2014 – The Blackfish Effect Will Continue; SeaWorld, Sea Life Park, and the Miami Seaquarium Face a Difficult Year

Oceanic Preservation Society

Overall, 2014 is shaping up to be a positive one for whales and dolphins –  there is a shift taking place, and opportunities are there for everyone to make a difference.
sw san antonioDemonstrators at SeaWorld, San Antonio showed up to honor the wishes of six year old orca advocate, Cash.
SeaWorld, Sea Life Park, Miami Seaquarium
Protests will inevitably continue to grow in 2014, and the second annual Empty the Tanks Worldwide Event is set to take place on May 24th 2014 – it promises to be bigger and bolder than last year, reflecting the growing awareness of how captivity in theme parks affects whales and dolphins.
Relics from the past, these institutions will have to start making changes quickly. While they have been able to hide behind arcane and unjust laws in the past, a more savvy public now knows that those laws can be changed. Thanks to the book Death at SeaWorld and the film Blackfish, attendance is dropping as more people become aware of the conditions at these parks and choose not to attend.
Below is a video of Sea Life Park, Hawaii (which shows the offspring of a false killer whale who was captured in the brutal Taiji, Japan dolphin drives). The video unintentionally does a great job of showing how tawdry and tired the place is, unfortunately this is typical of amusement parks worldwide. The second one was made after numerous complaints about that amusement park surfaced.

Efforts to remove “Lolita” from her tiny tank at the Miami Seaquarium and to move her to a sea pen near her wild family are gaining momentum. Her violent capture was shown in Blackfish.

(Orca Network)
(Orca Network)

Ocean Noise
This issue is rapidly becoming more topical as more reports of beached, stranded, injured, and dead marine animals are witness to the devastating effects of loud noise.

On land animals and humans alike know to move away from a loud or traumatic sound; the further we get, the more the sound dissipates. Underwater, we would not be so lucky. Sonar and ship noise can send a deafening tidal wave of noise for miles. It is difficult to pinpoint the origin or source of a particular sound and even harder to avoid or outrun it. Whales, dolphins and other marine mammals that have been caught in the wake of sonar have died of cerebral hemorrhaging or intentionally beached themselves in a desperate attempt to avoid the ear-splitting resonance. (Oceanic Preservation Society)

The Oceanic Preservation Society is one to watch this year, they are the group that produced The Covean Oscar winning documentary that exposed the annual dolphin drives in Taiji, Japan. They are working on a new film, and it promises to be innovative and motivating:

Watch for increased attention on sound issues and cetacean stranding in the coming year.

Senseless killing of marine mammals
People worldwide are increasingly aware of the dangers in eating the toxic meat from marine mammals, and are beginning to understand that these top predators play a vital role in ocean food webs. The Dolphin Project is increasing their efforts to reach the Japanese people and are bringing a concert to Tokyo this year, stay tuned for that one.
6098366_300 ric logoHelene Hesselager O´Barry, Program Associate, Dolphin Project
Earth Island Institute writes:

Jane Goodall, who has dedicated her life to the study and protection of chimpanzees, once said, “Change happens by listening and then starting a dialogue with the people who are doing something you don’t believe is right.”  These are wise words.
Unfortunately, there are times when such an approach isn’t possible, as some people are utterly unwilling to listen to the views of those who disagree with them.  An example of this is the dolphin hunters of Japan who slaughter dolphins by the hundreds each year.  They consistently react to any criticism with hostility and do all they can to cover up their actions, trying to prevent the Japanese public from learning that a dolphin slaughter is taking place in their own country.  Communicating with Japanese dolphin hunters, therefore, is not an option, although Earth Island continues to reach out to the Taiji town government and others in a continuing attempt to open up lines of communication.  One way of stopping the dolphin slaughter is by exposing it to the Japanese public so that they can speak out against it.
In the Faroe Islands, where hunters kill long-finned pilot whales in a slaughter known there as grindadráp, we are dealing with a quite different scenario.  Everyone there knows about the slaughter, which has been going on for centuries.  Faroese whale hunters do not try to hide it from the rest of the world.  They are extremely approachable and willing to talk to outsiders about it.  During my visits to these islands, I have always been met with hospitality, even by whalers who knew that I was there to write about the pilot whale slaughter that attracts criticism from all over the world.  As long as someone approaches them in a peaceful manner, they will listen to an outsider´s point of view.

There are dozens of quality organizations working to bring change who would love to have you join – or you can think about what you can do on your own as we welcome 2014. For instance Empty the Tanks protests are organized in communities far from an ocean, where people come together to discuss films, books, ideas, and make action plans. Search out online communities in social media, new voices are always welcome.
Have a great New Year!

Will Development Wreck Oahu? It Is Not Too Late To Save The North Shore

Soon to be torn down.

Soon to be torn down.

On New Year’s Eve, all the funky little shops and  vendors will be gone in Waikiki’s International Marketplace, along with the maze through to Kuhio St. in back. In its place yet another high-end shopping center will be built, with only the giant banyan tree left to remind us of an older, more laid back Hawaii.
Other areas are sure to follow, and developers have their eyes on Oahu’s north shore.

Waikiki’s iconic International Market Place to close forever Dec. 31
After 56 years on Kalakaua Avenue, Waikiki’s iconic International Market Place will shut down forever at the close of business, Dec. 31.
Landowner Queen Emma Land Co. plans to demolish the maze of open-air souvenir kiosks known for its kitschy, old Waikiki charm into a modern, high-end, three-story retail complex that will include a Saks Fifth Avenue anchor store. The new project, which will house 360,000-square-feet of retail, dining and entertainment, is scheduled to open in Spring 2016. It will boast 60 stores—many of which will be unique to Waikiki—and a 750-stall parking garage spread over six acres of prime real estate on Kalakaua Avenue.
The sole survivor of the International Market Place’s demise will be its massive Indian banyan tree, which will be preserved as part of the new development. In a news release, project developer Taubman Centers—a Bloomfield, Mich.-based operator, developer and owner of high-end retail centers nationwide—has said it has engaged a registered arborist to preserve and enhance the health of the tree. The arborist, according to Taubman Centers, has been monitoring and attending to the trees in the International Market Place for more than 40 years.

The replacement.
The replacement.

While many people are resigned to development in Waikiki, there is a quiet struggle going on to protect the remaining areas of the island from rampant development – but even that is slowly losing ground. The once sleepy town of Kailua is getting a Target, and condos are popping up in the area.
The most worrisome issue, however, is the Turtle Bay Expansion plan on the North Shore:

The undeveloped land at Turtle Bay is home to Hawaiian monk seals, green sea turtles, hawksbill turtles, Hawaiian gallinules, stilts, coots, ducks, bats, ohai (sesbania-tomentosa) and others listed threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
Two rare species of endemic bee that are on the candidate list for protection under ESA were found here recently.
Turtle Bay is the home of many migratory birds, bristle thighed curlews, dowitchers, golden plovers, sanderlings, ducks and geese and others- all protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA)
Any further expansion would destroy fragile ecosystems that are home for these protected animals and plants. The number of “units” was set to triple, retail outlets, roads, condos and hotels would combine to destroy even the degraded “buffer” zones presently supporting these protected species.
Even though degraded by the presence of a hotel, condos and golf courses there are enough fragile ecosystems to warrant restoration and preservation. Other laws protecting species and habitats at Turtle Bay are the Marine Mammal Protection Act and The Clean Water Act.
It is part of the Humpback Whale Marine Sanctuary and a special agricultural and fish area.
There is Supporting Habitat for four species of endangered waterbirds in Punaho’olapa Marsh and the adjacent James Campbell National Wildlife Refuge is Core Habitat for them. 120 species of birds have been documented there.

Turtle Bay at the present.
Turtle Bay at the present.
For more information on what you can do or to voice your opinion, please check the site  www.facebook.com/TurtleBayEndangeredSpecies:

The Governor of Hawaii has allocated $40 million to create a conservation easement (kind of rezoning “conservation” FOREVER) for the undeveloped land at Turtle Bay. Please support this effort by signing and sharing the petitionhttp://www.change.org/petitions/no-turtle-bay-resort-expansion-beyond-the-current-footprint or just sharing if you have signed.

Photo courtesy
Photo courtesy of ‘No Turtle Bay Expansion’


NOAA’s New Noise Guidelines for Marine Mammals – What You Need to Know

In order to make comments on this draft during the next 30 days, you can view the document here (note: there is a list of acronyms on page VII, and a glossary of terms on page 61 – both very helpful!) then place your comment here (which is document  NOAA-NMFS-2013-0177). You have until January 26th, 2013.
Please remember, NOAA will only take seriously comments that address the specific document, which in this case is the science behind the numbers but is also the lack of a broader scope.  NOAA promises to release the peer reviewer reports and NOAA’s response to those reports, but they are not up at the present time.
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By the title “Draft Guidance for Assessing the Effects of Anthropogenic Sound on Marine Mammals“, you might think that NOAA is establishing guidelines for assessing the effects of anthropogenic (manmade) sound on marine mammals.  Guess again.
The promise:

 This guidance is intended to be used by NOAA analysts and managers and other relevant user groups and stakeholders, including other federal agencies, when seeking to determine whether and how  their activities are expected to result in particular types of impacts to marine mammals via  acoustic exposure.

What they deliver:

This document outlines NOAA’s updated acoustic threshold levels and  describes in detail how the thresholds were developed and how they will be revised and updated in the future.

Not included:

NOAA currently is in the process of developing  new thresholds for onset of behavioral effects. When that process is completed, TTS [Temporary Threshold Shift, which are temporary hearing losses] will be  addressed for purposes of take quantification. In the meantime, the TTS thresholds presented represent the best available science and will be used in the comprehensive effects analyses under the MMPA [Marine Mammal Protection Act} and the ESA [Endangered Species Act] and may inform the development of mitigation and monitoring.

In other words,the draft does not cover behavior in any new way, and disregards any science that correlates certain types of sound with strandings and deaths, nor does it address the compounding effect of so many sources of noise invading the marine environment for lengthy time periods.
It is a myopic look through the lens of hard science on how sound effects different species of marine mammals, and although it is based on solid science the data points are few, and NOAA set clear guidelines for updating as new research is published.
Having so little data available, NOAA basically relies heavily on Marine Mammal Noise Exposure Criteria:  Initial Scientific Recommendations in setting the guidelines for PTS (Permanent Threshold Shift, which is permanent hearing loss):

Thus, NOAA accepts the recommendation made by Southall et al. (2007) as guidance for determining PTS onset for impulsive signals for all cetacean [dolphin, porpoise, whale] and underwater pinniped [seals, sea lions, walruses) species, resulting in an approximate 15 dB difference between TTS [temportary] and PTS [permanent] onset.

That study was published in the journal Aquatic Mammals, which is “Supported through Joint Sponsorship by the European Association for Aquatic Mammals, the Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums,
and the International Marine Animal Trainer’s Association.”
From a technical standpoint  NOAA’ draft is a huge step forward in delineating more species-specific guidelines, yet there are no teeth in the document to force compliance with the new standards.

 NOAA recommends that Federal agencies and prospective  applicants evaluating these types of impacts for the purposes of engaging in the aforementioned statutory processes also use these thresholds in the manner described here. However, this guidance does not create or confer any rights for or on any person, or operate to bind the public. An alternative approach may be proposed (by Federal agencies or prospective applicants) and used if case-specific information/data indicate that the alternative approach is likely to produce a more accurate estimate of Level A Harassment, harm, or auditory injury for the project being evaluated and if NOAA determines the approach satisfies the requirements of the applicable statutes and regulations.
The National Research Council (NRC 2004) provided basic guidelines on National Standard  (NS2) under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, section 301, which stated “Conservation and management measures shall be based upon the best scientific information available.” They recommended that data underlying the decision-making and/or  policy-setting process be: 1) relevant, 2) inclusive, 3) objective, 4) transparent and open, 5) timely, 6) verified and validated, and 7) peer reviewed.

Of the ten candidates for peer review, NOAA selected four, all specialists in the ability of marine mammals to hear. None of the behavior experts were included, and no one addressed the effect of sound on the animals outside of the hearing structures themselves – so tissue damage resulting directly from noise, or from rapid decompression during escape from sound sources are included.

The following website contains updated information on the peer review process including: the  charge to peer reviewers, peer reviewers’ names, peer reviewers’ individual reports, and NOAA’s response to peer reviewer reports http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/acoustics/guidelines.htm.

Below are some samples from the document – which, while long, is logically laid out and easy to navigate (but very science dense).

NOAA has compiled, interpreted and synthesized the best available science to produce new thresholds for the onset of both temporary and permanent hearing threshold shift (“TTS” and  “PTS”, respectively) in marine mammals from underwater sound. In the regulatory context, NOAA uses this information to help quantify “take” and to conduct more comprehensive effects analyses under several statutes.
For applicants/users that have the ability to model moving animals and/or  sources and the accumulating sound at each receiver, NOAA proposes that 24-hours or the length of activity, whichever is less, be used as the accumulation time. 24 hours has been used in other noise assessment planning applications (e.g., community noise planning for aircraft, vehicular traffic, and railway noise) and provides a reasonable outer bound in situations where the model will be able reflect realistic changes in relative distance between the source and likely exposed marine mammals over the course of a day.
However, for models that do not incorporate animal movement, it is not appropriate to make the assumption that animals will remain at a constant distance from the source accumulating acoustic energy for 24 hours. Additionally, if sound accumulation cannot be modeled, an alternative method must be used. For situations where modelling of movement and sound accumulation are not possible, an alternate method that is intended to address the accumulation of sound energy over time, but instead provides a distance from the source (“SEL threshold distance”) that is  simpler to apply in exposure modeling (i.e., would be used in calculations in the same way distance is used to calculate exposures above previous NOAA sound pressure level thresholds) should be used. Based on what we know about typical animal movement and avoidance, we propose a 1-hour accumulation period be used to calculate the “SEL threshold distance”. This “SEL threshold distance” is calculated by determining the distance from the source at which an animal would have to remain for 1 hour in order to accumulate sound to the designated threshold.  While, animals may move closer and farther from the source, this distance is considered a reasonable and conservative approximation.
The 24-hour (for models able to account for movement and sound accumulation) and 1-hour (for models not able to account for movement and sound accumulation) accumulation periods are considered a conservative baseline for accumulation time under most situations. The use ofmodels able to account for movement and sound accumulation may also allow for the inclusion of additional details to provide a more realistic results based on the accumulation of sound (e.g. information on residence time of individuals, swim speeds for transient species, or specific times when activity temporarily ceases). Alternatively, there may be case-specific circumstances where the 1-hour accumulation time should be modified to account for situations where animals are expected to be in closer proximity to the source over a notably longer amount of time, based on activity, site, and species-specific information (e.g., where there is a resident population in a small and/or confined area and a long-duration activity with a large sound source, or a continuous stationery activity nearby a pinniped pupping beach).
NOAA’s previous acoustic threshold levels are expressed as root-mean-square (dBrms), which  uses a different metric from peak sound pressure levels (dBpeak) and SELcum that are being recommended for our TTS and PTS onset acoustic threshold levels. Thus, we recommend caution when comparing past acoustic threshold levels to the acoustic threshold levels presented in this document as because they are based on different metrics, they are not directly comparable. For example, a 180 dBrms level is not equal to a 180 dBpeak level. Furthermore, theSELcum metric incorporates time and is an energy level with a different reference value (re: 1μPa2-13 s), thus it is not directly comparable to other metrics that describe sound pressure levels (re: 1 14 μPa).


NOAA is Changing its Guidelines on Permissible Sound Levels and Marine Mammals – You Are Important!


Navy sound levels measured in Hawaii.

This may be one of the most important issues you participate in for marine mammals and ocean life in 2014.  The outcome of NOAA’s guidelines will affect how much noise marine animals will have to face at the hands of industry and the military – without strong guidelines species we have yet to fully understand may be driven from their habitats, or worse, may suffer irreversible declines in population levels.
Naval sonar and oil exploration seismic surveys are known to cause the death and stranding of hundreds to thousands of marine mammals worldwide every year. (More information can be found here and here).
risso's dolphin strand philippines
The guideline “provides noise exposure levels for onset of permanent threshold shift (PTS) and temporary threshold shifts (TTS) for all sound sources and behavioral response zones for seismic surveys (e.g., primary sound source is airguns). It is intended to be used by NOAA analysts/managers and other relevant user groups/stakeholders, including other federal agencies to better predict a marine mammal’s response to sound exposure in a manner that has the potential to trigger certain requirements under one or more of NOAA’s statutes (e.g., MMPA, ESA, and National Marine Sanctuaries Act).” (NOAA)
Please mark these dates on your calendar if you wish to express your concerns to NOAA. December 27th is the first day of the comment period, which will extend for 30 days. A public meeting will be held in Silver Spring, Maryland on January 14th, also available through a webinar for those of us who can’t attend.

We are pleased to announce that a 30-day public comment period for this document will begin on December 27, 2013. In conjunction with this public comment period, we will host a public meeting on January 14, 2014 in Silver Spring, Maryland. For those unable to attend in person, webinar access will be provided. Please consult the following web site for more detailed information and updates after the New Year: http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/acoustics/guidelines.htm
On December 27th electronic copies of the document can be found at the Federal eRulemaking Portal http://www.regulations.gov and via http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/acoustics/guidelines.htm. Comments may be submitted via the Federal eRulemaking Portal (http://www.regulations.gov, search for NOAA-NMFS-2013-0177).

NOAA’s Guidelines for Assessing Impacts of Anthropogenic Sound on Marine Mammals
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is developing acoustic guidelines for assessing the effects of anthropogenic sound on marine mammal species under our jurisdiction.
The document provides guidance for assessing the effects of anthropogenic sound on marine mammal species under NOAA’s jurisdiction. Specifically, it provides noise exposure levels for onset of permanent threshold shift (PTS) and temporary threshold shifts (TTS) for all sound sources and behavioral response zones for seismic surveys (e.g., primary sound source is airguns). It is intended to be used by NOAA analysts/managers and other relevant user groups/stakeholders, including other federal agencies to better predict a marine mammal’s response to sound exposure in a manner that has the potential to trigger certain requirements under one or more of NOAA’s statutes (e.g., MMPA, ESA, and National Marine Sanctuaries Act).
To develop these noise exposure levels, NOAA evaluated currently available information on the effects of anthropogenic sound on marine mammals, as well as developed a method for updating these levels through a systematic, transparent process. This document is intended to outline noise exposure levels, how they were developed, and how they will be reviewed and assessed as additional science becomes available.
Where are we in the Process?
The process to finalize the guidelines includes the following steps:
NOAA internal review
External peer review
Public comment
Finalize and release guidelines
NOAA’s draft Acoustic Guidelines has undergone an internal review within NOAA on the scientific/technical aspects of the document. NOAA is still working through issues relating to the implementation of the science under our various statutes.
The external peer review, which began in July 2013, focuses on the scientific and technical studies that have been applied. The reviewers will not focus on the implementation aspects of the document (e.g., the amount of uncertainty that is acceptable, the amount of precaution that should be embedded in the analysis).
After peer review, NOAA will seek public comment on the scientific and implementation aspects of the document. Once the peer review and public comments are addressed, NOAA will finalize and release the acoustic guidelines.

Protests at Three SeaWorld Locations Sparked by a Six Year Old Who Watched Blackfish

Once young Cash sneaked a peek at the film Blackfish, he was determined to see the whole movie. The film is upsetting even for adults, yet his parents wisely chose to help him put what he learned into a larger life lesson; everyone has the power effect change.

Cash turns seven years old today, and is doing his part to make a difference.
Cash turns six years old today, and is doing his part to make a difference.

Just five years old at the time, Cash decided to make a little film of his own (shown below) asking people to stay away from SeaWorld on his birthday (December 22nd, 2013).
The powerful documentary that sparked this junior activist is Blackfishit “traces a 39-year history of killer whales in captivity leading up to the 2010 killing of Sea World trainer Dawn Brancheau by the 12,000-pound orca, Tilikum, a whale previously associated with the death of two other people. Blackfish chillingly shows that this incident of violence is hardly an isolated one, along the way exploring the extraordinary nature of orcas, thought to be one of the most intelligent species in the animal kingdom.” CNN
Cash’s parents speak about his request on YouTube:

Our 5-year-old son Cash loves Animals, Nature and Science. While we didn’t mean for him to watch it, he snuck in the living room recently and caught a few minutes of the CNN Films documentary “Blackfish” (completely unbeknownst to us). We paused it immediately, but after talking to him about it at length, we decided it would be best for him to watch it start to finish.
It’s an amazing story and it affected him in a way we’ve never seen before. He demanded nobody go to Sea World for one day and wondered how we could tell “everyone in the whole wide world” about his Blackout idea.
We felt a video would be best….whether it reached 5 people or 500,000. This was completely Cash’s idea. We helped him with the script, came up with some creative locations, shot it on an iPhone 5S and cut it together with iMovie. The rest was all him.
We hope to change at least one person’s mind but would prefer many many more…..thanks for watching.

Cash’s engaging video has been shared far and wide, and in honor of his birthday wishes, protests were scheduled today at all three SeaWorld locations: San Diego, Orlando and San Antonio. Fins and Fluke’s Heather Murphy reported that the Orlando event was a huge success, which included a truck-mounted screen that circled the block playing the Blackfish trailer, and ended with everyone singing happy birthday to Cash.

Approximately 100 protesters showed up in honor of Cash's birthday request (notice the sign on the left).
Approximately 100 protesters showed up in honor of Cash’s birthday request (notice the sign on the left).

For their part, SeaWorld recently took out full-page advertisements in newspapers across the country countering the points made by Blackfish and by the book Death at Seaworldbut the ad was punctuated with inaccuracies and falsehoods.
Apparently they are no match for a little boy with a big dream.  Happy Birthday, Cash.
Blackfish can be seen on Netflix, Itunes, and Amazon.

Move Over, Dolphins and Humans…Swans Enjoy Surfing Too

You may be wondering, as did I, whether this reported incident of black swans enjoying the waves in Western Australia really shows the swans surfing, or whether the birds were just floating about in the breakers – but once you view the video it will be pretty hard to come up with any reason for this behavior other than pure enjoyment.

These beautiful black swans are indigenous to Australia, where their lifestyle is nomadic as they follow seasonal wet and dry cycles.
Ironically, before people in other regions of the world knew that black swans existed people referred to the likelihood of a rare event to occur as the equivalent of finding a black swan among the more familiar white ones. From that the Black Swan Theory developed, and these surfing swans certainly seem to fit the first two criteria at least:

The black swan theory or theory of black swan events is a metaphor that describes an event that comes as a surprise, has a major effect, and is often inappropriately rationalized after the fact with the benefit of hindsight.
The theory was developed by Nassim Nicholas Taleb to explain:
1. The disproportionate role of high-profile, hard-to-predict, and rare events that are beyond the realm of normal expectations in history, science, finance, and technology
2. The non-computability of the probability of the consequential rare events using scientific methods (owing to the very nature of small probabilities)
3. The psychological biases that make people individually and collectively blind to uncertainty and unaware of the massive role of the rare event in historical affairs.(Wikipedia)

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Dolphins Suffer Lung Damage and Adrenal Hormone Abnormalities from the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill

We are all paying the price for letting big oil companies exploit the oceans – from exploration for offshore oil fields to the consequences of drilling, exporting, and utilizing fossil fuels the process wreaks havoc on the environment, edging us ever closer to the precipice of dramatic climate change.
This recently completed study illustrates the long-term effects of an oil spill, just for one of the many species of marine life impacted by just one spill. The same species are impacted by the seismic explorations to located oil fields, by the sonar used by ships, the noise of well construction, and the constant drone of oil tankers. Their prey is similarly impacted, adding yet another stressor and leaving dolphins more vulnerable to disease.
Here is NOAA’s report on the long-term effect of the Deepwater spill, along with links for more information:

Scientists Report Some Gulf Dolphins Are Gravely Ill

View slideshowFollowing the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, numerous dolphins were documented encountering oil, such as those in this photo from July 2010.
More Information
Gulf Dolphin Study
Dolphin health assessment in Barataria Bay
Unusual Mortality Event (UME) investigation in the northern Gulf of Mexico

December 18, 2013 
Bottlenose dolphins in Louisiana’s Barataria Bay have lung damage and adrenal hormone abnormalities not previously seen in other dolphin populations, according to a new peer-reviewed studypublished Dec. 18, 2013 in the journal Environmental Science & Technology.
The Deepwater Horizon spill heavily oiled Barataria Bay. The study was conducted in August 2011 as part of the Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) by a team of government, academic and non-governmental researchers. In the NRDA process, federal and state trustee agencies working cooperatively with BP identify potential injuries to natural resources and lost public uses resulting from the spill, along with restoration projects to ensure that the public is fully compensated for its loss.
The publication details the first evidence that dolphins in heavily oiled areas are exhibiting injuries consistent with toxic effects observed in laboratory studies of mammals exposed to petroleum hydrocarbons. The dolphin health study concludes that the health effects seen in the Barataria Bay dolphins are significant and likely will lead to reduced survival and ability to reproduce.
Twenty-nine of the total 32 dolphins sampled in Barataria Bay received comprehensive physical examinations, including ultrasound examinations to assess lung condition. The researchers assigned almost half (48 percent) of the dolphins a guarded or worse prognosis. In fact, they classified 17 percent as being in  poor or grave condition, meaning the dolphins were not expected to survive.
These findings are in contrast to dolphins sampled in Sarasota Bay, Florida, an area not oiled by the Deepwater Horizon spill. For Dr. Lori Schwacke, the study’s lead author and veteran of a number of similar dolphin health studies across the southeast, the findings are troubling: “I’ve never seen such a high prevalence of very sick animals — and with unusual conditions such as the adrenal hormone abnormalities.”
The NRDA researchers found that moderate to severe lung disease was five times more likely in the Barataria Bay dolphins, with symptoms including lung masses and consolidation. The researchers also found that 25 percent of the Barataria Bay dolphins were significantly underweight and the population overall had very low levels of adrenal hormones, which are critical for responding to stress.
The researchers examined alternative hypotheses for the dolphins’ disease conditions, such as exposure to other man-made chemicals that have previously been measured in high concentrations in marine mammals and also associated with impacts on health.  Blubber samples from the Barataria Bay dolphins, however, showed relatively low concentrations for the broad suite of chemicals measured, including PCBs and commonly detected persistent pesticides, as compared to other coastal dolphin populations.
Based on the findings from the 2011 dolphin health study, researchers performed three additional health assessments in 2013 as part of theDeepwater Horizon NRDA. The studies were repeated in Barataria Bay and Sarasota Bay, and also expanded to Mississippi Sound, including both Mississippi and Alabama waters. Results from these more recent health assessments are still pending.
Researchers conducting the NRDA studies are collaborating closely with the team conducting an Unusual Mortality Event (UME) investigation in the northern Gulf of Mexico under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Investigations of this type follow stranding events that are unexpected, involve a significant die-off and demand an immediate response.  The observed increase in the number of dolphin strandings now includes more than 1,050 animals that have stranded along the Gulf Coast from the Texas/Louisiana border through Franklin County, Florida. Ninety-four percent of these animals have stranded dead.
The UME investigation, spanning from February 2010 to present, is the longest UME response since 1992, and includes the greatest number of stranded dolphins in an UME in the Gulf of Mexico. Dr. Teresa Rowles, lead for the Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response Program and a co-author on the dolphin health publication, indicates that “these dolphin health studies will contribute significant information for both the NRDA and the UME investigation as we compare disease findings in the wild, living dolphins to the pathologies and analyses from the dead animals across the northern Gulf.”

New ‘Baby Blackfish’ Born at SeaWorld – Aka ‘Baby Shamu’

12/6/13. SeaWorld San Antonio announced the birth of a new baby orca with little fanfare today, (‘Baby Shamu’ killer whale born at SeaWorld San Antonio).
SeaWorld continues with its policy of naming all orcas individually but giving them all the stage name Shamu,  a made up name created by mashing the words ‘she’ and ‘Namu’ together.  Namu was the name of the second killer whale ever taken into captivity, he was a Northern Resident orca adventitiously found inside a salmon net in British Columbia waters near the community for which he was named.  A female was caught from the Southern Resident orca clan to keep him company, and she was called she-Namu, or Shamu.
While the Northern and Southern clans get along peaceably enough they aren’t known to intermingle in the wild.
Blackfish is the colloquial name given to orcas by the indigenous people of the Pacific Northwest, a people who understood and respected the nature of killer whales. It is also the name chosen for a documentary that exposes incidents of aggression by whales in captivity, and the original Shamu was one of those whales.
She was removed from shows after she bit and dragged a secretary who was riding her for a publicity stunt in 1971.

In a lawsuit following this incident, it was revealed that SeaWorld was well aware of the danger they put the secretary in, and did not fully disclose the danger to her.

In April 1971 Gail MacLaughlin, Sea World’s public relations director, and Kent Burgess [the director of Sea World’s animal training department] asked plaintiff if she would like to ride Shamu, the killer whale, in a bikini for some publicity pictures for Sea World. Although the ride was not made a condition of her keeping her job, plaintiff eagerly agreed, thinking it would be exciting.
Although warned in general terms that the ride involved dangers and aware that she might fall off, plaintiff was confident of her swimming ability and anxious to do it. She had never heard of whales pushing riders around.
Burgess had been responsible for training Shamu ever since Sea World first acquired the animal. He knew Shamu was conditioned to being ridden only by persons wearing wetsuits, and that Shamu had in the past attacked persons who attempted to ride her in an ordinary bathing suit: first a Catalina swimsuit model and then Jim Richards, one of the trainers at Sea World. In addition, Burgess had read training records which showed Shamu had been behaving erratically since early March 1971. This information he did not disclose to plaintiff.
Plaintiff was trained for the ride by Sea World trainers in the tank at Sea World during normal office working hours. First she practiced riding Kilroy, a smaller, more docile whale, while wearing a bathing suit. During her one practice session on Shamu, she wore a wetsuit, fell off, but swam to the edge of the tank without incident.
On April 19 plaintiff became apprehensive for the first time when one of Sea World’s trainers said he was not going to watch her ride Shamu because it was “really dangerous.” Plaintiff then went to Burgess and told him of her concern. He told her not to worry, said there was nothing to be concerned about, and that the ride was “as safe as it could be.”
He still did not tell her about the problems they had been having with Shamu or about the earlier incidents involving Richards and the swimsuit model. Thus reassured, plaintiff, wearing a bikini Sea World had paid for, then took three rides on Shamu. During the second ride one of the trainers noticed Shamu’s tail was fluttering, a sign the animal was upset. During the third ride plaintiff fell off when Shamu refused to obey a signal. Shamu then bit her on her legs and hips and held her in the tank until she could be rescued.
Plaintiff suffered 18 to 20 wounds which required from 100 to 200 stitches and left permanent scars. She was hospitalized five days and out of work several weeks. She also suffered some psychological disturbance.


Takara with previous calf in 2005. Courtesy Busch Gardens Entertainment.
Takara with previous calf in 2005. Courtesy Busch Gardens Entertainment.

The new baby Blackfish was born to an experienced mom, Takara:

Takara, a 22-year-old killer whale, gave birth to a calf Friday at 12:08 a.m. The yet-to-be-named calf is the 29th killer whale born in SeaWorld’s history, and it joins five other killer whales that reside at the San Antonio park.
Takara gave birth to a female calf – estimated to measure 7 feet long – in Shamu Theater’s main pool after being in labor for slightly more than one hour. Immediately after birth, the baby whale instinctively swam to the surface of the water for its first breath of air. SeaWorld veterinarians and animal care specialists, who have devoted the last several weeks to 24-hour watch of the expectant mother, were on hand to witness the birth.

SeaWorld comments:

“We’re delighted to welcome the newest Baby Shamu to our killer whale family,” said Chris Bellows, SeaWorld San Antonio vice president of zoological operations. “Successful births like this are further evidence that SeaWorld parks have created healthy, enriching habitats for these animals. Millions of guests visit our parks each year and gain a greater appreciation for killer whales and other species in our care.
No other organization on the planet connects people with wildlife better than SeaWorld.”

There is no logic in their statement that the births are related to ‘enriching’ habitats, SeaWorld is good at using artificial insemination to get whales pregnant, they just are no good at keeping them alive, happy, and healthy. And the way their orcas connect with people is unnatural…and dangerous.

Ksakmenk, an Argentinian whale, is thought to be the father of the new baby Blackfish at SeaWorld, Antonio, Texas. (Cetacean Cousins Photo)
Ksakmenk, an Argentinian whale, is thought to be the father of the new baby Blackfish at SeaWorld, Antonio, Texas. (Cetacean Cousins Photo)

It is rumored that the father is Kshamenk, a male thought to be a transient type (mammal eating) owned by the State of Argentina and living in a tiny pool in the aquarium Mundo Marino.

Non-Human Persons; Elephants, Great Apes, and Cetaceans Have Brilliant Attorneys to Represent Them

“The cases filed today are the first in a series that the Nonhuman Rights Project plans to file throughout the United States on behalf of captive animals who are scientifically proven to be self-aware and autonomous. Those include great apes (gorillas, chimpanzees, orangutans and bonobos), elephants and cetaceans (dolphins and whales).”

Chimps retired from captive situations live out their lives in sanctuaries. Photo by Jude Gogi Gabe Vick.
Chimps retired from captive situations live out their lives in sanctuaries. Photo by Jude Gogi Gabe Vick.

Dolphins have saved drowning humans throughout history, chimpanzees have lived with people as family members and have learned to use sign language, elephants have complex lives with long-range communication via very low, deep sound. All of them have shown altruism in caring for others, they recognize themselves in mirrors, and demonstrate a wide range of emotions.
And without any guaranteed rights, all have suffered in humanity’s care, intentionally or not.
But the Nonhuman Rights Project Founder, attorney Steven M. Wise (see press release, below), is in the process of changing that, and today filed a lawsuit to establish that animals who are both sentient and autonomous deserve basic rights to protect them from harsh confinement and abuse.
Orca captures result in the injury, death, and disruption of wild pods
Orca captures result in the injury, death, and disruption of wild pods

His first four cases involve chimps living in miserable and inhumane conditions, but will raise the bar for all sentient animals on how, or even if, they should be kept in captivity. The argument is often raised that the animals are needed for experimentation, but in most cases those goals can be met in other ways.
In terms of what captive animals can teach us about their wild relatives, researchers are discovering that the very nature of keeping them captive changes their social structure so profoundly that we may only be gathering data on how captivity destroys who they are, and what it takes for them to survive in cages.  A group of researchers studied wild chimps, and discovered that orphaned babies are fostered by unrelated adults, even by adult males – while a similar study of captive chimps showed that orphan babies were never adopted. (Altruism in Forest Chimpanzees: The Case of Adoption).

Chimpanzees make tools and use them to acquire foods and for social displays; they have sophisticated hunting strategies requiring cooperation, influence and rank; they are status conscious, manipulative and capable of deception; they can learn to use symbols and understand aspects of human language including some relational syntax, concepts of number and numerical sequence;[28] and they are capable of spontaneous planning for a future state or event.[29] (Wikipedia)

As we open our minds and consider the facts, there is no doubt that animals deserve basic rights from mistreatment. Even people who believe that humanity was somehow granted dominion over all other species will acknowledge that ‘dominion’ is synonymous with ‘governance’, and is not a license for cruelty or thoughtlessness.


Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP) files landmark suits in New York Supreme Court – based on scientific evidence – on behalf of all four captive chimpanzees in that state
Suits are first in a series of cases planned throughout the US on behalf of captive animals scientifically proven to be self-aware and autonomous
Dec. 2, 2013 – New York, NY – The Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP) announced today that it has filed the first-ever lawsuits on behalf of captive chimpanzees demanding that the courts grant them the right to bodily liberty via a writ of habeas corpus. The suits, filed in New York Supreme Court, are based on scientific evidence proving that chimpanzees are self-aware and autonomous, and therefore entitled to be recognized as “legal persons” with certain fundamental legal rights.
The four captive chimpanzee plaintiffs*, all located in the state of New York, are:

  • Tommy – a 26-year-old chimpanzee living in a used trailer lot in Gloversville, NY, isolated in a cage in a dark shed on the owner’s property.
  • Hercules and Leo – two young male chimpanzees owned by New Iberia Research Center, used in a locomotion research experiment in the Anatomy Department at Stony Brook University in Stony Brook, NY.
  • Kiko – a 26-year-old chimpanzee living in Niagara Falls, NY, on private property where he is caged and was previously used in the entertainment industry.

The lawsuits ask the judge to grant the chimpanzees the right to bodily liberty and to order that they be moved to a sanctuary that’s part of the North American Primate Sanctuary Alliance (NAPSA), where they can live out their days with others of their kind in an environment as close to the wild as is possible in North America.
“No one has ever demanded a legal right for a nonhuman animal, until now,” said Steven M. Wise, founder and president of the Nonhuman Rights Project. “When we go to court on behalf of the first chimpanzee plaintiffs, we’ll be asking judges to recognize, for the first time, that these cognitively complex, autonomous beings have the basic legal right to not be imprisoned.”
Legal claims made by the Nonhuman Rights Project are rooted in genetic, cognitive, physiological, evolutionary and taxonomic evidence that the plaintiffs are self-aware and autonomous. The species has been studied long and extensively by some of the world’s most well-respected scientists. The organization is seeking rights that are appropriate for the plaintiffs based on existing scientific evidence.
“Not long ago, people generally agreed that human slaves could not be legal persons, but were simply the property of their owners,” attorney Wise continued. “We will assert, based on clear scientific evidence, that it’s time to take the next step and recognize that these nonhuman animals cannot continue to be exploited as the property of their human ‘owners.’
“Abraham Lincoln put it best when he said that ‘in giving freedom to the slave, we assure freedom to the free.’”
The cases filed today are the first in a series that the Nonhuman Rights Project plans to file throughout the United States on behalf of captive animals who are scientifically proven to be self-aware and autonomous. Those include great apes (gorillas, chimpanzees, orangutans and bonobos), elephants and cetaceans (dolphins and whales).
 About the Nonhuman Rights Project
The Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP) is the first and only legal organization demanding that, based on scientific evidence, courts recognize the entitlement of certain nonhuman animals to such basic rights as bodily liberty and bodily integrity. Comprised of attorneys, legal experts and scientists, the Nonhuman Rights Project is focused on raising awareness and educating the public about rights for nonhuman animals. The organization uses the common law, not legislation, to gain legal rights for great apes, elephants and cetaceans (dolphins and whales).
Nonhuman Rights Project Founder, attorney Steven M. Wise, began his mission to gain rights for nonhuman animals in 1985. He holds a J.D. from Boston University Law School and a B.S. in chemistry from the College of William and Mary. He has practiced animal protection law for 30 years and is admitted to the Massachusetts Bar. Professor Wise has taught “Animal Rights Jurisprudence” at the Harvard Law School and several other law schools, and is currently teaching at Lewis and Clark Law School, Vermont Law School and St. Thomas Law School. He is the author of four books: Rattling the Cage – Toward Legal Rights for Animals; Drawing the Line – Science and the Case for Animal Rights;Though the Heavens May Fall – The Landmark Trial That Led to the End of Human Slavery; and An American Trilogy – Death, Slavery, and Dominion Along the Banks of the Cape Fear River.
The Nonhuman Rights Project has captured the interest of dozens of well-respected lawyers, scientists, mathematicians, biologists, predictive analytics professionals, professors, and researchers who donate their time and energy to this project.
For more information on the Nonhuman Rights Project, please visit www.nonhumanrightsproject.org.
* Note: The first three plaintiff chimpanzees selected by the Nonhuman Rights Project all died in captivity before the organization was able to file its first lawsuits.