Canada’s Latest Pipeline Could Drive Endangered Killer Whales to Extinction

November 30, 2016

Concerns rise over the newly approved Kinder Morgan pipeline. The pipe line is meant to carry oil from Alberta to British Columbia.

Expected rise in boat traffic and noise, along with possible oil spills threaten to harm the already Endangered Killer Whale population

More information can be found Here


SeaWorld seeks OK for new orca encounter stage

November 2, 2016

A year after announcing it would phase out its longstanding Shamu show in San Diego, SeaWorld is asking the California Coastal Commission this week for permission to start constructing a stage for its new orca encounter.

If the commission signs off at its meeting on Friday, SeaWorld says it could begin construction in January, with completion expected by April.

To date, the company has described the revamped killer whale attraction in broad terms, explaining that visitors to the park would no longer see the orcas engaging in theatrical, synchronized leaps and dives but instead would be able to witness the marine mammals’ natural behaviors like hunting, eating and communicating.

Those theatrical shows will end this year, and the San Diego park will be the first to debut the new attraction, with the Orlando and San Antonio parks to follow.

In its application submitted to the commission — whose staff is recommending approval — SeaWorld is proposing to dismantle Shamu Stadium’s existing show set, now dominated by four LED screens and a giant depiction of a whale tail. In their place would be a new backdrop behind the show pool designed to mimic an outdoor coastal setting in the Pacific Northwest.

The new scenery will be a pastoral landscape, incorporating a rugged coastal inlet, artificial Douglas fir trees, cliffs, and waterfalls. The set will be framed by a rockwork facade fashioned from fiberglass, with no part of the backdrop higher than 30 feet.

Complementing the scenery will be a large video screen that will feature imagery of killer whales in the wild, along with graphics and other information about the orcas to help educate SeaWorld visitors.

In addition, various stairways within the stadium will be demolished and reconstructed, and there will also be sound and lighting upgrades.

The company emphasizes that the project involves no reconstruction or modification of the pools where the orcas are housed.

That’s a major departure from a $100 million plan, since abandoned, that the Coastal Commission approved last year to double the volume of the orcas’ habitat. While the commission OK’d the plan, it imposed a condition that SeaWorld cease breeding its orcas.

The company protested, but months later, responding to mounting public pressure, announced it would end captive breeding of its killer whales at all three SeaWorld parks. It also said it would no longer move forward with the tank expansion project.

Plans for the new orca encounter drew several letters of support, including some from its former critics like the Humane Society of the United States and state Assemblyman Richard Bloom, D-Santa Monica, who two years ago introduced a bill that would have outlawed captive orca breeding and prohibited SeaWorld from using orcas in its shows.

“I applaud SeaWorld’s commitment to end orca breeding and phase out their orca shows and believe that their actions demonstrate a forward-looking, humane and market-responsive approach,” Bloom wrote in a letter to the commission.

Although Bloom favored the changes made by SeaWorld, he still pursued legislation signed into law in September that will outlaw orca breeding and captivity programs. The new legislation also prohibits California parks from featuring killer whales in performances for entertainment purposes. They could, however be used for educational presentations.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), which has called on SeaWorld to release its killer whales into seaside sanctuaries, was critical of the new orca attraction.

“By decorating its underwater prisons with a backdrop of a fake ocean stretching out behind them, SeaWorld would make a mockery of the animals’ lack of opportunity to swim in the real ocean,” the activist group said in a statement. “This marketing ploy is designed to deceive visitors while doing nothing for the orcas floating listlessly in tiny concrete tanks.”

In recommending approval of SeaWorld’s design for its new orca experience, the commission staff imposed conditions focused more on the construction in order to minimize noise impacts on the orcas and to avoid interfering with public access.

SeaWorld, for instance, said that its construction contractor will work with the orca trainers to address any issues they might observe as they monitor the orcas during the construction period.

To minimize noise impacts, SeaWorld said the construction work will be screened by 8-foot-tall panels and when louder work, such as demolition, occurs, the whales will be moved into the pools farthest away.

SeaWorld San Diego said it has no issues with the staff conditions and “will comply with the conditions outlined in the staff report.”

Source: San Diego Union

Update – New orca stage approved November 3, 2016

Ross Sea becomes Antarctica world’s largest protected area

October 27, 2016

An enormous Antarctic bay, home to penguins and killer whales, became the world’s largest protected marine area on Friday.

A United Nations body sealed the deal after five years of negotiations, at a meeting in Hobart, Tasmania.

“It’s near pristine and how many near pristine parts of the ocean do we have left on the planet?” WWF Australia Ocean Science Manager Chris Johnson told CNN.

Twenty-four nations and the European Union agreed unanimously to declare the Ross Sea in Antarctica an official Marine Protected Area after negotiations brokered by the UN’s Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources

According to the UN, 50% of ecotype-C killer whales (the smallest of the four types of Southern Hemisphere orcas), 40% of Adelie penguins and 25% of emperor penguins live in the area covered by the new park.

“The data collected from this ‘living laboratory’ helps us understand the significant changes taking place on Earth right now,” United States scientist David Ainley, one of the first to call for the area to be protected, said in a statement.

35-year limit on deal

Not everyone is completely happy with the deal however — Johnson told CNN the Ross Sea deal would expire in 35 years.

“While we’re very excited about this we don’t want it to become a precedent for other marine protected areas in the Southern Ocean,” he said.

For a new marine park to be declared, Johnson said every country involved must agree — complete consensus is required.

“This has been a long, ongoing, challenging debate and I believe this one of the compromises in terms of getting that 100% consensus,” he said.

Johnson said the WWF would be working hard to make the Ross Sea Marine Protected Area permanent.

“It’s critical to set aside these really epic spots for diversity, not just as marine parks but as places that can build resistance to the changing climate,” he said.

‘Speedo diplomacy’ helped sway Russia

Russia had voted against the new protected area on five previous occasions before finally agreeing on Friday.

In a statement, a United Nations spokesman gave credit to UN Environment’s Patron of the Ocean Lewis Pugh, who has worked over the past two years to gain Russia’s agreement.

He even swum in the icy waters of the Ross Sea in 2015 to raise attention for the issue, in what was described as “speedo diplomacy.”

“I am overjoyed,” Pugh said in a statement. “The Ross Sea is one of the most magnificent places on Earth. It is one of our last great wilderness areas. This is a dream come true.”

According to the United Nations spokesman, Pugh made multiple trips to Russia to convince officials of the Ross Sea’s value.


First Orca Whale spotted in Akaroa Harbour this season

October 18, 2016

First Orca Whale spotted in Akaroa Harbour this season

Black Cat Cruises staff spotted the first orca of the season in Akaroa Harbour this week, a month earlier than the first spotting last year.

Black Cat Cruises Sales & Marketing Manager Natasha Lombart says that although technically there is no orca season in New Zealand, Black Cat Cruises have a few orca sightings each year and they tend to happen in the spring.

“Most people don’t know, that with the exception of human beings, orca are the most widely distributed mammal on earth,” says Lombart.

“The pod of orca our team saw in the Harbour today comprised of a mother and her calf, one large male, two juveniles and possibly another male. Females and males differ in length, with males being longer and bulkier than females. Females have smaller, more curved dorsal fins, and smaller flippers.”

The first spotting comes on the back of confirmation from Trip Advisor and their booking agent Viatour that Black Cat Cruises are not included in a ban, recently announced by TripAdvisor, that it will stop promoting tours that fail to meet animal welfare guidelines, particularly those involving “physical contact with captive wild animals or endangered species”.

“As a certified SMART (Sustainable Marine Mammal Actions in Recreation and Tourism) and eco-tourism operator we applaud Trip Advisor’s move. Black Cat Cruises were never included in Trip Advisor’s “no touching of wild animals” policy, whereby it will no longer sell tickets to attractions where travellers come into physical contact with captive, wild or endangered animals.

“We already comply with their environmental regulations”, Lombart said. “Unlike many overseas operators, tours in New Zealand do not allow people to hold onto the dolphins, and nor should they.”


Non-profit scouts sites in Nova Scotia for captive whale sanctuary

October 14, 2016

Lori Marino, director of the non-profit Whale Sanctuary Project, said Friday they are looking for a site where freed dolphins and whales can roam a netted area roughly the size of 40 sport fields.

HALIFAX — A U.S.-based group is exploring the coasts of Nova Scotia in hopes of finding a sanctuary where previously captive whales and dolphins could dive deeply in cold, North Atlantic waters.


Lori Marino, director of the non-profit Whale Sanctuary Project, said Friday they are looking for a site where the creatures can roam a netted area roughly the size of 40 large sport fields.


An alternative is needed for the captured whales and dolphins that are currently kept in marinas and spend their lives performing or being on display for the public, she said.

“I want to give them back some of their welfare, some of their natural habitat and allow them to retire with freedom to do pretty much whatever they want without being imposed upon by people who want to ride on them and touch them and do tricks with them,” the Utah-based Marino said in an interview on Friday in Halifax.


The concept aims to teach people to see cetaceans as wild creatures rather than objects for human entertainment, in a setting more akin to a national park than a zoo. It imagines visitors viewing the animals in their natural habitat from a safe distance.


“It would be a place that people could go and see these animals, perhaps for the first time, in their own habitat and also learn about them authentically,” Marino said.


She says the project’s approximate cost would be $15 million, and it would include a visitor centre and staff who would ensure the five to eight whales, likely belugas and orcas, are fed and cared for.


The neuroscientists and marine mammal expert says whales and dolphins kept in captivity can’t be released into the wild as they haven’t developed the skills to survive, making a controlled sanctuary with food a necessity.

Marino says she can’t divulge which areas are being considered in Nova Scotia, but says the province’s coast is among several North American coastlines, including areas off Maine and British Columbia, where there is potential habitat.


She says a decision on a potential location will be made by the middle of next year by the non-profit, charitable group.


The group says it is consulting the federal Fisheries Department, first nations and other interested community groups about the regulatory approvals needed for use of coastlines as a netted-off sanctuary.


Marino said she held meetings with the federal Fisheries Department to explore what regulatory processes would be required for a sanctuary.


A spokesperson from the department was not immediately available for comment.


Protest planned against capturing whales for China

October 14, 2016

One of the organisers of the group Namibians against Plundering of Our Marine Life, Katja Glöditzsch, says they will protest against plans by the Russian ship Ryazanovka to catch and export Namibian marine resources to Chinese markets and aquariums.

The marine animals targeted for export would apparently be used for research purposes.

Glöditzsch yesterday told New Era the group would hand a petition to the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources today at Walvis Bay.

Glöditzsch says hundreds of protestors are expected to gather at 15h00 at the parking area opposite Seapride Foods in town, from where they will march to the ministry’s offices to hand over the petition.

So far the group had collected more than 3 000 hand signatures and 7 980 online signatures but the figure is expected to rise as international animal groups also signed the online petition.

“We already have official permission from the municipal traffic department and Nampol to march and hand over the manual petition at the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources in Walvis Bay. We want all animal lovers and environment-conscious Namibians to take part in the march so that we save our marine life,” she explained.

A petition handover to the captain of the vessel was called off on Sunday when Namport advised the group not to approach the vessel.

Namport’s port captain, Lukas Kafuna, on Sunday said that vessels within port limits should enjoy an unhindered stay while in port, not ruling out the legal implications such a vessel will have for Namport and the country.

The vessel that is owned by the Namibian registered company Welwitschia Aquatic and Wildlife Scientific Research is suspected to be used in capturing dolphins, whales, seals and penguins. The company and its technical support partner Beijing Ruier Animal Breeding and Promoting have applied for permission to catch and export marine mammals from Namibia.

In the original application by the company it states “the Chinese market for such a venture is enormous and the demand currently stands at ten killer whales per year; 50-100 Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins; 50-100 heads of common bottlenose dolphins; 500-1000 Cape fur seals; 300-500 penguins; and various sharks.”

Source: New

Judge allows SeaWorld shareholder lawsuit to proceed

October 11, 2016

ORLANDO, Fla. – A group of investors who claim SeaWorld executives misled them about the effect the documentary “Blackfish” was having on theme park attendance will be allowed to continue their revised lawsuit against the company, a federal judge has ruled.

“The Court tentatively finds Plaintiffs have sufficiently pleaded the element of falsity based upon allegations made by confidential witnesses, allegations regarding negative publicity targeting SeaWorld Entertainment, and attendance declines at SeaWorld Entertainment parks,” wrote U.S. District Judge Michael M. Anello.

SeaWorld attorneys attempted to get lawsuit thrown out, arguing that the investors had failed to present adequate evidence suggesting the company might have misled shareholders.  Following a court hearing last month,  the judge denied SeaWorld’s motion to dismiss the case, court records show.

“Plaintiffs’ allegations cannot be reconciled with various statements by Defendants that ‘Blackfish has had no attendance impact,’ and that SeaWorld Entertainment ‘can attribute no attendance impact at all to the movie’,” Anello said of the amended lawsuit.

In April, the judge dismissed the investors’ original lawsuit against SeaWorld Entertainment Inc.  According to the judge, that original complaint did not sufficiently show that theme park attendance was harmed by ‘Blackfish’, a 2013 documentary that criticized the practice of keeping killer whales in captivity.

However, the judge allowed the shareholders to amend the lawsuit and address its legal deficiencies.

In their amended complaint, the investors cited SeaWorld’s recent decision to end its killer whale breeding program as further evidence that the 2013 documentary had changed the marine park’s core business.

“The announcement was a tacit acknowledgement that SeaWorld could no longer afford to deny the profound impact ‘Blackfish’ has had on its business or continue to blatantly ignore the data showing a clear shift in public sentiment regarding its killer whale program,” the amended complaint stated.

The investors, which include the Arkansas Public Employees Retirement System and a teacher’s pension fund based in Denmark, presented additional data compiled by the Themed Entertainment Association, a nonprofit amusement industry organization that provides unofficial attendance figures for many theme parks.

“Historical attendance figures demonstrate that attendance at SeaWorld-branded parks, Disney parks, and Universal parks in the Florida and California areas ordinarily rise and fall together,” the complaint states.

In 2014, after “Blackfish” was released, SeaWorld Orlando suffered an 8 percent decline in attendance and SeaWorld San Diego lost 12 percent of visitors, while Disney and Universal parks saw comparable or increased attendance, according to the lawsuit.

At the time, SeaWorld executives blamed the attendance problems on bad weather, the timing of holidays, and ticket price increases, the complaint states. “Historical attendance figures demonstrate that the dramatic attendance declines SeaWorld-branded parks saw in 2013 and 2014 had to be the result of ‘Blackfish’ and not the other generic excuses SeaWorld offered,” according to the complaint.

SeaWorld has previously claimed in court filings its fluctuating attendance trends did not correlate with the airing of “Blackfish.”

The company also suggested SeaWorld-branded marine parks, which were the subject of the documentary, outperformed their other amusement properties during that period.

“Although ‘Blackfish’ premiered on CNN early in the fourth quarter of 2013 (and was purportedly viewed by millions), it was this very quarter that the SeaWorld-named parks had record setting attendance,” SeaWorld attorneys wrote in their motion to dismiss the original lawsuit.

The following quarter, SeaWorld Entertainment Inc. reported a 13 percent drop in attendance companywide, which the company blamed on several factors except “Blackfish.”

“Indeed, that attendance declines at SeaWorld were attributable to bad weather during certain peak times, the timing of the holidays and SeaWorld’s intentional pricing strategies, which decreased attendance while increasing revenue, is a far more compelling and cogent inference than fraud,” according to SeaWorld’s attorneys.

On Aug. 13, 2014, SeaWorld officials announced another 4.3 percent decline in attendance. In a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, SeaWorld acknowledged for the first time that attendance “was impacted by demand pressures related to recent media attention surrounding proposed legislation in the state of California.”

The proposed California law would have banned the display of captive killer whales for entertainment purposes. The bill’s sponsor, California Assemblyman Richard Bloom, said the proposed law was partially inspired by “Blackfish.”

That same day, SeaWorld’s stock price plunged 33 percent.

“The company had finally admitted that ‘Blackfish’ was hurting attendance at SeaWorld parks,” the investors wrote in their original lawsuit.

SeaWorld insisted the SEC disclosure was not about “Blackfish.”

“Notably, this same disclosure also included guidance that SeaWorld had significantly lowered its full year revenue numbers, a more plausible cause for the subsequent stock price drop,” wrote SeaWorld’s lawyers.

In their amended complaint, the investors suggested SeaWorld may have been worried about the impact of “Blackfish” as early as Thanksgiving 2013.  That’s when People For the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) claims their organization was infiltrated by SeaWorld employees posing as animal rights activists.

SeaWorld officials later acknowledged its employees had spied on the organization.  It has since stopped the practice, according to SeaWorld CEO Joel Manby.

“SeaWorld’s chosen strategy was to ignore ‘Blackfish’ and deny its credibility – both to the public and investors,” the new complaint states.

SeaWorld attorneys must file a formal response to the shareholders’ lawsuit by October 28, the judge ordered.

Source: Click

These eight baby killer whales are beating the odds

October 9, 2016

J50, nicknamed Scarlett, seen with the J16 family, is one of 8 orcas born in 2015 that is still alive, researchers say.

Whale watchers say eight orcas born in the past several months appear to be thriving, bolstering the endangered southern resident population that frequents Puget Sound.

The Pacific Whale Watch Association, an industry group, said Monday, Oct. 3, that the so-called “Class of 2015” is all alive and well — good news for a population that has averaged about three new babies a year since 1976.

▪ J50, nicknamed Scarlett, was first seen on Dec. 30, 2014;

▪ J51, nicknamed Nova, was seen on Feb. 15, 2015;

▪ L121, nicknamed Windsong, was seen mid-February 2015;

▪ J52, nicknamed Sonic, was seen March 30, 2015;

▪ L122, nicknamed Magic, was seen Sept. 4 or 5, 2015;

▪ J53, nicknamed Kiki (short for Kikisoblu), was seen on Oct. 24, 2015;

▪ L123, nicknamed Lazuli, was seen early November 2015;

▪ J54, nicknamed Dipper, was seen Dec. 1, 2015.

Another calf, J55, was spotted on Jan. 18 but was presumed dead because it never has been seen again.

The update on the orca calves came the same week that NOAA Fisheries said the work of one of its scientists may have led to the death of an orca in the local pods.

A whale found dead off Vancouver Island in March was likely the victim of a fatal infection after a scientist failed to adequately sterilize a research tag that was shot into its body.

The tags contain satellite-linked transmitters that allow tracking of where the whales go in winter when they leave Puget Sound, in an effort to aid their recovery.

Natural forces also threaten the southern resident population.

“Every time we had a baby born to this population last year, people got giddy,” said Michael Harris, executive director of the PWWA. “And awesome as the news always was, I guess we sometimes had to be a buzzkill. We had to remind everyone that wild orcas have a 50 percent mortality rate out there, that half of these babies don’t make it through their first year. It’s a coin flip, we said.

“Well, now we can breathe a little easier.”

There are only 82 whales in the J, K and L pods today. According to NOAA Fisheries, all killer whale populations are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, but only the southern resident population and a transient population have been listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act.

Orca Network, a nonprofit agency based on Whidbey Island, reports that as of Sept. 12, the spike in births has left the J pod with 28 members, the K pod with 19 and the L pod with 35.

These pods consist of approximately seven post-reproductive females (over 42 years old), 28 adult females (10 to 42 years old), 21 mature or adolescent males (over 10 years old), eight juvenile females (under 10 years old), 16 juvenile males (under 10 years old) and two juveniles of unknown genders.

Satellite tag infection killed orca

October 5, 2016

SEATTLE – A male orca died due to an infection caused by satellite tagging, NOAA announced Wednesday.

L-95 was found dead about a month after NOAA scientists tagged the Southern Resident orca in February. Pieces of the hardware were found in the orca’s tissue. A necropsy, recently finalized, revealed that the injury caused a lethal infection leading to the whale’s death.

NOAA officials believe human error may have contributed to the fungal infection. During the tagging process the tag fell into the water. Before it was attached to L-95 is wasn’t cleaned per NOAA protocol, which requires the tag to be cleaned with alcohol and bleach – it was only cleaned with alcohol. The tag was also attached near very important blood vessels, which could have allowed the infection to enter the ocra’s bloodstream quickly.

The research began in an effort to understand where the whales traveled during the winter when they leave Puget Sound in hopes of supporting the endangered species.

Eight whales have been tagged since the research began in 2012. So far, none but L-95 have been confirmed dead due to the process. However, critics have vocalized concern that it would eventually happen.

“The NOAA/NMFS tagging program is certainly injuring and disfiguring these Endangered icons of the Pacific Northwest, and it is my subjective opinion that it is adversely altering their behavior toward benign vessel interactions to approach them for photo-identification,” wrote Center for Whale Research Senior Scientist Ken Balcomb soon after L-95 was found dead. “I discussed these shortcomings with Dr.’s Mike Ford and Brad Hanson several years ago and was told the sat tagging program would proceed in spite of my concerns; and, I was instructed to simply document tag healing and report any issues to them, which I have done. I do not know if these problems have been reported up the chain of command to the NOAA/NMFS Permit Office, but the feedback I have been receiving is that the hardware issues of yesteryear have been “fixed”.

Balcomb said for the last two years he has been talking with government officials about barbs remaining in orcas after tags have fallen off. He said he has seen infected flesh around the barbs on orcas and calls the practice “barbaric.”

Balcomb also raised concerns about the purpose of tagging the animals. He said the research of where the orcas are traveling isn’t needed because it has been documented for years. Balcomb said resources need to be reallocated to provide more food for the animals, such as removing damns and culverts.

“I was showing the researchers and the permit office the photographs of hardware left in whales, the infections that festered, the injuries that were not minor, the potential invasive agents that could get in there through a wound. It was like, this is unthinkable really. You wouldn’t do this to your kids,” Balcomb said Wednesday. “It doesn’t make any sense to me to be stuck on more and more study, research, and statistical mumbo-jumbo when we know that they’re predators, they need food and we know what food they need. All we need to do is provide it.”

NOAA stopped tagging orcas after L-95’s carcass washed ashore. They will not continue with the research in the near future.

None of the Southern Resident orcas tagged by NOAA are currently wearing the sattelite tags, and none are known to have any hardware left in their tissue.

Video: Alison Morrow answers your questions on Facebook Live

Source: – Please visit them for video coverage as well as links to official reports filed on this issue.

New images show healthy, active PNW killer whale calve

October 4, 2016

SEATTLE — The future looks bright for killer whales in Washington state.

Pacific Whale Watch Association Crews are reporting that the eight Southern Resident orca calves appear to be healthy and active.

The latest images of the eight calves show improvement for the Pacific Northwest calf population.

Following the death of several whales in 2014 there was a substantial concern for extinction. In fact, the species were previously petitioned to be listed under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.

“Every time we had a baby born to this population last year, people got giddy,” remembers Michael Harris, Executive Director of PWWA, representing 38 companies operating out of 21 ports in BC and Washington. “And awesome as the news always was, I guess we sometimes had to be a buzzkill.  We had to remind everyone that wild orcas have a 50% mortality rate out there, that half of these babies don’t make it through their first year. It’s a coin flip, we said.  Well, now we can breathe a little easier. . .”

The Center for Whale Research now estimates up to nine babies could be produced by the population each year, but with a high rate of neonatal and prenatal mortality the annual average has been three.

For more information on how to get involved with helping whale research click here.