Good news for Right Whales, not so good for dolphins in the Keys

For Immediate Release, November 24, 2014 by Center for Biological Diversity

 Feds Agree to Protect More Habitat for East Coast’s Most Endangered Whales by 2016

BOSTON— A deadline for expanding critical habitat protections for the North Atlantic right whale — one of the world’s most endangered whales — has been set in response to a legal settlement agreement. Each year most of the 500 North Atlantic right whales remaining on Earth migrate from their feeding and breeding grounds off the U.S. Northeast to their nursery areas off the Southeast. But only a tiny portion of this expansive range is protected as federally designated “critical habitat” under the Endangered Species Act, making the whales more vulnerable to threats that include commercial fishing gear, ship strikes and oil drilling.

The settlement requires the federal government to make a final decision by February 2016 about where and how much additional habitat should be protected.

Animals in captivity didn’t fare as well today.

British Airways refuses to cut ties with SeaWorld.  With over a quarter of a million signatures on the petition, Jonathan Counsell, British Airways head of environment sent out the following update:

We have actively sought the views of and evidence from a range of people and organisations including the leading NGOs in this field on the issue of cetaceans in captivity. 
We welcome the extensive work undertaken by ABTA in publishing best practice guidance for the welfare of animals in tourism, particularly in countries where laws do not govern animal welfare. SeaWorld has assured us that its animal care standards exceed this best practice guidance and are governed by US federal and state laws alongside accreditation standards set by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums as well as the Association of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums. Further, SeaWorld does not collect cetaceans from the wild and has not done so for nearly three decades.

On this basis we currently see no reason to end our relationship with the organisation. We will continue to offer our customers the option to make their own decisions on whether to visit SeaWorld.

We recognise that the science of cetacean welfare is evolving and we encourage further study in this area.

Dolphin Research Center, located in Marathon, is offering “Holiday photos with a dolphin”, the very definition of exploitation.  According to Virtual-Strategy Magazine,

Holiday Photos with a Dolphin takes place now through Dec. 19 at the Dolphin Research Center in Marathon. Visitors can bring their own Santa hats, reindeer antlers or other accessories to use while posing. The Dolphin Research Center’s experienced photographers will shoot the photos using high resolution digital cameras. Guest can go onto a floating dock to give backrubs and share a “flippershake” with a dolphin while having their photo taken.

Feel free to contact DRC to ask them to stop exploiting dolphins at drc@dolphins.org

Four years of Awareness since Dawn’s Death

Today marks the 4th anniversary of Dawn Brancheau’s death and the four year journey of heightened awareness of orcas in captivity. Sadly, that awareness came too late for Dawn.  One has to wonder how she would feel if she were still here today, especially knowing that she was blamed for her own death.  There is no denying that her story opened the eyes of millions of people to the issues surrounding captivity.

I still remember that day clearly, the local news in Orlando constantly showing Tilikum alone inside his tiny tank as if being punished.  I didn’t know what to think.  Up to this point, I had never considered captivity being wrong.  I had visited the park on many occasions and had undoubtedly seen Dawn perform in several shows through the years. She was a local hero and a senior trainer at the park. I was dumbfounded.  Who’s fault was it? What would happen to Tilikum?

Image

Photo from WFTV gallery

Many others also began questioning what went wrong.  First was Tim Zimmermann who wrote the comprehensive Killer in the Pool, an inside look into the subject of orcas in captivity.  He writes about Dawn:

IF ANYONE WAS GOING to take care around Tilikum, it was Dawn Brancheau. She was one of SeaWorld’s best and completely dedicated to the animals and her job. (She even met her husband, Scott, in the SeaWorld cafeteria.) She had worked at SeaWorld Orlando since 1994, spending two years working with otters and sea lions before graduating to work with the killer whales. She was fun and selfless, volunteering at a local animal shelter and often keeping everything from stray ducks and chickens to rabbits and small birds at her home.

Next, David Kirby writes Death at SeaWorld, giving detailed information of not only Dawn’s death, but also those victims before her. Kirby also outlines many other prior incidents previously hidden from the public.  Coupled with the studies of wild orca populations by Dr. Naomi Rose, the book exposes the dark side of orcas in captivity.

Following the release of the book, HSUS released The Real SeaWorld, a powerful 4 minute video featuring David Kirby, Dr. Naomi Rose, Jeff Ventre, Sam Berg and Carol Ray.

Probably the most powerful change has been the release of Blackfish.  Blackfish director Gabriella Cowperthwaite tells David Kirby that she made the film to answer the questions: Why was a senior trainer killed by such a highly intelligent animal, an animal with whom she presumably had a relationship?  Why would such a highly emotional, intelligent animal bite the hand that feeds it?

Blackfish opened at Sundance Film Festival last January and premiered on CNN October 24, 2013 as #1 in cable news averaging 472k in the key-demo adults 25-54 rating. Millions of people have seen the film and the views of the public are rapidly changing against captivity.

Dawn was the fourth victim taken by killer whales in captivity, but it was her death that brought the captivity issue into the forefront of public awareness.  There is no doubt that she had a love for the animals she cared for. I only hope that her story changes the way we view these animals and that our love for them is translated into doing the right thing.

A Treadmill is No Substitute for the Ocean

As David Kirby pointed out after talking to several activists last week, SeaWorld has introduced a new “treadmill for whales.” In my opinion, this seems to be a last-ditch effort for them to be portrayed as a facility who cares for their animals.  As David said, “If you make something less bad, it’s still bad.”

Yes, it is true that Tilikum spends the majority of his time stationary in a small, back pool.  He could benefit from some exercise, but we should not stray from the big picture.  No matter what kind of machine is introduced, the bottom line is that he is still living in a small concrete tank.

Image

There are many unknown variables with this new treadmill, but I can’t help but wonder about the potentially detrimental factors.  We do not know what kind of noise it makes or how cooperative Tilikum will be.  If the machine is loud underwater, I would think that it will be doing him more harm than good.  An animal who naturally uses sonar to assess his surroundings should not be exposed to anything that will further harm his senses any more than his concrete tank already does.  I also have to wonder what frustration this might cause for him.  Although he is not being asked to perform, he is being asked to swim.  In a performance, he would get frequent dead fish as a reward following any command.  How long must he swim before he is rewarded (if you call dead fish a reward).  I feel that Tilikum is smart enough to realize that he is being duped.  Although I can’t speak for him, if this was happening to me I would be extremely frustrated.  Frustration could possibly lead to another injury to himself or to someone else.

The real issue continues to be the fact that Tilikum and all of the other cetaceans in all parks don’t belong in captivity. Period.  It is a sad fact that SeaWorld must look for other ways of “enrichment” for Tilikum’s life when the natural ocean provides all the enrichment he could ever need.

As activists, the focus needs to continue to be on stopping their breeding program and phasing out the captivity of these animals for good, not finding a way to make captivity better.

I tend to agree with Naomi Rose who stated, “It’s still not good enough.  Only the ocean is good enough.”

The Tragedy of Loro Parque

PHOTO HAS BEEN REMOVED AT THE REQUEST OF THE PHOTOGRAPHER.  APPARENTLY HE THINKS THIS IS OK.

A loss of life, whether human or animal, is always a sad event.  Yesterday’s announcement of Vicky’s death at Loro Parque is the ending to her short, tragic story.  Unfortunately, the story continues for the other whales of Loro Parque, SeaWorld and other parks that house these intelligent animals.

In February 2006, four SeaWorld whales were transferred to Loro Parque on a “breeding loan”.  Vicky was the inbred offspring of two of these whales:  Kohana and Keto.   Keto is actually Kohana’s uncle.  Follow me here for just a minute…

Kohana was born to Takara and Tilikum.  Takara was born to Kasatka and Kotar.

Keto was also born to Kotar.

Are you confused?  Let’s put it another way:

Picture a little girl, just shy of her 2nd birthday, suddenly taken away from her family and moved to a different dysfunctional family.  Two years later, still under 4 years old, she is moved again to another “family”.  She has never had an opportunity to learn correctly or establish any roots.  A tragedy in its own right.

At the young age of eight, she gives birth to a son after being raped by her uncle.  An eight year old mother with no formal upbringing!  Of course, she has no idea how to take care of her newborn, so the baby is cared for by outsiders.  Less than two years later, after being raped by her uncle AGAIN, she gives birth to a baby girl at the age of 10.  With no mother to show her the ropes, she still has no idea how to care for her baby.  Outsiders step in again.

This young mother’s baby, Angel, then dies at the terribly young age of 10 months old.  Sad as it may seem, it just didn’t seem as if Angel had a chance.

Yet, this is the story of Kohana and Vicky.  This is why these whales do not belong in captivity and certainly should NOT be breeding in captivity.  In the wild, a female orca lives a lifespan comparable to humans.  Can you imagine having the life of this mother?  Or the life and sudden death of this calf?  This is completely unethical and it needs to stop now.

Please consider signing and sharing the petition to tell SeaWorld (and Loro Parque) to STOP their orca breeding program:

http://www.change.org/petitions/seaworld-end-captive-orca-breeding-program

For more information about the tragedies of SeaWorld and Loro Parque’s whales and trainers, check out David Kirby’s book Death at SeaWorld available in paperback on July 2.  For an autographed copy, pre-order now and join our initiative at Fins and Fluke:

http://www.facebook.com/events/420429341398500/

A Bad Week for SeaWorld

Last week was a rough week for SeaWorld, and this is just the beginning.

On Monday, iTunes released a new trailer for the movie Blackfish.  The new trailer is amazing, encapturing the theme of the movie within a little over 2 minutes.  If you haven’t seen it yet, check it out here: http://trailers.apple.com/trailers/magnolia/blackfish/ or on YouTube here:  

Also on Monday, a petition was released to ask SeaWorld to end their orca breeding program.  Within the first 2 hours, the petition had over 200 signatures and in a week has grown to over 3,220 signatures!  If you haven’t signed or shared the petition yet, you can find it here:  Anti-breeding petition

Monday night Samantha Berg interviewed John Hargrove, both former whale trainers at SeaWorld on Radio Free Palmer.  You can find the link to that interview here:

http://radiofreepalmer.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/BTE6.3.13.mp3

Part 2 will air tonight live at 11pm EDT at radiofreepalmer.org 

Wednesday, David Kirby wrote an amazing article titled:  Six Ways You Can Help Captive Killer Whales.  This is a tool that can be, and will be, used for years to come by advocates to work towards ending captivity in marine parks.  His piece, also published on TakePart, was named the “Pick of the Week” by TakePart at the end of the week.

David is the author of the amazing book “Death at SeaWorld”, due out in paperback on July 2.  You can pre-order your copy today at:  DASW Pre-order or for an autographed sticker, join the event at Fins and Fluke here:  http://www.facebook.com/events/420429341398500/ DASW-PB-Cover1

Death at SeaWorld has continued to gain momentum throughout the week and as of last night had the #1 ranking in several categories in Canada.

DASW Canada

To close out the week, SeaWorld announced that they were going to raise their single-day ticket price yet again on Friday.  This is the third time in the past year for a total of a 12% increase since July 2012.  Tickets last July were $81.99 and have now been raised to $92.  Throughout all of these rate hikes, not a single improvement has been made to the tiny concrete tanks that the whale and dolphins live in, or to the habitats of the sea lions and seals.

The clencher of the week occurred Friday morning when SeaWorld Orlando was issued another citation by OSHA.  This was a REPEAT violation of the previous citation stating that “The employer did not furnish employment or a place of employment which was free from recognized hazards…”

“At Shamu Stadium pools, animal trainers working with whales other than Tilikum were exposed to struck-by or drowning hazards in that they were allowed to engage in dry work performances with the killer whales without adequate protection.”  This resulted in another fine of $38,500.

Is that what the raised ticket price will be paying?

Last night, a news story broke of an escaped sea lion at SeaWorld Orlando.  The news station was “waiting for an explanation from SeaWorld”.  If history repeats itself, they could be waiting for a long time.  Here’s the story…

Sea lion escapes enclosure at SeaWorld Orlando

Barely two weeks ago, a penguin escaped the new enclosure at SW’s new Antarctica exhibit.  What will be next???

A couple other fun things to check out from last week are:

and