Saturday, January 21, 2017

A Whale Of A Week!

Photographer Perfectly Sums Up Why We Need to End Orca Captivity With a Simple Message. Granny was an apt name for the wise old orca that recently died at the age of 103. She enjoyed a long life as the matriarch of her pod and epitomized the peace and freedom that unfortunately not all orcas get to experience. Many people have come to know these whales as captive animals you can visit in marine parks like SeaWorld or Marineland. They come to believe these animals enjoy life in a tank and exist to perform tricks and make their many “fans” smile. This couldn’t be further from the truth. We’ve come to understand that orcas are highly intelligent animals who share deep bonds with their family members. Taking them from the wild causes them enormous mental and emotional distress – which sadly leads to a very low quality of life in captivity. There is no better example of this than SeaWorld’s late killer whale, Tilikum.

In an effort to show how orcas truly deserve to live, conservation photographer, Paul Nicklen recently shared this photo on Instagram.

“The moment when a killer whale’s breath meets the moist wild ocean air is a beautiful thing and one I will never get tired of trying to capture with a camera. Rest in peace, Tilikum. You deserved better,” he writes.
Tilikum was the orca made famous by the documentary Blackfish, which tells the story of how killer whales were captured from the wild to become SeaWorld performers. On January 6, 2017, he died in captivity at the age of 35, many decades sooner than he would likely have endured in the wild.

Before his death, he displayed many of the signs of neurosis and frustration commonly found in captive cetaceans. These included a collapsed dorsal fin, abnormal repetitive behaviors, broken teeth, and aggression toward his fellow captives. Another way he acted out was by attacking, and even killing, trainers at SeaWorld. This kind of behavior is abnormal and only found among orcas held in captivity.

Many captive animals express symptoms of anxiety, depression, and stress . Tilikum’s conduct wasn’t surprising given the nature of orcas, who as a species are extremely intelligent and emotionally complex. They are accustomed to swimming up to 100 miles per day in the open water, but in marine parks like SeaWorld, they are confined to small pools. In order to swim 100 miles, the whales would need to swim the perimeter 1,900 times a day.

Orcas are also very familistic, and in the wild, remain with their mothers for their entire lives. When whales like Tilikum are stolen from their pods, it affects not only the captured individuals but also the pods from which they were taken. In fact, everything about cetacean captivity is a lose-lose for these animals.

Knowing what we do about how captivity impacts these animals, it is our duty to fight to put an end to this practice. That’s why we need to continue efforts for other captive orcas, like Morgan in Loro Parque, until all the tanks are emptied and whales across the globe enjoy the freedom that all sentient beings deserve. Image source: Paul Nicklen/Instagram

Stranded Whale Had Little Hope of Survival Until a Group of People Came Together to Help. An extraordinary group effort recently saved a stranded melon-headed whale at Cibungur Beach in Panimbang, Banten, Indonesia. The stranded animal was found in a location that was difficult to work with – shallow in depth and with great waves. But, thanks to the participation of a number of people who were concerned with the fate of the whale and more than eager to help, the animal was rescued and safely released.

The stranded whale was running the risk of dying of dehydration if help didn’t come soon…
Fortunately, Loka PSPL Serang, a local marine mammal rescue organization, conducted an incredible rescue effort to save the animal.
After successfully ushering the whale into a swing, they were able to arrange a transport for the animal.
Once they reached a safer location, the team set the whale free. The impressive rescue was led by Mr. Bambang Subolo of Loka PSPL Serang.
It is so beautiful to see this group of people come together to save a marine animal in need. Unfortunately, there is little understanding of what causes whale strandings, but thankfully, there are kind organizations working to provide help for these animals. Whale Strandings Indonesia, the organization who shared this local rescue effort, is working to track incidents of marine mammal strandings and identify patterns and discern the cause of strandings to help rescue efforts.

If you ever come across a marine animal in distress, it is important to contact a professional for help. Some experts liken a stranding event to a car crash, so the animals require special help and evaluation during rescue.  For more information on marine animal rescues, click here. All image source: Whale Strandings Indonesia/Facebook

Japanese Government Plots to Overturn International Ban on Whaling. Old habits die hard — in Japan’s case, this means continuing their infamously bloody hunts of whales, despite international opposition … and really, a complete lack of a legitimate rhyme or reason as to why they wish to keep this practice up. In 1986, the International Whaling Convention (IWC) instituted an indefinite ban on commercial whaling –  a ban that is still in effect, with certain exceptions. However, Japan has repeatedly ignored the ban in order to conduct “research” i.e. kill whales and sell their meat and parts.

Last year, the IWC’s Scientific Committee reported that Japan claimed they hunt whales for “lethal research.” But under what circumstance does anyone need to kill thousands of whales in the name of science? Josh Coates, from the Australian Marine Conservation Society, told The Sydney Morning Herald that “so-called ‘scientific’ whaling is nothing more than commercial whaling in disguise.” We buy that. The website for the Institute of Cetacean Research in Japan provides a number of whale meat recipes – even though Japanese citizens seem to be losing their appetite for whale meat.

For decades, Japan has been actively recruiting developing countries to join the IWC by incentivizing them with its Official Development Assistance (ODA) program, which provides aid to nations in need. Why? So they can overturn the international ban on whaling. According to a recent article by the Whale and Dolphin Conservation, Japanese government officials have said that they plan to “dispatch experts in the fisheries sector to countries that can be expected to join the IWC and anti-whaling nations that are likely to turn to the Japanese side, in order to advocate for support and promote ‘making friends’.” This is clearly coercion so that Japan can continue to carry out its brutal practice of hunting and killing whales. The same article states that the countries in question have “admitted that they voted in support of whaling due to the large amounts of aid they receive from Japan.” Really, the officials behind the push to secure whaling practices in Japan have reached a level of cartoon villainy that would place them right at home with the eco-villains of Captain Planet like Looten Plunder and Duke Nukem.

Regardless of whether or not Japan is able to secure enough allies to get their way at the next IWC meeting, they have, and will likely continue to violate international laws. In 2014, in response to a case brought by Australia and New Zealand, the International Court of Justice concluded that Japan “failed to provide a legitimate scientific justification for its lethal whaling, and that its whaling under JARPA II [their previous whaling program] was thus in violation of the international commercial whaling moratorium.”

It is during moments like this that we should remember, not only how similar whales and humans are, but also how ecologically irresponsible it is to kill these keystone species. Whales play an important role in combating global warming and ensuring the survival of the planet. Everything on this earth is connected and for countries like Japan to continue the slaughter of whales is frankly, dangerous, illogical, and a gross display of hubris. Icarus’s wax wings melted when he flew too close to the sun. When will Japan realize that their hunting practices are doing more than just hurting cetaceans?

To conclude, here are some words of wisdom from Captain Paul Watson, founder of Sea Shepherd: “Japan cannot demonstrate any new science to the IWC to justify their illegal activities for the simple reason that the science does not exist; it never has and no matter how much they dress it up, the plan is flawed scientifically.”

So please, share this article and encourage others to do the same. With increased pressure on the Japanese government, we may stand to see a change in their ways.
In Defense of Animals

End Vancouver Aquarium's Cetacean Captivity! The recent deaths of two beluga whales at Vancouver Aquarium sparked new efforts to end the captivity of whales and dolphins within the city of Vancouver in British Columbia, Canada. The Vancouver Parks Board commissioners will vote on this issue as soon as January 23. It's time to end Vancouver Aquarium’s cetacean captivity now! TAKE ACTION

What Taking Orcas From the Ocean for Captivity Does to Wild Pods. Most of you have likely seen Blackfish and if you haven’t yet… watch it! Without a doubt, Blackfish has completely altered mainstream thought on marine mammal captivity and has also led an appetite for legislative change to ban the use of orcas for entertainment purposes.

So, finally the masses are coming to the realization that this type of captivity for human entertainment and profit is completely unacceptable. But let’s come at this from another angle.

Marine ecosystems have been absolutely desecrated by human interference, to a point where scientists are now telling us that we may be sitting on the precipice of a major extinction event. With this in mind how can anyone support, never mind make profit, out of kidnapping wild ocean mammals from their habitats for the sole purpose of human entertainment?

Marine Mammal Kidnapping
High-speed boat chases, violent beatings, stress, death and kidnapping; the wild capture of whales and dolphins is brutal. Many are targeted and many are killed or injured. The saddest thing is that it is the young and healthy that are most commonly taken in these captures. These are the future generations of these already struggling species and the implications of human interference are much more far reaching than the initial kidnappings.

Apart from the brutality of it all, the removal of the fittest can have substantial negative impact on the animals left behind. In certain species of marine mammal, it is the strong that hold the whole family together. Removing these members can lead to the entire group dispersing as their natural cohesion is turned upside down, leaving them struggling to find food and becoming more vulnerable to predation.

Although orca whales can be found in virtually every major marine region across the world, there are a number of orca family pods that are currently considered endangered or threatened. The southern resident orcas are the most well-known endangered family, comprised of the J, K, and L pods. These pods can be found off the coast of British Columbia and Washington state. Interestingly, these are the same waters where early wild-orca captures began for major marine parks such as SeaWorld and Marineland Canada.

Many people do not realize that different orca pods can have not only distinct features, but specific dialects and behaviors. While these whales are generally considered monotypic (belonging to one species), there is evidence that several subspecies of orca exist, divided by pod grouping. Meaning, if one grouping is disturbed and disbands because of live-capture events this can mean the loss of an entire wild orca family which could cascade into the loss of that orca species.
What Taking Orca Whales From the Wild for Captivity Does to Wild Pods
However, the marine mammal captivity industry is trying to convince us that this is good for conservation. Let’s take a closer look.

The Conservation Myth

Of course, we can’t talk about marine mammal captivity and not mention SeaWorld! If you look at their website section for conservation the tagline boasts, “Our parks have inspired more than 23 million guests in 2013 to celebrate and conserve the natural world.” So from the get-go we see that SeaWorld believes that just because people have paid to see wild mammals in their prisons it makes everything okay.

What is missing from this line is the simple fact that exposure to live captive animals does exactly the opposite of what the industry rhetoric claims. The in-depth and powerful joint report from the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and World Animal Protection (formally WSPA) explains it perfectly:

“Instead of sensitizing visitors to marine mammals and their habitat, it desensitizes humans to the cruelty inherent in removing these animals from their natural habitats and holding them captive.”

Not to mention a former SeaWorld research scientists even openly admitted that any basic educational purposes that marine parks served have all but disappeared in modern times.

There is a reason why the industry glosses over the marine mammals’ natural behaviors, ecology, demographics, or population distribution during marine mammal shows. Why? You may ask. If the visitors to SeaWorld or other marine parks were told about the life of marine mammals in their natural environments, they might stop and consider what these animals have lost in order to entertain them.

What really says it all is the fact that for every $1,000,000 of SeaWorld’s revenue only $600 goes to conservation efforts. I don’t think that even warrants a “token gesture” tag.

But we cannot just pick on SeaWorld. Many captive facilities also boast about their conservation efforts. Yet, World Animal Protection highlights that less than 10 percent of captive facilities are involved in dolphin conservation programs to reintroduce captive-bred animals into the wild and the amount spent on these programs is but a fraction of the income generated by the facilities.

So, do not fall for the propaganda and savvy public relations. This is an industry built on smoke and mirrors and it is pretty cheap and insulting to try to convince the public that a dolphin or orca jumping through hoops is at all a natural thing.

The real sea world is out there in the wild.

How Can We Take Action for Marine Mammals?
As scientists at the University of California point out, compared with land habitats, the oceans are for the most part still intact and still wild enough to “bounce back to ecological health.” So there is still time to save the oceans and reverse our disastrous impact upon them.

The amazing effects of Blackfish can be seen in fast moving developments with marine mammals in captivity. What we must not forget is that if we free the prisoners we must make sure there is a home for them to return to. Check out World Animal Protection’s Sea Change Campaign.

Above all, the best way you can help is by boycotting all marine parks. When people stop paying to see captive orcas and marine mammals, there won’t be any excuse left to keep them prisoner. Image source: Mike Charest/Flickr

Kate del Castillo Urges Miami Seaquarium to Send Lonely Orca to Sanctuary

Sign This Petition to Help Endangered Pacific Northwest Orcas Who Are Starving. We are all familiar with the orca. The beautiful “blackfish” found in all oceans, from the Arctic and Antarctic regions to tropical seas. They are an iconic species, recognized by all, and recent exposés highlighting the cruelty of their captivity by marine parks such as SeaWorld, have only increased awareness towards the threats faced by the species.

What is fascinating is that despite the orca being generally considered monotypic (belonging to one species) scientific studies have revealed that different species or subspecies of killer whales actually exist worldwide.

The Southern Resident Killer Whales are an example of this. They are a large extended family and are made up of three different pods – the J-Pod, K-Pod, and L-Pod. This family of orcas resides primarily in the waters of the Salish Sea, a group of waters the runs between British Columbia and the northwestern tip of Washington State. Although Southern Resident orcas are among the most well-known pod clusters, they are also the only orcas to be classified as “endangered” under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.

The latest calf of the Southern Residents was recently born to the J-pod and has been labelled J-51. This means that there are now 79 Southern Resident orcas in total, and 26 members of the J pod. The birth of J-51 is a highly positive development in the survival of this species. But why is it that births are so rare and calves are struggling to survive infancy?

A Species on the Edge of Extinction
According to the Center for Orca Research the size of all three Southern Resident pods was reduced in number from 1965-75 as a result of whale captures for major marine parks. The live capture of orcas is a brutal exercise and at least 13 whales were killed during these captures while 45 Southern Resident whales, including Lolita who now lives at Miami Seaquarium, were sent to marine parks around the world.

Since 1998, sixty-one Southern Resident Killer Whales have died. With only thirty-eight orcas being born and surviving infancy during this period this is incredibly alarming. So what is causing this? We know that the trauma associated with losing members to captivity can compromise wild pods, but there is another greater threat facing this species.

These orcas are starving. Once upon time, these black fish would have survived soundly in their natural environments, but now these great whales have to compete with the ever menacing presence of human industry.

Humans, Dams, and Salmon
The Southern Resident Killer Whale Salmon Initiative highlight that Chinook salmon are the orcas primary food and, therefore, vital for the survival of this struggling species. Worryingly the Chinook salmon are also an endangered species, and there are simply not enough of them to feed the South Resident Killer Whales which are relying on a plentiful population of salmon to recover their own species.

So, what has threatened both the salmon and subsequently the Southern Resident Killer Whales? It’s a dam problem!

According to Southern Resident Killer Whale Salmon Initiative, there are four lower Snake River dams which are having a devastating impact on the salmon population. Snack River is a major waterway in the Pacific Northwest that spans all the way from Wyoming to Washington State which serves as a critical habitat for Chinook salmon.

Millions of juvenile salmon attempt to migrate down river every year but never make the now treacherous journey because of these dams. Even if they do make it down river, they rarely survive the journey back through the dams to their spawning grounds. The ripple effect of these depleting populations of salmon is then noticed in the struggles of Southern Resident Killer Whales when their most important source of food is being decimated.

The federal government has spent billions of dollars on habitat restoration measures, but it seems this is to act as a greenwash to avoid any meaningful efforts in the form of significant changes to dam operations. Billions of dollars are being wasted to avoid tackling the source of the problem that is threatening the very survival of Southern Resident Killer Whales – which also support a multimillion-dollar tourist economy in the local area.

A campaign is growing in support to breach the dams. A petition on has been signed by over eleven thousand people calling on congress to authorize the removal of the four lower Snake River dams.

Campaigners highlight the National Marine Fisheries Service Recovery Plan for Southern Resident Killer Whales which states that, “Perhaps the single greatest change in food availability for resident killer whales since the late 1800s has been the decline of salmon from the Colombia River basin.”

This plan would open up 140 miles and fifteen million acres of habitat for salmon as well as steelhead. This would provide the life source for the orcas and provide all the ingredients needed to see more orca births such as J-51.

What You Can Do to Help and Support the Southern Resident Orcas
In the words of Dr. Rich Osborne, research associate at the Whale Museum in Friday Harbor, “Restoring Columbia River Chinook salmon is perhaps the single most important thing we can do to ensure the future survival of the Southern Resident Community of killer whales. We cannot hope to restore the killer whale population without also restoring the salmon upon which these whales have depended for thousands of years. Their futures are intricately linked.”

Humans jumpstarted the decline of the iconic Southern Resident orca populations when we began to capture them from the wild for the sake of our entertainment; it is now up to us to do all that we can to restore these delicate populations – before it is too late.

Restoring the Chinook salmon populations is vital for the survival of the Southern Resident Killer Whales. The federal government is seeking public comments by January 27, 2017 on managing dams in the region, including four dams in the lower Snake River that have severely damaged wild salmon populations.

Please sign this petition to add your voice to the campaign. Don’t forget to share the petition!
You can also check out this excellent resource from the Center for Whale Research which highlights a number of things you can do at home and at work to support the species. Or consider “adopting” a member of the Southern Resident pod to help fund research and protection efforts.