Killer Pics of Killer Whales In Belize’s Southern Waters

December 30, 2016

Yesterday, recreational fishermen and tourists who were at sea near Ranguana Caye off the coast of Placencia, saw an Orca whale leaping out of the water. It’s called “full breach” where the whale jumps completely out of the water.
Orcas, which typically live in higher latitude areas like Washington State in the US and Norway some times travel through our tropical waters while they migrate. They are known as the second most widely ranging mammal species on the planet – so they go all over the place. Meaning it’s not so unusual to see them in Belize’s waters, though it is a very rare sighting. We are told this picture was captured by Placencia tour guide Jason Westby.


Orca from Salish Sea found dead in Canada

December 28, 2016

On Wednesday, Dec. 21, an orca, who partially lived in the Salish Sea, was found deceased off the coast of British Columbia, Canada.

The next day, the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans reported the whale suffered blunt force trauma to the head, which could mean he was hit and killed by a vessel . . . 

. . . 

The male, who was about 19 years old, was part of one of three sects that makes up the southern resident killer whale population, known as the J-pod, which mostly swims off the coast of Washington, Oregon and British Columbia, Canada. Islanders would probably recognize J-34, or DoubleStuf, as The Whale Museum nicknamed, thanks to his long, narrow dorsal fin.

“He was a really well known whale,” said Deborah Giles, research director at the Center for Whale Research.

J-34 was seen in the Salish Sea in early December, but welfare is hard to assess from afar, said Atkinson.

The Center for Whale Research in Friday Harbor confirms that there are 25 remaining members of the J-pod, and three others were lost in 2016 . . . 

To read the full article visit the San Juan

1st SeaWorld Park Without Orcas Opening in Abu Dhabi in 2022

December 24, 2016

FILE - In this April 10, 2014, file photo, SeaWorld trainer Ryan Faulkner, left, with killer whale Melia, and Michelle Shoemaker, right, with Kayla work on a routine for a show at the Orlando, Fla., theme park. SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment is partnering with a United Arab Emirates company to build a theme park in Abu Dhabi in what will be the first SeaWorld park outside the United States and without orcas. Officials with SeaWorld and Abu Dhabi-government-backed Miral Asset Management said Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2016, that the SeaWorld park will open in 2022 in Abu Dhabi’s Yas Island, a man-made island that is fast becoming a tourism and entertainment center. (AP Photo/John Raoux, File)

Months after SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment ended its orca-breeding program amid pressure from animal rights activists, company officials announced Tuesday that they will help develop in Abu Dhabi the first new SeaWorld park without orcas — and the first outside the United States.

SeaWorld CEO Joel Manby told The Associated Press that the Abu Dhabi park is an important step for the theme park company’s move away from orcas, which long were company icons. The captive orcas have been the focus of blistering campaigns against SeaWorld by animal rights activists.

Officials with SeaWorld and Abu Dhabi-government-backed Miral Asset Management said the SeaWorld park will open in 2022 in Abu Dhabi’s Yas Island, a man-made island that is fast becoming a tourism and entertainment hub near the southeast tip of the Arabian peninsula.

The Abu Dhabi location will have a research, animal rescue and rehabilitation center, which will open ahead of the park, and the theme park will focus on educating visitors about ocean conservation, officials said. The two companies had been in talks since 2011 about a park in Abu Dhabi, part of the United Arab Emirates.

SeaWorld ended its innovative orca-breeding program in March after years of declining attendance and pressure from activists following the 2013 release of the critical documentary “Blackfish.” The documentary chronicled the life of Tilikum, an orca that killed a SeaWorld trainer during a performance in Orlando in 2010, and the movie implied that killer whales become more aggressive in captivity.

“This gives us a chance to position the new SeaWorld in a very strong way, repositioning it from a company that’s only about certain species to a company that is focused on ocean health,” Manby said.

The project is to be built and operated by the Abu Dhabi-government-backed developer, and SeaWorld will license its brand and provide expertise in animal care. The project is in the early stages of design, and company officials weren’t releasing details about its size, costs or types of attractions.

The Abu Dhabi location will have thrill rides and aquariums but it also will use 3-D mapping and virtual-reality technologies that immerse visitors in virtual scientific expeditions or deep-sea dives, said Mohamed Khalifa Al Mubarak, Miral’s chairman.

“We are going to be investing all the capital but the expertise and the insight that SeaWorld is putting in this project from day one is going to be critical,” he said.

Miral is betting that visitors from the Middle East, Asia and eastern Europe will come to Yas Island for the new attraction, said Khalifa Al Mubarak.

The island is already home to the emirate’s Formula 1 track and the Ferrari World theme park. Miral earlier this year agreed to develop a Warner Bros. branded theme park on Yas Island. Abu Dhabi’s pursuit of theme park projects follows efforts by nearby Dubai, the UAE’s biggest city and commercial hub, to build multiple theme parks of its own in as it prepares to host the World Expo in 2020.

“Abu Dhabi is going to be a major tourist destination, not just in the Arab world, but the world,” Khalifa Al Mubarak said.

Since the release of “Blackfish,” SeaWorld has undergone a management shakeup and currently is in the middle of cost-cutting efforts. Last week, the company announced it was eliminating 320 jobs across its 12 parks.

Manby said the vast majority of positions were behind-the-scenes jobs.

“It really positions SeaWorld for the future in the right way,” Manby said. “This is the right time to do it as we are pivoting the brand in a new direction.”



SeaWorld sees the tank as half full

December 22, 2016

Theme park goes ahead with revamp plans amid revenue drawbacks

SeaWorld is moving forward with plans to pump millions in new attractions at its San Diego theme park.

On December 19, the City of San Diego provided notice that SeaWorld has applied for the necessary permits for a large renovation project that includes removing structures to make room for a new roller coaster, construction of new buildings, a new orca exhibit, and food courts.

The project, classified as a Process Five, will require San Diego’s planning commission to review the project as well as final city-council approval before construction begins.

The improvements are a part of SeaWorld’s larger efforts to rebrand their theme parks after negative publicity caused by the backlash of the *Blackfish* documentary, which questioned the park’s orca exhibits, its treatment of killer whales, and the deaths of orca trainers.

The resulting public relations nightmare from the documentary sent SeaWorld’s stock into decline. Revenues for 2016 decreased by a reported $15 million from the previous year. SeaWorld stocks were also down by a reported 34 percent.

Despite the financial straits, in September of this year, the theme park announced its plans to change its image and build new attractions.

“We are extremely excited with the scope and depth of the new attractions and events coming to our SeaWorld and Busch Gardens parks in 2017,” said Joel Manby, SeaWorld Entertainment’s president and chief executive officer in a statement following the announcement.

“In developing new experiences we want guests to have fun, but also be inspired, and our parks are uniquely suited to create meaningful and fun vacations.”

The application to the city is the first step in the permitting process. Planning commissioners and city councilmembers will vote on the project in the coming months.

Source: SanDiego

Oil Tankers Could Doom Puget Sound’s Orcas

December 22, 2016

Canada’s recent approval for the construction of a pipeline in British Columbia could signal big changes for killer whales in the Puget Sound.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau gave the green light to a pipeline proposed by energy giant Kinder Morgan to transport oil from the sands fields of Alberta to Burnaby, British Columbia, at a rate of 890,000 barrels a day. The problem for the orcas is that the land-based pipeline, nicknamed the Trans Mountain Expansion Project, is expected to bring a sevenfold spike in oil tanker traffic through the waters of the Salish Sea.

This carries heavy implications for local marine life, especially the orca population living in Puget Sound and along the coasts of southern British Columbia and Washington state.

Both the United States and Canada consider the orcas there to be endangered, and their declining population was causing experts to worry even before the pipeline proposal.

“Death by a thousand cuts, and this is a very deep cut,” says Deborah Giles, research director for the Center for Whale Research.

Giles explains that if the present rate of decline continues — even without the Trans Mountain Pipeline — the southern resident killer whales could die off before the end of this century.

Killer whales, sometimes called the “wolves of the sea,” are iconic animals in the Northwest. Native American and First Nation peoples on both sides of the border revere orcas, often depicting them in their artwork and literature. Some tribes believe the killer whale embodies the souls of deceased chiefs, others believe it rules the undersea world.

Some of the worry around the pipeline is the risk of an accident, namely an oil spill or a mishap with a vessel traveling near the coast. But even without an accident, there is an inherent risk for the orcas.

Like all cetaceans, the killer whales depend heavily on sound for communication, navigation and feeding. They use clicks, whistles and pulsed calls to figure out their relative location, discriminate prey from objects and interact with others using a dialect unique to each pod. The ability for killers whale’s to hunt, rest and socialize is hampered by boats, ferries and other vessels traveling through the water, Giles explains. The increased oil tanker traffic from the Kinder Morgan pipeline will simply compound that effect.

“They’re spending more energy to find less food and we’re adding the equivalent of a rock concert,” Giles says. “These whales will not survive.”

Karen Mahon of Stand Earth, a leader in the Canadian opposition to the pipeline, told reporters in a conference call that experts generally agree: The southern resident killer whales are doomed if the tanker traffic goes up.

Kinder Morgan says it is collaborating with “coastal communities, aboriginal groups and other stakeholders” to better understand the importance of protecting marine mammals like the killer whales. The company will be required by Canada’s National Energy Board to create a marine mammal protection program, to develop a summary of possible effects on aquatic life, and ways to mitigate those effects.

Three main resident killer whale populations live in the northeast Pacific Ocean. The Alaskan resident population is the biggest of the three, with more than 500 killer whales. The northern resident group has approximately 250 orcas and frequents the inland waters of Vancouver Island and Johnstone Strait at the north edge of the island. The southern resident group is the smallest.

The southern resident killer whale population consists of three pods. The J pod has 26 individuals, K pod has 19 and L has 35, totaling approximately 80 orca whales that spend most of the year foraging near the coasts of Washington and southern British Columbia. In comparison the northern resident group is doing much better; the adults seem much healthier and better fed, and their newborns are born in regular intervals and survive more often. This contrast, Giles says, shows that it’s harder for the whales to survive points near Washington and southern BC.

A 2014 report by NOAA found, among other things, that members of the southern residents killer whale population hunt less and travel more when vessels are present. They also suffer the most chemical contamination documented among marine mammals around the world, and they favor Chinook salmon as their main source of food — a species also in decline.

After the recent death of a 24-year-old orca mother, known as J28, and her 1-year-old baby calf, the southern resident population recently fell to the current 80, a low point that hadn’t been reached in decades.

“We’re losing them because they’re starving,” Giles said. “We know what to do to save these animals, we need to get more fish in the water for them to find, but so far that hasn’t been a priority of the [U.S.] federal government.”

Kinder Morgan admits that the project will increase traffic in coastal waters to about 350 tankers per year. According to the company, this accounts for roughly 6.6 percent of all large commercials vessels trading in the region.

“Impacts on the region’s whale population are occurring regardless of our Project and this is an issue that must be addressed by all marine users,” Kinder Morgan said in a statement in response to inquiries from Crosscut. “The solution lies in a group effort and Trans Mountain is taking a leadership role despite our relatively small contribution to the issue.”

Mahon, the director of Stand Earth, says the amount of noise from the tankers, which are bigger than most other vessels travelling through inland waters, will devastate the killer whales. “They are dependent on echolocation for fishing, mating, communicating,” she says. “And the tankers provide such a high level of noise disruption.”

Concern about the possibility of an oil spill are heightened, environmentalists say, because the vessels will be carrying bitumen, a type of oil that sinks in water. They say the presence of chemical diluents in the oil make a bitumen spill particularly harmful, pointing out that Trudeau’s decision to approve Trans Mountain came just six weeks after authorities struggled with the response to a spill from a tug boat that sunk off the coast of northern British Columbia.

Kinder Morgan’s response: “We understand the concerns raised about tanker traffic, spill prevention and emergency response, and that’s why we’ve carefully developed measures to protect communities and our ecosystems.” The same statement went on to explain that, as a result of the project, an investment of more than $150 million will be made in Western Canada Marine Response Corporation that will “further improve safety for the entire marine shipping industry.”

The investment will fund five new “response bases,” three of which will operate 24/7, along with new employees and vessels stationed at strategic locations along British Columbia’s southern shipping lane.

Rebecca Ponzio from Stand Up to Oil, a Washington-based coalition of environmental advocacy groups that oppose new oil terminals in the Northwest, says that lawmakers here are concerned. “Legislators are thinking about how to hold the oil industry accountable for the risks that they’re industry poses,” she said.

When he approved the pipeline, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the completion of the Trans Mountain Expansion Project is “in the best interest of all Canadians.” Proponents argue it would establish a bridge for oil companies to enter the Asian market. The project is slated to enhance local markets as well.

According to National Resources Canada, the construction of the pipeline will generate 15,000 temporary jobs and “unlock the true value of Canada’s natural resources.” Officials say the projected greenhouse gas emissions fit within the country’s climate plan for 2030.

According to Mahon, even in “the best case scenario,” in which case no oil is spilled, the added noise would still drive the southern resident killer whales into extinction within the next 50 to 100 years. For her, there is only one solution: block the pipeline and shipping traffic through legal action in Canada.


Captive Orcas Are All the Rage In China

December 21, 2016

By: Ian Carey

When it comes to animals in captivity, society is undergoing an ethical shift. Animals used for entertainment was previously accepted by the public for centuries dating back to ancient Roman times. Yet, in recent years, we’ve crossed something of a threshold. Public backlash has caused SeaWorld and the Ringling Bros. Circus to back away from centuries-old practices that were their main revenue-generators.

It is a welcome development for the many who empathize with animals. Although, it certainly would be nice if other forms of animal cruelty were to receive similar public backlash. Still, certain acts of cruelty towards animals are no longer accepted — and that’s something to feel good about.

China’s growing market for captive marine life

It would be incorrect to assume this shift in public ethics has taken place worldwide, however.

While SeaWorld may be ending the orca shows, you can still find captive cetaceans at any of the 39 marine parks currently operating in China. Another 14 parks are currently under construction in the country. China is the fastest-growing market for captive dolphins, whales and other cetaceans.

Why isn’t China onboard with the ethical shift?

While many marine parks in the U.S. are closing down, or changing their business models, they are being built at a record pace in China. The ethical shift that led to the downfall of SeaWorld just hasn’t taken place there yet — or at the very least, it’s moving along slower.

One theory as to why this might be is that the backlash against SeaWorld was spurned on by the documentary “Blackfish,” which originally aired on CNN in the United States. The film was about as successful as any documentary can be in regards to furthering a cause. It’s success created such a large swell of public awareness regarding the suffering of captive animals that the public at-large rejected the practice. It is doubtful the makers of the film even dreamed a bigger accomplishment was possible.

Had a similar documentary been made regarding the Chimelong Ocean Kingdom (and the nine orcas captive there), perhaps marine parks would be closing down in China as well. Releasing such a film in China would also present a unique set of circumstances for the filmmakers. There are definitely those working on the cause in China. However, they appear to be having a harder time with it.

How much does it cost to open a marine park in China?

According to The Namibian, a local newspaper in the African country of Namibia, the initial investment to start a marine park isn’t as much as you’d think. Recently the Welwitschia Aquatic and Wildlife Scientific Research company put forth a proposal to the Namibian Fisheries Ministry. They want to sell marine wildlife to the company, which will eventually get sent to China. While the company is registered in Namibia, it is owned and operated by Chinese business proprietors.

The proposal the company sent to the Namibian Fisheries Ministry contained the following:

  • 10 orcas (i.e., killer whales, like Tilikum from Blackfish)
  • 500 to 1,000 Cape fur seals
  • 50 to 100 Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins
  • 50 to 100 common bottlenose dolphins
  • 300 to 500 African penguins
  • And whatever sharks they can get their hands on

That sounds like quite the well-stocked marine park! The Chinese-owned company is proposing a total of 300 million Nigerian dollars for the “order.” That translates to approximately $95,000. Not that there is any price that should be placed on suffering, but you’d hope it would at least be higher than that!

Response from the Namibian scientific community

Chairperson of the Namibia Environment and Wildlife Society, Frauke Kreitz, had this to say regarding the proposal: “For ethical and conservation reasons, there has been a move away from acquiring wild-captured animals to obtaining captive-bred animals in zoos and aquaria.”

She then continued to echo much of what the rest of the world has been stating regarding these practices.“Capturing wild animals is highly stressful and is invariably accompanied by a high mortality rate during capture,” said Kreitz.

The proposal notes that the market for captive marine life in China is “enormous,” but does not mention putting the animals on display. Instead, they list “breeding purposes” and to “help Namibia improve its overview of the marine environment” as the main reasons for the project. The company also stated that removing the marine life would have a positive impact on the country’s declining fish stocks.

Namibia’s scientific community has rejected the idea that the project contains any scientific benefit whatsoever. “The removal of the proposed numbers of the listed species will not improve Namibia’s fish stocks. Instead, the already tenuous status of threatened and uncommon species is likely to deteriorate,” was the Namibian Environment and Wildlife Society’s response to the proposal. It doesn’t appear the company has convinced anyone their project is based on scientific intentions.

How you can help

There are people both inside and outside China that are working to improve the situation, but they could use some help.

The China Cetacean Alliance is an alliance of international animal welfare organizations that are concerned about the growing rates of captive marine life in China. At the moment, their objective is to raise public awareness of the suffering caused by such projects. The hope is that Chinese customers will turn away from the marine parks, just as other customers turned away from SeaWorld. There are several ways humans can get involved, including:

You can also raise awareness by sharing or tweeting this article!


Lawsuit: Orcas put in peril by Canadian pipeline and tankers

December 20, 2016

By: Joel Connelly

The endangered southern resident Orca whale population would be put in peril by a massive Canadian pipeline project set to send 34 oil tankers a month through Salish Sea waters shared by the U.S. and Canada, according to a Canadian court challenge.

The existing Trans Mountain oil pipeline from Alberta to Burnaby, B.C., puts five tankers a month into the Strait of Juan de Fuca and Haro Strait, which separates the San Juan Islands from British Columbia’s Gulf Islands.