Good News for Rescued Sea Turtles!

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Last week, we reported that almost 200 Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtles from the Cape Cod area had been brought to various facilities in Florida for rescue.

Today, Keys News reported that nine of 30 turtles that were sent to Marathon Turtle Hospital have made a full recovery and will be released this week off North Florida.

The nine turtles were transported from the Marathon Turtle Hospital to the Loggerhead Marinelife Center in Juno Beach, where they are scheduled to be released later this week, according to Marathon Turtle Hospital Manager Bette Zirkelbach.

Unfortunately, three of the turtles died due to pneumonia-related illnesses last weekend.

We are wishing these nine good luck as they are released!

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SeaWorld Rescues…For Profit

Due to Blackfish backlash, SeaWorld has put new emphasis on their 22,000 animals rescued.  What they don’t tell you is that most of these animals are sea turtles and manatees.  Their efforts in these rescues should be commended and nobody is questioning these rescues. However, there is another side to their rescue efforts.

In 2010, SeaWorld submitted a permit request to import a pilot whale, Argo, from Japan.  Argo reportedly had been stranded alive in Japan, but many are skeptical that the stranding was an intentional part of the drive in Taiji.  A group of organizations including Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, Animal Welfare Institute, Human Society of the US, and Earth Island Institute submitted a comment co-written by Courtney Vail and Naomi Rose in opposition of the permit.

As part of the comment, they state:

Given the cultural and commercial history in Japan of capturing delphinid cetaceans in drive hunts, both for slaughter and alive for sale to public display facilities, it is difficult not to speculate that this animal was intentionally stranded by local entrepreneurs.  This possibility becomes even more difficult to dismiss when considering the fact that pilot whales tend to strand en masse rather than singly.

In 2004, the male pilot whale was reportedly obtained by Kamogawa SeaWorld at the request of local authorities from Moriya Beach. We note from the supplemental information that NMFS requested details regarding the capture operation despite Sea World’s indication in its application that this is irrelevant. We believe that this question is very relevant, considering most facilities in Japan acquire their dolphins from drive hunts. The minimal documentation provided by the applicant regarding the stranding event does not alleviate our concerns that the animal was intentionally stranded in a drive. 

In addition, and perhaps most importantly, there is no information regarding the stranding itself, including descriptions of any assessments taken of the health and status of the animal or subsequent efforts that were undertaken to return this animal to the water over the short or long term. There is no description of any rehabilitation efforts prior to release attempts. If no such efforts were made and no good reason can be provided for their omission, then from a policy perspective, NMFS should not implicitly condone a poorly handled stranding response through the approval of this trade unless the animal is in desperate medical need or in an inadequate facility, which is not the case for this application.

Unfortunately, Argo’s permit was approved and he continues to live at SeaWorld San Diego to this day.  Given the lack of information in this “standing”, it seems apparent that this was not a typical stranding, but rather an intentional stranding during the drive fisheries of Taiji.

In September 2012, the marine mammal community was devastated when a pod of 22 pilot whales beached themselves in Ft. Pierce, Florida.  After a day-long effort by state and national officials, 5 calves (2 calves and 3 juveniles) were transported to Harbor Branch Research Institute for rehabilitation.  The others were either euthanized or died of natural causes, Allison Garrett of NOAA’s fisheries service told Huffington Post.

Candace Calloway Whiting, a former marine mammal trainer, had the insight early on that the future was bleak for these rescued pilot whales.  In her report at the time, she states:

“The young whales were transported to Florida Atlantic University’s Harbor Branch Institute for rehabilitation, where they will doubtless get top notch care….but chances are high that these whales will never see the ocean again.  We need to find better ways to help stranded whales and dolphins than the current practice of saving only the ones destined for a life of captivity and research.”

After stabilizing at Harbor Branch for a few days, the four remaining pilot whales were transported to SeaWorld Orlando in the middle of the night.  One died the night before the transport.  Candace reports again:

“People are seriously questioning the decision making that went into the whole rescue operation (22 pilot whales beached themselves on Saturday near Avalon Beach in Florida, more on this can be found here), when most of the whales were euthanized while four juveniles and a still nursing calf were taken to the Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute. In other words, the mothers and families of these whales were euthanized while the young were kept.”

It does seem rather suspicious that only the young, and needy, ones were kept alive.  Candace goes on to say:

SeaWorld has another opportunity here to reinvent itself into an organization that really is about education, rescue and rehabilitation. We’ll see.”

In a report by the Palm Beach Post, in 1986 three calves from a stranded pod in Cape Cod were rehabilitated and released.  These three were satellite tagged and reportedly joined up with a new pod. You can read more about them in this article by Space Today.   It can be done!

Another of these rescued babies died soon after transport to SeaWorld leaving only three, along with Fredi.  Fredi was moved to SeaWorld on July 23, 2011 after a stranding in Key Largo.  She is a young female who was also determined to be dependent and unable to be released, according to CBS Miami.

These pilot whales have continued to be in the spotlight after a video went viral last July when one became stuck on the slide-out area for 20 minutes before getting assistance from the trainers at SeaWorld.  David Kirby, author of Death at SeaWorld, talked with Carlo DeLeonibus about the video he captured in an article for TakePart (video included).  Carlo had brought his daughter, Cat, to the park that day.  Cat was inspired to become a dolphin trainer until witnessing this struggle.  She has since changed her career plans and will not be returning to SeaWorld.

Most of the time the pilot whales can be seen huddled up and bobbing in the back pool of Whale and Dolphin Stadium, but more recently SeaWorld has decided to “celebrate” their rescue by training them.  Here is their propaganda introducing the shows…

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=avEHOdcbQLk

SeaWorld’s rescues and releases should be commended, but would they have rescued these pilot whales if they had been releasable?  The advocacy community has been questioning SeaWorld’s silence in the past few days over the horrific 250 bottlenose dolphins corralled in the cove of Taiji.  The story has received international pressure, yet SeaWorld’s rescue team has remained quiet.  These are the facts.  You can decide for yourself.

Roxanne’s Rescue and Release

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(Photo taken during Roxanne’s rescue)

Many of you have had questions regarding Roxanne’s rescue and release, so I wanted to clear a few things up, and to urge you to continue donating to help Riverhead Foundation’s efforts to Free Roxanne.  I spoke with Kim Durham, Rescue Program Director, to gain more information and a better understanding of what goes into Roxanne’s rehabilitation and release.

The decision for Roxanne to be a rehabilitation candidate was originally made by NOAA Fisheries after she was reported to the hotline.  She was found thrashing on a sandbar in approximately 2 feet of water east of the Fire Island Inlet in the Great South Bay.  She came in weighing 603 lbs and very thin.  Her initial physical exam revealed dehydration and gastric hemorrhaging.  She was given fluids and started to eat squid on her own later that night.

Since her rescue, Roxanne has gained over 100 lbs by eating 75 lbs of squid per day. This costs the foundation $200 per day.  The total cost for her rehabilitation is estimated at $150,000.

The Riverhead Foundation is the only facility in the NE or SE regions, other than in Florida, to have the resources available to rescue cetaceans.  The only other option would be euthanasia.  They were the first to successfully released another Risso dolphin, Rocky, back in 2005.  For more information about Rocky you can visit the website.

The cost of the release being requested is to cover the vessel cost, ground transportation to the release site, and reconstruction/repair of the crate to transport her.  The wooden crate has endured water damage.  Funding is also needed to repair her rescue sling so that it will be ready to use for the next rescue.  They also need ongoing funding to repair their dolphin ambulance and it’s cabinetry, which has become damaged.

Riverhead Foundation just received authorization yesterday from NOAA Fisheries to proceed with the release of Roxanne.  That is great news!  They have targeted August 28-29 as her release window even though continued funding is necessary.  The foundation will need to dip into their reserve funding, knowing that turtle and seal rescue season is quickly upon them as well.

The vessel, Stony Brook University SOMAS RV Seawolf, has already been secured for the release.  This vessel has the ability to transport the crate to the release location and offers the best alternative for sliding Roxanne off the stern.

Riverhead Foundation, and in particular this release, should be celebrated for their willingness to continue these costly rescues.  The bottom line is that if it weren’t for them, Roxanne would not have survived.  We should continue to support their efforts and celebrate Roxanne’s release.  As you can see, it doesn’t come cheap.  Roxanne will be the 4th successful rehabilitated and released Risso dolphin ever!

With the Taiji dolphin drives resuming in the next couple weeks, this is a situation that we DO have control over and we CAN help.  Riverhad Foundation does not want to keep Roxanne for display as other marine facilities often do.  That should also be celebrated.  As advocates and activists, this is the type of campaign that we should give our full support.

Please continue to do what you can to support Riverhead Foundation and Roxanne’s release.  Click the link for the donation sight.