Death by 50m camera clicks: As THREE SeaWorld killer whales die in a year, a former trainer says when the show is over, the gentle giant’s lives are a ‘disgrace to humanity’

August 19, 2017

  • John Hargove was a SeaWorld trainer for 14 years, quitting his job in 2012
  • Now he wants to expose the San Diego theme park for its malpractices
  • The trainer claims the animals are kept in tanks that are too small, become violent and develop diseases they would never get in the wild
  • SeaWorld said claims are a ‘miscalculation’ and they are committed to welfare

A thousand tourists hold their breath as a giant killer whale leaps skyward, the sun gleaming off its smooth back. 

As if auditioning for a Disney movie, the two-and-a-half ton leviathan performs an elegant backflip before landing with a thunderous splash.

It’s a Thursday afternoon, but SeaWorld in San Diego, California, is packed with visitors, many of them British, all drawn by the undisputed star attractions: ten huge killer whales performing two shows daily.

Who would not be moved by such a magnificent spectacle of nature?

And yet who would not be disturbed by the accounts now emerging of how these intelligent creatures are imprisoned away from public view, ridden with disease, and separated from their family members in what one former SeaWorld trainer last night described as a ‘house of horrors’?

It is once the sun-burnt crowds have drifted away that SeaWorld’s killer whales, or orcas, are herded off to backstage pools where, with little room to dive, they swim listlessly in circles, often banging their heads against the concrete sides in boredom or frustration.

Or worse, as last week’s death of disease-ravaged Kasatka made clear. ‘Euthanised’ after falling incurably sick in her artificial environment, she is the third SeaWorld killer whale to die this year alone. 

And this, in the outspoken words of Kasatka’s former trainer, is ‘a disgrace to humanity’.

John Hargrove, a SeaWorld expert turned whistleblower, is in tears as he describes the orca’s fate to The Mail on Sunday.

‘What continues to go on in parks like SeaWorld is an abomination,’ he says.

‘They claim captive orcas help educate people, and for years I bought into it. But Kasatka lived in misery, in barbaric and horrific conditions, and died in agony. She lived out her days in a house of horrors – and I was complicit in selling the lie to the public.’

Hargrove has already played a central part in Blackfish, an award-winning documentary which gained near cult status after its release in 2013, and caused SeaWorld’s shares and attendance figures to plummet.

Viewers were shaken by one horrific scene in which Kasatka is shown dragging trainer Ken Peters to the bottom of a tank in 2006, nearly drowning him.

SeaWorld lambasted the film, calling it ‘inaccurate and misleading’.

Yet it has helped drive a growing international movement to ban the captivity of whales and dolphins, and Hargrove, for one, is unshakeable in his convictions.

‘In the wild, these magnificent creatures live to 80, 100 years old,’ he continues. ‘I have to speak out because if it stops just one person paying to go to a park where orcas are tortured to perform circus tricks, then Kasatka’s death won’t have been in vain.’

While capturing wild orcas has been banned by many Western countries, including the US, Russia and China continue to hunt and trap them. 

Globally, 50 million people visit marine parks with captive orcas. 

Thanks to films such as Blackfish, SeaWorld and other aquatic parks have been forced to change – although the message that ‘cuddly’ cetaceans are not pets is yet to reach the wider public, as shown by the needless death of a baby dolphin in Spain last week.

New legislation in California means mothers and calves can no longer be separated and captive breeding has ended.

SeaWorld, which also has parks in Orlando, Florida, and San Antonio, Texas, owns 21 orcas and attracts 10 million visitors each year, including thousands from the UK. 

They pay up to £75 to watch the killer whales pirouette to music and ‘beach’ themselves on the concrete sides of the pool. 

In January, an orca called Tilikum, notorious for killing his female trainer, died after a long battle with a lung infection. 

Then last month, Kyara, a three-month-old orca that was born under the park’s now-defunct breeding programme, died from pneumonia. 

Now it has been announced that Kasatka, too, was put down last Tuesday. At 41, she was half the age she might have lived to in the ocean.

‘In the wild, orcas rarely show aggression towards humans. But I lost count of the attacks I witnessed and suffered first-hand,’ Hargrove says. 

‘I’ve been butted against the side of the pool, grabbed by my torso and dragged down. I’m amazed I’m still alive.’ 

Kasatka, too, had become violent in captivity, as the Blackfish film demonstrated.

‘She was one of the most dangerous animals I met,’ continues Hargrove, who suffered broken ribs, fingers, toes and facial fractures during his time as a trainer. 

‘These animals are trapped, frustrated, unhappy. Of course they take it out on humans they come into contact with. Being in a tank for years on end wrecks them mentally.’

Hargrove, 43, worked for SeaWorld for 14 years until quitting in 2012. He had been friends with Dawn Brancheau, the female trainer killed by Tilikum after he grabbed her ponytail and dragged her to her death in 2010. 

Trainers were banned from the water after that. Hargrove claims that many of the attacks are laughed off as play by park officials, or not reported at all.

‘They tried to explain Dawn’s death away as a simple misunderstanding, as horseplay. Dawn had her scalp ripped off. Her spinal cord was severed. Her left arm was ripped off.’

Perhaps it is little wonder. Blackfish exposed how the whales were forced to perform thanks to training techniques including food deprivation, and how their calves were forcibly removed and shipped to other parks (in the wild, orca families stick together for life).

‘They chew the metal bars separating the enclosures, they grind their teeth on the concrete sides of their holding pens,’ says an emotional Hargrove. 

‘Pin-holes develop in the teeth and stuff gets stuck in there, causing infections. We used to drill the teeth down, using no anaesthetic, to clean the mess out.

‘Their eyes close, their jaws quiver. It’s obviously painful.’

SeaWorld has vehemently denied charges of cruelty and put out its own moving statement last week on the death of its star attraction.

Trainer Kristi Burtis was quoted as saying: ‘Today, I lost a member of my family. I am grateful for the special time we had together and for the difference she has made for wild orcas by all we have learned from her.’

While SeaWorld officially attributed Kasatka’s death to lung disease, Hargrove believes it was caused by fungal and bacterial infections brought on by years of being force-fed antibiotics. 

‘Orcas in captivity are constantly sick. They get daily doses of antibiotics and other drugs. Eventually their immune system breaks down. By the end she had lesions on her face, like an AIDS patient. SeaWorld will never release the autopsy but the internal wounds will be far worse.

‘She suffered unbearably so that kids could watch her do tricks and SeaWorld could get richer.

‘People always ask me why I didn’t quit sooner but it’s like being in a cult. I loved the animals – I bought into the mantra that we were educating people about these magnificent creatures by allowing millions of kids and their parents to see them up close.

‘I believed we were helping the species by the breeding-in-captivity programme. In reality, Kasatka was a corporate asset worth millions of dollars to a company which only cared about her ability to perform and generate cash.’

Hargrove adds: ‘Even as I started seeing the daily reality of the pain and suffering these animals go through, I stuck with it. How could I leave Kasatka? But in the end I knew I had to speak out. It’s too late to save Kasatka but if we can end this horrific practice of keeping orcas in captivity, I will be able to die in peace.’ 

While SeaWorld admitted in its statement last week that Kasatka had been ‘chronically ill’ since 2008, Hargrove says the company chose to increase her burden further, artificially inseminating her in 2011. 

She was also one of SeaWorld’s most successful breeders, giving birth to Takara in 1991, Nakai in 2001, Kalia in 2004, and Makani in 2013. 

Ha also points out that the hot southern states of America were thousands of miles from home for Kasatka, who was captured off the coast of Iceland in 1978. 

Hargrove recalls the death of two whales from mosquito-borne diseases – encephalitis and West Nile disease. 

‘This is because they were wallowing motionless near the surface of their pools, something which doesn’t happen in nature,’ he says. ‘Wild orcas are constantly on the move and not exposed to mosquitoes, which are limited to coastal areas.’

He is haunted by the anguish he believes Kasatka felt when her first-born calf Takara was forcibly removed from her. 

‘Takara was dragged off and taken to the Texas park. Kasatka was bereft. She vocalised her pain and swam around her pool violently. 

‘Years after they were separated we played Takara’s vocal sounds to her mother and Kasatka went nuts. She never forgave or forgot.’

Today, Hargrove treasures a picture of himself with Kasatka but can barely bring himself to look at it: ‘I’m beaming. It was back before I realised how wrong it all is. I feel guilt every day that I let her down.

‘Now she’s dead. My only comfort in her death is she is no longer being exploited. Finally she is at peace.’

Last night SeaWorld said: ‘These allegations are the same distortions and mischaracterisations that have been made and discredited over the years. No one is more dedicated to the health and wellbeing of our animals than the expert veterinarians and animal care staff working with this family of killer whales every day.

‘Our animal care programmes and policies are stringently regulated by US federal laws. The US Department of Agriculture has oversight of SeaWorld. Our park is inspected annually, often multiple times a year.

‘We pass these inspections, maintaining the highest quality standards. The Association of Zoos and Aquariums said SeaWorld is meeting or exceeding the highest standard of animal care and welfare of any zoological organisation in the world.’

To view the original article as well as VIDEO of John Hargrove and New Zealand Orca Researcher Ingrid Visser visit Daily Mail.co.uk

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Orca Kasatka Dead at SeaWorld—Condition Called ‘Painful Way to Die’

August 16, 2017

Orca Kasatka is dead at SeaWorld, the third orca and sixth marine mammal to die at one of its parks this year.

According to reports, Kasatka had been suffering from a bacterial lung infection since at least 2008 and her ailing body was covered in lesions before her death. Even though she was sick and on medication, SeaWorld artificially inseminated Kasatka again in 2011 and forced her to bear a fourth calf for the parks to exploit.

Former SeaWorld trainer John Hargrove told Dolphin Project, that “[h]istorically, when a necropsy is performed on an animal with this level of fungal infection, the fungal lesions are far worse internally than they are externally. It is also an incredibly painful way to die.”

This June, he told the Times of San Diego that he believed that SeaWorld was likely “doing everything known to science to keep her alive” so that Kasatka would not become the third orca to die at the parks this year. SeaWorld let her suffer until, finally, last night, the company euthanized her. She’s the 41st orca to die on SeaWorld’s watch—and not one died of old age. In death, she’s finally free.

No orca should ever have to live and die in a barren concrete cell for SeaWorld’s profits and humans’ fleeting amusement. Read Kasatka’s sad story below, and demand that SeaWorld release the remaining captive orcas to sea sanctuaries today.

The following was originally published on July 19, 2017:

Kasatka was abducted from her family and robbed of any semblance of a natural life when she was just 1 year old. Since then, she’s been held captive at various SeaWorld parks and, in recent years, has been showing signs of severe illness and infection, a contributing factor in more than half of the orca deaths at SeaWorld’s parks, according to a San Antonio Express-News investigation.

To Read the FULL story visit the source at Sea World of Hurt.com

Animal cruelty charges dropped against Marineland

August 10, 2017

Animal cruelty charges that had been laid against Marineland were dropped Thursday after prosecutors said there was no reasonable chance of conviction on most of the 11 counts faced by the Ontario tourist attraction.

During a brief hearing in a Niagara Falls, Ont., courtroom, the Crown said it could have proceeded on three of the charges — which related to failing to comply with standards of care for a peacock, guinea hens and a red deer — but did not believe it was in the public interest to do so, citing potential court costs and a weak case.

Crown attorney Stephen Galbraith said prosecutors had instead come up with an alternative solution that included ongoing monitoring of the amusement park and zoo.

“The Crown’s case is more circumstantial than direct evidence,” Galbraith told the court. “The photographs and video provided preserves observations, but there was no independent examination of the animals. The veterinarian’s report was not able to determine the cause of issues related to the animals.”

The justice of the peace hearing the case accepted the Crown’s submission and withdrew the charges.

The 11 charges against Marineland were the result of an investigation by the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals that was launched last November after the animal welfare agency received a complaint.

Marineland was initially charged with five counts of animal cruelty late last year in connection with the treatment of peacocks, guinea hens and black bears. In January, the OSPCA laid six more animal cruelty charges against Marineland relating to elk, red deer and fallow deer.

In a statement issued after Thursday’s court hearing, Marineland said it had suffered “reputational damage” as a result of the charges that were withdrawn.

“The Crown conducted its own independent review of the OSPCA charges and has effectively agreed with Marineland by determining all the charges ought to be withdrawn,” the company said.

The OSPCA said it was surprised the charges were withdrawn.

“We are extremely disappointed in this outcome and feel that this matter is of public interest as all animals rely on humans for appropriate care for their general welfare and the public demands this,” said OSPCA chief inspector Connie Mallory.

“If anyone has any concerns for the welfare of the animals at Marineland, we encourage the public to contact 310-SPCA to report the new information.”

The 35-page complaint that prompted the OSPCA investigation in November was filed by a California-based animal rights group called Last Chance for Animals. It contained allegations of animal abuse along with photographs and videos from a former Marineland employee.

The Canadian Press obtained a copy of the group’s complaint, as well as copies of the photos and videos from the former employee with metadata indicating they were taken on Marineland property last summer.

Marineland said at the time that the complaint was part of a smear campaign by a former employee who had been fired for poor performance and inappropriate behaviour. It also argued the images and videos may be doctored.

The former employee, who requested anonymity for fear of being sued, told The Canadian Press he quit on good terms and is not an animal activist and doesn’t want the park to close.

Last Chance for Animals, meanwhile, has said its goal is not to shut down Marineland, though it does believe “wild animals should be left in the wild.”

“The Crown’s decision to drop all charges despite having sufficient evidence to move forward on at least three counts is shameful,” the organization said in a statement. “It is the government’s responsibility to hold Marineland accountable and enforce existing animal welfare laws.”

On Thursday, Marineland reiterated its previous position that the OSPCA laid the charges to appease animal rights groups that have criticized it for not doing enough to protect animals.

“The OSPCA literally prepared the first of these charges on site, after spending a single afternoon executing a search warrant and viewing more than 4,000 animals across more than three hundred acres at our park,” Marineland said. “The OSPCA did not remove or isolate any of the 4,000 animals, despite laying multiple charges.”

Source: CTV News.ca


Study begins in the Salish Sea as time runs out for whales

Voluntary study started this week to gauge slower vessel speeds’ impact on whales

August 9, 2017

Consider for a moment a world in which every man, woman and child is forced to live in a perpetual, heavy fog. Their vision is severely limited, and, at times, the fog is so heavy as to create a virtual blindfold.

It’s precisely the kind of world that mankind has created for the 78 remaining southern resident killer whales (and other cetaceans) residing in the waters off Vancouver Island. The whales are an endangered species and have shown no sign of rebounding, despite some limited steps to safeguard their existence.

Marine mammals live in an acoustic-dominant world in which they use sound as the primary means of “seeing” their environment. It’s also how they feed, navigate, communicate and interact in what has long been known to be a critically important social structure.

Humans use their eyes; on the most part, whales and other cetaceans use their hearing.

Marine traffic (the ships engines and propellers) produce low frequency sounds that travel for very long distances, reverberating through the ocean and masking cetacean communication and the whale’s ability to locate food sources.

In response to this situation, the Port of Vancouver, with the cooperation of 52 marine shipping organizations , along with Washington State Ferries, have undertaken a voluntary study to focus on the relationship between slower vessel speeds, underwater noise levels and the effects that noise has on killer whales.

The study will take place between August 7 and October 6 and will involve participating vessels reducing their speed to 11 knots through the Haro Strait ( located between the Saanich Peninsula and San Juan Island). It’s an important summer feeding area for the resident killer whale population and the study will determine what, if any, effect will result from the slower speed.

The ships will navigate over underwater listening stations where hydrophones will monitor ambient and vessel noise as well as the presence of whales.

According to Krista Trounce, the project’s manager, the data generated by the study will be important for decision making around measures to address vessel noise.

“This is one of many studies we are doing, all in the hopes of better understanding the issues surrounding the harm being done to marine life by vessel traffic. We have also made some changes at the port of Vancouver where we charge lower harbour fees for quieter vessels,” said Trounce.

The port authority’s project, while unrelated, is being launched at the same time as environmental groups are challenging the federal government to live up to a promise made by Transport Minister Marc Garneau for Canada to work with the United States to develop a joint mitigation approach to deal with the issue of marine traffic and the harm it does to whales on the west coast.

Garneau’s promise came in anticipation of the projected 600 per cent jump in tanker traffic that will result from the controversial expansion Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline.

Misty MacDuffee, a biologist with the Raincoast Conservation Foundation has gone on record as being incredulous about the promised mitigation of noise. She has said that, regardless of oil spills or whale strikes (ships hitting whales) the risk of extinction of the species will increase 25 per cent, simply because of the noise of the tankers.

In 2016, seven killer whales died in the waters off Vancouver Island, leaving a remaining population of 78. One of the deaths resulted from being struck by a ship, two others resulted from starvation, possibly as a result of boat noise masking potential food sources.

Source: Vice News.com

Record low sightings of endangered killer whales concerns scientists

September 8, 2017

Mark Malleson, lead skipper with the Prince of Whales Whale Watching Tours, says he has seen a record number of transient killer whales this season.

“It has been amazing,” explained Malleson. “Best year that I’ve seen so far.”

There is another species of orcas, called Southern Resident killer whales, whose recent migration patterns has Malleson and others concerned.

“We’ve seen a lot of animals that have shown up quite lean and skinny” Malleson said.

The resident killer whales are most active off the waters of Vancouver Island and Washington State.

Since April of this year, the three orca pods have been sighted only 27 times according to the Center for Whale Research.

This summer turned out to have the lowest number of sightings since studies on the population began in 1976.

“This population is on the razor edge of extinction,” explained Christianne Wilhelmson of the Georgia Strait Alliance. “There’s no other way to put it.”

Last year marked the deadliest year for the species in more than two decades.

Six resident whales died, including one of the oldest whales in the world who was affectionately known as “Granny.”

Wilhelmson said it was a huge blow to the population.

“They had a serge in babies a few years ago and then last year several key members of their population died” Wilhelmson said.

There are only 77 resident whales left.

In 2002, the Southern Resident killer whales were listed as endangered under Canada’s Species at Risk Act.

In March 2017, the federal government created an action plan but advocates say more needs to be done.

“The government needs to recognize that you can’t just start talking about these things you have to actually take action” Wilhelmson explained.

Scientists believe their recent disappearance could be attributed to the decline in their food population.

90% of the whales’ diet consists of Chinook Salmon, but the food source has been cut in half since the 1980’s.

Wilhelmson also believes pollution and increased noise trafficfrom boats in the waters may also be factors.

“We see Alaska closing their Chinook fisheries,” Wilhelmson explained. “We see Washington State stopping the expansion of fish farming. We need immediate action.”

For the first time in two months, the three orca pods emerged from the waters this week near Secretary Island.

It acts only as temporary relief as concerns still remain the whales are searching for a new home.

Source: Check News.ca

Hurricane Irma: SeaWorld Orlando to CLOSE for two days as Florida braces for destructrion

September 8, 2017

The theme park tweeted out that it would be closing at 5pm tomorrow and remaining shut on Sunday and Monday as they monitored the storm

SEA World Orlando is set to shut its doors as Hurricane Irma bears down on Florida.

The theme park tweeted out that it would be closing at 5pm tomorrow and remaining shut on Sunday and Monday as they monitored the storm.

Florida is bracing for the strongest hurricane on record to form over the Atlantic to hit over the weekend.

The Caribbean has already been devastated by the 185mph winds that have torn through the popular holiday destination.

Irma is expected to bring 20-foot storm surges to the Bahamas, before moving to Cuba and ploughing into southern Florida.

And that would totally devastate an island visited by millions of tourists and newlyweds every year.

Source: The Sun.co.uk

Shore Lore: When killer whales came to the Cape

August 8, 2017

Labor Day has come and gone, yet some things haven’t changed. Off-Cape visitors are still aplenty, and, yes, the sharks are still out there as well.

Many of you might be wishing that there’s something in the ocean that can take down a great white shark. There is, but those denizens of the deep are rare visitors to the Cape’s surrounding waters.

We’re talking about the killer whale, or, orca.

A pair of orcas were spotted off Chatham just last summer. In 1982, a 15-foot female killer whale, named “Geraldine” and “Gemini” (depending on who you asked), roamed the waters of Provincetown Harbor and Wellfleet near the Massachusetts Audubon Wildlife Sanctuary.

However, during the 1940s and 1950s, numbers of orcas were higher in the waters around Cape Cod, according to the late Col. Eugene Clark of the U.S. Coast Guard.

Clark witnessed an attack of orcas on a small school of pilot whales near Lewis Bay in Hyannis on the morning of March 2, 1949. According to an article penned by Clark in the Aug. 12, 1959 edition of the Cape Cod Times, the pilot whales were attacked by the orcas outside of the bay and then sought refuge in the shallower water, resulting in several of them being beached.

“I closely examined six dead whales,” Clark wrote. “Each of them bore injuries received from killer whales.”

The next day, one of the orcas left its pack and ventured closer to shore near Great Island in Yarmouth, circling many of the pilot whales that had been rescued by the Hyannis harbormaster and his crew. Clark and many others watched this for several hours.

“When the killer reappeared it would be right in the center of the school, having taken a huge bite out of the belly of one of the pilot whales on its way up,” Clark observed. “Several times we observed pilot whales leaping straight up into the air with a huge wound on their belly and just dripping with blood.”

Clark added that a Cape police chief attempted to take out the killer whale with “a submachine gun from his department arsenal … with absolutely no effect. He might as well have been throwing doughnuts at the big beast.”

The whale was finally killed by a shot to the head from “a big game rifle … a so-called elephant gun.”

Clark also observed pilot whale beachings in East Dennis and Wellfleet in 1950, where evidence showed that the beached mammals had been attacked by orcas.

In the summer of 1959, schools of the killer whales, ranging in size from 17 to 45 feet, were reported to be following mackerel-seeking tuna into Cape Cod Bay. Fishermen were finding dead tuna floating in the water, with “one great bite taken out of their belly … the trademark of a killer whale,” Clark wrote.

Orcas will eat just about anything smaller than themselves, including tuna, squid, and seals. Sharks are also fair game, as shown in a frequently watched internet video shot in San Francisco Bay.

Will they come to closer to the Cape and chase the sharks away? Scientists seem to think that it’s not likely right now, but in nature, anything is possible.

In 1959, Clark warned that, because of the leviathan’s preference for deep water, “killer whales are no menace to swimmers at area beaches. Swimmers off boats drifting in deep water and skin divers in deeper seas are not so safe.”

Source: Cape Cod. Wicked Local.com

Rare audio of killer whales recorded off Tasmanian east coast

August 5, 2017

Killer whale and calf.

Killer whales, or orcas, are fast, fearsome predators, but comparatively little is known about the species.

Earlier this month a rare recording of the vocalisations of killer whales was recorded off the east coast of Tasmania.

“To date there are very, very few recordings of killer whale vocalisations across Australia, certainly fewer than 20 recordings,” said David Donnelley, coordinator of Killer Whales Australia.

Researchers had dropped a camera over the side of a boat at Eaglehawk Neck to record video of a pod, when the microphone picked up the vocalisations.

“Very, very difficult to know what they were talking about. The meaning of the calls or the noises that you heard on that recording will almost be uninterpretable because we know so little about the communication of killer whales in Australian waters,” Mr Donnelley said.

“We really don’t know why they do or don’t call in a lot of cases, why they may call a little bit or infrequently is a mystery to everybody, including the acousticians.

Little known about elusive predators

While humpback whale populations have recovered substantially from the wholesale slaughter of previous centuries, it is not clear how killer whales numbers are tracking, PhD student Ben Sellers told ABC Hobart.

“Killer whales are listed on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List as ‘data deficient’ so we have no idea how many there are worldwide, or even their population at the moment,” he said.

Where killer whales travel and what they eat matters, because as an ‘apex predator’, one at the top of the food chain, they can have a strong influence on marine system and biodiversity.

“If we can be informed as to what they are eating, we can look at conflict issues, so if we eat the same things they eat, those sorts of things, plus it gives us an idea of where they go,” he said.

He said killer whales “pinch fish from fishing boats’ long lines”.

“They tend to take blue eye fish, they’re an expensive, oily fish we like to eat, and killer whales like to eat them too.

“They’re quite selective, they’ll leave fish like ling on the line, but they’ll take blue eye off, so it’s really interesting that they can tell the difference between high quality fish and low quality fish.

“And they’re really careful too, they pull the fish of real gently, they don’t hit the gear or anything like that.

“[Killer whales] are hard to see, they’re free-ranging marine mammals and so they spend 90 per cent of their time under water and they also don’t take prey on the surface very much, so any interactions you’re likely to see are very rare so they’ll take prey mostly underwater, fish, other marine mammals and they’re quite elusive.”

Citizen scientists taking photos of killer whales around Australia are helping with Mr Sellers’ research, as images of fins are compared in a database to help identify individual whales.

Mr Sellers takes biopsy samples of the known whales to study their diets.

“Specifically I use a chemical technique called signature fatty acid analysis where we take small biopsies from killer whales and we look at the percentage of fatty acids in the tissue and it tells us what they’ve been eating over a period of time,” he said.

The not-for-profit group Killer Whales Australia helped track a pod down the east coast of Tasmania, until Mr Sellers could locate them by boat off Eaglehawk Neck.

“In this instance we just got photo IDs and what we aim to do is biopsy the animals. There was a calf in this pod, so we wouldn’t biopsy, if there’s no calves present, then we will look at deploying a dart and taking a small tissue biopsy from the animal and then analysing that, matching it to a fin ID in the catalogue and then we have an idea of what that animal eats,” he said.

Mr Sellers aims use satellite tagging this summer and get more samples from killer whales in Western Australia, as well as examine French sub-Antarctic samples before completing his PhD.

“So we will probably write up two or three research papers on their diet and range, and from that work with fisheries too and advise them about what we’ve found,” he said.

Earlier this month a rare audio recording of killer whales in the wild was captured off Tasmania’s south east, and Mr Sellers said despite years of studying the species it was the first time he had heard it.

Source: abcnet.au

Pod of orcas pay a visit to waters off the Tasman Peninsula

August 4, 2017

A POD of orcas has made a rare visit to waters off the Tasman Peninsula, surprising experts and providing a striking spectacle for onlookers.

University of Tasmania PhD candidate Ben Sellers is studying killer-whale diets and foraging range.

He said there had been a small number of reported sightings of killer whales off the East Coast, but said they were uncommon for this time of year.

“It is a little bit surprising for whales to be sighted in the winter,” Mr Sellers said.

“During winter time, we think orcas stay in more northern waters … but it is possible that because less people are on the water in winter, there is less of a chance of sightings.

“Dave Donnelly, of Killer Whales Australia, has said that we are seeing a lot more
animals pushing down the East Coast of Tasmania to have a look around,” Mr Sellers said.

James Kitto is a journalism student at the University of Tasmania.

Source: The Mercury.com

Frustration to attacks: Why captive orcas kill | Opinion

August 3, 2017

By John Hargrove

SeaWorld’s announcement introducing their new “Up-Close tour” is troubling. This ‘educational’ opportunity, where — according to SeaWorld spokeswoman Susan Storey — “visitors can signal for whales to do a tail wave or send them off for jumps,” is a not so thinly veiled entertainment show, through and through — and likely the first of many foreseeable broken promises.

During my 14-year career as a senior trainer at SeaWorld, guest interactions with the animals posed a challenge to us as trainers, or as SeaWorld now calls them, “behaviorists.” The interactions were both predictable and boring to the orcas. Often, we withheld food from the whales so we could use larger amounts of food for the interaction so they would be motivated enough to participate. Even then, it was not uncommon for the technique to be aversive, causing whales to refuse to cooperate after the punishment of withheld meals.

Behaviorally, there can be severe consequences to boredom and predictability because this causes frustration, which is a leading cause of aggression. I personally witnessed numerous incidences of aggression by the animals toward trainers during guest interaction sequences. When it happens with orcas, the potential for serious injury and death increases exponentially.

Case in point: Dawn Brancheau.

It cannot be overlooked that Dawn was grabbed and pulled into the water by Tilikum during a very predictable part of a guest interactive “Dine with Shamu” show, immediately before she was to point him underwater to another trainer to interact with a park guest through the underwater viewing area. We will never know why Tilikum made the decisions he made that day but it was discussed internally — at a senior level — that predictability and frustration could not be discounted as a possible large contributing factor to the fatal attack. Despite attempting to categorize her death as a drowning, the gruesome fact was that she was dismembered and the released autopsy report proves it. During my killer whale career alone, SeaWorld orcas killed three different people.

Since 2013, which saw the release of the revealing documentary “Blackfish,” the strides made in ending orca captivity have been unprecedented. The passage of ‘The Orca Protection Act” in California forced SeaWorld to end their orca breeding program, made them change their circus-like theatrical shows to more ‘educational’ ones and prevented SeaWorld from separating mothers from their calves by making it illegal to ship whales across state lines. This law also prevented shipping orcas to other sea parks worldwide — including genetic material used for artificial insemination. These laws ended SeaWorld’s breeding program, but the company proclaims they voluntarily ended it, which is simply false.

The tide has turned and public sentiment has changed, no one can argue on that. The public, in ever increasing numbers, has realized it’s unethical to hold orcas and other animals in captivity for profit and entertainment, and lawmakers in the United States and multiple other countries have agreed.

Now other bills are in the pipeline which mirror the bill signed into law in California. The Florida Orca Protection Act, championed by the Animal Legal Defense Fund, would solidify in law SeaWorld’s “promises.” With the company’s recent infusion of Chinese investors— and the potential for additional backslides in corporate policy —codification can’t come soon enough.

SeaWorld’s desperate attempts to rehabilitate their image, especially in the wake of new explosive revelations of two separate federal investigations against them by the U.S. Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission regarding securities fraud, are falling flat. The facts are the facts and the public is aware and watching.

A 3-month-old orca died recently in captivity from disease, bringing the total of orca deaths in captivity in the past 10 years to 10. Most recently, Tilikum died in January of this year and Unna last year, at only 18 years old. Despite these immunosuppressive related deaths and the fact that other whales are being treated with drugs for chronic illnesses, SeaWorld still maintains that their whales are “healthy and thriving.” Even as Kasatka, the matriarch orca, fights for her life, SeaWorld maintains their party line, concealing her true condition.

As someone who has spent countless hours caring for these animals – the animals who never benefit from the revenue brought in, who continue to swim in the same small facility — and who will only grow more frustrated and potentially aggressive with increased “guest encounters,” I am forced to ask, why hasn’t SeaWorld learned from past mistakes?

Source: Sun Sentinel.com