Thomas Cook could end all trips to SeaWorld after it failed animal welfare check

April 30, 2018

Holiday giant Thomas Cook could end all trips to SeaWorld in Florida after the controversial theme park failed an animal welfare check.

An audit which Britain’s biggest tour operator ordered of SeaWorld’s flagship Orlando attraction highlighted concerns.

It has stopped promoting SeaWorld on its website and given bosses three months to deal with the issues raised.

Thomas Cook sells more than 10,000 day trips a year to the attraction, which has faced criticism over alleged poor treatment of its orcas, also known as killer whales.

The travel giant refused to comment on the findings but insiders said SeaWorld fell short of its 100% threshold.

It is not known which areas led to concerns.

SeaWorld and sister Florida parks SeaWorld Discovery Cove and Busch Gardens were among 100 attractions audited as part of an animal welfare policy, based on guidance from the travel association ABTA.

Animal welfare campaigners have long criticised SeaWorld. Bosses responded in 2016 by confirming they were ending the park’s controversial orca breeding programme.

They had previously announced that live shows involving killer whales were being phased out.

Yvonne Taylor, of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, said SeaWorld’s orcas were “forced to spend their entire lives confined to tiny, concrete, chlorinated cells, in which they can only swim endlessly in circles”.

She said: “There’s there’s no humane way to keep these highly intelligent animals in captivity, let alone force them to perform cruel tricks for food.

“Given that SeaWorld has now failed its own audit, Thomas Cook must end the financial lifeline it gives the park and stop selling tickets immediately.”

Thomas Cook confirmed it had audited the attraction and had contacted bosses about the results.

SeaWorld said: “While the physical audits of the parks are complete, the process is still ongoing.”

It added: “We provide world-class care to the animals in our parks.”

Source: Mirror.co.uk


500K Chinook smolt released into Salish Sea to help feed killer whales

April 25, 2018

Half a million healthy juvenile Chinook salmon were released into the Salish Sea as part of the South Vancouver Island Anglers Coalition (SVIAC) and the Pacific Whale Watch Association (PWWA)’s “Feeding Our Endangered Orcas Initiative.” The fish were delivered to Sooke, B.C.

This multi-year program is intended to significantly increase large adult Chinook salmon in the Juan de Fuca Strait during the key pre-winter feeding time of local killer whales.

The Southern Resident Killer Whales – J, K and L pods are endangered. Lack of food is one of the issues believed responsible for their declining numbers. Pollutants and noise from vessels are other top reasons for their decline according to NOAA.

Last year 225,000 healthy Chinook salmon smolts were successfully released from their temporary holding enclosure in the Sooke Basin and are expected to return as large adults in 2020.

In the future, increased quantities of Chinook smolts will be out planted each spring working towards an annual target of 2,000,000 smolts per year.

“Once again local anglers, whale watchers and many local businesses are coming together to help our endangered orcas in year two of this very worthwhile initiative. Come and see all the healthy little Chinook salmon for yourself!” said Christopher Bos, president of SVIAC on today’s release.

“The Pacific Whale Watching Association continues to support initiatives that address the availability of large Chinook, the preferred food of SRKW. 500,000 Chinook smolts for this initiative in Sooke is indeed good news,” said Dan Kukat, owner of Springtide Whale Watching and Eco Tours, past president of the Pacific Whale Watching Association and major project sponsor.

Source: San Juan Islander.com

Endangered orcas helped by Artificial Intelligence

April 19, 2018

One of Microsoft’s A.I. projects is focused on saving the Southern Resident Killer Whales (SRKW) from extinction, using the same premise of facial recognition software.

Microsoft recently launched its new Artificial Intelligence for Earth program. The company is using the speed of computers to tackle some of our most pressing environmental issues.

“Artificial intelligence is just the idea of trying to teach computers to be able to do similar tasks that humans can naturally do,” said Microsoft Chief Environmental Scientist Lucas Joppa.

One of their projects is focused on saving the Southern Resident Killer Whales (SRKW) from extinction, using the same premise of facial recognition software.

“What we’re trying to do is bring that same level of sophistication to animals like orcas. But to be able to track them through photos, we need to be able to teach computers what we see,” Joppa said.

Out of AI for Earth’s 66 grant recipients, three are based in Washington state.

  • The Nature Conservancy and Microsoft aim to improve mapping tools used in the protection of sensitive shorelines.
  • Long Live the Kings and Microsoft are working to create an intensive ecosystem model of Puget Sound to help assess impacts to the Puget Sound food web that may be affecting the salmon.
  • SeaDoc Society will use AI for Earth to compile real-time data entry and evaluation of individual whales health, which will enable scientists to respond more quickly and effectively to threats to the pods.

SeaDoc is using the program to help compile data about the SRKW. There are only 76 left, prompting Gov. Jay Inslee to sign an executive order aimed at stopping their rapid decline.

“We don’t want to understand ultimately that it’s an orca. We want to understand specifically which orca it might be,” Joppa said. “The second thing we want to do is combine the information about which individuals these are and where they are with all the environmental information, whether that’s the acidity of the water they’re in or the intensity of the shipping lanes.”

For Joppa, artificial intelligence frees up time for humans to focus their efforts more efficiently.

“We’re asking a lot of organizations which the least resources to solve some of our biggest challenges. They rely on the expertise of their staff. That ultimately could be put to better more efficient use. Instead of scrolling through every photo just trying to identify if there is an orca or not, or which orca it might be, if we can let a computer do that, we can allow the people and their human expertise to make better decisions,” said Joppa.

Source: king5.com


‘Two guys are doing all of the work’: Orcas’ inbreeding may devastate the population

April 19, 2018

Just two male whales fathered more than half the calves born since 1990 in the population of southern-resident killer whales, a sign of inbreeding, scientists have learned.

“It was a shocker to find out two guys are doing all of the work,” said Ken Balcomb, director of the Center for Whale Research and an author on a paper published this week in the peer-reviewed scientific journal Animal Conservation. The findings are based on a new genetic analysis of the whales that frequent Washington’s Salish Sea and Puget Sound.

Already a small population of 76 animals, the southern residents are acting more like a population of only 20 or 30, with few animals breeding, said the lead author, Michael Ford, a conservation biologist at NOAA Fisheries Northwest Fisheries Science Center.

The paper builds on earlier work and raises new questions about whether inbreeding is another factor contributing to the southern residents’ difficulties, Ford said in an interview.

“We found kind of a hint of a suggestion that more inbred individuals survive at a lower rate,” Ford said. “But that is uncertain, and we want to understand that better, to learn if there is a negative relationship between being inbred and the probability of survival.”

Scientists discovered through DNA analysis of skin and fecal samples that just two whales, J1 and L41, are the fathers of more than half the other sampled whales born since 1990.

Unlike many other wildlife species, southern-resident killer whales don’t leave their families as they mature to find mates and new territory. They stick together for life – and even breed with family members, scientists have discovered.

Genetic analysis indicates mating occurred between a mother and son in the J pod; a father and daughter in the J pod; half-siblings in the L and K pods, and between an uncle and a half-niece in the L and K pods.

“I don’t want to give the impression that it’s necessarily a cause for giving up on the population,” Ford said of inbreeding.

Staying with their family groups for life may be an advantage to the whales, allowing them to hunt together and share food.

The southern residents are long-lived. Males typically live for about 30 years but can live as long as 50 to 60 years. Females typically live about 50 years but can live as long as a century. The matriarch of the southern residents J2, estimated to be perhaps as old as 100 years, making her the oldest known orca in the world, was declared dead by the end of 2017 when researchers had not seen her since October, 2016.

What is most remarkable to him, Balcomb said, isn’t even the inbreeding in the population, but the cratering birthrate, and small number of breeding females among the southern residents. No babies have been born and survived in the southern residents’ J, K and L pods since 2015, Balcomb said. One J pod whale was born early in 2016, but it did not survive. Half (three of six) of the baby whales that were born in the “baby boom” in 2015 also perished. And the whales are not on track to boost productivity.

“There are really only 10 of the 27 females that are now producing calves,” Balcomb said. Those births also occur at longer intervals of one nearly every 10 years. It used to be about one every five years, Balcomb said.

Further, even assuming there are no more deaths in the pods – not likely – there are only nine young females that will mature into reproducing age in the next 10 years, while just about as many females will age out of breeding, Balcomb said.

That is the most optimistic scenario over the next decade, he said.

That trend, combined with the decline in the whales’ primary food source – chinook salmon – causes him grave concern.

“I don’t want to make it sound hopeless,” Balcomb said. “But the bad news is that with current trends in southern-resident demographics and prey resources, the situation may be unsolvable and lead to extinction.”

Source: The Olympian.com

ST VINCENT – Whaler defends killing of three orcas

April 17, 2018

The whaler whose crew harpooned and killed three orcas off Barrouallie, a town in western St Vincent, on Sunday, has defended his action, saying that the kill is important to the livelihood of townsmen, and that they have broken no local law.

Three orcas, one male and two females, measuring 30 and 24 feet, were caught as they scattered a pod of short-finned pilot whales that the whalers were initially pursuing, the captain of the crew, Samuel Hazelwood, told iWitness News on Monday.

Hazelwood, who has been whaling for more than 30 years, spoke to iWitness News amidst a group of hostile whaling industry workers who were carving up the carcasses for resale to vendors.

He was mindful of the negative press that comes with the killing of orcas, but noted that the government was yet to pass a law banning the killing of orcas, as Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves said in April 2016 that his government would have done.

“The prime minister said he is going to ban them (the killing of orcas). I have been fishing for 30-something years now and I came and met the older fishermen catching the killer whales. They say it is endangered [but] when you go and research on YouTube and Facebook, it is not an endangered species,” Hazelwood told iWitness News.

In April 2016, amidst local and international outcry after the whalers harpooned and killed two orcas in the presence of cruise visitors on a whale and dolphin watch tour, Gonsalves had said that his government would pass a law to ban the killing of orcas.

Hazelwood said that Barrouallie whalers would obey such a law if it were passed.

“The prime minister said he is going to ban us. Whenever he put the ban in place like the [ban on the catching of ] turtle and they say stop catch them (orcas), we [will] adhere. But there is no law right now to say don’t catch them. This is something that we have been doing for centuries,” Hazelwood told iWitness News.

“Whenever they put the ban,” we don’t have any problems.

He said that on Sunday, his brother called him saying that he was pursuing a pod of pilot whales.

“And when we were chasing the black fish, the killer whales came and started running them down [so] we couldn’t catch any. When you see them (orcas), life is really difficult for us.”

Hazelwood accused the prime minister of not understanding the plight of Barrouallie whalers and those who depend on the industry for their livelihood.

“This is something that a lot of people in Barrouallie [depend on]. These killer whales that we catch here today, you are going to get more than a hundred and something people making a money for the day. All of the shops are going to benefit, so it is something that we make good money from.”

Hazelwood said that the only parts of the whales that are thrown away are the bones and the intestines.

“Everything [else] is sold: teeth, everything,” he said.

In St Vincent and the Grenadines, the meat of the whale is cooked fresh, or dried. The oil is use in the treatment of a number of ailments and after the oil is removed from the blubber by frying it, the processed blubber, called “crisps” is eaten as a snack.

Hazelwood told iWitness News that fishermen go out to sea every day, but only meet killer whales about four times annually.

He, however, said that when orcas are in the area, whalers could go for two months without catching pilot whales.

Barrouallie whalers have been killing short-finned pilot whales as part of a century-plus-old tradition in this multi-island nation.

In Bequia, an island in the northern Grenadines, the International Whaling Commission allows whalers to kill four humpback whales every year as part of their century-old indigenous whaling tradition, but whalers sometime go for years without a single kill.

The orcas, on Sunday, bring to nine the number of the cetaceans that Barrouallie whalers are known to have killed since 2015, when four orcas were killed.

A whaling industry insider, who asked not to be named in this article, told iWitness News on Monday that it is highly unlikely that the Gonsalves-led Unity Labour Party administration would pass a law banning the killing the orcas before the next general election.

Gonsalves’ government is into a second consecutive term with a one-seat majority in the nation’s parliament and the commenter told iWitness News that the Barrouallie whalers and their extended families are largely supporters of the ruling Unity Labour Party.

To ban the killing of orcas would amount to taking food out of the mouths of the whalers and other persons who benefit from the industry and they will punish the government at the polls for it, the industry insider told iWitness News on Monday.

Meanwhile, speaking on radio in April 2016, days after iWitness Newsbroke the news of the killing of the orcas, Gonsalves condemned the whalers’ action.

“… what he did was plain wrong. Not just because it happened in front of tourists, but [because] he must not kill the orcas.”

The prime minister noted that there is an international ban on the killing of bottlenose dolphins, and killer whales and SVG has signed on to the ban.

He further noted that four killer whales were killed in the Central Leeward town in July 2015.

“And the fourth one, they had so much meat that some of the meat spoiled,” Gonsalves said.

“What will happen is that legislation will be brought to stop that killing. It will be made an offence in the same way we have done with turtles,” said Gonsalves, whose government banned the killing of turtles, harvesting of their eggs or disturbance of their nests, effective Jan. 1, 2017.

Source: Barbados Today

Killer whale appears in Oslo’s harbour

April 13, 2018

Norway is known, and often criticized internationally, for its annual whale hunt. This week a killer whale seemed to be seeking refuge, with an unusual appearance in Oslo’s inner harbour.

The Oslo fjord is far from the hunting grounds for the sperm whales that Norwegian whaling boats go after in waters off the northern coast. The Oslo area isn’t known for whales of any kind, but some skateboarders enjoying one of the capital’s first spring days got a surprise.

“Somebody yelled ‘there’s a seal’,” Nikolay Næss told state broadcaster NRK on Friday, He and friends were skating near the piers along Rådhusplassen (the plaza in front of City Hall) when a killer whale not only came into view but flapped its tail and blew a bit in the water alongside the jetty.

“It swam slowly and showed off in a way,” Næss told NRK. “I’ve never experienced anything like it.” He said around 15 to 20 people saw it, and he shared a video with NRK (external link, in Norwegian).

Tore Haug, a researcher at Havforskningsinstituttet in Tromsø, said killer whales are common off the sea coast but not inside the Oslo Fjord. “They mostly eat herring, but also mackerel, seal and other fish,” Haug told NRK, adding as a joke: “I don’t know what it found in the harbour basin, and it’s a bit early to go after people who are out swimming.”

He noted that killer whales also normally travel in pods and are seldom alone: “There may have been more whales that folks didn’t see.”

Source: News in English.no

Orca whale at SeaWorld Orlando suffers split to her dorsal fin

April 1, 2018

Officials: Katina, matriarch of orca pod, hurt interacting with other whales

SeaWorld officials are speaking Sunday, two weeks after an orca whale at the Orlando attraction suffered an injury to its dorsal fin.

Pictures posted Saturday on Ocean Advocate Newsshow Katina, the matriarch of the orca pod, suffering from a split fin.

SeaWorld officials said Saturday in a blog post that Katina suffered the injury March 17 while interacting with other whales.

“On Saturday, March 17, the matriarch of the SeaWorld Orlando orca pod, Katina, sustained an injury at the base of her dorsal fin as the result of interactions with other members of the orca pod,” the post read.

Officials with the theme park said that veterinary teams responded to Katina’s injury immediately and determined that it was isolated to just the base of her dorsal fin.

The whale is reportedly being kept in a separate pool with her daughter and son as she undergoes treatment and continues to be monitored, according to the blog post.

“Our veterinary and animal care teams are monitoring and treating Katina’s wound, including utilizing cold-laser therapy and medical honey treatments to promote healing and help prevent infection,” SeaWorld officials wrote.

Officials said they don’t find it necessary to keep Katina completely isolated from the other whales since her behavior has already returned to normal.

The injured orca was near a 12-year-old male named Trua when she was hurt, but since she was also interacting with several other members of the orca pod, veterinarians are not sure exactly how she was injured, SeaWorld said.

SeaWorld officials said aggressive behavior is natural for their species of whale, so they would not be surprised if the whales had been interacting in that manner, but that it is not clear if they were at the time of Katina’s injury.

“Killer whales are a social and hierarchal species, so interacting with other members of the pod, even in an aggressive or antagonistic manner, is a natural behavior we’d expect to see,” the post read. “However, it’s not clear if this was the result of an aggressive behavior or other interactions within the orca pod.”

The post also emphasized that the aggressive behavior is not a result of the whales living in captivity and that it is not uncommon among wild killer whale orca pods.

SeaWorld has been under fire and has suffered financially since the release of the 2013 documentary “Blackfish,” which criticizes the practice of keeping killer whales in captivity.

SeaWorld officials first acknowledged “Blackfish” was having a negative impact on park attendance in August 2014, according to a lawsuit filed against SeaWorld by a group of shareholders who claim company executives misled them about the effect the film was having on their investments.

Following the announcement, SeaWorld’s stock price plunged more than 33 percent.

Internal SeaWorld emails made public last year as part of the shareholder lawsuit indicated company officials had concerns about “Blackfish” as early as December 2013, with one executive writing, “we look like idiots” after musician Willie Nelson canceled a concert at the theme park over concerns about its treatment of killer whales.

Former SeaWorld CEO Joel Manby stepped down in February after the company posted a fourth-quarter net loss of $20.4 million. Attendance had also dropped nearly 3 percent in the fourth quarter compared to 2016, according to the earnings report.

Dr. Heather Rally, the supervising veterinarian of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) released the following statement Monday in response to reports of Katina’s injury.

“SeaWorld conveniently claims to keep orcas in cohesive family pods, but in reality, this matriarch orca is held in a tiny concrete tank with five other orcas—only three of whom are related to her—and suffered immensely when a large chunk of her dorsal fin was ripped out. While aggression is rarely seen among family units in the wild, traumatic wounds such as Katina’s are an all-too-common consequence when complex wild animals are forced to live in unnatural, incompatible groups inside small tanks. As her life depends on whether or not this serious wound heals, PETA is once again calling on SeaWorld to send the orcas to seaside sanctuaries, where they may live safer, more natural lives.”

PETA officials said they planned to file a complaint Monday with the U.S. Department of Agriculture calling for it to investigate the incident for potential violations of the federal Animal Welfare Act.

The organizations motto reads, in part, that “animals are not ours to use for entertainment,” officials said in the statement.

SeaWorld Orlando officials said Sunday that they were continuing treatment on Katina, but they do expect the dorsal fin to have permanent damage as a result of the injury.

Source: Click Orlando.com