Funny Elephant Shows Why So Many Will March to Save Them on October 4th, 2014

Thanks to the efforts of organizations such as the Save Elephant Foundation in Thailand, the world is now waking up to the plight of elephants, but will in be in time?

  • Elephant outsmarts villagers to get fruit
  • Rambunctious baby elephant whose mother stepped on a landmine gets his first bath
  • Help save elephants and rhinos – learn more

Worldwide, an elephant dies every 15 minutes for its tusks. Everywhere that they live they have conflicts with humans when they stray from reserves, and in Southeast Asia they stumble onto landmines. The lucky ones find their way to refuges, as did the mother of this joyful baby elephant at the Elephant Nature Park, whose daily updates on their rescues open a window into the elephant psyche :

In India, an enormous bull elephant who lives in a reserve shows an amazing talent for outsmarting the people who stand between him and whatever tasty morsel he is seeking. He hides and waits for a fruit seller to take a bathroom break, then emerges and helps himself to the bounty…but he didn’t stop there.
When a trench was dug to keep him away, he started cruising down the highway and scaring the guard away before continuing on towards his feast of jackfruit.  The villagers then assembled a group at the guard station, so the elephant – named Bharathan – got another elephant to go first.  When the villagers turned to chase the first elephant, Bharathan snuck up behind them and trumpeted loudly, causing them to scatter so he could amble down to his destination. Certainly smart, and who knows, maybe he has a sense of humor too.
In the article More brain than brawn, the author shares insights about this giant mastermind:

The most incredible thread running through all the anecdotes is that Bharathan seems to have learnt that violence and direct confrontation with people does not work in the long term. He is continuously trying to outsmart them — using his brain rather than brawn — despite having infinitely more brawn than his human adversaries…People living alongside wild elephants brim with stories about their intelligence.

Other anecdotes reported in the article show both the intelligence and emotional capabilities of elephants:

  • A ‘rogue’ tusker in central India recently knocked down a house, but when it heard a baby crying it stopped its rampage, and carefully cleared the debris around the baby.


  • A domestic elephant that was working to plant timber posts into holes that had been dug into the ground refused to put the post into one of the holes, despite its mahout’s (elephant handler) goading. When the mahout looked, he found a dog sleeping in the hole, and the elephant clearly did not want to kill it.


  • When elephants accidentally kill people, they invariably stand over them and try to cover them with leaves or mud, and are visibly distressed at what they have done. They are also the only other species known to have rituals around death, where the herd gathers around a deceased animal, covers it with leaves and guards it against predators.

We need to save these amazing elephants, their plight is real and painful, their loss imminent. Please join in the Global March to Save Elephants and Rhinos, Saturday October 4th, 2014.
This link will take you to march locations, worldwide (please scroll down their page to find the location tabs):  GLOBAL MARCH FOR  ELEPHANTS AND RHINOS. 

Risso’s Dolphins – The Gray “Blackfish” Who Are Killed by Ignorance for Greed

Risso's dolphin with Milton Santini, who caught the dolphins used in Flipper.
Risso’s dolphin with Milton Santini (right), who caught the dolphins used in Flipper.

Risso's dolphins are closely related to pilot whales and other "blackfish".
Risso’s dolphins are closely related to pilot whales and other “blackfish”.

Like orcas and other blackfish species, Risso’s dolphins are hunted for captivity and out of fear. Just as killer whales were shot by fishermen for taking a few salmon from their nets, Risso’s dolphins (closely related to pilot whales) are destroyed annually in large part because they are mistakenly seen as competitors for dwindling squid supplies in Japan.
Cute is about the best word to describe the appearance of these dolphins – their heavily scarred skin was historically thought to be the result of clashes with pod mates, but now more consideration is given to the fact that the scarring is also to battles with squid, such as the fearsome Humboldt squid.
Journalist Tim Zimmermann’s description of these large predatory squid is frightening, and it is easy to see how these squids would leave their mark on the dolphins:

Squid beak. (Biolab)
Squid beak. (Biolab)

…a powerful, outsize squid that features eight snakelike arms lined with suckers full of nasty little teeth, a razor-sharp beak that can rapidly rip flesh into bite-size chunks, and an unrelenting hunger. It’s called the Humboldt, or jumbo, squid, and it’s not the sort of calamari you’re used to forking off your dinner plate. This squid grows to seven feet or more and perhaps a couple hundred pounds. It has a rep as the outlaw biker of the marine world: intelligent and opportunistic, a stone-cold cannibal willing to attack divers with a seemingly deliberate hostility.
…”They have huge brains for their body size, much larger than most invertebrates,” says [biology professor at Stanford University’s Hopkins Marine Station William Gilly]. “They might be as smart as a dog.”


Take away the top predators – Risso’s dolphins among them – and the ruthless, cooperative, intelligent invertebrates are likely to fill the niche once occupied by marine mammals, possibly decimating fish (and small dolphin) populations. In place of friendly dolphins eager to share the waves, our oceans would be filled with a species that would just as soon kill us, instead of saving us as dolphins are known to do.
One famous Risso’s dolphin, named Pelorus Jack, even guided ships through treacherous waters for 20 years.

Yet these dolphins are ruthlessly hunted by Japanese fishermen – not for their meat – but because the fishermen have gotten a wrong idea stuck in their heads. They see the dolphins and whales as competitors for fish and small squid.
From Save Japan Dolphins:

During a meeting with the Taiji fishermen in January 2004, the fishermen told us that they do not only hunt dolphins for their meat or for sale to the dolphinarium industry. In their own words, they kill the dolphins “as a form of pest control.”
The dolphins, from the fishermen’s perspective, eat too much fish, and the fishermen are simply killing the competition. This is the first time ever that Japanese dolphin hunters have openly admitted to executing pest control on dolphins. Over-fishing of the oceans is a tremendous problem on a global level, and the Japanese fishermen, supported by their government, are wrongly pointing at the dolphins as the reason for this depletion. The Japanese government is making the same false argument in front of the International Whaling Commission that whales eat fish and therefore need to be controlled by killing.
The desire to keep the dolphin population down is a major reason why the Japanese government is so keen on issuing permits for the hunts. It is not really about providing meat for the Japanese people. It is not really about maintaining what the fishermen repeatedly refer to as their “tradition” or “culture.”
It is about eradicating as many dolphins as possible in order to make the oceans’ fish available to themselves.  We know of several areas in Japan where local dolphin populations have declined or been eradicated by this mentality, fully supported by the Japanese government.


The majority of the adults are killed, and the babies are released to the wild where they are unlikely to survive.  This is done so that the babies don't count against the permitted number of kills. (Photo from Planet Whale).
The majority of the adults are killed, and the babies are released to the wild where they are unlikely to survive. This is done so that the babies don’t count against the permitted number of kills. (Photo from Planet Whale).

Researchers have conclusively proven that whales and dolphins are of little direct competition for fish and marketable squid – it turns out that the biggest competitor in those areas are large fish. (Competition Between Fisheries and Marine Mammals for Prey and Primary Production in the Pacific Ocean). Where humans and dolphins do compete is at the trophic level.  In other words, commercially viable fish just happen to thrive in a different branch of the same food web.
Dolphins don't directly compete for fish and squid after all.
Dolphins don’t directly compete for fish and squid after all.

The slaughter of thousands dolphins in the hands of a few Taiji, Japan fishermen each year is brutal (for more on the Japan dolphin drives I highly recommend this informative article  by Elizabeth Batt, and also the Save Japan Dolphins website), as told in this eyewitness account:

By Cynthia Fernandez Cove Monitor Save Japan Dolphins Earth Island Institute
One Risso’s, in particular, had such a will to live!  Trying to escape the killers, it swam into the nets, the killers tried to untangle it, but it was fighting so hard for its right to live.  Finally, they tied its tail to the boat and pulled it towards the tarps.  As it was being pulled, it continued to fight so ferociously for survival, I could hear it’s body slamming into the boat, repeatedly.  A sound I will never forget.  I fought back my tears as I watched this beautiful animal struggle so hard to live.  Unfortunately, a dolphin is no match for these heartless killers.  As they pulled that dolphin under the tarps, the thrashing was louder and longer than I had ever heard.  I knew that dolphin was still fighting to live. 

Courtesy of Digital Journal.
Courtesy of Digital Journal.

Then, the silence came, and the Cove water began to turn a blood red.  I knew that brave dolphin had finally succumbed to these heartless, dolphin killers.  I could no longer hold back my tears.  I will never forget that courageous dolphin and all the other dolphins of Taiji. I watched as the bodies of the Risso’s were first loaded onto the skiffs then transferred to a banger boat for transport to the butcher house.  Once again, the killers sat on the tarps that covered the bodies so that the lifeless corpses could not be seen or photographed. Once again, beautiful Risso’s dolphins, which had just been swimming freely hours ago, had been reduced to limp, lifeless bodies by this handful of men.  Just another day in Taiji.

My training as a biologist makes it a struggle to express – without being anthropomorphic – what I felt once when I made eye contact with a wild Risso’s dolphin out in the open ocean. A gray and white head materialized on the face of an approaching swell, rising as our ship descended into a trough.  He hung there for a few seconds and gazed into my eyes. apparently curious, before turning and disappearing again into the choppy water.
When he left, the ocean once again seemed a vast and lonely void, peopled only by marching swells.
In the film The Whalewhich is about a young orca who befriended humans, people try to describe how it feels to make contact with an intelligent, albeit large, dolphin (orcas, or killer whales are actually just very large dolphins):
The Taiji fishermen claim that they have ancestral rights to kill the dolphins and whales, but the truth is that the annual dolphin slaughter didn’t really amount to much until around 1969, when simultaneously Japan’s fisheries began to collapse, and marine mammal amusement parks boomed (SeaWorld purchased false killer whales from Taiji at one point).
The sales of captured dolphins is lucrative, and unfortunately for the animals, they are relatively easy pickings for the hunters due to the location of Taiji.
An unfortunate convergence of bathymetry (ocean floor shape) and primitive thinking set the stage for the decimation of Risso’s dolphins in Taiji.  Ironically, this species is usually found off the continental shelf and where the bottom rises steeply towards the surface (Baumgarner et al). The problem for the Risso’s dolphins is that the continental shelf is very narrow along Japan, and worse the convergence of underwater features off the coast of Taiji act as an underwater gateway.

Taiji is located in the region of the reddish dot. Notice how the there is a second steep underwater rise.
Taiji is located in the region of the reddish dot. Notice how the there is a second steep underwater rise.

The few Risso’s dolphins that are deemed “unblemished” enough (not much chance with this species) are taken into captivity and used for entertainment.
It is a sad end for the dolphins, no matter what, and ultimately sad for Japan as they continue to take more from the ocean than can be sustained, and wage war on the species that might be able to protect the viability of their ocean environment. Scientists recently reported that whales play a key role in maintaining healthy fish stocks, and the evidence is mounting that dolphins share that crucial role. Going into the future, the countries that have healthy fisheries will be countries that have healthy dolphin and whale populations, there is no question.
Perhaps saddest of all is that this is not reflective of the majority of the people of Japan, who are largely unaware that these drives take place, and who are beginning to phase out of the consumption of whale and dolphin meat. Cultural change is happening, and hopefully at a swift enough pace to stop the senseless slaughter of the harmless dolphins who pass their shores.
Risso's dolphin in a Japan theme park (OpenCage photo).
Risso’s dolphin in a Japan theme park (OpenCage photo).

Move Over, SeaWorld; The Zurich Zoo Has Elephants in Their Tanks!

Underwater viewing of elephants at the Zurich Zoo, Switzerland.
Underwater viewing of elephants at the Zurich Zoo, Switzerland.

SeaWorld could stand to take notes on what the Zurich Zoo has managed to accomplish towards meeting the needs of large mammals – in this case, a herd of Asian elephants.
As we learned from the film Blackfish (see trailer below), SeaWorld has steadfastly resisted investing in meeting the psychological needs of the orcas in their tanks, and spent years trying to reinstate the dangerous circus-like shows that they were forced to stop following the death of trainer Dawn Brancheau. Although SeaWorld unveiled plans to add larger tanks to their parks, they have not shown any interest in changing how the whales are kept.
Putting aside the discussion of whether large, free roaming animals should ever find themselves confined (in my opinion, they should not) – the question becomes one of how to create an environment that addresses the animals’ needs for stimulation and normal social structure with limited space. In this case, the Zurich Zoo has completely re-imagined elephant keeping instead of just giving them a bit more room.
And their plan keeps their keepers safe.
Elephants are good swimmers, and often cross rivers in the wild.
Elephants are good swimmers, and often cross rivers in the wild.

Seeing elephants in tanks is of course a bit mind-bending, until you step back and look at the bigger picture. The Zurich Zoo has taken 2.7 acres and designed an enclosure with so many features that the elephants – kept together in a herd – can do what elephants do, eating, resting, playing on their own schedule. The swimming features are just a small part of an inventive enclosure.
There are no silly shows, and part of the elephant habitat is not open to the public so the elephants are not under constant viewing if they desire privacy.
Zurich Zoo elephant habitat.
Zurich Zoo elephant habitat.

Another good point about this elephant habitat is the nod to sustainability:

Great emphasis was placed on sustainability during the construction of the compound. The main building material was wood. Heating is provided via a district heating network using the central woodchip heating system at Zoo Zurich. Rainwater is collected from the roof, which measures 6,800 square metres. The water is then used for watering the ground, for moistening the sand, for removing dust from the plants and for supplying the pool maintenance equipment. Finally, an ingenious event control system ensures that the air conditioning in the inner compound conserves natural resources as much as possible.

To keep the personnel safe, the enclosure is designed so that the humans and animals are not in the same place at the same time. Killer whales and elephants are both dangerous to people in captivity, but while SeaWorld continues to hold onto to their old business model that presents significant risk, the Zurich Zoo has taken a proactive stance to protect their elephant keepers.

…the way in which the animal keepers look after the elephants has also changed. The animals are now cared for in “protected contact” at all times. This means that the animal keepers are no longer in the same room as the elephants. This gives the animals more freedom to develop their social structure and ensures greater security for the animal keepers.

While this is not freedom, at least the Zurich Zoo has completely re-thought what captivity entails for elephants.
How hard can it be for SeaWorld to do the same for orcas?


Saving the Orcas – It is Up to Us, and The Whale Scouts Have a Great Plan

“What we have to do is ensure there is sufficient food supply food supply for the whales…you can’t have a pet if you don’t feed it.  That’s the first thing I learned when I had a little puppy, you have to take care of it.”  Ken Balcomb – Whale Scout Podcast
The Southern Resident orcas are often present in the central and southern regions of Puget Sound this time of the year, and now trained volunteers will be on hand when possible to educate and help the public see the whales. You can participate in the Whale Scouts‘ activities, donate, or send them inquiries on what you would specifically like to do.

The killer whales that swim the waters of Puget Sound are endangered and are in serious trouble.  With a two-year gap in successful births  the population has declined to only 79 individuals – its lowest number since the mid 1980’s. 
Whale Scout is taking a proactive approach and setting a positive example to recovering this population by engaging in responsible whale watching from the shore and also striving to turn whale watchers into salmon restoration activists. 

Bothell, WA – Sept. 14, 2014 – Every fall endangered orcas return to the shores of Puget Sound in search of salmon. This year, a team of volunteers organized by Bothell’s Whale Scout non-profit organization will be stationed at local beaches to help those in the community spot and learn more about them.


“We are so excited for the whales to come back. Seeing wild killer whales in our backyard truly makes living in the Pacific Northwest magical,” said Whale Scout director Whitney Neugebauer. “The biggest thing we can do to protect endangered orcas is to restore salmon habitat — and that’s exactly what Whale Scout does. We turn whale lovers into salmon habitat restoration experts.”


Whale Scout connects trained naturalists with the public, sharing their knowledge about the local whale population in Puget Sound, assisting them in sightings from shore, and offering everyday tips on what anyone can do to help their conservation. 


Whale Scout is also launching an Indiegogo fundraising campaign to help raise money to outfit volunteers with identifying vests, laminated materials and assorted gear.


“Many amazing individuals and organizations contributed special gifts you can redeem for your donations like underwater photography, beautiful orca photos, handmade gifts, and much more!” Neugebauer said.


To help, visit the Whale Scout page at


For more information, visit, or follow the organization on Twitter @whalescout.
Whitney Neugebauer, PO BOX 426, Woodinville, WA 98072


The Orcas Have a New Baby At Last – First One in Two Years for the Southern Resident Orcas!

The new calf, tucked in next to her mom, L 86, and and aunt, L 27. (Photo by Dave Ellifrit).
The new calf, tucked in next to her mom, L 86, and aunt, L 27. (Photo by Dave Ellifrit).

This is fantastic news, the population of Southern Resident orcas now stands at 79.

Great news! We finally have new calf in L pod. L86 was seen today by the Center for Whale Research (CWR) staff with a brand new calf who will be designated L120. This is the first new calf in the Southern Resident orca population since 2012.

The population has been in decline due to a suite of factors.  The scientists point out that salmon availability is probably the main cause, but also included are the effects of toxins in the environment, sound pollution, and boat traffic.
We will be rooting for this little one, and will post photos as soon as possible.

L pod in California, photo by Nancy Black, 2008.
L pod visting California, photo by Nancy Black, 2008.

SeaWorld Hears the Roar of the 12th Man! Seahawks Road Crew Changed Plans Due to Public Demand

The Seattle Seahawks retired the number 12 jersey on December 15, 1984, in honor of their fans. In 2003, the Seahawks installed a giant flagpole in the south end zone of what is now CenturyLink Field, and began a tradition of raising a giant flag with the number 12 on it in honor of the fans. Usually, a local celebrity or a season ticket holder raises the flag during pregame ceremonies.[38] In recent years, 12th Man flags have been seen all over Seattle whenever the Seahawks make the playoffs, including atop the Space Needle. In 2014, Boeing painted a Boeing 747-8 freighter with a special Seahawks livery, with the number 12 on the tail, and they later flew it over eastern Washington in a flight path spelling the number 12. When the Seahawks took the field for Super Bowl XLVIII, they were led by LB Heath Farwell carrying the team’s 12th Man flag per team tradition. Wikipedia.
6b73bc55f6f8effd05c10bb1573322de seahawks 12th man
While other teams may also refer to their fans as the “12 man” because of the role the public plays in supporting the teams, no other team has a more dedicated – or loud – following. 12th man flags fly all over Seattle during football season, from car antennas to the top of the space needle.
In a matter of days, when the fans found out that the Seahawk Road Crew was planning to hold a fan celebration at SeaWorld San Diego, the fans roared: NO WAY. Seattle, the rest of the Pacific Northwest, and much of America also love the iconic orca whales who call the region home, and in some opinions, SeaWorld is partially responsible for decimating the orca population.
On August 29th, 2014, the Seahawks Road Crew posted on their Facebook page:

Traveling to San Diego for Seahawks @ Chargers Sept 14. we are planning a 12th Man Event the 13th Sat, Night at SeaWorld with a Custom Seahawks Water Show possibly Shamu! We are working on Final Approval with the Park right now… if everything gets approved the Event will start sometime between 6-7pm going until midnight. $15-$20 per adult probably $10 per Child for entrance and food & alcohol will be available for purchase… What do you guys think? I really want to see Shamu with a 12 Flag! Go Hawks!

Today, September 3rd 2014 they posted this:

We hear you 12s! We are changing Venues… the Sept 13th Rally in San Diego will NO LONGER be Held at SeaWorld… we are going to Belmont Park instead… It’s Family Friendly, Animal Friendly, Beach Front with Mini Golf, Laser Tag, Roller Coasters, We are working on details with Belmont Park right now…A 12s Take Over, Day on the Beach, bring the kids will probably start the rally about 5pm and go until midnight… more details soon

Way to go, 12th man!

The Center for Whale Research has studied the Southern Resident orcas  for almost forty years.
Puget Sound waters would be a lonely place without the Southern Resident orcas. (NOAA photo).