Puget Sound’s Southern Resident Orca Population Drops To 30-Year Low

September 27, 2017

Orca researchers and conservationists are urging more steps to protect Puget Sound’s endangered southern resident killer whales. The push comes in the wake of the death of a 2-year-old male orca known as J52.

The death, which researchers say was caused by malnutrition, brought the population to a 30-year low.

J52 is the seventh orca to die this year. That’s the biggest year-to-year decline ever recorded. The decline comes less than two years after a killer whale baby boom had researchers feeling optimistic about orcas’ prospects for survival in Puget Sound.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, which manages the southern resident orca population, listed them as one of eight species most at risk of extinction in a 2015 report to Congress.

“We’re going to keep sliding down unless we take some immediate action to improve the situation for these whales,” says Robb Krehbiel, the northwest representative for Defenders of Wildlife.

The southern resident orca population is suffering from two main problems: too much pollution, and not enough fish to eat. The two problems compound each other because, when orcas go through periods of starvation, they burn fat and release the toxins stored there into their bodies.

That’s why “the biggest thing that we can do to help our southern resident orcas is restore Chinook salmon runs so that there’s just plenty of fish out there in the water for these guys to eat,” says Krehbiel, with Defenders of Wildlife.

Krehbiel says the dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers need to be more fish-friendly; others are calling for the complete removal of the Snake River dams.

At the same time, NOAA is considering expandingthe area designated as the southern resident orcas’ critical habitat some time in 2017.

Krehbiel says it’s not just federal agencies that can do something; everyone can help address the pollution of Puget Sound by being careful about what products they use on their lawns, vehicles, and for hygiene.

Source: obp.org

Ex-SeaWorld president helping feds in ‘Blackfish’ investigation

September 25, 2017

The former president of SeaWorld Orlando in Florida, Terry Prather, is helping the feds by giving evidence in their probe into the company for matters related to CNN’s “Blackfish” film.

The company has said it’s the subject of probes by the Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Investigations are looking into “disclosures and public statements” made by company execs in 2014 or earlier “regarding the impact of the ‘Blackfish’ documentary” on SeaWorld’s stock, according to a filing.

A source says the feds are investigating whether there was a coverup at SeaWorld about the negative effect of the documentary as Blackstone took the company public in April 2013.

In the months before the IPO, “Blackfish” debuted at Sundance, was acquired by CNN Films, and was released in July 2013.

CNN’s “Blackfish” details the mistreatment of orca whales at SeaWorld, particularly in Orlando, Fla., where killer whale Tilikum was involved in three deaths. But then-SeaWorld CEO Jim Atchison said in 2013, “Ironically, our attendance has improved since the movie came out.”

Shareholders sued SeaWorld in 2014, alleging the company deceived investors about the impact of “Blackfish” before and after the IPO. The DOJ asked for a pause in the civil litigation while it conducts a “federal criminal investigation.”

Prather — who was president of SeaWorld Orlando from 2010 to 2015 — plans to cooperate with the probe. It is believed the feds want him and others to talk so they can go after “the bigger fish” at SeaWorld, which denied wrongdoing.

Prather’s attorney Sal Strazzullo said, “He wants to make sure that any person involved in covering up the problems at SeaWorld will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law, and that may include very senior figures.”

Blackstone bought SeaWorld for $2.3 billion in 2009. Shares were priced at $27 in the 2013 IPO, hit a low of $12.12 in September 2016 and were at $18.30 in March, when Blackstone nearly tripled its money on its investment in SeaWorld by selling it to a Chinese firm. Blackstone declined to comment.

Young endangered orca likely died of malnourishment: Researchers

September 25, 2017

Researchers say a young member of an endangered killer whale population living off British Columbia’s coast has died.

The Washington state-based Center for Whale Research says J52, a male southern resident killer whale, was last spotted near the Strait of Juan de Fuca south of Vancouver Island on Sept. 15.

The young whale, 2 1/2 years old, appeared lethargic and was barely surfacing, with photos showing signs he was malnourished.

Researchers with the centre say the Chinook salmon the orcas eat have been in short supply this year.

J52 was not spotted when his pod was observed in Puget Sound off Washington state on Sept. 19 and the centre says he presumably died of malnourishment hours after he was last seen.

Researchers say a young member of an endangered killer whale population living off British Columbia’s coast has died.

The Washington state-based Center for Whale Research says J52, a male southern resident killer whale, was last spotted near the Strait of Juan de Fuca south of Vancouver Island on Sept. 15.

The young whale, 2 1/2 years old, appeared lethargic and was barely surfacing, with photos showing signs he was malnourished.

Researchers with the centre say the Chinook salmon the orcas eat have been in short supply this year.

J52 was not spotted when his pod was observed in Puget Sound off Washington state on Sept. 19 and the centre says he presumably died of malnourishment hours after he was last seen.

The scientists say there were 78 southern resident killer whales as of last December, and the centre has warned that noise, toxic contamination and a lack of food threaten their long-term survival.

The orcas live and travel through the Salish Sea off the coast of B.C. and Washington state, and they have been studied for more than four decades, but the group’s numbers have fallen in recent years.

The centre says six new southern resident killer whales were born in 2015 and 2016, but J52 is the third of that group to die, and none of the whales born this year has survived.

Source: Vancouver Sun.com

Surfers in Norway have close call with pod of orcas

September 25, 2017

Surfers participating at the Lofoten Masters surf competition in Norway had an extremely close call with a pod of hungry orcas over the weekend.

During the semifinals, three orcas rushed towards the shore where a group of surfers were.

One of the surfers reported being as close as 50 centimetres from one of the whales.

According to marine biologists at Norwegian Orca Survey, the orcas were on the hunt.

“Based on the group size and behaviour, we have no doubt saying that these orcas were searching for seal prey,” they said.

One whale can be seen charging full speed at a surfer before it veers off.

“Fortunately, orcas use echolocation to better investigate their habitat and prey. It is likely that the charging orca realized, at the very last second, that the surfer was not a seal and took a sharp turn and moved away,” said Norwegian Orca Survey.

The surf competition organizers said none of the surfers or the orcas was injured.

To see the article and watch the VIDEO of the encounter visit the source at Global News.ca

Miami Seaquarium Leaves Marine Animals in Place During Hurricane Irma

September 11, 2017

Days before Hurricane Irma descended on South Florida, inciting an evacuation of 5.6 million people, the Miami Seaquarium left many of their marine animals at the facility to ride out the stormincluding their Orca whale, Lolita. The whale, surrounded by flimsy tin roof from the stadium surrounding her tank, along with several dolphins, were left in the tank uncovered. The aquarium is particularly vulnerable given their location on Virginia Key, a barrier island off the coast of Miami.

In contrast, dolphins at an aquarium in Cuba were airlifted to safety by helicopter out of Hurricane Irma’s path before it made landfall. In response to an inquiry on why they didn’t transport their animals to safety, The Miami Seaquarium said in a statement, “Miami Seaquarium has been at its present location since 1955 and it has withstood its fair share of storms.  The park has an experienced and dedicated team working diligently to ensure our animals are safe.  In preparation for the possible effects of Hurricane Irma, Miami Seaquarium has implemented its Hurricane Preparation Procedures. These protocols, which are constantly updated, clearly detail the necessary animal safety and precautionary measures to be implemented at the park. You can monitor our social channels for all updates regarding the park.”

Besides closing the park, the Miami Seaquarium provided no updates on their social media channels throughout the storm, nor did they explain what procedures were actually put in place to protect their animals during hurricanes, or clarify whether staff remained on site as Hurricane Irema approached. Reports from Miami have shown downtown Miami submerged by flooding.

“The threats to exposed captive killer whales include missile injuries, blunt force trauma, stress, and foreign objects in the pool, which can be swallowed. In nature the whales can ride out storms, spending their time predominantly below the surface and at greater depths,” said Dr. Jeffrey Ventre, a former SeaWorld trainer who advocates against Orca captivity. “The shallow water columns of captivity force the animals to be exposed.” He cited that he was on site at SeaWorld Orlando during Hurricane Erin, but that SeaWorld’s infrastructure was much safer and more resistant to storms than the dilapidated state of Miami Seaquarium’s structures.

“In the case of Lolita, her stadium could literally collapse, and she’s alone. The Seaquarium was cited in 2003 for a ‘rusty roof beyond repair‘ as well as other issues,” He continued. “If she was lucky enough not to get hit or impaled by collapsing stadium elements, she stands the chance of being sliced by metal in her space. A second concern I have is that the expected storm surge, up to 10 feet, could undermine the structural elements of her tank including the perimeter glass that holds back the water.”  Ventre explained, “If that were to happen, she’d be in dirty foreign-object-filled water trapped in her rickety whale prison with no way to swim to the sea, which is meters away. In the context of the original storm forecast, which predicted a CAT 4 or 5 direct strike on Miami, the Seaquarium’s decision to roll the dice with her life is certainly callous, immoral, and unjust,” he said.

Samantha Berg, another former SeaWorld trainer said in a September 10 post on the blog Voice of the Orcas, “Her tank is not deep enough for her to submerge and find refuge from flying debris. And, in an ironic turn of events, she even faces the potential of drowning if the surface of her tank becomes sufficiently blocked by falling detritus.  Or maybe the filtration system will fail and she’ll have to spend days or weeks floating around in her own excrement.  Her tank may over-heat if the power goes out and this could easily lead to a slower death from disease and injury.” She added the only proper way to prepare for a Hurricane of Irma’s magnitude was by getting the animals out of there.

Orca captivity and the facility’s treatment of Lolita has already been a controversial subject. The whale was captured in 1970 at the age of four. Documents released in 2016 noted the whale often suffers scrapes, and cuts from the dolphins that share her tank. She frequently needs antibiotics to treat these injuries. Environmentalists have been fighting through litigation to have Lolita freed and returned to the Pacific Northwest where she could live out the remainder of her life in a sea pen, but the Miami Seaquarium has pushed back on these efforts, claiming that Lolita has been taken care of in her tank, the smallest one for any orca in North America. The USDA released a report in June 2017 after auditing the aquarium. They found the tank likely does not meet the agency’s Animal Welfare regulations.

The 2013 documentary Blackfish exposed the harmful effects that captivity has on orcas—these animals regularly travel over 60 miles per day in the wild. In addition to health effects, psychological effects have been well documented. SeaWorld is currently under federal investigation for defrauding investors by misrepresenting their business downturn since the documentary’s release. In December 2017, PETA, the Animal Legal Defense Fund, and the Orca Nework will begin their oral argument before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit to push for Lolita’s release under the endangered species act.

To read the article and watch VIDEO visit the source at  Observer.com

Whale-watching company claims navy conducted blasting despite orca warning

September 1, 2017

Workers in Victoria’s whale-watching industry are calling for change from the federal government, saying the Canadian navy is conducting blasting that is impacting orcas.

A confrontation between a whale-watching tour boat captain and a naval official was caught on camera Thursday roughly 30 kilometres southeast of Victoria.

“You just set an explosive off two seconds ago and there are killer whales right there,” SpringTide Whale Watching’s Mark Williams is heard saying. “There’s killer whales behind us there.”

Another captain for SpringTide Whale Watching said the boat was coming around the corner of Bentnick Island, the site of a naval explosive test range, when there was a huge boom.

“It made the water shutter,” said Cam Ontkean.

Williams and other whale-watching companies have sounded off about naval blasting on Bentnick Island before.

A similar incident in early August prompted the two sides to come together and try to improve communication about killer whale safety.

But Williams said the navy has no excuse for the incident on Thursday.

“There was no confusion, there were 100 per cent whales there and we had been speaking to them for hours before,” he said. “There was no excuse this time.”

The Victoria whale-watching fleet claims it called the navy at around noon telling officials orcas were in the area.

Despite that, captains say detonations shook the island at around 3 and 3:30 p.m. with whales near shore.

“Passengers get a little freaked out and we go on with our day,” said Ontkean. “Whales possibly have lifelong damage.”

The navy says in both cases, whales and boats were at safe distances – at least 500 metres from the blast zone – but captains claim an image taken right after a blast shows how close the whales were.

“At no point was anyone in danger in the events that occurred yesterday, and I believe that the protocols were followed and that the navy did nothing wrong,” said Lt. Andre Bard.

The fleet is calling it a troubling pattern and is calling for action from the top down.

“We appeal to our Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to help, not hurt, killer whales,” said SpringTide owner Dan Kukat. “Yesterday, killer whales got hurt.”

Source: Vancouver Island.ctvnews.com