Killer whale known as ‘John Coe’ spotted off Kerry coast

June 30, 2016

A killer whale has been spotted off the coast of west Kerry. The whale, known as W01 ‘John Coe’ and who is easily recognisable by the large notch on the base of his dorsal fin, was spotted on Monday afternoon in the waters off the Slea Head Peninsula.

The appearance of the killer whale, or Orcinus orcs, follows an early season of sightings off the coast of west Kerry, with as many as eight humpback whales recorded on a single day in mid May as well as appearances from a number of minke whales.

While the appearance of a killer whale in Irish waters is not unheard of, it remains an uncommon occurrence.

John Coe was first photographed off the Scottish Hebrides 33 years ago and has been spotted in Irish waters a handful of times over the past 12 years.

The first time he was seen was in May 2009 off Annagh Head in Co Mayo and since then he has appeared off Co Cork, Co Down, Co Donegal, Co Antrim and Co Kerry.

Before Monday’s sighting, John Coe had been last seen off the coast of Co Mayo in July 2013.

John Coe was already an adult whale when first spotted in 1983 and is considered very old for his species.

In the images taken by local Kerry photographers on Monday it’s noted that John Coe was swimming alone.

He has previously been seen travelling with at least one other member of his pod (family group) and is usually accompanied by a female known as Nicola W03.

The Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG) has warned of its “grave concerns” for the future of John Coe’s pod whose territory extends into Irish water.

“One major concern is that it is many years since there has been any new additions to this group, and zero recruitment means that this group will ultimately die off; something which would be of great loss to our marine biodiversity,” said the IWDG.

Source: irishtimes

The orcas are starving

June 24, 2016

Vancouver photographer Mark Malleson took this photograph of the Southern Resident killer whale known as J-34, or Doublestuf, breaching while he was in the interior waters of the Salish Sea this spring. It’s a remarkable and frightening photo for orca lovers, because the male orca’s ribs appear to be protruding prominently.

That’s abnormal, especially for a resident killer whale at this time of year, when the orcas are typically well fed after a winter of preying on Chinook salmon. And so Malleson’s photo set off a number of alarm bells in the Northwest whale-watching community as it circulated on social media.

Subsequent photos taken of J-34 and his pod from a scientific drone suggested that, while the whales weren’t particularly plump, their girth was within their normal range. Nonetheless, veteran whale scientist Ken Balcomb is blunt about what he is seeing for the Southern Residents long-term: “These whales are starving,” he says. “There simply aren’t enough salmon out there for them to eat.”
Balcomb and the crew at San Juan Island’s Center for Whale Research have been observing the Southern Residents foraging this winter and spring, and the behavior has been disconcerting: The whales are much more spread out, meaning they are having to forage harder for individual fish. Many of them appear underfed, he says. It’s an especially alarming development following last year’s “baby boom,” in which nine new calves were born into the population, one of whom has apparently already vanished and is presumed dead.

Normally, at this time of year, the Southern Residents are being relatively well fed, since they typically hang out along the Continental Shelf between northern California and British Columbia for the winter and spring months, dining on the large runs of returning Chinook. Many of them spend inordinate amounts of time at the mouth of the Columbia River in the winter.

There is an established and powerful correlation between salmon abundance and orca populations. The uptick in Chinook runs of the past few years on the Columbia/Lower Snake have been linked to the recent orca baby boom.

The spike in salmon numbers is largely attributed to good ocean conditions for the past 12 years, and to some degree to a federal court ruling requiring the Bonneville Power Administration to spill water over Columbia and lower Snake River dams at key times of the year to aid migrating salmon smolt in their downstream journey. But it is the continuing presence of those same four dams — Ice Harbor, Lower Monumental, Little Goose, and Lower Granite, located on the Snake between the Tri-Cities of Pasco, Kennewick, and Richland and Lewiston, Idaho — that may ultimately doom the Southern Resident orca population.


The dams’ authorized purpose is generating hydropower and inland barge navigation that provide cheap transportation of grain downriver for the region’s farmers. A handful of large farms along one reservoir do have easy access to irrigation water.

However, time and economic realities have rendered these dams obsolete. Their power generation has declined over time to about 800 megawatts of power annually.

Worst of all, these dams are mass salmon killers. Migrating smolt, who need free-flowing rivers to get downstream, die in large numbers when they hit the warm, still water in reservoirs behind the dams, or are ground into meal in the dams’ turbines. The warmer water also impedes returning adults, as happened last summer, when 98 percent of the Idaho Sockeye run was lost — a run that taxpayers and ratepayers alike have spent millions in attempts to restore 

The result has been disastrous for the fish on all ends of the system. In Idaho, where I saw Salmon River spawning beds in the early ‘60s boiling with returning fish, the runs fell into such sharp decline that by the 1990s, only a single sockeye managed to make it back to Redfish Lake. And on the coastal Northwest, sport and commercial fisheries spiraled into sharp declines all along the Columbia as Chinook and sockeye runs, especially, began to vanish.

The endangered status for those runs sparked a series of lawsuits that produced a number of mitigation efforts. But while the Corps has spent nearly a billion dollars implementing two non-breach alternatives, a federal judge recently found that there has been no improvement in survival rates of salmon.

First, the Corps continued a controversial and still-ongoing program in which they collect the smolts as they swim downstream and barge them below Bonneville dam. This costly effort, rather predictably, has produced only mixed results at best, and so in 2007 came another federal court ruling that produced the spillage requirements.

Again, the results have been mixed. Chinook numbers have rebounded since the ‘90s, but a large portion of those are hatchery-produced fish, reducing their value in the wild; and the numbers (reaching a million Chinook in 2013 and 2014) still remain only a fraction of what the river used to produce historically.

The salmon mitigation costs have simultaneously driven the dams’ economics well into the red. Retired Army Corps of Engineers official James Waddell has produced copious and detailed analyses in recent years demonstrating that, when all the costs are rounded up for maintaining these four dams in lieu of breaching them, taxpayers lose 85 cents for every dollar invested, while breaching would offer economic benefits ranging from $4 to $20 dollars for every dollar invested.  Moreover, as Waddell notes, the dams’ ongoing costs have already exceeded replacement costs for hydropower.

The campaign to have the dams removed has been a long-running project for the Northwest’s salmon advocates. After the idea was first proposed in the 1990s, the dams became a major political football in the Culture Wars. Eastern Washington conservatives, especially radio talk-show hosts, seized upon the issue as proof that clueless “Seattle liberals” didn’t care about the needs of their agrarian neighbors on the dry side of the Cascades. When the Seattle City Council passed a resolution supporting the dams’ removal, 11 communities and two counties passed resolutions condemning the action. A Pasco City Council member even proposed breaching Seattle’s Ballard Locks in response.

“We are not going to allow a few Seattle ultraliberal environmental zealots to destroy what took generations to build,” proclaimed then-state Sen. Dan McDonald, R-Bellevue, in Richland.


But the connection between the Columbia/Snake River Chinook and Puget Sound orca populations has added fuel to arguments against the dams.

Southern Resident orca populations began to seriously decline in the years following the marine-park captures (1964-76) that first decimated their numbers. The population dropped so sharply in the late ‘90s and early 2000s that, by 2005, they were listed as endangered by the National Marine Fisheries Service.

Their connection to the Columbia/Snake River Chinook has, over the years, mostly been anecdotal. Canadian scientist John Ford documented in the late 1990s that both the Southern Residents and their Northern Resident neighbors from Vancouver Island were, in the winter month, primarily dining on salmon that were migrating from the open sea to the Columbia.

But beginning in 2012, a series of studies involving tracking devices attached to members of the Southern Resident pods began to establish concrete evidence that the whales were spending an inordinate amount of time in the vicinity of the mouth of the Columbia in the winter months. By 2015, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration had announced it was proceeding with the necessary process to list the Pacific Coast waters as critical habitat for the orcas.

A recent ruling by yet another federal judge, Michael Simon, made clear that the BPA’s efforts for restoring salmon to the Columbia were still woefully inadequate, and it urged the administration to return to considering taking out the four Lower Snake dams. In doing so, it recommended yet another round of meetings and studies, suggesting the dam removal may still be years down the road.

But while the wheels of bureaucracy churn slowly, time is fast running out for the Southern Residents. As the mute testimony of J34 and the other Southern Residents makes clear, we are at serious risk of losing all this forever.

Removing the Snake River dams wouldn’t be a panacea — there remains a long road ahead to restore Puget Sound salmon runs to full health, another essential component of any long-term recovery for the population — but it would at least provide them the hope of getting some relief in the short term.

Waddell and his organization, Dam Sense, have spent much of the past year lobbying the Obama administration to take executive action to remove the dams. Waddell says the administration has been sympathetic to his pleas, and D.C. officials have acknowledged that a low-cost dam removal is both feasible and sensible. But they quietly are awaiting action from Washington state officials, particularly its leading Democrats, before they’d undertake such an executive order.

Ever since the brouhaha of the 1990s, the state’s political class – including its liberal, ostensibly “environmentalist” Democrats – have veered sharply away from any talk of breaching the dams, largely out of an abject fear of reigniting the Culture War resentments that continue to simmer in rural areas. In recent months, orca and salmon advocates have been pleading with Gov. Jay Inslee, Democratic Sen. Patty Murray, and other officials to finally take action on the dams, but they have been largely stonewalled and ignored.


Asked about the salmon and their relationship to the orcas earlier this spring in a video discussion, Murray responded with a spiel straight out of the 1990s: “You know the dams in our state are an incredibly important part of our economy, in terms of electric production, in terms of our transportation systems, in terms of our water use, and our salmon and wildlife and fish are an important part of our economy too. Balancing that is always a challenge.

“I know how hard it is to take out a dam,” she added, “because I worked on the Elwha Dam removal for well over a decade, and it’s costly, and it was a challenge.”

But the Snake River dams are very different from the Elwha dams in several key regards, the main one being that they have large earthen-berms whose initial removal, as Waddell has demonstrated, would be a very simple matter: Simply excavate the earthen portions and leave the adjoining concrete structures in place, but out of use. Waddell argues that such a plan, in fact, would be so cheap that it could be financed simply within the Bonneville Power Administration’s and the Army Corps’ current operating budgets for the dams by diverting the costs of salmon mitigation.

In fact, he argues, it could begin as early as this spring or summer. This, he argues, would provide the only viable means of cooling the reservoirs, that according to NOAA, will be as hot as 2015.

Murray cracked open a window at the end of her remarks, though: “So it’s important that we look at all these issues and we do it in a balanced way, and actually right now the courts are looking at this issue and we’ll be watching closely to see what they say.”

Well, the courts have had their say, and Judge Simon was clear in his overall verdict: It is time to seriously consider removing those four dams.

Many observers seem to believe that the ruling will only ensure another round of studies and talks and delays. “Indications are that regional federal agencies will submit yet another inadequate plan, causing delays past 2018 and into 2020 or later,” Jim Waddell observes. “That’s already happened five times.”

But Waddell believes that the time has run out, both for the orcas, and for the salmon. He has proposed an immediate drawdown on Lower Granite dam to protect salmon from high river temperatures this summer, and starting the breaching process by the end of the year.

“Without action now,” he says, “Snake River wild salmon runs will be lost in the next one to three years, with hatcheries not far behind.”

If that happens, it will be because of the failure of the federal administrations to respond in a timely fashion, and a massive failure of political will on the part of the Washington’s politicians.


After Dubai controversy, Sea World mulls Saudi entry

Nearly 100,000 animal rights campaigners signed a petition to protest the opening of a Sea World park in Dubai last year. (Sea World San Diego)

US aqua-themed attraction operator SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment is reportedly eyeing Saudi Arabia for expansion, according to reports.

The company’s chief executive Joel Manby was quoted as expressing an interest in the country after meeting with Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman this week during the royal’s US tour.

“Saudi Arabia has beautiful coastlines filled with marine life and wild animals and it is in need for a tourism push. We are waiting for the opportunity to go there,” Manby was quoted as saying in the Saudi press.

SeaWorld previously planned an adventure park in Dubai in conjunction with the larger World of Discovery theme park. However, the park, which was due to open in 2012, was scrapped in the fallout of the 2008 financial crisis.

More recently, the company said in a May 2015 conference call with analysts that it had signed a deal with a partner to assess the development of a park in the Middle East.

Despite no confirmation of a location the plans were met with some resistance in Dubai, where a petition against the attraction reached nearly 100,000 signatures last year.

PETA and other organisations later protested against the opening of a SeaWorld park in the emirate.

Saudi Arabia has embarked on a push to increase its tourism and entertainment options under the country’s Vision 2030.

Earlier this week US theme park operator Six Flags was also reported to be investigating a potential partnership in the kingdom after executives met with Prince Salman.

However, the operator later denied the rumours with a spokesperson saying it had a GCC exclusive deal with Dubai Parks and Resorts, which recently secured funding for its own Six Flags park.

Theme park operators have shown a renewed interest in the Gulf Cooperation Council in recent years, with two new attractions set to launch in Dubai in 2016 alone.

Indoor park IMG Worlds of Adventure will open its doors in August with zones themed around Marvel, Cartoon Network, Lost Valley Dinosaur Adventure and IMG Boulevard.

This will be followed by Dubai Parks and Resorts in October, an attraction with three parks, the Hollywood themed motiongate, Bollywood Park Dubai and Legoland Dubai.

In April plans were also unveiled for a $1bn Warner Bros themed park on Abu Dhabi’s Yas Island.


DFO rubber-stamps unusual plan to feed endangered orcas

June 22, 2016

j pod orcas

A wild idea to feed endangered killer whales off the coast of Vancouver Island has got the green light from the federal government.

A group of fisherman in Sooke hatched the unique plan last August.

They proposed to feed the dwindling southern resident killer whale population, which scientists have said are challenged for food sources, by releasing one million chinook salmon smolts into the Sooke Basin.

CTV News has learned Fisheries and Oceans Canada agreed to the plan, but is only giving the anglers a license to release 200,000 smolts next May.

“It’s a starting point, and I understand DFO, you can’t just throw a group of people out there a million fish and say ‘here you go,’” said Glen Varney of the South Island Anglers Association. “You want to start small and see how you do the first year.”

Varney still called it a victory for those who care about the marine mammals, whose numbers have dwindled to just 83 despite an uptick in new births last year.

It’s good news for whales in a year when the DFO expects historic-low chinook returns, but it could also benefit the local eco-tour industry, according to one operator.

Dan Kukat runs SpringTide Victoria Whale-Watching and Eco Tours and says the plan to bolster salmon stocks could have a major effect on business.

“It’s something that’s very desperately needed, and it shows how a community effort, where individuals are collecting together, can make a difference,” said Kukat, who is also a director of the Pacific Whale Watching Association. “Scientific studies, a number of them now, have shown that there is an insufficiency of prey abundance for the endangered southern resident killer whales.”

He said Chinook salmon are the orcas’ primary food source, and a prized angling fish for B.C. fishermen – who will benefit as well.


Whole Southern Resident Community Co-operates to Survive

June 22, 2016

In the wine-dark waters of the San Juan Islands, a band of killer whales is fighting for survival.

Loss of habitat, human meddling, and intense competition for chinook salmon, its main source of food, have put severe pressure on these creatures. This band, known as the Southern Residents, is now smaller than any other group of resident killer whales, which live in communities scattered along the cold coastal waters of the North Pacific.

There are, in fact, just 81 whales left.

But the Southern Residents aren’t giving up without a struggle, according to bio majorMichael Weiss ’16. On the contrary, they have responded by rewiring their complex social structure to hunt for chinook more aggressively by working together.

“This is a new dimension of killer whale society that people hadn’t known about before,” says Michael, who won the prestigious Class of ’21 Award for his senior thesis on the social organization of the Southern Residents. “Outside humans, we don’t often see groups of animals co-operating like this.”

Scientists believe that the Southern Residents have roamed this area, known as the Salish Sea, for several hundreds of thousands of years, maintaining a genetically distinct population. In the late sixties and early seventies, however, the band was targeted by marine parks, whose agents captured (and sometimes accidentally killed) as many as 58 whales. In addition, dams and agriculture have depleted runs of chinook salmon, their primary source of food, pushing the band perilously close to extinction.

That the whales have held out so long may be due to their intricate social organization, one of the most sophisticated in the animal world. Their fundamental social unit is the matriline, which revolves around a grandmother and her offspring; it is the cetacean equivalent of the nuclear family. Members of the matriline spend most of their lives in each other’s company, communicating through a complex system of squeaks, clicks, and groans that include at least 25 discrete calls. Together they travel, forage, sleep, and—crucially—hunt.

Matrilines roam their territory in larger kinship groups known as pods. Each pod communicates through a distinct acoustical “dialect” which help members identify each other as belonging to the same pod and reinforces their clannish tendencies. The three pods that comprise the Southern Residents, known as J, K, and L, communicate in dialects that sound radically different.

Until now, scientists believed that almost all the whales’ social interaction, with the exception of mating, took place within their pod. But Michael has discovered that the Southern Residents are breaking down this barrier and cooperating across pods in order to overcome the logistical challenges posed by their scanty population.

When they’re hunting for salmon, matrilines cooperate in a remarkable division of labor. The grandmothers lead the group to territory where fish are likely to be found—they are responsible for locating the prey. But it is the adult males who are responsible for diving deep into the water and flushing the fish to the surface, so that the whole family may feast. Matrilines that include both grandmothers and adult males can therefore assemble the most efficient hunting parties. Unfortunately, several matrilines among the Southern Residents have lost one or more of these key members, which limits their ability to hunt.

Michael spent most of last summer recording the whales with a hydrophone (an underwater microphone) on board a 17-foot speedboat. Once ashore, he analyzed the calls on a spectrogram and then applied a statistical concept known as social network analysis to search for patterns. After intensive study, he realized that understaffed matrilines were co-operating with each other to fill the gaps in their hunting parties. A matriline that lacks an adult male will “borrow” one from another matriline, even if it means crossing pods.

“It’s like sharing pieces of a jigsaw puzzle so that both groups can succeed,” says Michael. “They fill each other’s missing social roles.”

Many animals cooperate while hunting, but almost always in family groups. This degree of cooperation outside the family, known as mutualism, is virtually unknown in the animal kingdom—except, of course, among humans.

“I don’t think killer whales are the only animals that have this multidimensional social structure,” Michael says. “But they’re just the first one we’ve found.”

Michael’s professors say his thesis breaks new ground in our understanding of altruism and cooperation among animals. “Michael’s thesis should be of great interest to marine mammal researchers around the world who study the complex social interactions of these animals,” says his advisor, Prof. Suzy Renn [bio]. “They are also likely to be useful for conservation efforts for these whales and similar populations. Beyond the research world of marine mammals, the tendency to form non-kinship bonds while maintaining close association and information transfer with kin is a cornerstone of complex societies such as humans, and is extremely rare in other species.”

“The type and quality of research that resulted from his dedication is something one would expected from a seasoned field biologist with a Master’s or PhD,” says Prof. Derek Applewhite [bio]. “Michael drew heavily from statistics, computational biology, and animal behavior, successfully integrating these fields into an outstanding senior thesis.”

In fact, Michael worked with a new type of statistical technique, the exponential random graph model, which had never been used to study animal networks before. Fortunately, Prof. Andrew Bray [math] happens to be a former oceanographer who used his insight into the underwater world to figure out how best to apply this statistical tool.

The Class of ’21 Award is bestowed upon a couple of seniors whose theses demonstrate “creative work of notable character, involving an unusual degree of initiative and spontaneity.” Religion major Pema McLaughlin ’16 also won the award.

Michael’s fascination with killer whales began with a trip to SeaWorld in Florida when he was six years old. He spent a couple summers as a tour guide on whalewatching boats in the San Juans and last year co-founded the non-profit Orca Behavior Institute with Monika Wieland ’07, who also wrote her thesis on killer whales, and who now works as a scientist and photographer.

After graduation, Michael will return to the San Juans to obtain more data on the Southern Residents. “They’re like this alien intelligence that we know nothing about,” he says. “They’re huge. They’re smart. Realizing how much we don’t know is what inspired me.”


Saudi Arabia’s deputy crown prince meets with SeaWorld execs

Saudi Arabia’s Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman met with executives from SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment on Tuesday during his visit to San Francisco.

SeaWorld’s CEO Joel Manby said that his company were looking at all the options for expanding global operations in tourism and looking for new partners, including Saudi Arabia.

“Saudi Arabia has beautiful coastlines filled with marine life and wild animals and it is in need for a tourism push. We are waiting for the opportunity to go there,” Joel said.

SeaWorld has over 12 destination and regional theme parks that are grouped in key markets across the United States, many of which showcase zoological collections of over 800 species of animals.

The company received 22.5 million visitors last year, including 3.3 million visitors from outside the United States.

It registered a revenue: $1.37bn ending December 2015 with a net income at $49.1m.

Providing a space for entertainment and promoting culture is featured prominently in Saudi Arabia’s vision for the future that was announced in April.

Under the vision, Saudi Arabia has said it is planning to provide “land suitable for cultural and entertainment projects. Talented writers, authors and directors will be supported.”

Prince Mohammed bin Salman is currently visiting the US where he met with American officials last week including US President Barack Obama. He’s currently meeting with technology giants in Silicon Valley in talks about further investments.

He met a day earlier and signed a memorandum of understanding was signed with Cisco Systems to help develop the digital infrastructure in Saudi Arabia.

To watch the video of the press release check out the original article here

California Makes New Move to Ban Orca Captivity

June 21, 2016


The California State Assembly has overwhelmingly approved a bill that would ban orca captivity for “display, performance, or entertainment purposes,” a move that activists hope will inspire similar actions in other states.

Legislators approved the California Orca Protection Act, a rider to an Assembly budget bill, on Thursday by a vote of 48–28, mostly along party lines, with Democrats favoring the legislation. Violators would face fines up to $100,000.

In addition to banning shows, the act also prohibits the breeding of any captive orca in California and makes it illegal to “export, collect, or import the semen, other gametes, or embryos of an orca held in captivity for the purpose of artificial insemination.”

The measure makes it illegal to export or sell an orca in California to another state or country unless authorized by federal law, or if the transfer “is to another facility within North America that meets standards comparable to those provided under the Animal Welfare Act.”

Under that provision, whales could be retired to sea sanctuaries in the United States or Canada, as envisioned by groups such as the Whale Sanctuary Project.

SeaWorld, though, has no intention of releasing any of its animals.

“Could it be done to move whales to sea cages? Yeah, it technically possibly could be done,” SeaWorld CEO Joel Manby said during an investor conference call on Wednesday. “But is it the safest thing for our animals? We do not believe it is.”

There are significant exemptions to the legislation.

Orcas can be held in captivity as long as there is an “educational presentation,” which the act defines as “a live, scheduled orca display in the presence of spectators that includes natural behaviors, enrichment, exercise activities, and a live narration and video content that provides science-based education to the public.”

To Read David Kirby’s full article please visit

SeaWorld Stock UP 2.69%

June 20, 2016

SeaWorld Entertainment, Inc. (NYSE:SEAS) announced that Jack Roddy has joined the company as the new Chief Human Resources & Culture Officer and Jill Kermes has been promoted to Chief Corporate Affairs Officer. These appointments are effective June 20, 2016.

SeaWorld Entertainment, Inc. (NYSE:SEAS) traded 2.09 Million shares and its share price fell -1.67% to close at $15.30. Company has 2.80% insider ownership. SeaWorld Entertainment, Inc. (NYSE:SEAS) quarterly performance is -22.35% while its year to date (YTD) performance is -19.39%.


SeaWorld Ups Kermes to Lead Corporate Affairs

June 20, 2016

Jill Kermes, an agency vet who moved to SeaWorld Entertainment in 2013, has been named chief corporate affairs officer of the embattled theme park operator.

“Jill has been instrumental in building out the company’s corporate affairs department and overseeing the evolution of our company’s reputational efforts,” said president and CEO Joel Manby.

On the agency side she was a senior VP at Ketchum and managing director of Public Strategies. She was also VP of corporate and brand communications for Volkswagen Group of America and communications director for Gov. Jeb Bush in the early 2000s.

Kermes’ promotion is effective June 20.

SeaWorld VP of communications Fred Jacobs stepped down last December as the company tackled continued fallout from the documentary “Blackfish” and calls for reform of its treatment of captive animals.

Manby said he will lean on Kermes’ counsel as the company works to “execute on our future plans and increase our advocacy efforts for animals in the wild – in our parks, with our guests and through engagement with policymakers, conservation groups and other constituencies.”