Loro Parque not planning to reunite Morgan with her calf any time soon

December 28, 2018

Yesterday Loro Parque announced several research projects it had in the works involving Morgan’s recent female calf. The calf was removed from Morgan’s care after only a few days citing that Morgan “wasn’t producing enough milk.” The calf has been hand reared in the medical pool ever since, and apparently Morgan is being kept in an adjacent tank.

I would have assumed that the calf would be returned to Morgan at the earliest opportunity. Once the calf is coming over for regular bottle feedings and it’s physical health and development were going well the next priority should be to return the calf to Morgan so that its social development can catch up.

Killer whales, like humans, are essentially a blank slate when they are born. Very little about their behavior seems to be instinctive. This is proven by the fact that so far all orca population in the wild seems to have it’s own culture. They not only have their own unique dialects of sound but also their own unique way of feeding and socializing. Resident killer whales in the Pacific North West have strict social hierarchies with individuals never leaving their mother’s pod until the day the matriarch dies. These orca feed only on fish, primarily salmon. Transient whales that share part of their range with the residents feed on marine mammals such as seals, dolphins, and large whales. Transient social structure seems more flexible with individuals seeming to leave their family unites after a certain point. While still another population in New Zealand seems to have their own unique cultural characteristics such as feeding on both fish and marine mammals. There is nothing to explain this difference other than culture, a learned set of behaviors passed down from generation through generation.

In Loro Parque’s blog post they states the following with regard to the development of killer whale echolocation:

There is not much information on whether it is a behaviour that cetaceans learn or if it is innate, nor is there data on the moment in which it appears in their development,

On the surface their plans seem like a great idea. We have this chance to study orca development, why not use it to full advantage? HOWEVER in order to set up an experiment to test if the behavior of echolocation arises on its own through innate instinct you have to control any and all variables for the behavior to appear through social learning. Therefore the Morgan’s female calf HAS to be kept in isolation in order for this experiment to be conducted. Loro Parque has just made it clear that it has no plans to reunite Morgan with her daughter any time soon.

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Loro Parque contributes to research on the echolocation of orcas

December 27, 2018

Loro Parque, in its continuous commitment to scientific research, has recently begun to collaborate in research on the echolocation of orcas, a key sense that favours their orientation and the location of prey for hunting.  There is not much information on whether it is a behaviour that cetaceans learn or if it is innate, nor is there data on the moment in which it appears in their development, so that the zoo, recognised as the best in the world, will contribute to providing information on a feature that is vital to their survival.

Loro Parque is working with the University of Southern Denmark in a study with Morgan’s calf in order to try and establish when echolocation begins in the young orcas.  The first experiments have already begun.

Echolocation is the location of an object through the reflection of sound waves, used by animal species such as bats and cetaceans and in sonar systems.

In both bats and dolphins, echolocation skills have been studied for decades, and although there is a deep understanding of their capabilities and use, it is not clear how it develops.  In the case of dolphins, recordings under animals in human care indicate that echolocation may develop after about three to four weeks, although other studies indicate that it may take much longer.

About young orcas, however, there is no information whatsoever, and some knowledge would help to better understand and protect these animals with more reliable risk-assessments on the impact of marine noise, its possible consequences, and even age estimates, based on sound recordings.  Thus, by recording the calf periodically, one can begin to understand the development of its echolocation capacity – when it begins and how this sense evolves until it matches that of an adult orca.

Source: Loro Parque Blog

The idea of Japan resuming commercial whaling is horrifying

December 21, 2018

Whales are among the most intelligent beings on Earth. They have what experts define as “culture”; they learn knowledge as individuals and share it with others; sperm whales talk with local dialects; orcas appear to grieve for their dead offspring – a few months ago, one grieving killer whale carried her dead calf on her back for more than two weeks. They are thinking, caring, complex animals. That Japan is reportedly planning to withdraw from the International Whaling Commission (IWC) and resume commercial whaling should, then, horrify us all.

The IWC banned commercial whaling three decades ago, but Japan has exploited an exemption to hunt whales for “research” purposes, including killing 122 pregnant whaleslast winter. The proof for this supposed “research” is desperately lacking. Since the ban, more than 30,000 whales have been killed; and before the ban on commercial whaling, Japan and other whaling nations helped drive some species of whales to the brink of extinction. Indeed, in the eight decades before the IWC ban, an estimated 1.3 million whales in the Antarctic alone were killed by commercial whaling. Hunting for blue whales in the Antarctic was banned more than half a century ago, yet the population has never recovered: their numbers worldwide have collapsed from 220,000 to perhaps just 3,000.

Humans should be the Earth’s custodians, not its butchers. Much attention – though not enough – focuses on the existential threat posed by climate change. But humanity’s mass destruction of the Earth’s wildlife is all too little discussed. We are witnessing the sixth great mass extinction event, not because of an asteroid colliding with the planet or catastrophic volcanic eruptions, but because of humanity. The passenger pigeon, the golden toad, the Caspian tiger: they are all gone, and other species hang by a thread. Our actions are not merely driving other species to extinction: we threaten our own survival, too, by destabilising ecosystems and destroying biodiversity.

Japan’s actions should meet universal condemnation. But a renewed assault on whales should be a broader reminder that humanity is at war with its own planet. It may well prove to be a war of annihilation that, without a drastic shift in course, destroys us all.

Source: The Guardian.com

6.2 million Chinook Salmon fry die after power outage at hatchery

December 17, 2018

Last week’s windstorm cut the power to the Minter Creek Hatchery in Pierce County, in turn causing 6.2 million Chinook Salmon fry to die. The back up generator failed which caused the pumps that brought water into the tanks to fail.

The fish were kept in incubators at the hatchery. According to a press release from the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), the inventory of fish lost are 4.2 million Deshutes fall Chinook fry, 1.5 million Minter Creek fall Chinook fry and 507,000 White River spring Chinook fry.

“It’s a severe loss. It’s a challenge to try to recover from something like this. This particular species is not as age-class sensitive as other salmon species. But this is going to have a significant impact on adult returns,” said Jim Jenkins, WDFW South Puget Sound Hatchery Operations Manager.

The department was raising the White River spring Chinook as part of the state’s early efforts to provide more food for Southern Resident orcas. The Deschutes and Minter Creek fall Chinook were part of WDFW’s ongoing hatchery operations that support state fisheries.

“The department is conducting an analysis to determine the root cause of what went wrong so that we can improve procedures at Minter Creek and our other hatcheries to help ensure this doesn’t happen again,” said Eric Kinne, WDFW hatchery division manager.

Source: Koman News.com

Spectacular moment orca pod cruise up, shove fishing boat caught on video

December 16, 2018

The fish may not have been biting, but a pod of curious orcas have turned one Upper Hutt man’s fishing trip into one he’ll never forget.

Gareth Pritchard was with friends Garry and Glen Toms near Mana Island, south of Kapiti Island, when they had the incredibly close encounter on Saturday – and they caught it all on video.

Only moments after Mr Pritchard whipped out his phone to film, one orca gets a little too close for comfort, swimming underneath his boat and shoving it.

The rest of the pod continue to cruise around the fishers, completely unaware of their starstruck audience.

“Look at the size of that monster!” Mr Pritchard can be heard saying in the video.

He told Newshub he was stunned by the once-in-a-lifetime encounter.

“We were all bloody excited when it happened, but we didn’t expect it to come up and push the boat – twice!” Mr Pritchard said.

“I was a bit shocked, I fell over. I was stunned… He gave it quite a shove. It was an experience that doesn’t happen to people very often.”

The group’s excitement is obvious in the video, as they all laugh and try to process what just happened.

“The fish are gone now, I’ll tell you that much,” one friend can be heard pointing out as the orcas meander away again.

“We [also] laughed at the point my friend’s boat is named ‘Finn Fish’ and didn’t want to rename it ‘Flipped Fish’!” Mr Pritchard said.

The new friends were only passing through, hanging around for about a minute-and-a-half before moving on.

But it’s turned a lacklustre fishing trip into a memory of a lifetime.

To watch the VIDEO and read the Source visit News Hub.co.nz

Gov. Inslee proposes $1.1 billion budget to aid Puget Sound orcas

December 13, 2018

Washington Governor Jay Inslee announced his proposals for the state’s 2019-21 budget Thursday, and among the list of priorities is a $1.1 billion investment in the region’s orca population.

“We share so much with the orcas, we share about the same body temperature, we share about the same heart rate, we share close familial bonds and we share the need to defeat environmental degradation,” Inslee said. “When we save the orcas from toxins, when we save them from climate change, when we save them from pollution — we save ourselves.”

The governor’s proposal targets the lack of prey — Chinook salmon — that orcas rely on. It also addresses pollutants, vessel traffic, and the potential of breaching the lower four dams on the Snake River. The proposal follows up on task force recommendations released earlier this year which Inslee says he is embracing. It also follows the effort to save one ailing orca and the deaths of newborn calves over the past year that garnered many headlines.

The governor’s budget proposal states:

Besides helping orcas, these investments will have significant benefits for the region’s entire ecosystem and complement efforts to recover salmon, tackle climate change, improve water quality and more. These investments are based on actions most likely to yield strong benefits for Southern Residents orcas over the short term while setting up a sustainable, data-driven path for longer-term efforts.

Proposed funding includes:

-$363 million for salmon recovery.

-$296 million for the Washington State Department of Transportation to correct fish passage barriers.

-$6.2 million for greater enforcement with habitat protection laws.

-$75.7 million for the state’s hatchery system.

-$4.7 million to collect pinniped (sea lion) population information and to develop management actions.

-$524,000 to examine issues related to increasing Chinook population by reestablishing salmon runs above Chief Joseph Dam on the Columbia River.

-$117 million to covert two of the state’s ferries (Jumbo Mark II models) to hybrid-electric ferries (Inslee expects this to save the state $7 million in annual fuel costs).

Breaching the lower four Snake River dams is also mentioned in the proposal, which is part of a current federal process. Inslee wants to put $750,000 toward a task force to study the impacts and mitigation costs of such an action.

-Also included in the budget are proposed actions:

-A temporary three-year ban on all whale watching of Southern Resident orca, to be reviewed afterward to assess its effectiveness.

-$1.1 million for the Department of Fish and Wildlife to enforce the whale watching suspension.

-Increasing the distance between marine vessels and orcas to 400 yards, also a “go slow” zone within half a mile of orcas.

-Increased funding for toxic cleanups, including $3 million for local control programs; $4.2 million to speed up cleanups; $3.5 million to remove creosote structures; $57.8 million to clean up toxic sites; $51 million to reduce stormwater, $32 million to address contaminants from wastewater systems.

-Millions in funding for scientific support of the orca recovery effort.

Click here to read the story on mynorthwest.com.

Source: kiro7.com

SeaWorld says DOJ probe into ‘Blackfish’ statements is over

December 13, 2018

  • SeaWorld Entertainment says it has been notified that the U.S. Department of Justice is ending its probe into whether company officials misled investors about the negative impact the documentary “Blackfish” was having on its business.
  • In September, SeaWorld and two former executives agreed to pay more than $5 million to settle federal fraud claims brought by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission alleging they had made misleading statements about the documentary’s impact.

SeaWorld Entertainment says it has been notified that the U.S. Department of Justice is ending its probe into whether company officials misled investors about the negative impact the documentary “Blackfish” was having on its business.

In September, SeaWorld and two former executives agreed to pay more than $5 million to settle federal fraud claims brought by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission alleging they had made misleading statements about the documentary’s impact.

The Orlando-based theme park company said Wednesday in a SEC filing that Justice Department has now notified the company that it won’t take any action.

Attendance and revenue declined after the release of the 2013 documentary about the life of Tilikum, an orca that killed a SeaWorld trainer during a performance in Orlando in 2010.

Source: cnbc.com

Washington governor proposes major steps to prevent killer whales going extinct

December 13, 2018

With scientists warning that the Northwest’s beloved killer whales are on the brink of extinction, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee announced dramatic plans Thursday to help the population recover — including $1.1 billion in spending and a partial whale-watching ban.

“We are undertaking a herculean effort to save these iconic creatures,” Inslee said in a prepared statement. “It will take action at every level of the environment across our entire state.”

Starved by a dearth of salmon, poisoned by contaminants, and buffeted by vessel noise that hinders their hunting and communication, the orcas that live in the waters between Washington state and Canada’s Vancouver Island have failed to reproduce successfully in the past three years. One grieving whale carried her dead calf on her head for 17 days last summer in an apparent effort to revive it.

There are 74 left in the population, the lowest number since the 1970s, when hundreds of orcas were captured in the region and more than 50 were kept for aquarium display.

Inslee, who is mulling a Democratic presidential run in 2020, detailed the plans as part of his announcement of his priorities for the 2019-2021 state budget. The money would go toward protecting and restoring habitat for salmon, especially chinook, the orcas’ favored prey; boosting production from salmon hatcheries; storm-water cleanup; and quieting vessel traffic.

Nearly $300 million would go toward complying with a court order that requires the state to replace culverts that block the path of migrating salmon.

Money would also support developing plans to move or kill seals and sea lions that feast on Columbia River salmon where they get blocked by dams or other structures, and changing state water quality standards to allow more water to be spilled over dams, helping young salmon reach the ocean.

Inslee called for a new capital gains tax and an increase in business taxes to help cover the tab.

The governor also said he intends to ban commercial whale-watching of the local endangered orcas — known as the southern residents — for three years. He stressed that whale-watching will be allowed for other whales in Washington waters, including nonresident orcas that pass through, and that the state would undertake efforts to promote the industry to offset any lost business.

Inslee said he intended to permanently double the size of the “no-go zone” for vessels around orcas to 400 yards (365 meters) and create a “go slow zone” with reduced speed limits within a half-mile (926 meters). The Department of Fish and Wildlife would get $1.1 million for public education and enforcement.

His plans call for converting two state ferries to quieter electric hybrids and building two others as hybrids.

In a written statement, the Pacific Whale Watch Association did not directly address the proposed ban on whale watching. It said it is committed to protecting the whales and that it supports “science-based actions that will best support the future of these whales, including go-slow zones aimed at quieting the waters.”

“Responsible ecotourism is a healthy and critical piece of conservation and education,” the association said.

The Arizona-based Center for Biological Diversity has sued the federal government for not doing more to protect the full range of the orcas along the West Coast. Catherine Kilduff, the group’s attorney, called Inslee’s plans to reduce vessel noise a good first step.

But, as other environmentalists have done, Kilduff stressed that removing four major dams along the Snake River is essential for the recovery of salmon — and thus for the whales.

A federal court has already ordered the government to consider breaching the dams. Inslee’s proposal includes having a task force examine the implications of that — including whether irrigation, transportation and electricity provided by the dams could be offset, such as by shipping goods by truck or by rail or by boosting wind or solar power generation.

Republican U.S. Reps. Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Dan Newhouse, who represent Eastern Washington, said in a written statement Thursday that breaching the Snake River dams is out of the question.

“The people of Eastern Washington whose livelihoods depend on these dams should not be collateral damage for anyone’s presidential ambitions,” they said.

Source: NY Daily News.com

Climate Change Has Wiped Out Most of the World’s Oldest Sea Ice

December 11, 2018

There is no clearer sign of Arctic transformation than the age of its sea ice. Findings released on Tuesday show that ice has never been younger, and while humans may envy its youth, it’s an incredibly bad sign for the region.

Rising air and ocean temperatures have sent old sea ice into a death spiral. It now stands as a shadow of its former self, its area diminished by 95 percent from where it stood just a little more than three decades ago.

Federal scientists led by researchers at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) chronicled the changes afoot in the annual Arctic Report Card at the American Geophysical Union fall meeting. The signs the Arctic is a metamorphosing in the face of climate change are everywhere. Last year was the second-warmest on record for the region. Ice coverage is shrinking. The Atlantic is invading the Arctic Ocean. Permafrost is melting. But it’s the state of old sea ice that best tells the story of how human activities have driven the Arctic to a new state.

Old ice tends to be thick and hold fast, acting as an anchor for icepack during the summer melt season. But solid ice has proven to be no match for climate change, which has warmed the Arctic twice as fast as the rest of the world. Heat waves coupled with powerful storms have broken up old ice’s grip on the Arctic.

The Arctic Report Card shows that in March 1985, ice four years or older covered 980,700 square miles. This past March, it covered a measly 130,000 square miles. That’s the loss of a little more than three Texases-worth of old ice, and old Arctic ice now covers less than 1 percent of the Arctic Ocean.

In its place, young ice has taken over, leading to “a decreasing trend in the minimum ice extent” each summer according to the report card. Scientists estimate that the Arctic could see ice-free summers by 2030 if carbon emissions continue their rise. The impact of the ice loss doesn’t just spell bad news for polar bears, which are leaving ice floes for land in search of food.

The decline of ice opens up a new front in the race to exploit the Earth’s resources as oil, gas, and mineral reserves become more accessible, and in turn, increases the chance of conflict over these resources. This is a huge concern for the U.S. as well as other Arctic nations. But at the press briefing announcing the updated report card, Rear Admiral Timothy Gaulladet, the acting head of the NOAA, reportedly said that the agency hasn’t briefed President Trump on climate change or its impacts on the Arctic.

The president, of course, has some thoughts on climate change that could politely be called backasswards, and it’s pretty clear a single briefing isn’t going to change them. But the fact that nobody from the agency in charge of putting out the premiere report about the challenges the U.S. faces is still hugely worrisome.

Source: Gizmodo.com