China has launched its first orca-breeding facility, as other countries abandon the practice widely understood to be cruel.

February 27, 2017

There are five male and four female orcas at the country’s new breeding base at Chimelong Ocean Kingdom in Guangdong Province, the Global Times reports. Some 61 orcas are believed to be in captivity today around the world.

Around the world, organizations and states are shutting down breeding practices. SeaWorld, the giant US aquarium and marine life park, ended orca breeding last year. The governor of California signed legislation last week banning orca breeding and orca performances in the state, effective this June, and legislation introduced to the US Congress this month would end orca captivity in the US.  A number of US states have already banned the practice, as have some countries

Orcas in captivity have been shown to have much shorter life-spans and to display abnormal behavior not seen in the wild — one of the reasons public opinion has turned against their captivity and use in performances. Violence, inbreeding and many stillbirths are just some of the issues that go along with an orca breeding program. One of SeaWorld’s stud orcas, Tilikum, was notoriously violent, ultimately killing three people, two of them trainers.

But China is lagging behind public opinion on this one. The country’s economic rise has created a newly wealthy middle class eager for entertainment, and China is in the middle of a marine park building boom. There were 39 facilities in operation last year, with 14 under construction, a Takepart.com feature reveals. They range from flagships like Chimelong, which opened in 2014, to “shopping mall aquariums that shoehorn belugas and other animals into tiny tanks,” the story says.

There are some 500 marine mammals in captivity in China, according to government records and an investigation by the China Cetacean Alliance.

Breeding in captivity may help slow down the capture of orcas, which a 2015 Al Jazeera report said had moved east, driven by a new appetite in China and Russia for marine creatures. The US has not allowed the capture of wild orcas in its waters for a few decades, but the trade only migrated to Iceland, then Japan, and then Russia. The UK nonprofit Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC) estimates that at least 16 orcas were captured between 2012 and 2015 from Russia’s Sea of Okhotsk. 

China has also looked south, to Africa, where its influence is growing. Late last year, The Namibian reported that a Chinese company, Welwitschia Aquatic and Wildlife Scientific Research, wanted help from the Namibian Fisheries Ministry to catch and export 10 orcas, 500-1 000 Cape fur seals, 300-500 African penguins, 50-100 Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins, 50-100 common bottlenose dolphins and a bunch of different sharks. This despite the fact that many of these creatures are endangered and protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), making it illegal for any entity to capture and export them.

The company was prepared to invest about $95,000 for the bounty, the report said.

Source: Spuntnik News.com


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First Chinese killer whale holding facility opened

February 26, 2017

China’s first killer whale holding facility was formally established in Zhuhai City, south china’s Guangdong Province Friday.

The nine killer whales were settled here three years ago whose ages range from five to 13. Even the smallest killer whale is 1.2 tons in weight and four meters in length.

Each killer whale eats an average of 50 kilos of imported fish every day.

Source: wsaw.com

China’s first killer whale breeding base put into operation in Guandong

February 24, 2017

Keepers interact with killer whales at a breeding base of Chimelong Ocean Kingdom in Zhuhai, south China’s Guangdong Province, Feb. 24, 2017. China’s first killer whale breeding base was put into operation on Friday. At present, there are five male and four female killer whales here. (Xinhua/Liu Dawei)

Photo taken on Feb. 24, 2017 shows killer whales at a breeding base of Chimelong Ocean Kingdom in Zhuhai, south China’s Guangdong Province. China’s first killer whale breeding base was put into operation on Friday. At present, there are five male and four female killer whales here. (Xinhua/Liu Dawei)

Source: Global Times

2 killer whale carcasses found in East China Sea sent to university

February 23, 2017

The two killer whale carcasses found recently in the East China Sea near Ningbo, Zhejiang Province, have been sent to a university scientific institute where they will be studied.

The orcas, both over four meters long, were caught by a fisherman surnamed Lin on February 16, and were sent to the scientific research team of Nanjing Normal University in neighboring Jiangsu Province on Saturday, the Hangzhou Daily reported on Wednesday.

Lin said the killer whales were already dead when he caught them in the East China Sea, 40 hours by ship from Ningbo. Even though Lin did not recognize what kind of “fish” he had caught, he realized they might be a protected species and reported his find to the local fishery department, who contacted the university.

“Nowadays fishermen usually have some knowledge of animal protection. When they catch protected fish, they free them immediately; if the fish they catch are dead, they contact certain department,” said a staffer of local fishery bureau. 

“Changjingyin,” a Weibo account about whales with more than 146,000 followers, noted that China has recorded less than 20 sightings of orcas in its waters, mainly in the 1960s and 1970s in the more northerly Bohai and Yellow seas.  

Source: Global Times

SeaWorld was right to stop breeding orcas, but it should go further

February 23, 2017

Takara, a 25-year-old orca living at SeaWorld San Antonio, has already delivered four calves in four different cramped tanks across the country, and is about to deliver her fifth. Due any day now, the calf will be the last killer whale born at a SeaWorld. Last March, the park announced it would stop its orca breeding program following years of protests.

Takara’s story makes clear why the captive breeding of orcas needed to end. She was born in captivity, in what is basically a cement box, at SeaWorld San Diego to parents who were captured rodeo-style off the coast of Iceland in 1978. Her mother, Kasatka, is still being held in a tank at the San Diego park. Her father, Kotar, died at SeaWorld San Antonio two decades ago after a pool gate closed on his head, fracturing his skull.ADVERTISEMENT

Research shows that female orcas in the wild typically don’t reproduce until they are 15, but SeaWorld artificially inseminated Takara, and she gave birth for the first time when she was 10, to a female named Kohana. The sperm SeaWorld used was taken from Tilikum, the killer whale whose harrowing story was told in the award-winning documentary “Blackfish.”

Although wild orcas usually remain with their mothers for life, Takara was separated from hers at the age of 12, when she and Kohana were shipped to SeaWorld Orlando in Florida. Afterward, her mother, Kasatka, began “emitting vocalizations that had never been heard before” in what cetacean  experts believe was an effort to locate Takara, according to a former SeaWorld trainer interviewed on National Public Radio’s “Fresh Air.”

To read the full story visit the Lost Angeles Times

Huge pod of orca delights jet-skiers off the Kaikoura coast

February 22, 2017

One of a large pod of orca which visited Kaikoura last week.

Seeing one or two orca in the wild in your lifetime is pretty special, but how about seeing 30?

Kaikoura surf instructor Dave Lyons spends a lot of time out on the water around Kaikoura but even he could barely believe his eyes when he saw the numbers out there last week.

Lyons’ employee had always wanted to see orca so when they got word of a sighting off the coast he immediately grabbed her and her brother and set off on a jet ski to find them.

“She had wanted to see them all her life, and what an awesome experience, there were just so many.”

Lyons said there would have been about 30 orca spread out over about 3km, having travelled from Jimmy Armers beach to New World and beyond to hang out alongside them.

He counted five different groups so it was difficult to give an exact count, he said.

“We followed them about 15km off-shore towards Mangamaunu.

“There was the mum one side, and the dad on the other. We never got close to him but he was huge – his fin was enormous.

“All the pups were playing, it was just so amazing.”

Lyons said they noticed the pod would dive down for between two and three minutes, then come up to the surface where they would breach three to five times and then go back down again.

At one point the orca formed a huge circle of bubbles, like a feeding frenzy, before taking off to play again.

Some were even spinning around in the jet unit right off the back of the jetski, playing in the bubbles, Lyons said.

“It was very cool that they actually came up to see us, definitely a once in a lifetime experience.”

A video uploaded to Facebook by Lyons had almost 13,000 views in five days.

Although orca are not an uncommon sight along the Kaikoura coast, according to the Orca Research Trust there are fewer than 200 individuals in New Zealand waters.

Visit Stuff.co.nz to watch the video and read the article

Arctic killer whales alter narwhal distribution and activity

February 21, 2017

UNIVERSITY OF ALASKA

Narwhals stay active and close to shore to avoid killer whales that have begun to enter areas with declining sea ice cover in Canada’s eastern Arctic, according to a study led by a University of Alaska Fairbanks scientist.

Assistant Professor Greg Breed of the UAF Institute of Arctic Biology, along with Cory Matthews of the University of Manitoba and Steven Ferguson of Fisheries and Oceans Canada, discovered the narwhal behavior. For several weeks in summer 2009, they tracked a family group of killer whales simultaneously with seven narwhals in Baffin Island’s Admiralty Inlet.

When killer whales were anywhere within approximately 60 miles (100 kilometers), narwhals avoided them by staying close to shore in shallower water. The narwhals also tended to make longer, faster movements. As soon as killer whales left the area, the narwhals moved offshore to deeper water and decreased their movement.

“The mere presence of killer whales in a system can cause relatively large and persistent changes in behavior and space use in prey species,” Breed wrote. These changes persisted for the entire time killer whales were present in the inlet, not just when they were close to or attacking the narwhals.

Narwhals live deep in the Arctic pack ice. Until recently, this kept them safe from killer whales for most of the year. Killer whales prey on narwhals and many other marine mammals. They have become increasingly common in the Arctic where they were previously largely blocked by sea ice.

Degraded sea ice now allows killer whales earlier access to the Arctic in areas where they historically ranged and new access to many areas where they had never been present before, such as Canada’s Hudson Bay.

The study was the first time scientists had simultaneously tracked both predator and prey marine mammals to understand their interaction.

Most of the world’s narwhals live in northern Canada and western Greenland, so a negative impact from killer whales might have a significant impact on the total population.

If narwhals change their behavior in response to killer whales, they could feed less, experience more stress, expend more energy or raise fewer young. Other effects could cascade through Arctic ecosystems.

There are implications for wildlife management as well.

“Researchers and managers using tracking data to infer preferred habitat need to carefully consider how predators affect space use,” said Breed. “Preferred habitat might instead represent a refuge from predators” and not necessarily the best places for foraging, resting, or caring for young.

The results were published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

In addition to UAF, the authors were from Fisheries and Oceans Canada, the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, the Assiniboine Park Zoo and Higdon Wildlife Consulting. Funding was provided by Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Ocean Tracking Network, International Governance Strategy, Oceans North, Nunavut Wildlife Management Board, WWF Canada, ArcticNet, the Carlsberg Foundation, the U.S. National Science Foundation’s Polar Continental Shelf Program and the University of Manitoba.

Source: akbizmag.com

Why researchers are hunting killer whales in the Antarctic

February 14, 2017

phillips-antarctica-killer-whales-frame-2869.jpg

In this latest installment of the “Climate Diaries” series, CBS News correspondent Mark Phillips is in Antarctica, following a group of researchers chasing killer whales. They are using new technology, including drones, to learn about the health of the ocean’s top predator. Phillips shows us how the Antarctic Ocean’s dwellers are experiencing the effects of climate change.

The ship that took a CBS News team to the U.S. research base at Palmer Station, Antarctica is not your average love boat.  There’s some serious scientific work being done on this cruise, and the findings are not always happy ones, reports CBS News correspondent Mark Phillips. 
 
The National Geographic Explorer is a different kind of adventure cruise ship. She’s on a whale hunt, cutting through the pack ice near the Antarctic Circle. The good ship Explorer is not just here for sightseeing, although there’s plenty to see.

And while nobody shouts “Thar she blows,” when whales are spotted, this time in open water, people do jump into small boats to chase them, just like in the old days. This hunt, though, isn’t about killing whales; it’s about saving them. It’s about giving them a health check, and the prognosis isn’t particularly good.

“One of the reasons we study top predators — and killer whales are the top predator in the ocean — is to understand the health of the ecosystem that supports them,” said John Durban. He and Holly Fearnbach are modern whale hunters who use the latest tools.
 
They use a drone fitted with equipment to monitor the whales’ condition. 

“With a small drone like this, we can fly just a little over 100 feet — the whales don’t know it’s there — and we fly a camera much lower so the quality of the images are so much better,” Durban explained.  

“What’s wrong with her?” Phillips asked.

“She’s very, very thin,” Fearnbach said. 

“You could see just following her, her whole body profile, you could see her ribs really clearly, so she’s lost all of the fat along her entire body,” Fearnbach said. 

“You’re looking at a dying whale here?” Phillips asked.

To read the rest of the article and watch the video visit the source at CBS News.com

Understanding the UK’s last killer whales

February 11, 2017

The UK’s only group of killer whales hasn’t produced a calf for 25 years – and no one knows why

The coast of the UK is not well-known for its whale watching opportunities. However, the seas around the British Isles do receive regular visits from an array of marine mammals, from the diminutive harbour porpoise to the 70 ton fin whale. And Scotland’s west coast is home to the UK’s only resident orca population, a group of eight individuals that scientists now believe is doomed to extinction.

The pod, which today consists of four males and four females, has not produced a single new calf in the 25 years they have been scientifically monitored, nor have any new animals entered the family. Last year, the “west coast community” lost a key female, Lulu, who was washed onto the Isle of Tiree after getting entangled in a fishing rope.

Scientists are yet to draw a definitive link between the plight of the west coast orcas and the prevalence of industrial toxins in European waters, however it is highly likely that a chlorine compound known as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) has played a part in their difficulties.

Once applied to industrial fluids in factories around the world, PCBs have been bringing about health defects in animals for decades. The seas around Europe are known to be a particular hotspot for these substances, which are now mostly banned from use but take a very long time to decay. Killer whales are the largest members of the dolphin family, and are right at the top of the oceanic food chain, making them particularly susceptible to high concentrations of contaminants.

They also have the second-largest brains of all ocean mammals, and are believed to be one of the smartest animals on the planet. Like elephants, this intelligence helps these whales to build complex family lives as well as sophisticated hunting techniques. They have very tight social groups, and display a rare behaviour in the animal kingdom where males remain with their mothers for the entirety of their lives, only leaving their maternal group in search of mating opportunities.

Their apparent intelligence makes them one of the world’s most successful predators. Orcas are found in every ocean, and in some parts of the world have been known to feed on other whales, including the world’s largest animal, the blue whale. It is thought that the west coast pod mostly feeds on other marine mammals, principally seals.

What little we do know about this group of animals has been derived from both scientific study and sightings from amateur observers. “Much of what we know about the west coast community is thanks to the involvement of the public,” explains Pippa Garrard, HWDT’s Community Engagement Officer. “With the pod covering such a large area, we depend on people to report their sightings and send in photographs, from fishermen to tourists.”

While other killer whale pods are migratory, and regularly enter the waters of Scotland in pursuit of prey, the west coast community is the only group known to stay exclusively off the UK coast. According to Dr Andy Foote, a marine biologist who studied this group, the west coast killer whales have also been sighted off Pembrokeshire in Wales, and Cork, Ireland, as well as Scotland.

Surprisingly, recent research by Foote and others has also shown that the pod is more closely related to the “Type 2” orcas found in the Antarctic, than the smaller “Type 1” whales that visit the UK’s shores. This might be one reason why the pod doesn’t interact with the other whales that enter the area, further contributing to their isolation and breeding issues.

The HWDT has given the whales nicknames: Nicola, Moneypenny, Floppy Fin, John Coe, Comet, Aquarius, Puffin and Occasus. They’re identifiable through marks and coloration on the parts of the body that are visible when they surface.

As his name suggests, Floppy Fin has one characteristic in common with Keiko, the captive whale who starred in the 1993 film Free Willy. Male killer whales sport tall dorsal fins that can grow up to 2m high, but this one is permanently “flopped” to one side, a common condition in captive animals, but a relative rarity for wild orcas. Tilikum, the large male orca from the 2013 documentary Blackfish, also had “dorsal collapse”.

Another male, John Coe, has a distinctive nick in his fully upright dorsal fin, as well as a large patch missing from his tail fluke, presumed to be the result of a shark attack.

While the west coast community is likely to die out, the UK’s seas remain a fertile fishing ground for both other pods of killers and other species of whale. Although they may not be as isolated as the Scottish orcas, the risks to these animals through PCBs, discarded fishing nets and disruption to their echolocation are still significant.

“There are two regions in the world where there are high concentrations of PCBs”, says Dr Paul Jepson from the Zoological Society of London (ZSL). “North America, where there might be around 600,000 tonnes of PCBs during the period in which they were made. Then Europe where we made slightly fewer.”

The chemicals can remain inside an animal’s body for years, causing problems for their reproductive and immune systems. A recent ZSL report into the effects of the toxins concluded that the prevalence of PCBs found in whale blubber samples “greatly exceed concentrations at which severe toxic effects are known to occur”.

A notoriously robust chemical, PCBs are believed to be re-entering the oceans through un-lined rubbish dumps and dredging, which stirs up the sea floor and brings the toxins back into the water.

Dealing with these toxins is extremely expensive, and not high up the environmental agenda for most European countries, despite being signed up to the Stockholm Agreement which commits the signatories to taking action on PCBs.

In the US, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) identifies the areas that are most contaminated by the pollutants, such as brownfield industrial sites, but also rivers and estuaries, where the toxins come up through the sediment and into the water. The EPA then decontaminates these areas by physically removing huge amounts of sediment.

Unsurprisingly, the costs of such operations can run into billions of dollars, and that’s before you try to destroy the chemicals themselves. 

“For PCBs, you have to heat them to about 1200 degrees for about five minutes in enriched oxygen, just to destroy them properly”, says Dr Jepson. “Very few incinerators are able to do that. If you don’t heat them to the right temperature, for the right period, you risk creating dioxins, which are one of the few chemicals that are even more toxic than PCBs”.

Out of sight for the majority of Britons, the UK’s whales and dolphins are poorly understood but attract huge amounts of public attention during mass strandings. While a solution to the pollution problems they are facing is yet to be found, the HWDT is encouraging the public to help them build a better knowledge of these animals.

Reporting sightings and strandings, or even joining the trust on a monitoring trip, can help build a better picture of these under-researched and often endangered animals, before we lose them forever.

Source; The Independent