PETA’s Court Case to Retire Lolita Will Be Heard in Miami in December

October 30, 2017

Lolita the orca has lived in this tank for more than 46 years.

The orca Lolita has swum in countless circles during her residency at Miami Seaquarium. For the past 47 years, she has performed tricks for audiences from within her fish bowl-shaped tank at the marine park, and during this time, her circumstances have remained essentially unchanged.

But though her situation has stayed the same, in the past three years, much has changed behind the scenes. Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine recently advocated for her retirement from performingGovernment officials argued this year that her tank might not, after all, be large enough to house her. And she was also recognized as an endangered animal in 2015. This December 6, a three-judge panel in Miami will hear a PETA lawsuit that hinges on the orca’s new protections under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

“We look forward to arguing her case before the appellate court and will continue to push for her to be retired from performing and transferred to a seaside sanctuary in her home waters, from which she was captured more than 47 years ago,” says Jared Goodman, the director of animal law at PETA.

Lolita — or Tokitae, as she is often called by animal rights activists — once lived off the misty coast of Washington state. During the ’60s and ’70s, her pod, or family, in the Pacific Ocean was decimated. Dozens of orca calves were captured and sold to oceanariums across the United States, including the Seaquarium. Lolita was among them. The loss of nearly an entire generation of orcas made it difficult for her pod to bounce back in numbers. Today fewer than 80 southern resident killer whales exist, and they are all endangered.

Endangered animals are afforded an extra array of protections under the ESA, in addition to the Animal Welfare Act (AWA). PETA’s lawyers, as well as thousands of animal rights activists, hope Lolita’s fairly recent recognition as an endangered animal will change her living conditions, which a federal court judge in 2016 deemed “less than ideal.”

“The [ESA] prohibits harming and harassing protected animals like Lolita, who is suffering in the Miami Seaquarium’s tiny tank,” Goodman says. Reached for comment, a Seaquarium spokesperson maintained that the marine park has no intention of releasing Lolita and stated she receives ample care from the staff.

Earlier this year, PETA’s legal team argued successfully in court and secured the upcoming December hearing: “With testimony from expert biologists, a veterinarian, and a former orca trainer, we argued that holding Lolita the orca without the company of any others of her kind, with incompatible animals, and in a cramped tank with no protection from the hot sun is a ‘take’ in violation of the federal Endangered Species Act.”

In addition to living in the controversial tank, the smallest for an orca in North America, Lolita shares it with Pacific white-sided dolphins rather than another orca. The AWA stipulates that social animals be paired so they can engage with each other. It’s a quandary as to how a court will rule. Orcas are the largest breed of dolphins, but does placing an orca with Pacific white-sided dolphins satisfy the spirit of the AWA? Activists have argued it’s akin to putting a human and a chimpanzee in the same situation; both are great apes but not necessarily socially compatible.

Source: Miami New

Tour boat companies react to new rules to protect B.C.’s killer whales

October 28, 2017

Tour boat operators in B.C. are reacting to the federal government’s planned measures to protect the province’s endangered resident killer whale population off of B.C.’s southern coast.

Come spring, large ships and tour boats will have to keep 200 metres away from the whales at all times, Fisheries Minister Dominic LeBlanc announced in Ottawa on Thursday.

There are only 78 remaining southern resident killer whales living in the Salish Sea, a large area of coastal waterways that extends from the southern coast of B.C. to the northern coast of Washington state. The mammals’ population has been threatened by dwindling levels of Chinook salmon, their main food source, and interference from nearby boats.

Misty MacDuffee, a biologist and program director for the Raincoast Conservation Foundation, told CTV Vancouver Island News that noise and disturbance from passing vessels impairs the whales’ ability to successfully feed.

“This population has a 25 per cent chance of extinction in the next 100 years,” MacDuffee warned on Friday.

Even though the regulations won’t come into effect until the spring, LeBlanc asked tour boat operators to voluntarily abide by the new rules immediately.

Prince of Whales, the largest whale-watching company in the province, told CTV Vancouver Island News that they’re pleased the government is taking steps to protect the long-term survival of killer whales with measures the industry has been considering already for months.

Despite the enthusiasm by Prince of Whales, others in the industry have expressed concern about how the new regulations will impact their business.

“You can imagine going on a football field and seeing a 6” tall dorsal fin at 100 metres [away] and then you double that distance, that is going to have some sort of impact, I would suggest, on the customers’ experience overall,” Brett Soberg of Eagle Wing Tours said.

Although Washington state already has a strict law in place that requires boats to keep nearly 200 metres away from the whales, Canada has only had a guideline suggesting operators stay 100-metres away from the mammals until now.

“It gives the whales a little bit more breathing room,” MacDuffee explained.

In addition to the regulations concerning killer whales, boats will also have to remain 100 metres away from all marine mammals across Canada, LeBlanc said. The minister said the measures are the first in a series of new policies that will be introduced in the coming months to protect the country’s marine life.

Source: ctv

To avoid extinction, orcas need more chinook and less noise

October 27, 2017

According to a new study, southern-resident killer whales could vanish within a century.

Orca whales are on a path to extinction within a century unless they get a big increase of chinook salmon to eat, and significantly quieter seas in which to find their food, a new study has found.

The research, published in the journal Scientific Reports, evaluated the relative importance of known threats to the survival of southern-resident killer whales, the salmon-eating whales that frequent Puget Sound.

An international team of scientists reviewed 40 years of data and the threats of lack of food, pollutants and excessive noise under different future scenarios.

A clear finding emerged: Lack of food, specifically chinook salmon, is the orcas’ biggest threat to long-term survival, so much so that a 30 percent increase in chinook above average levels is needed to recover the orca population. That increase could be cut to 15 percent if vessel noise also is reduced by half.

Otherwise, the populations will continue to decline and there is a 25 percent chance the whales will be lost within 100 years, the scientists found.

The findings reflect the unique biology of southern-resident killer whales, which insist on targeting chinook salmon for their diet, virtually to the exclusion of other prey. They also use echolocation — sound — to find their food.

Lower abundance of salmon in a sea noisy from vessel traffic means the whales must forage longer to find their food — even as chinook populations also are declining. And if they can’t get enough to eat they burn their own fat, laden with chemicals stored in their tissue, absorbed from pollutants in the waters of the Salish Sea.

The linked nature of the threats to orcas means progress must be made on all three fronts, noted Rob Williams, an author on the paper based at Oceans Initiative in Seattle, a nonprofit scientific research firm.

The orcas already are in a 30-year population low, with just 76 animals in the J, K and L pods.

“The very first thing we should be doing is holding the line, and not increasing threats and harms that are already there, clearly we don’t want to be adding to the problem,” said Paul Paquet of the Raincoast Conservation Foundation in Sydney, B.C., a lead author on the paper.

“There is an urgency here that is not well-appreciated; they are certainly in jeopardy,” he said of the orcas. “There is no doubt about that.”

Bob Lacy, a conservation biologist with the Chicago Zoological Society, and another lead author on the paper, said the southern residents are “just holding on; the population is too fragile to withstand any increased threats.

“It is not a cheerful story, but it is a wake-up call.”

Lynne Barre, Seattle branch chief of the Protected Resources Division at NOAA Fisheries West Coast Region, said the agency is well aware of the orcas’ predicament, as their population — at the lowest numbers since the 1980s — continues to drop. They are listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act.

“We are moving in the wrong direction,” Barre said. The agency is looking for partners at every level — local, state, federal and across the border in Canada, to ease threats to orca survival she said.

It’s not a problem orcas might just fix on their own by turning to other prey.

While so-called transient killer whales in Canada feast on marine mammals, especially seals, the southern residents will not switch from chinook — the most calories for the hunting effort of any salmon — even when the region’s most prized fish is scarce.

“It seems to be cultural, this is what they learned from their mothers, they live in tight family groups and it makes them unique and very special, but it might be a downfall as well,” Barre said.

Chinook are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act both in the Columbia River and in Puget Sound. Orcas forage for chinook at the mouth of the Columbia in the early spring and again in Puget Sound in the summer, especially on the west side of San Juan Island.

Scientists have been studying the whales’ foraging behavior and can see that vessel traffic affects it, she noted.

The agency is considering a proposed change in the critical habitat protected for the whales to include the West Coast all the way to the San Francisco Bay Area, to reflect what scientists are learning about how far the orcas travel for their food, Barre said.

Also under review is a protection zone that extends three-quarters of a mile offshore of San Juan Island from Mitchell Point in the north to Cattle Point in the south.

All motorized vessels would be excluded from the zone to give the whales a refuge from their noise.

The proposal from Orca Relief Citizens Alliance and other conservation groups, under review by NOAA since January, received more than 1,000 comments, including suggestions of new approaches to the problem.

James Unsworth, director of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, even suggested that instead of a fixed protection zone, what is needed is a floating go-slow bubble extending 1,000 yards around every orca as it travels anywhere in Washington’s inner marine waters. Within the bubble, vessel speeds would be restricted to not more than 7 knots on the water.

That would be a big increase in the 200-yard, no-approach zone around every orca imposed by NOAA in 2011.

Slower travel speeds help orcas by quieting vessel traffic. Some change is already underway on a voluntary basis.

The Port of Vancouver, B.C., in a pilot program last summer, asked ships to cut their speed to 11 knots — a reduction to nearly half speed for some vessels — to reduce noise levels in a 16-mile-long area of the orcas’ prime feeding ground. More than 61 percent of ships using Haro Strait voluntarily participated.

It’s the kind of measure that perhaps could buy the whales some time and take the pressure off a population struggling to survive, Williams said.

“This is a really small population that is teetering.” Not because of some catastrophe, such as an oil spill, he noted, but just because of what their environment has become. “We are looking at their daily lives.”

Source: Herald

Local Commission Votes Unanimously to Free Lolita – Urge Miami Seaquarium to Let Her Go!

We finally have some promising news to share about Lolita, the oldest living orca in captivity. The Miami Beach Commission is now putting pressure on the Miami Seaquarium to release Lolita to a seaside sanctuary in the Pacific Northwest. Truly, this is the least they can do to ensure Lolita can live the rest of her years in peace. The Commission voted unanimously last week in favor of the resolution that urges Lolita be retired to the Orca Network, a non-profit that developed a retirement plan way back in 1995.

Even though the resolution only holds a symbolic significance, as the board does not have any legal power over the Miami Seaquarium, this is still a hopeful step. The plan would take six to eight weeks to transport, rehabilitate, and retire Lolita to the San Juan Islands in Washington State, close to her original home in Puget Sound. Orca Network estimates the process would cost $1.5 million in private sector funding.

The Mayor of Miami Beach, Philip Levine, is a long-time advocate for moving Lolita to a seaside sanctuary. “Hopefully, in the future, this animal will go on to its family in the Northwest,” he told the Miami Herald. But because Lolita was added to the endangered species listing for the Southern Resident killer whale in 2015, the minimal amount of risk would have to be taken to retire Lolita.

Lolita has lived almost her entire life in what is equivalent of a bathtub, this year marked her 47th year in captivity at the Miami Seaquarium. Activists have been fighting to free Lolita for years, and there have been a number of lawsuits that allege her tank is not up to regulations and it has even been considered that since she is the member of an orca pod listed as endangered, she should be privy to Endangered Species Act regulations that could permit her to return to the wild. Prior lawsuits have been denied.

Not surprisingly, the Miami Seaquarium is against the proposal, stating that the stress upon Lolita could prove fatal. Seems odd that they would all of a sudden care about her well-being after refusing to even expand the size of her tank. Importantly though, the more negative attention brought to the Miami Seaquarium, the more likely they are to retire Lolita to a sanctuary. At the end of the day, they won’t change anything until their bottom line is affected.

Please share this story to show the Miami Seaquarium that the world is watching and that we won’t give up until Lolita is free.

Source: One Green

‘Free Willy’ bill jumps to Senate for approval

October 26, 2017

It’s still swimming.

A bill that would ban whale and dolphin captivity in Canada cleared the Senate’s Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans this morning by a vote of 9-5.

The sponsor of Bill S-203, Independent Sen. Murray Sinclair introduced several amendments, all of which were supported by the same margin.

The report will now be tabled for consideration at the next sitting of the Senate and then move to the report stage. Senators will have an opportunity to debate what’s been proposed and vote on it. If the report is adopted, it will move on to third reading.

“I’m looking forward to it going back to the Senate for full deliberation and third reading,” Sinclair said. “I think that the fight is not over yet. I think there will still be opposition raised to the passage of the bill.”

In a previous interview with iPolitics, he’d spoken out against backroom antics by Conservative senators to quietly kill the bill.

“Nobody is doing anything improper — and I don’t want to suggest that,” he said today. “But from the perspective of Independent senators who are not here carrying the banner of a political party, either on the government side or opposition side, our concern is that, as senators we feel we have an obligation to deal with the legislation that is before us. Any delay in our consideration and our ability to vote on a bill is a matter that causes us great concern.”

“We need to ensure that we expedite the movement of the bill through the chamber so it gets to the House in order to be considered by members there. It’s been a long time to get to this point, but we still have a long way to go.”

This bill was first tabled in June of 2015 by Liberal Sen. Wilfred Moore with the goal of phasing out the keeping of whales, dolphins and porpoises in captivity in Canada, with an exception for rescues and rehabilitation. When he reached the mandatory retirement age in January, Sinclair took over for him.

“At the time I said that in order for it to pass, both from my own consideration and my support of it, as well as the support of others, we needed to change this bill to make it better and I think we’ve done that,” Sinclair said of his amendments.

The purpose of the bill is to criminalize the captivity of whales and dolphins in Canada. One amendment put forward today would make it an offence punishable by summary conviction instead of an indictable offence, also subject to a fine of up to $200,000.

It has a grandfather clause for those animals that are already in captivity and permits legitimate research, as well as the rescue of animals in distress.

“There is nothing here that is going to criminalize the conduct of researchers,” Sinclair said.

He also introduced a clause to recognize Indigenous treaty rights and s.35 of the Constitution.

“This is to ensure that Indigenous people in Canada know this is not intended to derogate rights that are protected under s. 35,” he said.

That addresses an issue raised at committee in the spring: the need for aboriginal consultations. One section of the bill would amend the Wild Animal and Plant Protection and Regulation of International and Interprovincial Trade Act to prohibit imports and exports of cetaceans to and from Canada. Andrew Burns, a lawyer for Marineland in Ontario, appeared before the committee in mid-May and argued the bill intrudes into issues of constitutionally protected Inuit rights, specifically around the sale of narwhal tusks and harvesting wildlife.

He said the park’s position is that the legal ‘duty to consult’ with the Inuit had not been fulfilled.

At a June 8 meeting of the committee, Conservative Sen. Don Plett picked up where Marineland had left off and raised the issue of aboriginal consultations again.

This morning, five Indigenous senators were present and voted in favour of all amendments — and moving the bill along.

“I will not tell you (their presence) was deliberate. I will not tell you it wasn’t deliberate,” Sinclair said with a smile. “I can only tell you that’s the way it happened. I can assure you though that all Indigenous senators were consulted about the clause and they all expressed concern when the issue first came to light. I indicated that in my view there was a way to deal with it and this was the best way.”

The Canadian Federation of Humane Societies supported Sen. Moore out of the gate and today CEO Barbara Cartwright said she’s confident the bill will pass the Senate. It’s the House of Commons that will be the challenge.

“Certainly the continued antics of Don Plett and the Conservatives around an ‘un-understandable’ defence of Marineland, almost as if they’re lobbying on behalf of Marineland, seems to me to highlight an issue or a problem with the way the process is happening,” she said.

“I’m just thrilled that the nine senators who voted positively each time didn’t allow that to move forward or influence their decision about how important it is to ban the captivity of marine mammals in Canada. I’m hoping the amendments don’t allow for the movement of sperm and embryos to allow captive breeding to continue. That’s going to be their next move if they can’t bring wild animals in.”

Sinclair is under no illusions about an easy swim from here.

“Not all independent senators are in support of the legislation. They still need to understand it. I think senators in the other caucuses need to understand what this bill is all about.”

They also need to grasp the public support for the bill that’s out there, he said.

“Each of us on the committee have probably received a few thousand emails, generally in support of the bill. There are quite a lot of Canadians out there who want this to pass. I recognize the importance of it.”

Camille Labchuk, executive director of Animal Justice, said while the aquarium industry has many senators on its side and seems to be doing a good job of lobbying them, “the power of the millions of Canadians who want to see this bill passed, who want to reasonable protections in place for whales and dolphins, will far outweigh the two businesses (Marineland and the Vancouver Aquarium) that confine cetaceans.”

She said around the world, the captivity of cetaceans and other large animals is on its way out.

“Canada has an opportunity to be a world leader in protecting these animals. We should seize that opportunity. We don’t have a very strong record internationally on animal protection, in fact we have one of the worst. With Bill s-203, Canada has a clear and easy opportunity to take a big leap and become a world leader.”

Still with Marineland, earlier this week it filed a lawsuit against the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, alleging the organization maliciously targeted the theme park in order to curry favour with animal rights activists and boost fundraising.

The lawsuit alleges the OSPCA launched a criminal investigation against Marineland last year for “improper purposes” and with the intention of harming the Niagara Falls, Ont., amusement park’s reputation.

The investigation culminated with the laying of 11 animal cruelty charges against Marineland, which were then withdrawn this summer.


Death by loneliness: Male killer whales are three times more likely to die if they are socially isolated

October 24, 2017

  • The effect was much stronger when food was scarce and didn’t affect females 
  • This is because males are larger and need more support from the group to eat
  • Study looked at Southern Resident orcas, a critically endangered population
  • The research highlights the importance of social bonds to male killer whales

Male killer whales are more likely to die if they are not at the centre of their social group, new research has found.

Scientists showed that the most socially isolated males were three times more likely to die in any given year than those in the ‘most central social positions’.

The effect was much stronger in years where food was scarce and didn’t affect females, possibly because males are larger and need more support from the group to eat enough.

The findings come from a study of Southern Resident killer whales, a critically endangered population in the Pacific Ocean that numbers just 76.

The research was conducted by scientists from Exeter and York Universities, and from the US Centre for Whale Research in Washington.

Study lead author Dr Samuel Ellis, of Exeter University, said: ‘This research highlights the importance of social bonds to male killer whales, and shows that males that are less socially connected are more likely to die when times are hard.

‘Killer whales are highly cooperative, and males at the centre of a social group are likely to have better access to social information and food-sharing opportunities.’ 

Southern Residents were frequently taken into captivity in the 1960s and 70s, and the team says human activity now poses an even greater threat to their survival.

Ken Balcomb, of the Centre for Whale Research, said: ‘Salmon is the main food for these whales, and stocks have been driven down by overfishing and the blocking of spawning grounds by damming rivers.

‘These factors make it all the more important to understand the drivers of survival and mortality among these whales.’

Study co-author Dr Dan Franks, of York University, said: ‘Our research shows the importance of considering social positions and family ties in understanding and predicting the future of endangered populations.’

Previous research has shown sociability has an effect on human life expectancy, but this is the first study to show that social position across the lifespan can predict survival in non-human animals.

Study senior author Professor Darren Croft, of the Exeter University, said: ‘These whales have been studied for more than 40 years and they are all recognisable by unique markings.

‘By seeing which whales regularly swam together across a year and across multiple years, we started to understand a network of what in humans we would call friendships.

‘In terms of this research, a central social position meant whales either having many individual connections or being the connection between two or more groups.’

Professor Croft added: ‘On a broad scale, research like this examines the fundamental question of why social relationships and friendships have evolved.’

Source: Daily

Killer whales scare swimmers out of water in the Coromandel

October 22, 2017

The fin looks menacing in the water behind the swimmers at Hot Water Beach.

Killer whales have been spotted at beaches in the Coromandel, scaring swimmers out of the water. 

The orca – a pod of five or six – were first seen cruising through the water at Hot Water Beach around 1pm on Saturday.

No sightings have been reported on Sunday. 

There were about 350 people at Hot Water Beach on Saturday, Lifeguard service chairman Gary Hinds said.

“There was a group of about five or six and they were pretty close [to the shore],” Hinds said.

Lifeguards were back on duty at the weekend.

There were 10 guards working when the orca were sighted.

“I haven’t seen them come this close [to the shore] in years,” Hinds said.

“And when they do, it’s usually to eat stingray.”

The mammals then made their way around the coastline to Hahei Beach.

A beachgoer took footage of people clambering out of the water as the orca swam through the shallows. 

New Zealand is home to an estimated 150 to 200 orca, according to the Department of Conservation.

They’re easily identified by their distinctive black and white markings and tall, dorsal fin.

Males are longer and bulkier than females, whereas females have smaller, more curved dorsal fins and smaller flippers.

Females are known to live to 80 or 90 years. Males reach physical maturity at 21 or so and live for a maximum of 50 to 60 years.

Orcas usually travel in family groups or pods, and pods are usually formed for life.


SeaWorld’s Toothless Denials Expose Orca to Peril

October 19, 2017

Damaged orca teeth, chipped, broken, worn to gums, USA. (I. N. Visser, Orca Research Trust)

Rot and decay of orca teeth is but a symptom of a far more menacing threat to orca in captivity.

SeaWorld’s orca — the inimitable ambassadors of the marine theme park’s captive cabaret where “wild” is but an illusion — face an unhealthy state of decline much like the industry itself. The severity and prevalence of dental pathology among captive orca is now prompting scientific scrutiny and animal welfare complaints.

In an earlier article, the observational focus was on the teeth of six SeaWorld orca held at Loro Parque, Tenerife, Spain. The basis was a report prepared by Dr. Ingrid Visser and Rosina Lisker of the Free Morgan Foundation who observed and photographed SeaWorld’s orca at Loro Parque in April 2016.

The images of the orca’s teeth at Loro Parque were hard to look at and induced widespread revulsion at the calculating cold heartedness with which Loro Parque dismissed the concerns that were raised.

Despite ever-increasing evidence that the commercial exploitation of these sentient beings serves no legitimate purpose; SeaWorld continues to mount toothless denials to justify keeping orca in captivity.

SeaWorld claimed their orca were happy and well-adjusted to life in captivity; then came the documentary Blackfish. SeaWorld claimed the dorsal fins of orca in the wild collapse just like 100% of all SeaWorld’s adult captive male orca; but the scientific literature does not bear this out. SeaWorld threatened to sue the State of California over the “right” to breed orca in captivity; then SeaWorld voluntarily agreed to end the captive breeding of all of its orca. SeaWorld told investors that anti-captivity campaigns have had no effect on its business; now SeaWorld is laying off 350 employees citing “public perception issues” for dropping attendance and its executives are under criminal investigation for misleading shareholders.

When the Visser & Lisker report came out, SeaWorld’s proxies in Loro Parque bumblingly dismissed the findings despite photographic documentation to the contrary:

Now, a new peer reviewed scientific paper, Tooth Damage in Captive Orcas, takes the discussion a step further. All 29 orca held captive by SeaWorld at its parks in the United States (San Diego, Orlando and San Antonio) and at Loro Parque (Tenerife Spain), were included in a first of its kind study of orca dentition in captivity.

Co-authored by former SeaWorld trainers Dr. John Jett and Dr. Jeffrey Ventre; orca biologist Dr. Ingrid Visser; cetacean dentition specialist Dr. Carolina Loch; and investigative researcher Jordan Waltz, the paper appears in the September 2017 Archives of Oral Biology, an international journal “which aims to publish papers of the highest scientific quality in the oral and craniofacial sciences.”

The ramifications from the findings of this new scientific paper may prove to be the most damaging yet for the captive orca industry. Using high-resolution photographs, individual teeth in the mandible and maxilla of captive orca were scored for coronal wear, wear at or below the gum line, fractures, bore holes and if the teeth were missing altogether.

The results of this new peer reviewed scientific study are jaw dropping and cannot be ignored. Here is what the authors are saying:

We investigated 29 orca owned by one company and held in the USA and Spain. Every whale had some form of damage to its teeth. . . more than 65% possessed moderate to extreme tooth wear in their lower jaws, mostly as a result of chewing concrete and steel tank surfaces.” (Dr. John Jett)

“. . . the teeth of captive orca are incredibly compromised and you just don’t see this type or level of damage in the wild.” (Dr. Ingrid Visser)

“. . . the damage to the teeth of these animals is so severe that most individuals can be identified by the specific fractures and tooth wear alone, much like forensic pathologists use for identification of humans post-mortem.” (Jordan Waltz)

A drilled tooth is severely weakened and if any other trauma occurs, fractures will happen. We have documented more than 60% of the second and third teeth of the lower jaws were broken and this high number is likely linked to the drilling.” (Dr. Carolina Loch)

“. . . teeth damage is the most tragic consequence of captivity, as it not only causes morbidity and mortality in captive orcas, but often leads to chronic antibiotic therapy compromising the whale’s immune system, as we saw recently with the orca known as Kasatka.” (Dr. Jeffrey Ventre)

According to the authors, captivity-induced dental pathology among orca has been evident since at least the late 1980’s. But despite the animal welfare implications of tooth damage in captive orca, limited empirical research on the topic exists.

Considering nearly one-half of all the orca held in captivity are under SeaWorld’s care, the fact that SeaWorld itself has not published any peer reviewed or substantive scientific papers on the subject is hard to defend – maybe it can – but it hasn’t yet.

Facilitating this growing animal welfare scandal and acting as spectators of indifference rather than agents of change is the captive orca industry itself as well as government regulators like the US Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS).

Compromising ethics and morals and sacrificing honesty and accountability in defense of corporate interests and shareholder profit, should never trump the welfare of any animal held in captivity in an advanced, enlightened and humane society.

As the authors of the paper note, SeaWorld is in a unique position to advance our knowledge and insight into this phenomenon by making dental and health records publicly available to independent researchers.

The common thread throughout is the welfare of SeaWorld’s orca. With that goal, a commitment to transparency by SeaWorld is long overdue.

Source: Huffington

Killer Whales Observed Playing With Seabird

October 18, 2017

Chase Dekker was guiding a morning whale watch in Monterey Bay, California, on October 16 when he observed some playful behavior from a group of killer whales.Advertisement

The whales, which he first observed feeding under water, were later seen “harassing” a seabird which Dekker identified on Facebook as a rhinoceros auklet.

In aerial footage, the whales are seen treating the bird as a toy, acrobatically flipping it out of water with their tails.While it’s safe to say the bird wasn’t having as much fun as the whales, Dekker wrote that, incredibly, it survived.

He said it was likely the whales were “teaching the younger whales in the pod how to hunt by using an easy target.”


Whales and dolphins have rich ‘human-like’ cultures and societies

October 16, 2017


Whales and dolphins (Cetaceans) live in tightly-knit social groups, have complex relationships, talk to each other and even have regional dialects – much like human societies.

A major new study, published today in Nature Ecology & Evolution (Monday 16th October), has linked the complexity of Cetacean culture and behaviour to the size of their brains.

The research was a collaboration between scientists at The University of Manchester, The University of British Columbia, Canada, The London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) and Stanford University, United States.

The study is first of its kind to create a large dataset of cetacean brain size and social behaviours. The team compiled information on 90 different species of dolphins, whales, and porpoises. It found overwhelming evidence that Cetaceans have sophisticated social and cooperative behaviour traits, similar to many found in human culture.

The study demonstrates that these societal and cultural characteristics are linked with brain size and brain expansion – also known as encephalisation.

The long list of behavioural similarities includes many traits shared with humans and other primates such as:

  • complex alliance relationships – working together for mutual benefit
  • social transfer of hunting techniques – teaching how to hunt and using tools
  • cooperative hunting
  • complex vocalizations, including regional group dialects – ‘talking’ to each other
  • vocal mimicry and ‘signature whistles’ unique to individuals – using ‘name’ recognition
  • interspecific cooperation with humans and other species – working with different species
  • alloparenting – looking after youngsters that aren’t their own
  • social play

Dr Susanne Shultz, an evolutionary biologist in Manchester’s School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, said: “As humans, our ability to socially interact and cultivate relationships has allowed us to colonise almost every ecosystem and environment on the planet. We know whales and dolphins also have exceptionally large and anatomically sophisticated brains and, therefore, have created a similar marine based culture.

“That means the apparent co-evolution of brains, social structure, and behavioural richness of marine mammals provides a unique and striking parallel to the large brains and hyper-sociality of humans and other primates on land. Unfortunately, they won’t ever mimic our great metropolises and technologies because they didn’t evolve opposable thumbs.”

The team used the dataset to test the social brain hypothesis (SBH) and cultural brain hypothesis (CBH). The SBH and CBH are evolutionary theories originally developed to explain large brains in primates and land mammals.

They argue that large brains are an evolutionary response to complex and information-rich social environments. However, this is the first time these hypotheses have been applied to ‘intelligent’ marine mammals on such a large scale.

Dr Michael Muthukrishna, Assistant Professor of Economic Psychology at LSE, added: “This research isn’t just about looking at the intelligence of whales and dolphins, it also has important anthropological ramifications as well. In order to move toward a more general theory of human behaviour, we need to understand what makes humans so different from other animals. And to do this, we need a control group. Compared to primates, cetaceans are a more “alien” control group.”

Dr Kieran Fox, a neuroscientist at Stanford University, added: “Cetaceans have many complex social behaviours that are similar to humans and other primates. They, however, have different brain structures from us, leading some researchers to argue that whales and dolphins could not achieve higher cognitive and social skills. I think our research shows that this is clearly not the case. Instead, a new question emerges: How can very diverse patterns of brain structure in very different species nonetheless give rise to highly similar cognitive and social behaviours?”

Source: Eureka