Local Orca Researcher Ken Balcomb Featured in True-life Legal Thriller, “War of the Whales”

Ken Balcomb, senior research scientist at the Center for Whale Research on San Juan Island, Washington, is a nationally recognized pioneer in marine mammal photo identification.
His is a familiar face on the local news, he is generous with his time and his dedication the survival of the Pacific Northwest Southern Resident Killer Whales (Orcas) who frequent the Puget Sound and Salish Sea ensures that he is usually available to answer questions for the media.
And now he is about to become famous in a whole new way – as the principal character in the legal thriller by Joshua Horwitz, War of the Whales. Available in bookstores and online on July 1st, 2014. Amazon has chosen it as the best book of July!
War Of the Whales is the surprising and untold story of how two individuals united in a desperate fight to protect dolphins and whales from the deadly acoustic assault of navy sonar.
Deeply researched, and brimming with colorful and interesting detail, Joshua Horwitz’s gripping book reads like a thriller but, in the tradition of the best non-fiction writing, brings to light the secret history of military sonar and its devastating connection to traumatized whales and dolphins stranding and dying on beaches around the world.”

– TIM ZIMMERMANN, Associate Producer and Co-Writer of Blackfish and author of The Killer In The Pool.

003 KeninSmugglersCove wotw
Ken Balcomb, senior researcher at the Center for Whale Research

For the last forty plus years Balcomb has patiently built a database on the Southern Resident orca population;  in Seattle and along much of the west coast even children are familiar with these whales and even know some of them by name. These whale families are iconic to our region, and while we owe much of our knowledge about them to Balcomb, the orcas themselves owe their chance at continued survival to man who has dedicated his life to them.
But the orca’s presence is seasonal and when winter approaches and the orcas spend less time in the nearshore waters, Balcomb focuses on the intermittent winter sightings, and pursues his interest in other species. For years his winters were spent in the Bahamas studying elusive beaked whales.
This is where War of the Whales begins.

In the early hours of March 15, 2000, the paths of the world’s most powerful navy and the ocean’s most mysterious species of whales were about to converge. Though on the calm surface of the Great Bahama Canyon, nothing hinted at anything amiss.
It was just another morning in paradise, the day the whales came ashore.
(Excerpt, War of the Whales.)

Balcomb was unaware that the lull of his idyllic island time would precede a personal hurricane of hard choices on a scale that most of us never have to face. His was a Sophie’s Choice that demanded he choose between the well-being of the whales, and his dedication and sense of honor towards the Navy where he had served two tours of duty. Author Joshua Horwitz artfully puts the reader in the scene as Balcomb struggles in an internal battle that will transfix and engage you, and leave you wondering if you would have the fortitude to do what he did – most of us ultimately choose to do the right thing, but are not faced with choices where both options are right.

Whether we believe in war readiness or not, it is the world we live in, and the men and women who risk their lives in the military deserve as much protection as we can provide. But do we allow the oceans to be ravaged for our human drama?  Where do we draw the line? It is a complex and often emotional debate, and Horowitz’s brilliant handling of the events allows it to unfold in an organic blend of data points and drama.

Joel Reynolds, attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Joel Reynolds, attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council.

In an interview for The Planet, author Joshua Horwitz explains his interest in and dedication to bringing this story to light:

Horwitz says he hopes what readers will take away from War of the Whales is an understanding of the importance of tenacity in social change. “The book is really a story about two individuals who stood up to the most powerful navy in the world. I think that they are real role models for anyone, particularly young people, who really want to fight for change.”

The second individual who along with Balcomb faced the navy in the battle to mitigate sonar in the oceans is Joel Reynolds, senior attorney and director of the Los Angeles office of Natural ResourcesDefense Council (NRDC); and founder and director of the Marine Mammal Protection Project. Horwitz shows both the integrity and the complex character of this man who followed his beliefs and fought (and continues to fight) the navy in a court of law. His efforts to protect the whales from Navy sonar laid the foundation for what was to come, without it Balcomb may not have thought to take the actions he did.

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Ken Balcomb with his son Kelly. (War of the Whales photo)

But it is Ken Balcomb who Horwitz finds most intriguing. Most people are unaware of how important Balcomb’s time serving the Navy is to him, and his fundamental loyalty to the agency that can wreak havoc on the whales that Balcomb has dedicated his life to studying. Horowitz does a masterful job of engaging the reader in Balcomb’s conflict, and in illustrating the cost of standing up for what you believe.
The story is so artfully constructed that you are drawn in and forget that you are not reading a novel. With the index, end notes and list of characters it isn’t necessary to recall each of bit players, since it is easy to find them again.  Horwitz keeps the main focus on the internal conflicts of Balcomb and Reynolds, and creates a story that is fascinating even if you have no interest in whales or navy sonar.
From The Planet:

Horwitz: For me, this story is only partly about naval sonar and whales. At heart it addresses the question: what makes an effective change agent? My two protagonists — the environmental attorney and the marine biologist– are in many ways polar opposites. The lawyer is an institutional player who works inside the system in collaboration with other organizations and activists, with scientists and celebrities; whatever will get the job done. The whale scientist is a true maverick who’s never had any institutional affiliation, and who’s not very good a working collaboratively. One’s an extrovert, and the other’s an introvert who seems to enjoy the company of whales over humans.
But they share several important traits that make them highly effective when it comes to forcing change. They’re both tenacious and totally committed to the fighting the fight for as long as it takes — often at a cost to their personal lives. They don’t allow cynicism to erode their fundamental idealism or sense of purpose — which is a big challenge in a field like environmental law where you’re typically outgunned by deep-pocketed adversaries or facing judicial panels who defer to the military, especially during wartime. Tenacity, it turns out, is as important as intelligence or tactical decisions when it comes to fights over threatened species and environments. By the end of the book, their antagonists at the Navy, at the regulatory agencies, and on Capitol Hill have long ago cycled out of service and into other careers. But Balcomb and Reynolds are still at it, still fighting for the whales.

And Horwitz? The six years he spent researching this story led to a passion for the whales themselves. His first close encounter with friendly gray whales helped propel him to write the book, but along the way he came to understand the unique adaptations of these intelligent animals and is now focusing on a petition drive to continue the battle to protect whales and other marine life from the effects of Navy sonar.
Ultimately, increased awareness of the whales and what is happening to their environment is the happy ending we would all like to see and this masterfully crafted book is guaranteed to bring the issues to a larger audience.

The author petting a friendly gray whale in Baja, Mexico
The author petting a friendly gray whale in Baja, Mexico

What Leonardo DiCaprio, President Obama, and Secretary of State Kerry Want You to Know

Leonardo DiCaprio has just cast both his fame and a small fortune  into solving ocean conservation problems and is counting on all of us to help.  On the political front, President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry continue to put the ocean health high on their agendas, and there is a sense of urgency underlying their stance.

In some ways, it is the wild west out on the oceans, where greed exceeds rationality, but we may be on our way to doing something about it. The Washington Post reported Tuesday that President Obama plans to expand the Pacific Remote Islands National Marine Monument, a grouping of seven islands and atolls in the south-central Pacific Ocean. Secretary of State John F. Kerry is making ocean health a priority:

An online course called “Ocean Solutions”, taught by Professor Duarte at the University of Western Australia, is also sounding the alarm that we are nightmarish-ly close to destroying the wold’s remaining ocean fish populations. We are running out of time (but as promised by the class title, solutions are offered, some of which are fairly draconian but all of which have to happen now. I highly recommend the class if it is still open).
And after several visits in the pre-dawn hours to the Honolulu Fish Auction (where the fleet of long-liners sell their catch) I have learned that while the U.S. fisherman are highly regulated, others are not once they are outside of our territorial waters, causing economic hardship to local fishermen that eventually cascade into problems for whales and dolphins that are seen as competitors for the dwindling fish stocks of the more nearshore, smaller fish species.
Our taste for top ocean predators not only drives up the price, but as I have learned, has no equivalent among land animals in terms of the food chain – tuna and bill fish are at the same trophic level as a mythological land animal would be that ate another mythological animal that ate wolves! We have no idea at this point how these top fish predators control the marine environment, and as they become scarcer we look for smaller and smaller species – yet we really have no idea what that is doing to the ocean food web either. From Fisherman’s Voice, Honolulu:

Tuna being off-loaded.
Tuna being off-loaded.

Although the prime species at the auction is bigeye tuna, a lot of other fish come in. After the bigeye is sold, they move to skipjack tuna, albacore tuna and yellowfin tuna. Then the billfish: broadbill swordfish, shortbill spearfish and striped marlin; and the other open ocean fish like dolphinfish, wahoo, moonfish and bigscale pomfret. Some bottom fishermen, too, sell grouper, red snapper, crimson snapper, russet jobfish, yellowbar jobfish, yellowstriped snapper and lavender jobfish at the auction.
Outside, while the auction is going on, the captain of one boat watches as his 10 tons of bigeye tuna are offloaded–and sold nearly as fast they can reach the floor. The 100-foot vessel usually makes three-week voyages, going from 400 to 800 miles offshore. This trip, however, was cut short and his catch wasn’t what it could have been. But he says even his best catches are nothing next to the Japanese and European longliners, who have superior technology. “We’re just fishermen,” he says. “And right now this is one of our last open fisheries since Alaska went to ITQs. That doesn’t even seem legal,” he adds. With the cost of fuel and bait (he paid 22 dollars a case for frozen sardines), he says they’re not making much money, but the catch has been constant, so far.

Benefactors like DiCapro and our politicians need your support to overcome partisan and international conflicts, and helping the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation is a good place to start.

SeaWorld, Blackfish, and San Diego – Live Debate Can Be Viewed Here

What is amazing is that SeaWorld actually sent representatives to publicly debate the issues of keeping orcas in captivity.  Ever since the film blackfish came out, SeaWorld had refused to step up to the plate and discuss their practices.
What is not amazing is that SeaWorld continues to adhere to  a  business model developed 50 years ago.   They presented specious arguments, seemingly designed to protect their own interests – ie, their research emphasis has been on reproduction…well, what use is that to the wild animals? Also, they consistently tried to blur the lines among the subspecies, ie the fish eating Southern Resident orcas versus the marine mammal eating Transients. Barbie claims their research is used by those who study wild ones.  Rescued a young gray whale, but have they done it since (no).
Barbie – they are like dogs. Vet: they are not rocket scientists.
Barbie – When asked why the killer whale shows should be seen as important, and how people experience the whales.  It is exciting.
Barbie – Has had so many people ask how they can get her job…the actually says “How do you get a job writing for the Voice of San Diego?”, the hosts of the show who have logged countless hours trying to bring both unequivocal representation to both sides of the issue. Snap!
Vet (patronizingly)-‘ if you don’t know who Keiko the Killer whale is I won’t  describe anymore to you than that” (then goes on to explain who Keiko was).
This video is long, but well worth listening to.

Thursday evening at the Museum of Contemporary Art in La Jolla, Voice of San Diego’s Scott Lewis and Lisa Halverstadt are co-moderating a discussion between:
• Susan Gray Davis, a former UC San Diego professor who wrote a book about the park’s business model
• Todd Robeck, who first joined SeaWorld as a veterinarian and now leads breeding and reproduction programs at SeaWorld and Busch Gardens
• Kristi Burtis, a senior animal trainer who has worked at SeaWorld San Diego for more than 26 years
• Naomi Rose, a marine mammal scientist with the Washington, D.C.-based Animal Welfare Institute

Broadcast live streaming video on Ustream
Animal Ambassadors – Today’s world changed in 50 years. Barbie
w’hat common ground protecting animanls and ocean Naomi says telling the truth. It is the inaccurate information that bothers biologists. dorsal collapse due to gravity SW should be honest which would be honest education. Todd agreed. lifestyle issue not health issue. Practicing since ’92.Naomi says natural history is modified

Costumed Zoo Employee Taken Down by Veterinarian with a Tranquilizer Dart – the Vet Mistook Him for a Real Gorilla

Loro Parque, an amusement park located on a Spanish island off the coast of Africa where SeaWorld warehouses their surplus orcas seems like it must be a dangerous place to work. Previously, one of their trainers was killed by one of SeaWorld’s orcas there, and now it seems that their vet can’t distinguish between a wild gorilla and one of their own employees dressed up in a gorilla suit.
During a practice drill, the employee donned the costume and ran around the grounds to add realism to the event, but apparently the vet didn’t know it was a drill and opened fire with his tranquilizer gun on the hapless employee – who apparently had an allergic reaction to the dose, designed to stop a 400 pound gorilla in its tracks.

This is a costume
This is a costume

Google translation of the Spanish article:~
Fires a narcotic dart to a caregiver mistaken for a gorilla
The vet, who was two months working , opened fire on the victim suffered an allergic reaction l and given an antidote
antonio smith 06.03.2014 | 00:26
An operator of Loro Parque , 35, was shot of a narcotic being mistaken for a gorilla dart. Because of the shooting done by the vet , had to be taken to the Hospital Universitario de Canarias in serious condition , according to police and 112 pointed to this media sources .
The incident took place around 11:40 pm yesterday . About that time , officers received a tip where they were told that a gorilla had escaped from the theme park resort town .
However, there was no such escape because this was all a sham . This apparently was that an ape escaped the park and had to hunt him down before he could reach someone or come out of the facility. While this was happening , Loro Parque staff started a search operation . In this type of exercise is mandatory the presence of a police presence and yesterday it was the turn to the local police in Puerto de la Cruz .
The sources said that , apparently , the operator was a gorilla suit to give greater accuracy to drill and was confused by the veterinarian, who opened fire with a narcotic dart that struck the victim in the leg that fell slumped to the ground just at the time he was in the cage of apes. However, where the victim was located he was in his underwear . In place a firm control of occupational hazards Los Realejos, whose function was to assess the protocol for such incidents and whose workers was witnessed .

This is a real gorilla.
This is a real gorilla.

The triggered dose was as strong as a gorilla to sedate more than 200 kilos of weight , prompting the operator quedase without knowledge quickly. It should be noted that the employee had an allergic reaction , so an allocation from the Emergency Department Canario (SUC ) evacuated the patient to the Hospital Universitario de Canarias ( HUC ) after be given an antidote and be stabilized by a doctor.
The sources added that the place showed up an endowment from the National Police who took charge of the proceedings, while putting the facts to the attention of the Office of Claims Labor , since the incident was considered a accident. According to sources, in principle, the possibility of alleged negligence by the operator in charge of handling the gun deck. This gun is used for dangerous driving cattle and capture of live wild animals or veterinary use when required sedation or immobilization of animals at a distance.
The National Police took the air gun , the sedative and antidote employee . Practiced everything he has given to the magistrate guard Puerto de la Cruz.

Because the employee had an adverse reaction and his current condition is not known at the moment, this event is still serious.
But you can’t help but wonder how the other costumed staff is feeling about now…but I wouldn’t stand too close.

I think wearing an animal costume at Loro Parque might be a bad idea.
I think wearing an animal costume at Loro Parque might be a bad idea.

Is that a trainer pictured here with the wild-caught orca Morgan?  Or maybe it looks like an escaped seal?
Is that a trainer pictured here with the wild-caught and controversial orca Morgan? Or maybe the trainer will be mistaken for an escaped seal?