SeaWorld had a horrible July

July 30, 2018

After a few months of an improving outlook, SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment was hit with a double whammy of bad news in July. 

Zhonghong, SeaWorld’s largest shareholder, saw their months of unsteady financial woes come to a head in July when it was revealed they couldn’t meet their financial obligations forcing them to sell off an island resort complex where a SeaWorld park was to be located. Then almost simultaneously Thomas Cook, one of European’s largest tour operators, announced that beginning next year it would no longer sell tickets to SeaWorld parks, citing growing awareness of animal welfare requirements. 

In a blog post explaining the tour group’s decision to stop selling tickets for all attractions that have orcas in captivity CEO Peter Fankhauser explained that the move comes after the company sought feedback from both customers and animal welfare experts. 

From the post: 

“This was not a decision we took lightly. We always said that we would continue to review our policy, conscious that the more we got into this area, the more we would learn, and conscious also of changing customer sentiment. We have actively engaged with a range of animal welfare specialists in the last 18 months, and taken account of the scientific evidence they have provided. We have also taken feedback from our customers, more than 90% of whom told us that it was important that their holiday company takes animal welfare seriously. That has led us to the decision we have taken today.”

Fankhauser acknowledged that both SeaWorld and Spain’s Loro Parque had met the company’s animal welfare audit, which was instituted 18 months ago, but he also said that the tour group “recognized that customer expectations were changing when it comes to animal attractions.” 

The announcement by Thomas Cook came just a day after SeaWorld acknowledged their plans for China were no longer happening. The Chinese attractions first announced in March of last year as part of a partnership between the fast-growing Chinese conglomerate Zhonghong Group and SeaWorld. Within two months of the initial announcement, the partnership had turned into a stock deal with Zhonghong purchasing Blackstone’s remaining share of SeaWorld stock, making Zhonghong SeaWorld’s largest shareholder and placing Yoshikazu Maruyama, President of Zhonghong Group’s American division, onto SeaWorld’s Board of Directors. 

At the time many industry experts pointed to the new shareholder as a potential source of funding for the struggling theme park chain. SeaWorld CEO at the time, Joel Manby, said a Chinese park was five to seven years away with a smaller family entertainment center concept also in the works. A few months later Zhonghong announced a SeaWorld branded aquarium attraction for Beijing. It’s thought that this aquarium is the FEC Manby had previously announced. 

Nearly one year to the day after the initial stock deal Zhonghong announced a SeaWorld, known as SeaWorld Haikou, would be opening on their Ruyi Island resort in China. This announcement came despite construction on the Ruyi Island project, which Zhonghong had been working on since 2012, being halted earlier in the year and despite Zhonghong defaulting on more $174 million in debt just two months earlier. 

After months of struggles and failed reorganization attempts a deal between Zhonghong and another tourism group, Xinjiang Jialong Tourism Development Co., Ltd., was announced at the end of June but that deal is contingent upon Zhonghong negotiating favorable agreements with creditors of multiple seizures. 

Despite the potential new deal, the situation for the struggling Zhonghong had only grown worse by the beginning of July. AsiaTravel.com, a tourism website company of which Zhonghong is the largest shareholder, suspended trading on the Singapore Exchange on July 6 to confirm that Zhonghong failed to provide a $5 million payment it was supposed to give the travel company, which was still running in the red. 

Less than a week later, Zhonghong sold off the Ruyi Island project to another tourism group for just over $205 million. By late July, Chinese news outlets were reporting that Zhonghong’s chairman had fled to Hong Kong. 

Within 72 hours a representative of SeaWorld confirmed to Attractions Management that its plans for a Chinese expansion were no more. In fact, the statement issued to Attractions Management denies that plans for a Chinese expansion were ever announced despite the former CEO confirming the plans just over a year earlier.  

Earlier this year, just as Zhonghong’s Maruyama was appointed interim executive chair for the SeaWorld Board of Directors he reconfirmed the commitment to bring SeaWorld to China. Despite these statements confirming the China plans by both SeaWorld and Zhonghong leadership, Attractions Management now quotes a representative for SeaWorld saying; 

“We have no plans to open a SeaWorld park in China and, accordingly, have not made any announcements to that effect.” 

It’s not clear what the broader context of the statement is, but at face value it seems to contradict previous statements by SeaWorld leadership. 

The announcement by Thomas Cook came just a day after SeaWorld acknowledged their plans for China were no longer happening. The Chinese attractions first announced in March of last year as part of a partnership between the fast-growing Chinese conglomerate Zhonghong Group and SeaWorld. Within two months of the initial announcement, the partnership had turned into a stock deal with Zhonghong purchasing Blackstone’s remaining share of SeaWorld stock, making Zhonghong SeaWorld’s largest shareholder and placing Yoshikazu Maruyama, President of Zhonghong Group’s American division, onto SeaWorld’s Board of Directors. 

At the time many industry experts pointed to the new shareholder as a potential source of funding for the struggling theme park chain. SeaWorld CEO at the time, Joel Manby, said a Chinese park was five to seven years away with a smaller family entertainment center concept also in the works. A few months later Zhonghong announced a SeaWorld branded aquarium attraction for Beijing. It’s thought that this aquarium is the FEC Manby had previously announced. 

Nearly one year to the day after the initial stock deal Zhonghong announced a SeaWorld, known as SeaWorld Haikou, would be opening on their Ruyi Island resort in China. This announcement came despite construction on the Ruyi Island project, which Zhonghong had been working on since 2012, being halted earlier in the year and despite Zhonghong defaulting on more $174 million in debt just two months earlier. 

After months of struggles and failed reorganization attempts a deal between Zhonghong and another tourism group, Xinjiang Jialong Tourism Development Co., Ltd., was announced at the end of June but that deal is contingent upon Zhonghong negotiating favorable agreements with creditors of multiple seizures. 

Despite the potential new deal, the situation for the struggling Zhonghong had only grown worse by the beginning of July. AsiaTravel.com, a tourism website company of which Zhonghong is the largest shareholder, suspended trading on the Singapore Exchange on July 6 to confirm that Zhonghong failed to provide a $5 million payment it was supposed to give the travel company, which was still running in the red. 

Less than a week later, Zhonghong sold off the Ruyi Island project to another tourism group for just over $205 million. By late July, Chinese news outlets were reporting that Zhonghong’s chairman had fled to Hong Kong. 

Within 72 hours a representative of SeaWorld confirmed to Attractions Management that its plans for a Chinese expansion were no more. In fact, the statement issued to Attractions Management denies that plans for a Chinese expansion were ever announced despite the former CEO confirming the plans just over a year earlier.  

Earlier this year, just as Zhonghong’s Maruyama was appointed interim executive chair for the SeaWorld Board of Directors he reconfirmed the commitment to bring SeaWorld to China. Despite these statements confirming the China plans by both SeaWorld and Zhonghong leadership, Attractions Management now quotes a representative for SeaWorld saying; 

“We have no plans to open a SeaWorld park in China and, accordingly, have not made any announcements to that effect.” 

It’s not clear what the broader context of the statement is, but at face value it seems to contradict previous statements by SeaWorld leadership. 

Source: Orlando Weekly.com

Lone orca lingering near Vancouver Island marina has DFO concerned

July 28, 2018

The orca spotted swimming alone near the Comox Marina on Vancouver Island since Monday afternoon has been exhibiting unusual behaviour, according to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

DFO killer whale researcher, Jared Towers, says transient killer whales can travel over 100 miles a day, so it is particularly strange that this orca continues to swim back and forth inside the marina.

“They usually stay in one area until they’re finished feeding,” said Towers. “Sometimes that can be five minutes and sometimes that can be several hours and otherwise, they’re typically moving – on the go in one direction or another.”

He added that the Comox harbour has a lot of sand and sometimes that can make it harder for killer whales to navigate.

“He might just not be able to find his way out so far,” said Towers. “He certainly should be able to if he got himself in there, but we’ll see if he finds his way out.”

Though he said the orca has not shown any obvious signs of trauma or poor health, the DFO will continue to monitor it.

Prior to arriving in the harbour, the 27-year-old orca, known at T073B, was monitored swimming by the Gulf Islands with a group of killer whales. On Sunday, July 22, he split off from the group and arrived in the Comox marina around 4 p.m. the following day.

Ken Balcomb, founder and senior scientist with the Centre for Whale Research, said this type of orca used to be infrequent in the area but that has since changed.

“Since the seal population has done so well, they’re in the Georgia Straight, Comox area almost every day,” he said. “They’ll be in small groups and sometimes individual.”

Peter Hamilton with Lifeforce Ocean Friends snapped some photos of the orca earlier in the week, from his boat, but said he was dismayed to see other boaters disrespecting and harassing the orca by getting too close. Hamilton said he has filed an official complaint to the DFO.

“This orca is being constantly harassed by boaters. The orca can be safely watched from the boardwalk. We must reduce boat traffic that could result in severe injuries. All boaters, including sailboats and kayakers, must stay 200 metres from Orcas.”

The recently updated Marine Mammal Regulations guidelines can be viewed at www.SeeABlowGoSlow.org

Source: SA Observer.net

BABY ORCA DEATH COULD BE LINKED TO SALMON FARM VIRUS

July 26, 2018

A New study has identified that Piscine Reovirus, a Norwegian virus introduced in BC by salmon farms is reported to cause Chinook salmon cells to explode and could be a missing link to explain why resident whales are starving to extinction. 

BABY ORCA DEATH COULD BE LINKED TO SALMON FARM VIRUS

A new study has identified that Piscine Reovirus, a Norwegian virus introduced in BC by salmon farms is reported to cause Chinook salmon cells to explode and could be a missing link to explain why resident whales are starving to extinction.

June 2th, 2018 [Vancouver, BC] – On June 23rd an orca born into the critically endangered Southern Resident orca population died within hours of birth. Despite the decline of Orcas due to the loss of Chinook salmon, their primary food source, the Canadian Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, Jonathan Wilkinson, refuses to screen farmed salmon for a virus that causes Chinook salmon blood cells to rupture “en masse”.

Research published in 2017 in the prestigious scientific journal, PloS One, reports that saving the southern resident orca from extinction may depend on restoring Chinook salmon populations in the Fraser River.

Despite this, 80% of the farmed salmon sighted in pens along the Fraser River salmon migration route along eastern Vancouver Island are infected with piscine orthoreovirus (PRV), a virus recently reported by DFO to affect Chinook salmon. The paper published in the journal FACETS2 earlier this year describes how PRV invades the blood cells of Chinook salmon, replicates rapidly in the cells until the cells burst causing organ failure, severe jaundice and release of the virus into marine habitats.

For the third consecutive year, Sea Shepherd’s research vessel, the Martin Sheen is conducting audits into the damaging effects open-net salmon farms have in British Columbian waters.

Independent Biologist Alexandra Morton won a lawsuit against the Ministry of Fisheries in 2015 prohibiting the Minister of Fisheries from allowing farmed salmon to be transferred into marine pens without screening for PRV.

Canadian Fisheries Regulations prohibit the transfer of fish infected with a disease into Canadian waters. Because the majority of BC farmed salmon is infected, the salmon farming industry admits it would be severely impacted if this law was applied to their operations.

For reasons not fully understood, the Minister of Fisheries refuses to acknowledge this 2016 Federal court ruling and continues to refuse to screen for PRV. As a result, most farm salmon sold in markets is infected with PRV as per research also published in PloS One, on December 3rd 2017.

“I am terribly saddened by the loss of this young whale and the suffering her mother is enduring,” says Alexandra Morton. “Here in Canada we are guilty of allowing our government to ignore the very laws that would prevent this. The Trudeau government is protecting millions of introduced Atlantic salmon infected with a virus that causes wild Chinook salmon cells to explode as whales go extinct for lack of Chinook salmon. Canada is giving up so much for the benefit and profit of three salmon farming companies that dominate the BC salmon farming industry.”

# # #

Notes to Media:

For more information and to interview Alexandra Morton, please call: 250-974-7086

References

http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0179824

http://www.facetsjournal.com/doi/10.1139/facets-2018-0008

http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0188793

MEDIA LINKS

Video on YouTube : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ywZgtyRkvWc

Video to download  https://www.dropbox.com/sh/r4hl992dr3vmoh5/AABIM93XEneruEpgegtfK8zKa?dl=0

Source: EIN News.com

Latest calf born to endangered killer whales dies off British Columbia

July 26, 2018

A female killer whale was spotted in the waters off Vancouver Island for two days this week pushing the body of her newborn calf.

Ken Balcomb, senior scientist at The Centre for Whale Research in Friday Harbour, Wash., said the southern resident whale probably knows the calf is dead but she seems reluctant to let it go.

“It’s tragic. It happens all the time, it’s just that we’re seeing this now,” he said in an interview Thursday.

The death is the latest in a series of disappointments for those hoping to see a revival of the endangered southern resident whale population. There are just 75 whales remaining in three pods.

Balcomb said the centre heard Tuesday that a new calf had been born and was swimming with its mother off Victoria’s Clover Point. He diverted a research crew to the area but by the time the team arrived, the calf was dead.

“It was just born. The fin was folded over. It had just passed from the mother’s womb when first seen. And it didn’t last very long.”

He said dolphins, and occasionally killer whales, have been know to push their dead calf for several days, holding it above the water.

Balcomb said a large percentage of killer whale calves don’t make it, but in the last three years all of the calves born to the southern residents have died.

While it’s unclear how many calves have been born in that period, Balcomb said there are 27 reproductive females and historically they could have as many as nine calves a year.

“The situation is worsening. It’s not improving.”

The mother of the dead calf, known as J-35, is in reasonably good health and doesn’t show signs of starvation, he said.

Still, he said the calf deaths show the whales aren’t getting enough of their favoured food: chinook salmon.

“So the mother isn’t in good nutritional condition when she is pregnant and also when she tries to nurse. She has to metabolize her body fat to produce milk and if she doesn’t have any body fat, she can’t produce any milk, therefore the baby can’t eat,” he said.

The Canadian government limited the chinook salmon fishery this year in an effort to help the recovery of the killer whales in the waters off B.C. and Washington state. The government also imposed a minimum distance of 200 metres for vessels to stay away from killer whales in Canadian waters.

Balcomb, who has been studying the southern residents since 1976, said he isn’t sure if the whales will recover, especially if the chinook runs don’t come back.

“There aren’t many years left of reproductive potential,” he said.

Source: Calgary Herald.com

Killer whales spotted hunting humpback off Sydney

July 12, 2018

It’s the time of year where it’s not unusual to see whales off the coast of Sydney, as hundreds of humpbacks migrate north to warmer waters over the winter months.

However, it is rare to see a pod of killer whales.

A Go Whale Watching Sydney tour was out in the waters off Botany Bay yesterday when the group spotted about 50 of the whales swimming together.

It’s the first time orcas have been spotted off Sydney for quite a few years, and certainly not this close to shore.

The tour boat was about six nautical miles out to sea when they came across the pod.

Go Whale Watching guide Simon Miller told 9NEWS, “I’ve been whale watching up here since 2004 and I’ve never seen the killer whales in close to shore off Sydney before”.

While they might look friendly and are in fact part of the dolphin family, killer whales are one of the world’s most powerful predators.

“They are a type C killer whale and they’re predominantly found in the Ross sea down in Antarctica”, said Mr Miller.  

The reason they’re in Sydney’s waters right now is to hunt for humpbacks.

They also eat great white sharks, seals – and even polar bears if given the chance.

Despite their killer instincts, there has never been a known attack on a human in the wild.

The pod was last seen heading down to NSW’s South Coast.

Source: 9news.com

Vessels now required to keep at least 200 metres away from killer whales

July 11, 2018

New regulations to protect whales, dolphins and porpoises are in effect for all coasts in Canada as the Department of Fisheries and Oceans works to ensure more officers and patrol vessels are available to enforce the rules.

Adam Burns, director general of fisheries resource management, said the number of officers deployed to keep people and boats away from the marine mammals has yet to be determined.

Extensive consultations with the whale-watching industry indicated support for the regulations in order to keep the animals in areas where tourists flock to see them, he said.

As of Tuesday, people and vessels must maintain a minimum distance of 100 metres from most whales, dolphins and porpoises to protect them from human disturbance, which is now more clearly defined to include feeding the marine mammals, swimming with them, removing them from their group or going between a mother and its calf.

At least 400 metres must be maintained from threatened or endangered whales, dolphins and porpoises in the Saguenay-St. Lawrence Marine Park in Quebec.

A distance of 200 metres is required to protect those marine mammals in the Saguenay-St. Lawrence Marine Park in Quebec, and the same distance must to kept from killer whales, including the endangered southern resident orcas, off B.C.’s coast.

In parts of the Church Estuary and the Seal River in Manitoba, people and vessels are required to stay at least 50 metres from the belugas that frequent the area in summer, Burns said, adding that will also allow for safe boating.

The Fisheries Department will use a combination of public education and penalties to enforce the regulations, which up to now have been voluntary guidelines.

The Pacific Whale Watch Association, which represents over 30 members in Canada and the United States, has said its operators voluntarily imposed 200-metre viewing limit on southern residents last year and slowed their vessels in known whale areas to cut noise.

The association has requested that the previous 100-metre viewing distance remain for the up to 850 transient, northern and offshore killer whales that are also present in West Coast waters.

However, Burns said it’s a challenge to tell the difference between killer whales in the water.

“The 200-metre approach distance is applied to all killer whales to ensure that that protection is in place in particular for the southern resident population,” he said, adding the regulations are supported by scientific studies suggesting the distance will help reduce noise and vessel interference with whale foraging activities.

The distance aligns with the current American limit of 200 yards, about 183 metres.

Christianne Wilhelmson, executive director of the Georgia Strait Alliance, one of four environmental groups that participated in consultations, said it has taken over a decade to come up with the recommendations despite mounting scientific evidence, which now suggests 400 metres would better protect southern resident orcas.

“Our federal government just dragged its feet for a very long time,” she said. “They just didn’t want to impose restrictions on any industry and finally they have because now we’re desperately in need of regulations to protect the orcas.”

Wilhelmson said the groups called on the Fisheries Department to close the chinook salmon fishery in January in key feeding areas, but the closure did not happen until June. Chinook is the favoured meal of resident killer whales.

The closure, that will last until the end of September, applies to parts of the southern Gulf Islands, portions of Juan de Fuca Straight and areas around the mouth of the Fraser River while the coast-wide harvest of chinook has been reduced by 25 to 30 per cent.

Paul Cottrell, marine mammals co-ordinator for the Fisheries Department’s Pacific Region, said the southern resident population has dwindled to 76 whales, and the regulations, along with the chinook closures, are intended to protect the endangered species.

He said Canada’s regulations, which apply to all cetaceans, have now gone beyond those in the United States because of their national scope on both the East Coast and the West Coast.

“This applies to humpback whales, grey whales, harbour porpoises and white-sided dolphins, and that’s not the case in the United States,” he said.

The regulations include the requirement to report to the Fisheries Department any incident of a vessel accidentally striking a mammal or when it becomes entangled in fishing gear, Cottrell said.

Under the Fisheries Act, anyone who disturbs marine mammals could be fined up to $100,000 or a maximum of $500,000 for a criminal offence, Cottrell said.

Source: BC ctv News.ca

Thousands of west coast whales and dolphins tracked on new app

July 6, 2018

Thousands of whales and dolphins, including common dolphin super pods recorded from aircraft, have been followed on a new app.

Whale Track was developed by isle of Mull based charity Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust (HWDT) and was launched in August last year.

Already it has more than 500 users who have recorded 15,000 animals in 2,500 sightings. The app has followed more than 250 excursions by whales and dolphins.

Multiple recordings have been made of John Coe, the most famous member of the UK’s last remaining killer whale pod.

Now Whale Track has been named as a finalist in the 2018 National Lottery Awards, the annual search for people’s favourite National Lottery-funded projects, and HWDT is appealing for votes to help it win. It is competing in the Best Environment project category.

The smartphone app is the first of its kind and it allows anyone to submit marine mammal sightings off the west coast of Scotland.

Whale Track uses the technology everyone carries in their pockets to quickly and easily record sightings of marine mammals in the Hebrides.

Rather than simply educating, the project actively involves people in tracking the movements of coastal species like bottlenose dolphins and unravelling the mysteries of more elusive species like killer whales, helping everyone become “citizen scientists”.

Whale Track is free to download and uses GPS to accurately track excursions at sea and record locations of sightings. Crucially, the app works without phone signal or Wifi, meaning sightings can be recorded in the most remote areas.

The project beat off stiff competition from more than 700 organisations to reach the public voting stage in this year’s National Lottery Awards, which celebrate the inspirational people and projects who do extraordinary things with National Lottery funding.

The scheme with the most votes will be crowned the winner and receive a £5,000 cash prize, an iconic National Lottery Awards trophy and attend a star-studded glittering awards ceremony to be broadcast on BBC One on September 26 2018.

HWDT science manager Dr Lauren Hartny-Mills said: “Every sighting recorded helps us to better understand the movements of the marine mammals in our waters, their behaviours, and measures we can take to protect them. If you share our love of these amazing animals, please vote for Whale Track to win Best Environment Project 2018.”

To vote go to lotterygoodcauses.org.uk/awards. Voting runs until July 27.

Source: The Press and Journal

Tasmanian fishermen learn the wisdom of listening to killer whales

July 1, 2018

When the crew on board Will Mure’s fishing boat Diana spot the fin of a killer whale, it’s not a photo opportunity.

It’s a day ruined.

Killer whales or orcas are adept at pinching fish off long lines, leaving fishermen out of pocket.

Mures Tasmania director Will Mure said the whales had been taking fish off his and his late father George’s lines for the past 40 years.

“They will at times take all of your catch, and sometimes that will be in excess of a tonne of fish,” he said.

“So you’ll have a pod of killer whales of maybe half a dozen that will just take the whole lot, so it is devastating.

“They essentially dive down the line we’re hauling off the bottom … and all you end up with is a bit of the lips of the fish and that’s it.”

He said orcas were extremely clever.

“They can recognise the individual noises of the boat,” he said.

“They’ll come directly to our boat and there will be other boats around and they’ll leave them alone, so they’re very smart animals.”

He said the killer whales were fussy about which fish they would take.

“When we go for blue eye — which we have traditionally always caught for the last 30-40 years — that’s where they appear and they love blue eye.”

Blue eye is a high-value fish.

“If they’re taking a tonne of fish, you’re talking in excess of $10,000 of product that they take in a day and the crew get paid as a percentage of the catch, so they’re obviously very unhappy with it as well because they don’t get any pay either,” Mr Mure said.

“They also love tuna. There was a very good tuna fishery in Tasmania some time ago, but they were so persistent with the tuna fishermen that eventually that fishery has actually moved to other parts of Australia now.”

Trying to outmanoeuvre the orcas

When the Diana returns to Tasmanian waters later this year to catch blue eye, Mr Mure has a trick up his sleeve to outsmart the animals.

“It’s not actually a new method. I don’t know why we haven’t thought about it before but there’s a hydrophone product which is actually a listening device,” he said.

“You put it into the water and you actually hear if the killer whales are in the vicinity. We’re in the process of purchasing one of those.”

But he said it was not a silver bullet.

“So we’ll hear them, and say ‘right, we can’t fish here today’, and spend a day steaming to the fish somewhere else.”

Ben Sellers, a PhD student with the Institute of Marine and Antarctic Studies, is looking at the diet and range of killer whales in Australian waters, using biochemical techniques and satellite tagging.

He has spent some time on board the Diana, and observed killer whales taking fish off long lines.

“They’ll miraculously appear just as the lines are being hauled. They are very clever animals.”

Mr Sellers said using a listening device and moving away from the orcas was a good way for the fishing industry to deal with the problem, as it breaks the cycle of animals connecting the fishing boats with a free feed.

“The more they move away from the animals, or stop the animals depredating just by changing fishing grounds, the less association there is, and the less conditioning there will be for the whales to associate boats with fish.”

He said a lot of work had been done trying to come up with an underwater acoustic deterrent, which emits sounds the killer whales want to avoid.

“They’re making developments for the North Pacific fisheries where depredation is a real issue, where killer whales take the halibut from fishermen around Alaska.

“In the Southern Ocean with the Patagonian toothfish fishery, the French have a real problem there with the killer whales, and you have actual pods specialising in taking the fish off the boats,” Mr Sellers said.

He said so far, acoustic deterrents had not worked.

That means, for now, a listening device and avoiding fishing grounds where the killer whales are waiting for a free feed, is the best bet for fishermen wanting to keep their catch.

Source: ABC Net.au