It's #OrcaWeek—a week dedicated to speaking up for orcas in captivity—and you won't believe what they have been forced to endure.
"Ten Worst Tanks" for Dolphins & Whales Named & Shamed by IDA
In Defense of Animals (IDA) has released its first-ever list of the Ten Worst Tanks for dolphins and whales in North America with the #1 spot shaming SeaWorld as the "most disappointing." Facilities within Canada, the United States and Mexico were chosen to represent the various and myriad problems facing imprisoned dolphins and whales (cetaceans) on public display.
Similar to IDA's esteemed Ten Worst Zoos for Elephants (now in its 12th year), the Ten Worst Tanks list illustrates the problems inherent in cetacean captivity, presenting reports of illnesses, premature deaths, deplorable living conditions, entertainment masquerading as education and other factors. The list includes a dishonorable mention for a new captive dolphin facility in the desert and, for this year at least, an honorable mention going to the National Aquarium in Baltimore for being the first aquarium to actively pursue permanent seaside retirement options for its dolphins.
Taking first place on the list for being the "Biggest Disappointment" is SeaWorld, including all three of its US-based facilities (Orlando, San Antonio and San Diego). Despite the fact that it has stopped its orca-breeding program, it is expanding its bottlenose dolphin exploitation. As an industry leader, SeaWorld’s positioning sends an inappropriate message to facilities worldwide- that dolphin captivity is still a profitable, worthwhile venture. This is clearly at odds with what the public increasingly understands: that dolphins deserve better from us than to be used for entertainment.
Click here to read more and for ways to help!
Heartbreaking Photo of Isolated Baby Beluga Illustrates Precisely Why Captivity Needs to End. Whales are some of the most fascinating animals on the planet. Over the years, we’ve gained an enormous amount of knowledge about the secretive lives of these marine-dwelling animals and the more we learn, the more apparent their similarities to humans become. These animals live in tight-knit pods and care for their friends and family just as we do. They feel love and mourn their loses with as much emotional intensity, if not more, than humans. Whales are also amazingly intelligent. Their brains are significantly larger than our own and have been developing for millions of years, humans only entered the scene a few hundred thousand ago. Orca whales are the only animals, after humans, known to evolve in tune with their distinct culture, and Beluga whales have even learned how to mimic and replicate human language with their vocalizations.
We have reached a point where we cannot deny the dynamic abilities of these animals, yet we continue to belittle their extraordinary traits by pulling from the wild and putting them on display in aquariums and marine parks.
When taken from their natural home and placed in a tank the size of a fishbowl, in comparison to the ocean, whales suffer from immense mental and physical distress. Although the tides are slowing shifting against the belief that marine captivity is beneficial or benign, we still have a long way to go until all of the tanks are emptied for good.
But we can’t forget that while we work to change the hearts and minds of people who profit from keeping whales captive, this is the sort of life the animals are sentenced to live:
Last Chance for Animals carried out an investigation at Marineland Canada and found that the belugas were living in horrific conditions. Of the 46 belugas living in small concrete enclosures, numerous were witnessed suffering from medical conditions, such as “hypersalivation, regurgitation, and raw, red throats, in some cases for prolonged periods of time.” In addition to this, baby belugas were covered with rake marks from aggressive encounters with other whales, animals were starved for training, and the list only goes on.
Seeing the impact that our own desire for “entertainment” has had on Gia and the many other belugas at Marineland further proves that there is little fun in this experience for marine animals. We owe these brilliant creatures so much more than to isolate them in tanks and strip away everything that makes them whales to begin with.
If you think all marine animals deserve to live wild and free, always boycott any facility that profits from the exploitation of animals and encourage others to do the same. Share this post and help spread awareness for the suffering inherent in marine captivity. No animal should have to suffer like Gia has, it is time to #EmptyTheTanks. Image source: Last Chance for Animals
Navy Ordered to Lower Sonar Levels to Protect Whales. Last Friday, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court in San Francisco ruled that U.S. officials were wrong to allow the Navy to use sonar at levels that can harm marine mammals. Read more about the ruling on the Navy’s sonar >
The Sound of Seismic - Oil Prospecting in the Atlantic Ocean Could Have Serious Consequences for Endangered Marine Wildlife
Ear-shattering explosions echo through the ocean. Dolphins, whales and sea turtles scatter, trying to get away from the source of the noise. What’s making this deafening sound? Seismic testing.
Seismic testing is a way for oil companies to find oil and gas reserves beneath the ocean floor and determine where to set up drill rigs. Boats tow air guns through the water behind them that blast compressed air with massive force. The sound is like a stick of dynamite dropped down a well, and testing can go on around the clock for weeks. Because the signature of the sound waves changes over oil, the blasts create an audio-image that reveal fossil fuel deposits beneath the ocean floor. But at what cost?
The deafening noise levels caused by seismic testing have harmful effects on ocean-dwelling wildlife, some of which experts are still working to understand. The deafening booms of the air guns are capable of causing temporary or even permanent hearing loss in nearby animals. Explosions can interfere with whales’ and dolphins’ ability to echo-locate, which may cause them to strand and die on beaches. Whales have been observed going miles out of their way to avoid seismic testing ships. The noise can also prevent whales and other marine mammals from communicating with one another.
Many species of whales rely on their “songs” to attract mates, tell their fellow whales about food, or warn them of nearby threats. If seismic testing drowns out these songs, it’s difficult to know whether whales can adapt. Testing can also frighten away prey species for whales, dolphins, sea turtles and other marine animals.
Last year, the federal government considered allowing the sale of oil and gas leases along the Atlantic Outer Continental Shelf, running from federal waters off Virginia through North and South Carolina to Georgia. But the plan faced strong opposition from a wide coalition of local communities, as well as local, regional, and national conservation organizations, including Defenders of Wildlife.
While the Obama Administration has thankfully decided to take oil and gas drilling in the Atlantic off the table for the next five-year leasing plan, it is allowing seismic testing to move forward in the same area. It’s not clear when any companies will begin exploration; they must receive federal permits to do so first. But if they do, many species of marine wildlife will face new and serious challenges to their survival.
One whale in particular could be put in serious jeopardy by seismic testing. Only about 500 endangered North Atlantic right whales exist in the wild today, after extensive hunting in the nineteenth century nearly wiped them out. These whales already face plenty of threats, from ship strikes to entanglement in fishing gear. North Atlantic right whales generally stick close to the shoreline, migrating up to the Gulf of Maine in the summer, and spending the winter off the coast of Georgia to rest and calve in the warm, calm waters. The area where companies could begin seismic testing overlaps completely with right whale migration routes.
Sea turtles are also at risk, with many of their nesting beaches located near testing areas. Newly-hatched sea turtles make a stressful, exhausting dash from their sandy nests to the water and, once there, continue their journey to the open ocean. These tiny creatures already overcome the threats of predators, cars and other obstacles just to reach the water. If they also have to swim through the seismic testing area before they can reach the open ocean, the sound could disorient them, causing them to waste vital energy avoiding the source of the noise instead of finding safe haven.
We don’t know how marine species will respond to the disruptive blasts or what long-term effects seismic testing could have on their survival and recovery. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) drafted a report that concluded that seismic testing would only have “moderate” impacts on marine life when it first considered opening up the Atlantic coast to drilling. But based on scientific research and past evidence, the consequences are likely to be a serious concern. We must be vigilant and quick to respond if seismic testing is harming North Atlantic right whales and other imperiled species. Check back with us as this issue progresses — Defenders and our conservation allies are keeping a close eye on BOEM and oil companies alike. The post The Sound of Seismic appeared first on Defenders of Wildlife Blog.
For many years, In Defense of Animals has blazed a trail - identifying, exposing, and campaigning to make a better life for elephants confined and abused in circuses and zoos - and protecting them in the wild. With your kind support we have achieved some notable successes.
Most recently, we helped to end the Ringling Bros Circus' incessant transport of elephants and the cruel and unnatural performances they were forced to endure (although we are still pursuing a true sanctuary for these elephants).
Just last year, four zoos closed their cruel elephant exhibits, three of which appeared on the Ten Worst Zoos for Elephants list in previous years. We also contributed to successful legislative efforts to ban the sale of ivory and to cease the use of the archaic and painful bullhooks on captive elephants in various regions.
Now (just yesterday!) we were pleased to be able to take similarly strong action for whales and dolphins. We published our first ever listing of the Ten Worst Tanks - facilities where whales and dolphins suffer in captivity, confined to swimming in endless circles, deprived of healthy environments and social groups and forced to endure invasive reproduction techniques, dangerous transport, and exploited through "swim" and "petting" programs in which their sociable nature is brutally exploited.
Leading the list - our vote for "Greatest Disappointment"- is SeaWorld (all facilities combined, Orlando, San Antonio, and San Diego.) SeaWorld recently announced an end to its orca breeding and shows. Instead of rethinking the public's growing distaste for imprisoned animals, SeaWorld is now expanding their exploitation of bottlenose dolphins through new "swim with dolphins" attractions and other methods.
In 2015, six young cetaceans died prematurely at SeaWorld facilities; teenage orca Unna, two baby beluga whales, and three young dolphins. Tilikum, the tormented orca featured in the revolutionary film Blackfish, is ailing and may be next.
Despite claims of having "the highest-quality care based on the latest advances in marine veterinary medicine," a disturbing number of cetaceans are dying at SeaWorld, decades before their natural life expectancy.
Behind SeaWorld's announcement about phasing out orca breeding was a ruling from the California Coastal Commission which restricted the company's ability to breed orcas in San Diego. SeaWorld quickly threw away the key for the remaining 28 orcas in its concrete prisons with an impudent declaration that the animals would never see or feel the natural seawater of a sea-side sanctuary where they could retire in peace.
Never to feel seawater again?! Not on our watch! Give now and together, we WILL keep up the fight for Tilikum and other captive whales and dolphins!
You can see the full listing here: www.idausa.org/tenworsttanks.
The work to get to this point has involved travel to tanks across the Americas, intensive review of government and veterinary records and death reports, gathering of images, collection of data, and more. It was not an inexpensive undertaking. The investigation has taken the better part of the past twelve months.
But we're there and the response from around the world, including the press, has been impressive. And it's been only one day. We will be working overtime to keep this tragedy in front from of the eyes of the world.
Please, if there is any way you can, donate today to help defray the considerable cost to get us to the point where we have been able to bring these facts to the full light of the public eye.
Our campaign has begun. In Defense of Animals will be working tirelessly and expertly to effect long overdue changes so these majestic, intelligent, and very social animals can live out their days in peace.
We need your support. Please stand with us today by being as generous as you possibly can.
Fractured Teeth and Broken Minds – Assessing Captive Orca Welfare. Captivity compromises orca welfare. This is now widely accepted, even by the world’s biggest orca display franchise, SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment, Inc. in the U.S., which has pledged to end its orca breeding program and to phase out its display of captive orcas. Still, it shouldn’t be forgotten that the orcas in captivity today, at SeaWorld and elsewhere, are still suffering because of their confinement.
Only in April, an orca known as Morgan was filmed frantically smashing her head off the metal bars that locked her inside the tiny medical tank at Loro Parque in Tenerife. Then last month, witnesses saw her stranding herself on the side of her concrete tank for a disturbingly long period of time, like male tank-mate Tekoa, the most excessively raked orca in captivity, had done previously. Why? It may be the only way they can escape severe aggression from the other orcas in their tank.
Now, a damning report has been released by the Free Morgan Foundation, documenting evidence of how fractured the teeth – and minds – of Morgan and the other orcas at the Spanish entertainment park are. Photographic evidence within the report shows that this tooth damage is self-mutilation caused by abnormal repetitive (stereotypic) behaviors: Orcas chewing concrete and on the metal gates, jaw popping (snapping mouths shut) and hitting their skulls against concrete and metal. Stereotypies develop when an animal’s biological needs, which have evolved over hundreds and thousands of years, are not met. To see so many stereotypies in these captive orcas illustrates that they are bored, frustrated, and forced to share small spaces with individuals they are not getting along with. They are struggling to cope with life behind bars.
SeaWorld is Banning Captive Breeding – Why Not Others?
So why then is Loro Parque, as well as every other entertainment park that currently keeps or is aspiring to keep orcas captive worldwide, including Marineland Antibes in France, not agreeing with SeaWorld?
Despite the fact that four of Loro Parque’s orcas were born at SeaWorld parks, and that all five (including the youngest born at the Spanish park) are only loaned to Loro Parque and are included in SeaWorld’s breeding ban, Loro Parque is fighting the decision. Worse, it is still allowing SeaWorld’s sexually active males to chase the ovulating females around its little tanks, particularly Morgan, the sixth orca confined at Loro Parque who was captured from the wild in 2010, (yes, she was rescued, but she was supposed to have been returned to the wild, or at the very least, an attempt was to have been made). SeaWorld has laid claim to Morgan as one of its “assets” so she is counted in the ban, although there doesn’t appear to be any legal basis for SeaWorld’s claim (which some might say is stealing!).
Animal Welfare Concerns
Loro Parque has stated that it “would like to underline the importance of relying on scientifically proven data to make statements about animal well-being,” arguing that “in order to make any correct conclusion [as to a captive orca’s well-being], it is a requirement that professional veterinarians and renowned experts work intensely for an extended period of time, conducting observations” [emphasis added]. These comments were provided in response to the video of Morgan beaching herself in the intense Spanish sun, which she has been filmed doing twice, once with what was possibly blood streaking down her chin.
Suzanne Rogers is an animal welfare expert and consultant who advises veterinarians, veterinary practices, non-profits, and alliances on animal welfare. In an interview, Rogers told One Green Planet, “It is a common misconception to assume that veterinarians are trained in animal welfare. Being a vet is not the same as being an animal welfare expert. This is why signs of poor welfare are often missed when facilities are relying on vets who have no formal training in animal welfare science.”
Another dangerous issue that Rogers stressed is the fact that these vets often have no experience with free-ranging cetaceans (whales, dolphins, and porpoises), or specifically orcas. “Even in captivity, cetaceans are wild animals; they are not domesticated,” Rogers explained. “Therefore, to assess their welfare, you need someone who is an expert in the behavior of each individual species, both kept in captivity and free-ranging in the wild. If a vet is assessing a captive orca, he or she needs to be familiar with wild orca behavior as a benchmark for what is normal. Many vets do not have this experience so can’t tell the difference, and they can’t discern when an abnormal behavior has arisen.”
As part of her work to better educate vets and other expert professionals, (perhaps like the “renowned” ones that Loro Parque is vague about in its statement), Rogers is organizing the World’s first international conference on Human Behaviour Change for Animal Welfare, in partnership with the University of Edinburgh’s Royal School of Veterinary Sciences and its International Centre for Animal Welfare Education. One of the talks listed on the conference program, to be given by Nancy Clarke of The Animal Welfare Science, Ethics & Law Veterinary Association, is all about “creating a culture within veterinary education to achieve humane behaviour and good animal welfare.”
As well as stating it seeks advice from vets regarding the welfare of its orcas, Loro Parque has said in its blog that the “opinions of organizations that evidently only pursue their anti-zoo agenda” cannot be relied upon. The entertainment park does not seem to have considered that perhaps some of these organizations, such as the Free Morgan Foundation, are comprised of experts of both free-ranging and captive orcas. These experts are able to recognize what is normal behavior, what is detrimental to an orcas health and most importantly, why.
Evaluating the Needs of Captive Orcas
Dr. Ingrid Visser, Founder of the Orca Research Trust and co-Founder of the Free Morgan Foundation, has spent decades studying free-ranging orcas in several locations around the world. She has also spent the past few years observing orcas in captivity and documenting their behavior. Along with Rosina Lisker, a paralegal based in Germany, Visser also sits on the Free Morgan Foundation Board. Lisker has observed free-ranging orca in Argentina, New Zealand, Canada and the U.S., and has observed orca in captivity in Spain and France. Both wrote the 2016 report that uses globally accepted animal welfare indicators, such as the display of stereotypic behaviors and physical damage, to evidence how tragic the lives of Loro Parque’s orcas really are.
“The Five Freedoms is an animal welfare framework developed to assess the absolute basic biological needs of animals with the purpose of improving animal welfare,” Visser described, referring to a framework that Loro Parque says it adheres to on an information board in its park. “Their version, the ‘five principles’,” Visser explained, “is far from the most up-to-date animal welfare framework, which in itself is telling. The next step up is the Five Domains and it is a more comprehensive model for assessing welfare.” The World Association of Zoos and Aquariums actually recommends that “zoos and aquariums [apply] the ‘Five Domains’.”
However, the report has put forward strong evidence showing that Loro Parque does not seem to be fulfilling even the minimal Five Freedoms for SeaWorld’s orcas. According to Visser’s and Lisker’s report, Loro Parque has breached at least four of the five welfare freedoms that it claims to meet: The freedom to express normal behavior, freedom from physical (including thermal) discomfort, freedom from fear and distress, as well as freedom from pain. Freedom from injury (or disease) doesn’t even appear on the park’s modified list and based on the report, they couldn’t fulfill it if it did.
The final freedom is the freedom from hunger and thirst, (with orcas obtaining water from the food that they eat). Although it cannot be definitively determined at this time whether an orca is hungry or thirsty, Morgan’s lunging out of the water at feeding time, as detailed in the report, as well as the mouth-open begging behavior exhibited by some orcas, might suggest that they are.
“The orcas do not have the space to exhibit body postures and behaviors that are normal of free-ranging individuals, such as hanging vertically or swimming at top speeds,” Visser noted, mentioning the medical tank specifically. She clarified that it should only be used as a temporary tank for medical procedures, but that she has seen the orcas crammed into it, sometimes together, for unethically long periods of time. “The inappropriate social groupings, even in the other, slightly larger tanks, can also affect the display of natural behaviors and can lead to excessive aggression. Plus there is no shade to protect their delicate skin. All of this can (and does) lead to pain, fear, and distress; from being locked into the tanks, attacked by another orca and from the wounds that arise from the enclosure, such as dental damage and self-mutilation.”
The Impact of Dental Damage
The physical discomfort and pain caused by the dental procedures is of particular concern; in fact, the dental damage incurred by the orcas through stereotypic self-mutilation and the resulting treatment is the centerpiece of the report. Lisker is mindful of the comparison between orca and human oral injury, “Imagine what it’s like as a human having a toothache. If severe enough, it might feel as if your entire head is exploding and it can affect both your mental and emotional states as well. We can only assume that orca feel similar pain when their teeth are damaged. They have to bear all these injuries, as well as the daily drilling and irrigation procedures, apparently without medication.”
As well as finding evidence that Loro Parque is not meeting at least four of the Five Freedoms, the report also presents evidence that Loro Parque has violated at least 23 bottlenose dolphin-specific welfare measurements. These measurements are taken from the only formal welfare assessment that exists for any cetacean species in captivity. According to the report, although orcas are not bottlenose dolphins, they are from the same family and so the measurements can be applied across both species.
A “health and welfare assessment” by Dr. Andrew Greenwood, a vet contracted by Loro Parque, has also discussed the orcas’ teeth. His findings from September 2015, however, have major discrepancies when compared with the photographic evidence included in the Free Morgan Foundation report. Greenwood did not appear to evaluate the damage to the teeth in the context of the orcas’ behaviors or their enclosures. As a result and unlike the Visser and Lisker report, there is no explanation from him as to why the tooth damage may be present and neither is there any assessment as to what implication it has for the orcas’ welfare.
Demanding Action for Orcas
Visser and Lisker have now submitted their report to the U.S. government as ultimately, SeaWorld is responsible for the orcas at Loro Parque, rendering the U.S. government accountable for protecting the orcas’ welfare. The Free Morgan Foundation has also sent an open letter to Joel Manby, CEO of SeaWorld, to once again request a meeting to open dialogue with SeaWorld about its orcas. The same letter was also addressed to Wayne Pacelle, CEO of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), whose organization partnered with SeaWorld on the park’s decision to end orca captivity. It is hoped that members of the HSUS will speak out for the Loro Parque orcas as well.
Of course, all members of the public can speak out and Lisker wants to keep reminding people: “Please don’t buy a ticket to places that keep whales and dolphins captive. Although our report focuses on orcas, you can find similar problems for all other captive cetaceans, in all facilities around the world.”
There is an alternative for the orcas currently in captivity too. It is strongly suggested within the report that Loro Parque should place its orcas “into a seaside sanctuary, where they can continue to receive the medical care they will require…experience the natural ocean, large enclosures, reduced stress and by default, their welfare will be enhanced.” The Free Morgan Foundation has even offered its support to SeaWorld and Loro Parque should they decide that this is the best course of action. And both Visser and Lisker believe that it is. “To do otherwise,” they wrote, “would only be disingenuous and hypocritical of SeaWorld’s and Loro Parque’s claims to be doing the best for these animals and to be companies that give priority to animal welfare.”
Visit The Free Morgan Foundation website to learn more about Morgan, the other orcas at Loro Parque and how you can support the Free Morgan Foundation’s efforts to improve these orcas lives.
In-text image source: Free Morgan Foundation. Lead image source: Shutterstock