Orca Pod Spotted Off Cape Cod Likely not Drawn by Seals

August 30, 2016

CHATHAM – Marine biologists do not believe the pod of orcas spotted off Cape Cod last week was drawn to the region by the thousands of seals in the area – like great white sharks.

New England Aquarium researchers confirmed the marine mammals caught on video by fishermen about 12 miles east of Chatham were killer whales. They were able to identify two female orcas, but no adult males could be seen in the video.

Aquarium spokesman Tony LaCasse said northwest Atlantic orcas are not like their West Coast brethren which are specialists in feeding on sea lions.

“For some reason the orcas in this region don’t have a history of praying on pinnipeds, seals or sea lions,” LaCasse said.

There has never been an observation or an autopsy showing orcas in the northwest Atlantic feeding on seals, according LaCasse.

“Their primary food source that we are familiar with are squid and fish,” he said. “And they will occasionally hit sea turtles. They’ll hit seabirds as well.”

They are also known to feed on Minke whales in the Newfoundland and Labrador area with some regularity.

LaCasse said it is rare to see a pod of orcas that close to shore in New England waters.

“We are sort of in exceptional times with water temperatures so warm,” LaCasse said. “So animals are breaking out of their normal patterns and their normal feeding areas in search of food.”

A well-known, solitary, adult male killer whale named Old Tom was spotted off the elbow of Cape Cod. Old Tom has been seen frequently over the past few summers in the Bay of Fundy near the Maine/New Brunswick border.

Small pods of orcas have been spotted in recent years in New England waters but are typically found over 100 miles offshore near the edge of the continental shelf.

The orca population in the northwest Atlantic is unknown, but the premier orca expert in region, Dr. Jack Lawson, says their numbers are probably in the hundreds.

“Strangely enough, there are many more orcas off the northwestern coast of Europe between Greenland and Iceland and Scandinavia,” LaCasse said. “And their numbers are in the thousands.”

The video of the pod of orcas can be seen above. The video may not be suitable for younger viewers due to strong language.

Source: Cape Cod.com

 

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Orca pod just metres from shore at Auckland’s Kohimarama Beach

August 28, 2016

A pod of orcas are still delighting swimmers at Auckland’s Kohimarama Beach.

Paddleboarder Sam Thom was preparing to paddle to Browns Island at 6.30am today when he spotted the creatures – and luckily, he had his drone on hand to capture this amazing footage.

“It was great to see the orca coming right up beside us and touching the boards,” Thom, 28, told ONE News Now. “We were all both excited and nervous to be so close to them. Definitely a special start to spring.”

To see the video visit the source at www.stuff.co.nz

This Former Killer Whale Trainer Is Taking On SeaWorld

August 28, 2016

SeaWorld has been a lightning rod for controversy in recent years, and no one knows that better than John Hargrove. On this week’s episode of the Inquiring Minds podcast, Hargrove—a former SeaWorld animal trainer—recounts his experiences working with orcas in captivity. From heavily medicated killer whales to the tragic death of his colleague, Hargrove paints a picture of an entertainment company in crisis.

SeaWorld, a nationwide chain of parks well known for its displays of marine animals, purports to blend “imagination with nature” and enable visitors to “explore, inspire and act.” It’s perhaps most famous for its orcas. Also known as killer whales, orcas are actually the largest member of the dolphin family. They weigh thousands of pounds and are, in the words of National Geographic, “one of the world’s most powerful predators.” SeaWorld’s treatment of orcas has come under intense scrutiny; the 2013 film Blackfish recounted the death of SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau and showed the dangers (for both whales and humans) of keeping orcas in captivity. Hargrove appeared in the film.

Hargrove spent most of his time at SeaWorld as an orca trainer. Since he left, he has repeatedly accused the company of mistreating animals and endangering employees. Representatives of SeaWorld have denied these allegations, telling NPRin 2015, “We don’t put any animal in any stressful situation” and calling conditions depicted in Blackfish “a bit of exaggeration.” (You can read the company’s point-by-point rebuttal to Blackfish here.) When Hargrove came out with a book criticizing the company, SeaWorld denied many of his claims and said that he had quit the company “‘after being disciplined for a severe safety violation involving the park’s killer whales’ that resulted in his transfer from the orca stadium,” according to the Orlando Sentinel. (Hargrove denied that he was responsible for the safety violation, according to the paper.) SeaWorld also released a video showing Hargrove repeatedly using the n-word while intoxicated several years earlier. (“We do a lot of things we shouldn’t do when we drink,” Hargrove told the Sentinel. He went on television to apologize for the video.)

On Inquiring Minds, Hargrove tells co-host Indre Viskontas that it wasn’t just his colleagues who were in danger. Hargrove says he had multiple encounters with aggressive killer whales over the course of his career. In one incident, which took place when Hargrove was working at a different park not owned by SeaWorld, he describes escaping a close call with an orca named Freya, who he says had pulled him underwater before. When she wasn’t responding to his signals, Hargrove made a decision that he believes may have saved his life. Rather than swimming like mad for dry land, he moved to the center of the pool and waited for Freya to approach. Trying to outswim an orca is impossible, says Hargrove—it just makes it more fun for the giant predator to hunt you. If he had tried to make an escape, he says, “that would have equaled almost certain death for me.” In the end, Freya’s behavior changed. She followed Hargrove’s instructions and even helped push him out of the pool.

But two other trainers, Brancheau and Alexis Martinez, weren’t so lucky. Both died after being viciously attacked by orcas owned by SeaWorld. Martinez, who worked at a non-SeaWorld park, was killed in December 2009 by a whale on loan from SeaWorld. Brancheau died two months later at SeaWorld’s Orlando park after being violently attacked by a whale named Tilikum. “It was not a shock to me that he had done that to her,” recalls Hargrove. “I know he was capable of it. All the whales are capable of it.”

For Hargrove, SeaWorld was a childhood fantasy gone terribly wrong. While he had dreams of working at the park as a child, he soon discovered that the relationship between man and whale wasn’t what he had envisioned. Hargrove claims he and his colleagues were frequently hurt on the job. And he says he often worked while sick or injured—diving deep into cold water and sometimes emerging spewing bloody sinus tissue.

SeaWorld declined to respond to detailed questions about Hargrove’s allegations on Inquiring Minds, but the company did say in an email that many of Hargrove’s claims are “false.”

Since leaving SeaWorld, Hargrove has become an activist and has written a book called Beneath the Surface: Killer Whales, SeaWorld, and the Truth Beyond Blackfish.He’s now a central figure in the campaign to alter the way SeaWorld does business. And that campaign seems to be having an impact. Earlier this year, the company agreed to end its orca breeding program and to change the way it exhibits its orcas.

“Society has changed and we’ve changed with it,” SeaWorld said in an email. “We’re focusing our resources on real issues that help far more animals, like working with [the Humane Society of the United States] to fight commercial whaling, shark finning, and continuing our efforts to rescue, rehabilitate and release injured and sick animals to the wild.”

Source: Mother Jones.com

California Lawmakers Pass Bill Banning Orca Shows, Captive Breeding

August 26, 2016

The California State Legislature on Friday approved a historic bill that would ban the breeding of captive killer whales and orca performances in that state. It would also prohibit the export of captive orcas out of North America.

Violators would face fines of up to $100,000.

The legislation, presented in the State Senate as a rider to a budget bill, passed 26–13, strictly along party lines, with Democrats voting in favor of the measure and Republicans opposing it. It now goes to the desk of Gov. Jerry Brown.

“It’s unbelievable,” said Naomi Rose, a killer whale expert and a marine mammal scientist at the Animal Welfare Institute, which cosponsored the bill.

“It took us long enough, and it was quite the wild ride, but it’s done, although it still has to go to Governor Brown,” Rose said. “But we hear he is inclined to sign it.”

“The governor has until Sept. 30 to take action,” Deborah Hoffman, Brown’s deputy press secretary, wrote in an email. “We generally don’t comment on pending legislation.”

The move to ban orca breeding and shows in California, home to 11 killer whales at SeaWorld San Diego, was introduced by Democratic Assemblymember Richard Bloom in March 2014.

That bill, which also required that killer whales be sent to retirement in sea sanctuaries, was opposed by SeaWorld and the Assembly majority leader at the time, Toni Atkins, who represents San Diego. It was tabled in committee.

This spring Bloom reintroduced the measure, without the sea sanctuary provision, and it passed an Assembly vote on June 21.

“Today is a victory many years in the making,” Bloom said in a statement. “The Orca Protection Act is a product of scientific consensus, immense public support, and a concerted legislative effort to protect this intelligent and majestic animal.” . . . .

. . . . .

Read the full article HERE at www.takepart.com

Fishermen film killer whales off Cape Cod

August 25, 2016

A group of fishermen looking for tuna off Cape Cod recorded video Tuesday of an encounter with a pod of killer whales.

Onboard the Fish Box out of Pleasant Bay were Alex Wyckoff, Matt Ward, Mark Ward and Capt. Justin Daly, according to Wyckoff.

“It’s a killer whale baby,” one of the men shouted as one of at least four orcas passed by the boat.

At one point the whales swam under the boat.

The men continued to troll for tuna but the whales swam next to the boat several times and stayed nearby for 10 to 15 minutes, according to Wyckoff.

Watch the video by Alex Wyckoff here

“This is the best day ever. I don’t even care about the tuna anymore,” one of the fishermen said. “This is amazing.”

The men were tuna fishing about 12 miles east of Chatham, according to Wyckoff.

“One was significantly bigger than the others, one was very small which we thought was a baby, and the other two were different by their dorsal fins,” he wrote in an email about the whales.

Source: Cape Cod Times.com

Dutch government again urged to act to free Morgan the orca

August 25, 2016

Morgan in her Spanish tank. Photo: www.freemorgan.org

A group campaigning to have a ‘Dutch’ orca released from an amusement park on Tenerife have applied to have the key document which allowed her to be sent to Spain annulled, arguing that the terms of her transfer have been breached.

The orca Morgan was found in a severely weakened state in the Wadden Sea in 2010 and sent to the Dolphinarium in Harderwijk to recover.

The then-junior economic affairs minister Henk Bleker, who was responsible for Morgan, decided she could not be returned to the wild and she was sent to the Loro Parque in Spain instead. The financial terms of the move have never been revealed

The original European certificate approving the transfer stated that Morgan would be used for research purposes.

However, the orca now performs tricks for the public and there are severe concerns about her health, the Free Morgan Foundation says. For example, the condition of her teeth has deteriorated enormously compared to the time of her capture.

Earlier this year she was filmed deliberately beaching herself and bashing herself against the edge of a holding tank. In addition, the foundation is concerned efforts are being made to breed Morgan, which would also be in breach of the certificate.

They have now instructed Amsterdam law firm Van Den Biesen Kloostra Advocaten to apply to have the export licence annulled.

Source: www.dutchnews.nl

Important orca matriarch J14 disappears and is feared dead

August 24, 2016

Orca-J14.jpg

Whale researchers announced that a matriarch in the southern resident killer whales’ J-pod might have died on the same day a young humpback washed ashore in Cowichan Bay.

J14 was last photographed from land Aug. 3, according to the Center for Whale Research, based in Friday Harbor, Washington. She showed no indication of illness.

“It’s one of those oddball cases, because she wasn’t someone who had given us any indication there was anything wrong with her,” research director Deborah Giles said.

Sometimes an orca becomes thin, acts differently or shows other physical body changes before disappearing or dying — but not this one, she said.

J14, also known as “Samish,” is the second-oldest female in the J-pod, at 42. The oldest, J2 or “Granny,” is believed to be in her mid-80s, at a minimum.

Although nearing the end of her reproductive years, J14 still plays a vital role in the pod.

“She was one of these females who was the matriarch of her family,” Giles said. “To lose that knowledge, especially when J2 goes too, it’s hard for us to even predict what’s going to happen for those animals.”

J14 has three living offspring: daughters J37 and J40 and son J45.

J14 was last seen from the water on July 31. Research centre staff have since had three on-the-water encounters with the rest of her matriline, but she was not present.

The centre will wait for at least one more definitive encounter with her matriline, before recording her as officially deceased.

If she is dead, it brings the total J-pod population to 28 and the total southern resident killer whale population to 82.

Southern resident killer whales are listed as endangered under the Species at Risk Act.

A dead humpback whale was also hauled out of Cowichan Bay Wednesday morning.

A spokeswoman for the Federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans said the dead humpback whale, a young animal, washed up near a commercial dock in Cowichan Bay.

Veterinary analysis and tests will be performed to determine a cause of death.

The animal will then be disposed of safely, with the bones headed to a museum or school if requested.

The whale was first spotted on Saturday, looking as though it was in trouble. It seemed to be surfacing with difficulty.

Source: Times Colonist.com

Orca’s health issues cited in unsealed documents

August 22, 2016

Lolita, a Northwest orca whale living at Seaquarium in Miami, has suffered scrapes and other health problems, according to recently unsealed court documents that offer an unsettling look at the life of the whale captured in 1970.

The documents were written by four expert witnesses who visited Seaquarium, and reviewed medical and other records, on behalf of plaintiffs who challenged the conditions of the whale’s captivity. They found that 20-foot-long Lolita has a troubled relationship with two Pacific white-sided dolphins that live with her in an oblong pool that is 80 feet across at its widest point.

These dolphins scraped Lolita’s skin with their teeth more than 50 times in 2015. Through a review of the records and their own on-site observations, the plaintiff’s’ experts concluded that the dolphins – rather than being best buddies with Lolita – are often at odds with the whale.

“In reality, they harass and injure her, often to the point she needs antibiotics and painkillers for bleeding open wounds,” wrote John Hargrove, a former SeaWorld killer- whale trainer whose February report was one of four expert-witness reports unsealed recently – at the request of the plaintiffs – by U.S. District Judge Ursula Ungaro after her June decision to dismiss a lawsuit that sought to gain the whale’s release. The plaintiffs include People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and the Washington-based Orca Network.

Another expert witness, Ingrid Visser of the Orca Research Trust, noted that at least one of the dolphins engaged in sexual behavior with Lolita, including pelvic thrusts while mounted on top of the orca. Visser, a marine scientist, described such activity as “completely inappropriate,” and cited records in her report of the whale exhibiting sexual behavior toward a dolphin.

Seaquarium, in a statement responding to the unsealing of these reports, rejected claims that they documented poor treatment of the whale. The statement said Lolita is one of the healthiest orcas ever examined, and “she greatly enjoys her Pacific White Sided Dolphins as companions.”

Orcas, also known as killer whales, are found in many of the world’s oceans. Lolita was captured from the southern-resident population, which spends time in Puget Sound, and is listed under the Endangered Species Act.

The three pods in the population were reduced in a series of controversial roundups by marine parks between 1965 and 1975 that left at least 11?whales dead and sent 36 to exhibitors, according to Visser.

Lolita, also known as Tokitae, was caught in 1970 in Penn Cove and is the lone survivor of the Northwest whales sent to captivity. In February of last year, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced that Lolita, though captive, would be listed — along with the wild orcas — as protected under the federal Endangered Species Act.

“This is a listing decision,” said Will Stelle, the NOAA Fisheries regional administrator for the West Coast at the time of the decision. “It is not a decision to free Lolita.”

Whale activists have long sought to get Lolita out of Seaquarium. And, they hoped the ruling would give them new legal leverage to see that Lolita was returned to the Pacific Northwest, possibly to live in a sea pen.

And once they secured the ruling, they filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court of Southern Florida alleging that Lolita’s conditions of captivity violated the Endangered Species Act. The act prohibits a “take” of a listed species, which the law says includes harassment and harm.

The plaintiffs tried unsuccessfully to convince Ungaro that conditions of captivity, including an undersized tank, no protection from the shade and the dolphin harassment constituted a violation of the Endangered Species Act, and justified her removal from Seaquarium, where she performs with trainers for the facility’s customers.

Ungaro, in dismissing the lawsuit to remove Lolita from Seaquarium, concluded that the conditions though, less than ideal, had not been found to violate the Animal Welfare Act, which is intended to provide for humane treatment in captivity.

Only if Lolita faced “grave harm” would an exhibitor be in violation of the Endangered Species Act, Ungaro concluded.

The judge also noted that the plaintiffs’ experts opinions about the causes of the whale’s medical conditions had a “speculative and unreliable quality.”

Jared Goodman, PETA Foundation’s director of animal law, says “the court adapted a very narrow interpretation of the Endangered Species Act,’ and the decision is being appealed.

After the June decision dismissing the lawsuit, the plaintiffs moved to unseal the reports of their four expert witnesses that include both their observations of Lolita and notes from their review of Seaquarium records that had been kept from public view through the course of the lawsuit.

The reports included information about the whale’s medical records. Veterinarian Pierre Javier Gallego Reyes, for example, wrote about tooth pain that resulted in some teeth being drilled and found the whale also suffered from dehydration.

The whale also has an inflammatory eye condition that is treated with daily drops, according to the reports.

After the lawsuit was dismissed, Seaquarium attorneys fought to keep the reports under seal, arguing in a court brief that some of the information was “highly confidential and highly sensitive” and that the defendant had a strong interest in “protecting specific medical and highly personal information” about the captive orca.

Responding to the public release of these reports, Seaquarium, in the written statement, said that for 46 years, Lolita has been “lovingly cared for.” The statement added that Lolita plays an important role in educating the public about the need to conserve the marine environment, and will continue to be “an ambassador for her species from her home at Miami Seaquarium.”

 Source: www.Columbian.com

Lolita’s Tank Is Substandard, Marine Mammal Commission Rules

August 22, 2016

Lolita the orca has lived in this tank for more than 45 years.

For decades, animal rights activists have claimed that Lolita, the orca at the Miami Seaquarium, is living in substandard conditions at the marine mammal park. They contend her tank is legally too small for an animal of her size due to a concrete work island at the center that limits her range of movement.

However, the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), the government agency in charge of enforcing laws protecting animals, has responded for years that her tank does meet space requirements because, according to their understanding of the Animal Welfare Act, measurements for space don’t have to be unobstructed.

In March, though, Lyndsay Cole, the assistant director of legislative and public affairs for APHIS, told New Times after triple-checking with experts that space requirements, specifically for Minimum Horizontal Dimension (MHD), are actually strictly measured without obstructions.

“The MHD is calculated for only those areas of the pool that are unobstructed and meet the depth requirements,” she said.

Soon after Cole made her statement, APHIS officials seemed to change their story. Another agency representative named Tanya Espinosa, a public affairs specialist, told New Times that obstructions, like the concrete work island in Lolita’s tank, were permitted as long as they were not “detrimental.”

When asked, Ms. Espinosa did not cite specific regulations which allow for obstructions in dolphins’ tanks. She also did not state who determines when an obstruction becomes “detrimental.”

Espinosa declined New Times requests to interview an APHIS inspector to learn how space requirements are routinely measured. Five months later, though, it seems Cole’s initial statement was correct.

The Marine Mammal Commission (MMC), a government body that works with Congress to protect animals, has backed Cole’s words by recently stating clearly that when it comes to tanks carrying orcas and other dolphins, measurements for minimum space requirements are to be unobstructed; otherwise, the agency says, the regulations are “rendered meaningless.”

“… The existing regulations specifies that enclosures must be constructed and maintained so that the animals contained within are provided sufficient space, both horizontally and vertically, to be able to make normal postural and social adjustments with adequate freedom of movement, in or out of the water,” wrote Rebecca J. Lent, the executive director of the commission. “All minimum space requirements should be met in an unobstructed manner, otherwise the definition of ‘minimum’ would be rendered meaningless.”

Lent also said that APHIS should “clarify” to the public that “all minimum space requirements for all species/groups under section 3.104 of the regulations (which Lolita is a part of) are to be calculated and based on unobstructed horizontal distances and depths.”

Animal advocate Russ Rector, the Fort Lauderdale man who once led a devastating campaign against Ocean World in the ’90s, has filed a new complaint urging APHIS to remeasure Lolita’s tank in light of the MMC’s statement regarding measurements.

“In light of the May 4, 2016, Marine Mammal Commission’s letter to APHIS saying that minimum space requirements are to be measured without obstructions, I ask that APHIS have an investigator please use that complicated instrument called a tape measure and measure the whale Stadium’s tank as it should be measured,” Rector quips in his complaint. “Does this tank meet MHD regulations for an Orca?”

This complaint may pose a dilemma for Seaquarium. If an investigator finds Lolita’s enclosure does not meet unobstructed space requirements, then the nearly 50-year-old orca can no longer legally  be permanently housed in the present stadium whale tank.

It is a fishbowl-shaped space that a federal court judge says offers “less than ideal conditions” for an orca to live.

New Times has reached out to APHIS and the Miami Seaquarium. This article will be updated when we get a response.

UPDATE: In response to the Marine Mammal Commission’s statement that measurements be calculated without obstructions, Tanya Espinosa, the public affairs specialist at APHIS, told New Times that she is standing by her statement that the Animal Welfare Act allows for obstructions.

“The Marine Mammal Commission is not the agency responsible for enforcing the Animal Welfare Act. I stand by my earlier statements regarding the island in the enclosure. The Marine Mammal Commission’s mission and authorities are very different from APHIS. We have worked closely with the Commission for over 20 years. They have submitted comments on Docket #APHIS-2006-0085, the proposed rule, and we will review and consider them, as we do all submitted comments. Our official response to all comments will be in any final rule that is published in the Federal Register.”

Though the Marine Mammal Commission does not have enforcement power, as a government body that works with Congress it does have the authority to interpret the regulations that APHIS officials enforce.

In response to this New Times piece, Dr. Lent, the executive director of the commission, remarked that she hopes APHIS officials clarify to the public that “all minimum space requirements” are calculated based on “unobstructed” measurements.

According to federal courts, “The Marine Mammal Commission is ‘a federal entity possessing expertise on issues relating to the protection of marine mammals.'”

Source: www.browardpalmbeach.com

Orca sighted on German Bank by Southwest Nova Scotia fishermen

August 17, 2016

WEST PUBNICO, N.S. – Crew aboard the MV Angela O, fishing ground fish on the German Bank, had unusual company for several hours earlier this week.

Ronald Amirault shot a short video of the killer whale that showed up behind the boat, pushing on its cables.

He said crew was lucky enough to see another orca three summers ago.

“Same place, same boat,” he said.

The Angela O fishes out of Dennis Point, West Pubnico.

On July 9, Norm Strickland was heading for cod-fishing grounds off Burgeo, N.L., when orcas surrounded his 18-foot boat. As reported in The Gulf News, the orcas kept approaching from the stern and began bumping his boat. The ordeal continued for about 30 minutes until Strickland decided to get closer to land before the orcas capsized his boat.

“When we got near the land where the waves were crashing on the shores, the orcas headed back out to sea, travelling in a west direction,” he said.

Last September, Digby Courier reporter Jonathan Riley wrote about Craig Theriault of Petit Passage Whale Watch who spotted an orca affectionately known as Ol’ Tom. The whale was swimming with a pod of about 200 dolphins near the Northwest Ledge, about four miles off Brier Island.

Theriault notified Brier Island Whale Watch and Seabird Cruises and they immediately sent a boat out to see the orca.

“We were pretty excited – one of the passengers told me some of the thrill was watching the crew get excited. We were all jumping up and down,” said research coordinator Shelley Longeran.

See the Video HERE

Source: www.thevanguard.ca