested in learning more, please contact Fred Jacobs“. [Please do contact him as he has requested!]
Contact information for Fred Jacobs:
Fred Jacobs
Vice President, Communications
SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment
E-mail: Fred.Jacobs@SeaWorld.com

Proof That Rescuing Wild Orca Whales Works – Little Springer is Now a Mom!

Springer’s story started a little more than a decade ago when her mother died and she was separated from her family of British Columbia of Northern Resident orcas. She found her way down to Puget Sound – thin, hungry, and lonely – and set off a debate on how to help her.  A few voices expressed that nature should be allowed to take its course, but the biggest decision was whether a rehabilitation and release effort should be made, or if the twoyear old calf should go to Seaworld.
From a previous article (Seaworld versus the orca Springer, the one that got away):

But Springer’s story could have turned out  differently. Several aquariums – including SeaWorld – lobbied to have her brought into captivity, but fortunately an environmental group located legal documents  containing a 1976 agreement between SeaWorld and Washington State (a result of the Penn Cove fiasco), proving that SeaWorld is barred from participating in any capture of any orca in Washington waters.
Statistically speaking had Springer ended up at SeaWorld she may have been dead by now (according to the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society (WDCS), “At least 137 orcas have been brought into captivity from the wild since 1961. 124 are now dead, surviving an average only four years in captivity.”).
Or, like other captive whales she would have been bred far too young.
A similarly aged SeaWorld orca, Kohana (born in 2002) was impregnated at seven, and summarily rejected her calf, Adan.  She is again pregnant by her uncle, Keto, and is due to have her second calf this fall.

(Kohana’s second calf was also rejected, and died recently).

Another of Canada’s resident orcas, Corky, has spent her life confined to a pool in Seaworld, a victim of the captures that were permitted in the last century.  Canadian citizens want her back, and the success of Springer to reintegrate into the pod, to thrive, and to bear a calf are all factors that illustrate that Corky’s return could be successful.
The question is, will the mindset of nearly a half century ago continue to prevail, or will public sentiment be able to end the display of wild dolphins and whales as circus animals?
Now that we know better, will we do better?  Does Corky have a chance? Or the little Dutch killer whale, Morgan, who now is trapped in a Spanish amusement park but whose fate is dominated by an American company, Seaworld – will she have the opportunity that Springer had?
It really is up to each one of us to do what we can.  Join in the Empty the Tanks Worldwide Event this month (July), or share information widely, and we will do better for these animals.

Lolita the Killer Whale’s Plight Drew a Flood of Responses – What You Can Do Next

Empty the Tanks Events are being held worldwide.
Empty the Tanks Events are being held worldwide.

“1,742 Comments Received”. At 6:20 a.m. on June 26th there were just 367 comments on whether on not the government should consider the right of the captive Southern Resident orca, Lolita, to be listed as endangered as is the rest of her family. (Read more here). Two days later when the comment period closed, the count was up to 1,742, showing the strong sentiment against keeping these large members of the dolphin family in captivity – but more importantly, illustrating the effectiveness of social media – and it is something we can all do to help.
Social media maven Champions for Cetaceans‘ Kirsten Massebeau was instrumental in sending reminders that the comment period was closing on Lolita’s possible listing as an endangered species and Kirsten, in turn, credits getting a reminder from someone else.  Two people made a huge difference for one whale, and this type of sharing is something we each can do.
There is a quiet storm brewing on the horizon –  international events will be taking place on July 27th, as part of Empty the Tanks Worldwide where there are opportunities to get involved on every level, from protesting at amusement parks to tweeting your opinion.  (There are links to event at the bottom of this article – including the Miami Seaquarium where Lolita is kept).
The brainchild of Seattle area resident Rachel Greenhalgh, the Empty the Tanks Worldwide will take place in 20 cities in nine countries. The events are planned individually, tailored to each location.
Wristbands available at endcetaceancaptivity.com
Wristbands available at endcetaceancaptivity.com

If there are no events in your area, one thing you can do is to organize a meet-up with other people  in your community who share your views and brainstorm about ways to educate the public on the quality of life experienced by captive whales and dolphins.  The thrilling documentary Blackfish about orca aggression in captivity will be released soon in theaters everywhere – arrange a group to go watch the movie then discuss it over dessert or cocktails. Then share what you come up with, and keep sharing. Death at Seaworld is coming out in paperback tomorrow (7/2/13), and would  be a terrific choice for a book club. Obtain a wristband and use it to start conversations on captivity with people you encounter everyday – in post offices, grocery stores etc.  You can share your experiences/ideas at the Empty the Tanks Worldwide Facebook page.
Below is the list of participating locations for Empty the Tanks Worldwide:

Dolfinarium Harderwijk – Netherlands 
Durban, South Africa 
Edinburgh,UK –
Georgia Aquarium – Georgia, USA  
Kamogawa Sea World, Japan – 
Las Vegas Mirage Hotel Dolphin Habitat, USA – 
Mar del Plata, Argentina – 
Marineland Canada – Ontario, Canada 
Miami Seaquarium – Florida, USA – 
National Aquarium – Baltimore, USA  
Ocean Park, Hong Kong – 
Osaka, Japan – 
Sea Life Park, Oahu, USA –  
SeaWorld Australia – Gold Coast, Australia 
SeaWorld Orlando – Florida, USA  
SeaWorld San Antonio – Texas, USA  
SeaWorld San Diego – California, USA  
Shedd Aquarium – Chicago, USA 
Six Flags Discovery Kingdom, Vallejo, CA, USA
Toronto, Canada –  
Vancouver Aquarium, Vancouver, BC –