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

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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


OUT OF ORCA Thomas Cook stops promoting SeaWorld online following animal rights protests

February 7, 2018

The decision comes after animal rights group PETA put pressure on the holiday firm, which resulted in 22,000 people sending in emails in agreement

TRAVEL company Thomas Cook has agreed to stop promoting SeaWorld online after months of protests.

Animal rights group PETA’s campaign for the company to stop advertising included 22,000 emails from supporters.

But PETA is calling for more action from Thomas Cook, urging them to stop sales to the SeaWorld marine park entirely.

The animal rights group disagrees with SeaWorld’s treatment of orcas and other animals.

The park faced accusations of cruelty last August after an ex-trainer made allegations against it over the way whales are treated after one called Kasatka had to be put down.

Her former trainer, John Hargrove, left the marine park in 2012 after 14 years caring for the whales and became a whistleblower.

He told the Mail On Sunday: “What continues to go on in parks like SeaWorld is an abomination.

“They claim captive orcas help educate people, and for years I bought into it. But Kasatka lived in misery, in barbaric and horrific conditions, and died in agony.”

Hargrove wrote a best-selling book on his experience at SeaWorld and was a central figure in the award-winning documentary Blackfish.
The 2013 film detailed the suffering of the animals at the marine park and caused the company’s shares and tickets sales to plummet.

And last April SeaWorld announced that the birth of a killer whale at its parks would be its last.

In a statement at the time, the theme park said: “Although this will be the last opportunity for SeaWorld guests to see a baby killer whale up close as it grows and matures, SeaWorld will continue to care for the orcas at its parks for decades to come.”

A rep for Thomas Cook told Sun Online Travel: “We have taken steps to remove promotional content for all animal excursions, in line with our animal welfare policy.

“This includes adverts, social media promotional campaigns and blog content across our websites and social media channels.”

A SeaWorld spokesperson said: “SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment remains committed to operating at the highest animal welfare standards and tickets to our parks continue to be sold by Thomas Cook.

“All of our SeaWorld parks are accredited and certified by several of the world’s foremost zoological bodies including the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), the Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks & Aquariums (AMMPA) and the American Humane Association.”

Source: The Sun.co.uk

Animal rights group PETA bought stock in Thomas Cook so it could lobby the firm to cut ties with SeaWorld

February 6, 2018

  • Animal rights activists invested in travel company Thomas Cook in a protest against its stance on SeaWorld.
  • PETA bought around £1.20 of stock to gain access to Thomas Cook’s AGM in London and lobby executives and shareholders.
  • Campaigners object to the company selling tickets to SeaWorld, which they think is cruel and inhumane in its treatment of killer whales.
  • Thomas Cook told Business Insider that animal welfare is a priority.

Animal rights group PETA has purchased stock in travel company Thomas Cook to gain entry to its AGM and lobby executives in person to stop selling tickets to SeaWorld.

PETA has long been protesting against the Florida marine park for its treatment of whales, which it says is cruel and inhumane. It also targets businesses that deal with SeaWorld, like Thomas Cook, which offers tours to the park.

The group told Business Insider that it has bought a single share in the company, valued at around £1.20 ($1.66), because it grants it entry to the annual general meeting, being held in London this Thursday.

Yvonne Taylor, a PETA campaigner, told Business Insider that she and a colleague plan to use this right to go inside the AGM in east London and ask executives directly to end ticket sales to SeaWorld, and to lobby shareholders.

Meanwhile, protesters outside are going to distribute leaflets, and pose for photos. Activists will hold gravestones and roses to mourn 41 orcas the group says died at a young age during their time in captivity at SeaWorld.

PETA is known for its eye-catching and disruptive protests, but Taylor said its actions at the AGM would have a respectful tone and will be made in a genuine spirit of engagement.

She said their lobbying has had some effect already, claiming credit for a decision by Thomas Cook over the weekend to remove references to SeaWorld from its online marketing.

However, it still offers tickets, a practice PETA wants to stop. In a statement to Business Insider, Thomas Cook said it was “puzzled” that it had been targeted despite taking some steps to improve its animal welfare standards.

A PETA spokeswoman told Business Insider: “At SeaWorld orcas are confined to tiny concrete tanks, where they’re deprived of any physical or psychological stimulation.

“These highly intelligent animals — who live in large, complex social groups and swim up to 140 miles a day in the wild — are forced to spend their days swimming in endless circles and gnawing on the bars of their tanks in frustration.”

PETA considers this an example of animal cruelty, and has called SeaWorld an “abusement park.”

In a statement to Business Insider, Thomas Cook did not directly address its relationship with SeaWorld, but defended its commitment to animal welfare. It said:

“As the first tour operator to enforce an animal welfare policy by removing animal excursions that don’t meet the standards we require from sale, Thomas Cook welcomes discussion on this important topic.

“We have been encouraged by the support we’ve received from groups like World Cetecean Alliance, however we’re puzzled by PETA’s approach.

“This appears to criticise us specifically because we’ve taken an industry-leading position. We are committed to continue to work with the industry to raise standards of animal welfare around the world.”

Three killer whales died while living at SeaWorld’s California franchises in 2017.

The theme park has since phased out its emphasis on the animals, announcing in 2015 that it would stop using them in shows at some locations and in 2016 that it would no longer breed them.

The decision doesn’t appear to be a result of animal rights protest, though. Earlier this month, the SeaWorld CEO Joel Manby slammed “small-minded arguments from activists that really don’t know what they’re talking about.”

Source: Business Insider.com

SeaWorld and OCEARCH Join Forces to Bring Travellers Closer to Marine Life

February 2, 2018

SeaWorld Entertainment and OCEARCH, a leader in generating marine life scientific data, have partnered to make their research data available to both the scientific community and the general public for the first time ever. The partnership will bring everyday people closer to the water by sharing real-time data, content, and park experiences.

In an effort to promote global conservation and educate the public, OCEARCH is gathering data that did not exist previously. The research that is collected from expeditions is the first of its kind and is shared freely with the public allowing everyone to learn from the data collected. Users can learn about rescued animals, read their stories and follow their tracks in almost real time as they are given a second chance at life.

Chris Fischer, OCEARCH Founding Chairman and Expedition Leader said “Together, OCEARCH and SeaWorld will focus on bringing everyday people closer to the ocean to increase understanding of how to better protect marine animals and habitats. We are committed to providing open-sourced, real-time data and content, allowing anyone to follow our findings – from classrooms to researchers and experts.”

The most popular way for travelers to experience this is through the Global Shark Tracker where people can follow great white sharks, as well as the rescued and returned animals that rehabilitate in SeaWorld’s care.

SeaWorld veterinarians, scientists and researchers will participate in on-board missions with the OCEARCH team, sharing and collaborating knowledge and experience. A big focus of the partnership will be on education – co-development of content that will educate students, while inspiring the next generation of explorers, scientists, and stewards of the ocean.

Source: Travel Pulse.com

SeaWorld Hiding Orca Necropsies, Including San Diego’s Kasatka, Federal Suit Claims

January 11, 2018

What led to Kasatka being euthanized at SeaWorld San Diego? What killed two other orcas — in Orlando and San Antonio?

And why won’t the federal agencies involved with killer whales make the Orlando-based theme park company share its findings?

Those are among the issues being raised in a federal lawsuit filed Tuesday in Washington, D.C., by the Animal Welfare Institute, or AWI, also based in the nation’s capital.

Alleging violations of the Freedom of Information Act, or FOIA, the nonprofit animal-protection group is asking the court to force the National Marine Fisheries Service and its parent National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to explain why SeaWorld can withhold the necropsy of Kasatka as well as the cause-of-death reports of Tilikum and his granddaughter Kyara, who also died in 2017.

Moreover, AWI wants to know the legal basis for a reputed change in a public-display permit that once mandated the disclosure of killer whale necropsies.

“After the death of three SeaWorld orcas over a seven-month period,” says the nine-page suit, “NOAA/NMFS has refused to release or disclose the legal rationale for its conclusion that SeaWorld can ignore clearly stated permit requirements and withhold information that would shed light on the cause of death and medical condition of these whales during their lives in captivity and benefit science and marine mammal husbandry, stranding response, and medical care.”

Writing for AWI, attorneys Donald C. Baur and Sunny Tsou said: “SeaWorld refuses to release the whales’ clinical histories or necropsy reports.”

In response to a request for comment, agency spokeswoman Kate Brogan said Thursday: “NOAA Fisheries cannot discuss ongoing litigation.”

SeaWorld San Diego spokesman David Koontz issued this statement:

As required, SeaWorld submits mortality information to appropriate regulatory agencies. Additionally, we share this information with the public, and the zoological community.

Necropsy reports contain complex medical information and analysis, which are best interpreted and used by researchers and trained specialists.

SeaWorld does release specific necropsy findings via peer-reviewed scientific papers where the information is useful to the health and management of both free-ranging animals and those in human care.

Our teams work with a variety of scientists to assure that the data and biomaterials from the animals are available for specific and verified scientific studies that will benefit those species today and in the future.

Those interested in reading more about SeaWorld’s scientific contributions can review the more than 350 peer-reviewed articles, book chapters and books our team members have authored at SeaWorldCares.com.

(In mid-September, Times of San Diego asked SeaWorld San Diego for Kasatka’s necropsy but didn’t receive a response. SeaWorld posted updates here.)

In a press release Wednesday, the AWI said: “The agencies claim that an obligation under pre-1994 public display permits to provide necropsy results and clinical histories (complete veterinary records) is no longer in effect due to 1994 changes in the Marine Mammal Protection Act(MMPA), but have offered no legal justification for the claim.”

A series of FOIA requests for that legal reasoning was ignored, AWI argues in the lawsuit.

“This is an issue of government transparency and sound science,” said Naomi Rose, AWI marine mammal scientist. “We find it disturbing that the agencies have gone to such great lengths to hide their rationale for their legal conclusion.”

Rose, who in 2014 took part in a Voice of San Diego panel discussion on SeaWorld and its killer whales, said the government is allowing SeaWorld to withhold information critical to science.

The AWI release said SeaWorld cited generic lung disease as a cause of death.

“Fatal lung infections are all too common in captive orcas,” AWI said. “A more detailed look at the necropsy results and clinical histories would provide scientists, including those involved in rescuing stranded whales and dolphins, with important information on treatments, diagnoses and prognoses.”

The AWI suit said NOAA/NMFS still hasn’t responded to a Sept. 29, 2017, request for public records, which by law should have come within a month.

“Nor has the agency provided AWI with any explanation for the ongoing delay,” the suit says. “The other agencies have either responded in full … or acknowledged receipt and confirmed that review is underway.”

In March 2017 — two months after “Blackfish” subject Tilikum died in Orlando — NOAA/NMFS said it had concluded that the necropsy and clinical history provisions of Tilikum’s permit had been “extinguished” by 1994 amendments to the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

But AWI was told that “the legal analysis supporting this determination is exempt from disclosure under the attorney-client privilege,” the suit says.

This was done despite what AWI called “the plain language of the permit.”

AWI says its lawyers have provided legal analysis that the necropsy and clinical history are still required.

The case — 1:18-cv-00047-CKK — has been assigned to Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, the daughter of an environmental engineer.

Appointed to her current job by President Clinton in 1997, Kollar-Kotelly was presiding judge from 2002 to 2009 of the United States Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.

In one notable case involving the Freedom of Information Act, she ruled in 2008 that the Office of Administration was not subject to FOIA “and therefore did not have to release records regarding missing White House e-mails” of the George W. Bush administration, according to CNN.

“The possibly lost e-mails are from a period in which the United States decided to go to war with Iraq, White House officials leaked the identity of CIA officer Valerie Plame and the Justice Department started a criminal investigation into who leaked the information,” CNN recounted.

More recently, Kollar-Kotelly, 74, blocked the Trump Administration’s proposed transgender military ban, writing in a strongly worded opinion that the policy “does not appear to be supported by any facts.”

Source: Times of San Diego.com

LAWSUIT SEEKS TO UNCOVER WHY GOVERNMENT IS ALLOWING SEAWORLD TO HIDE ORCA NECROPSIES

January 10, 2018

The Animal Welfare Institute (AWI) filed a lawsuit this week against the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) related to the agencies’ refusal to enforce requirements for SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment (SeaWorld) to submit necropsy results of three SeaWorld orcas who died last year.

Specifically, AWI is suing NOAA/NMFS for failing to respond to its Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for documents on the agencies’ decision. The agencies claim that an obligation under pre-1994 public display permits to provide necropsy results and clinical histories (complete veterinary records) is no longer in effect due to 1994 changes in the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), but have offered no legal justification for the claim.

The three deceased whales (Tilikum, who was featured in the documentary Blackfish; Kyara, Tilikum’s granddaughter, who was just 3 months old at the time of her death; and Kasatka, who, along with Tilikum, was one of the last remaining wild-caught whales at SeaWorld) were the subject of MMPA public display permits issued prior to 1994 (in Kyara’s case, that of her grandfather). NOAA/NMFS claim these permit requirements have been extinguished, despite legal analysis to the contrary provided to the agency by AWI counsel.

“This is an issue of government transparency and sound science” said Dr. Naomi Rose, AWI marine mammal scientist. “We find it disturbing that the agencies have gone to such great lengths to hide their rationale for their legal conclusion. The government is allowing SeaWorld to withhold information critical to science—one of the justifications for public display under the law—that would shed light on the lives and deaths of these orcas.”

AWI and other organizations also appealed directly to SeaWorld for this information, including via an August 2017 open letter, to no avail.

In public statements after the deaths of each whale, SeaWorld cited generic lung disease as a cause of death. Fatal lung infections are all too common in captive orcas. A more detailed look at the necropsy results and clinical histories would provide scientists, including those involved in rescuing stranded whales and dolphins, with important information on treatments, diagnoses, and prognoses.

Source: awi online.org

SeaWorld CEO slams activists who criticized the company for breeding killer whales in captivity

January 8, 2018

  • SeaWorld ended its killer-whale-breeding program in 2016, after facing backlash over its treatment of animals.
  • The company’s CEO, Joel Manby, said on Monday that its current pool of whales, which can live up to age 50, would stay in its parks for years.
  • “I get frustrated with the small-minded arguments from activists that really don’t know what they’re talking about,” Manby said.

In 2016, SeaWorld announced it would end its killer-whale-breeding program after years of scrutiny about the theme-park company’s treatment of animals. The decision was seen as a necessary refocusing away from SeaWorld’s iconic live killer-whale show.

However, according to the CEO, the theme park has the whales necessary to continue a version of what was for decades its most famous attraction. While SeaWorld began phasing it out at some parks in 2016, its “signature killer-whale show” and animal viewings continue at others.

“We will still have the whales for 50 years,” CEO Joel Manby said on Monday at the ICR Conference. “They live a long time. This is a decision that is for the immediate. But we get to keep the whales and have the experience yet have some relief from a legislative standpoint.”

SeaWorld says the average life expectancy of killer whales, also called orcas, is 46 to 50 years for females and 30 to 38 years for males.

The whales’ lifespan was a focus of the breeding-program backlash, which reached a fever pitch after the release of the 2013 documentary “Blackfish.”

After activists petitioned for a ban on killer-whale breeding, arguing that orcas die younger in captivity, SeaWorld launched an ad campaign saying the whales live as long in its theme parks as they do in the wild. Experts told PolitiFact that SeaWorld’s claim was backed by some research but that it ignored issues such as the animals’ quality of life.

Manby said SeaWorld reallocated the $300 million it had before April 2016 planned to spend on expanding its pool of killer whales through breeding toward building more attractions.

The company’s strategy more generally has shifted toward education and animal conservation and away from its live animal shows.

“When you thought of SeaWorld five years ago, you thought of it as Shamu the killer whale,” Manby said. “When Shamu became a liability, it created somewhat of a confusion around the opportunity for us.”

Manby clarified that SeaWorld was committed to its decision not to breed and that it would not restart its breeding program, at least in his “human lifetime.”

The CEO says that he believes in SeaWorld’s mission but that many people misunderstand the company. Backlash against SeaWorld has been driven by “lies” and people lacking in “critical thinking,” he said.

“One hundred years from now, people are going to be begging for zoos and aquariums to take the animals from the wild because the extinction rate is so high,” Manby said.

People are wrong to focus on SeaWorld while fishing kills numerous sharks, dolphins, and whales every year, Manby argued.

“Those are the issues we should be talking about, not 29 whales at SeaWorld that have been born at SeaWorld and have lived there their entire life and cannot be released to the wild because they would die,” Manby said. “So I get frustrated with the small-minded arguments from activists that really don’t know what they’re talking about.”

Source: Business Insider.com

Advocates push orca breeding law as SeaWorld’s policy appears murky

The announcement was rolled out to the world as a pledge. A promise.

In March 2016 SeaWorld declared it would end killer whale breeding, making the orcas in its care in the United States and abroad its last generation to live in captivity.

Later that year, California passed a law solidifying that change, banning breeding, performing and introduction of any new orcas into captivity in the state. Now advocates in Florida, home of SeaWorld’s global headquarters, are pushing for the same legal protection, fearful that “corporate policy can always change,” said Animal Legal Defense Fund attorney Lindsay Larris.

Rep. Ben Diamond, D-St. Petersburg, drafted the Florida Orca Protection Act ahead of the 2018 Legislative session but said he is still debating whether it will be one of the six bills he is limited to filing.

With SeaWorld in rebuild mode after years of decline and plummeting attendance, Larris said there’s an urgency to protect orcas in Florida amid the unpredictably of a struggling, publicly held company.

But in a recent transaction that occurred across the Atlantic, done with no public announcement or fanfare, it appears SeaWorld has already acted against its own policy, the Tampa Bay Times has found.

On the Spanish island of Tenerife, SeaWorld last month surrendered six killer whales that had been on loan to Loro Parque after the zoo’s president, Wolfgang Kiessling, publicly opposed the breeding ban. SeaWorld vaguely referenced the transfer in its 
Nov. 7 financial report.

On Dec. 5, Loro Parque announced on its website that one of those orcas, Morgan, was pregnant, confirmed by an ultrasound “four weeks ago.” Javier Almunia, director for environmental affairs of Loro Parque Foundation, confirmed to the Times on Wednesday that Morgan was impregnated by one of the two original SeaWorld males at the park.

SeaWorld spokesman Travis Claytor said the transfer decision was made “before anyone knew their orca was pregnant,” but declined to answer when Morgan was bred and when the transfer was effective, whether this was a breach of the March 2016 policy change, or whether SeaWorld would support the proposed Florida bill.

Humane Society of the United States president Wayne Pacelle, who negotiated SeaWorld’s breeding ban and announced the 2016 policy in a joint statement with the theme park, said Monday that the Loro Parque transfer “does appear to be a breach of this policy.”

Pacelle said the policy held SeaWorld responsible for controlling the outcomes of their whales with lifetime care. Transferring ownership to an individual “who has a very different vision for how to care for animals,” breaks that accord.

“This was the biggest threat,” Pacelle said. “I think the Loro Parque circumstance is a cautionary tale, and SeaWorld should be in the forefront of supporting (the Florida legislation). I think there’s a trust issue now.”

• • •

Public acceptance of keeping one of the most emotionally intelligent mammals in concrete tanks drastically shifted after the 2013 documentary Blackfish, which detailed the psychological and physical trauma of captivity. It chronicled the story of Tilikum, a SeaWorld orca that killed three people during its life. There is no documented case of an orca harming a human in the wild.

By December 2014, SeaWorld’s stock price declined by 60 percent. The company faced an 84 percent drop in second-quarter income in 2015. Revenues this quarter fell to $437 million, down 10 percent from last year.

SeaWorld CEO Joel Manby acknowledged the changing attitudes in his 2016 announcement, also revealing a phase out of orca performances and replacement with an “orca experience” for visitors to view the animals in more natural presentations.

Lori Marino, a neuroscientist and founder of the Kimmela Center for Animal Advocacy, said captivity even without a performance aspect has debilitating impacts on orcas, which have instincts to travel up to 100 miles a day and social bonds “that supersedes humans.”

In the wild, orcas live in complex social structures revolving around a matriarch, many with offspring remaining with their mothers for life and sharing unique vocalizations within groups. In captivity, they are often separated from mothers early on, like SeaWorld’s Keto, who was born at the Orlando park and moved three times before arriving at Loro Parque in 2006 at 10 years old.

MRI imaging of post-mortem brains shows killer whales have an extra lobe in the area associated with emotion not even present in humans, suggesting extraordinary capacity for processing emotions, thinking and self-awareness.

“They are animals with a level of social complexity that rivals our own culture,” Marino said. “In these concrete tanks they just don’t have the ability to exercise that most important part of their brains. They show all the classic signs of stress, extreme boredom and basically losing their minds.”

There are 60 orcas in captivity across eight countries today, according to the Whale and Dolphin Conservation. SeaWorld has 10 in San Diego, six in Orlando and five in San Antonio, Texas, parks. The only other orca in America is Lolita, a wild-born whale brought to Miami Seaquarium in 1970 that has lived alone in a tank only four-times the length of her body since 1980.

SeaWorld sent two males from Texas and two females from Florida to Loro Parque under a loan agreement in 2006 to help the zoo launch an exhibit. From the SeaWorld whales, the Spanish zoo bred Adan, who was born there in 2010. A second calf named Vicky died at 10 months old in June 2013.

Morgan was an injured wild orca rescued near the Netherlands and sent to Loro Parque by the Dutch government in 2011. SeaWorld claimed Morgan in an April 2013 SEC filing, when it declared “seven killer whales are presently on loan” to Loro Parque.

• • •

As SeaWorld continues to struggle, Chinese investment firm Zhonghong Zhuoye Group acquired a 21 percent stake in the company in March, becoming the largest shareholder. Two Chinese executives now sit on SeaWorld’s board, one as chairman.

It comes as China’s aquarium industry is booming with 55 marine parks today and 27 under way, according to the China Cetacean Alliance.

Naomi Rose, a marine mammal scientist with the Animal Welfare Institute, said that influential ownership makes codifying SeaWorld’s breeding ban into law more critical. The proposed Florida bill would also prohibit the export of semen from orcas in the state and the export of Florida orcas to another country unless authorized by federal law.

“We will just wake up one morning and find (all the animals are) in China if people don’t recognize that is a dire possibility,” Rose said. “If in fact SeaWorld goes out of business and Zhonghong Zhuoye buys all the assets, there is nothing stopping them from shipping (animals) to China.”

The law passed in California with no opposition from SeaWorld. But the path to pushing the legislation in Florida has already proven difficult.

State Sen. Linda Stewart, D-Orlando, drafted the bill last year but didn’t file it. Former Rep. Alex Miller, R-Sarasota, was interested in filing it in 2016 but changed her mind after meeting with SeaWorld officials, she confirmed.

Diamond, who has until Jan. 9 to file his bill, said SeaWorld has made the case to him that because it has changed its policy, there is no need for a law.

Larris, with Animal Legal Defense Fund, said that stance raises concern.

“The fact (SeaWorld) is in a state of turmoil and changing leadership, the fact they don’t want to commit to this as a law, maybe tells us they are not in it for the long haul as a policy.”

• • •

As legal wrangling continues, an international group of experts is plotting a new chapter for captive whales and dolphins.

Because most captive whales cannot be reintroduced to the wild, the Whale Sanctuary Project is developing plans to build seaside sanctuaries in sites across Nova Scotia, Washington state and British Columbia.

The concept of ocean pens dozens of square acres long would require an estimated $20 million, exhaustive permitting and public buy-in. But Marino, who founded the project, predicts it could be realized within three years.

“It’s an ethical question and it’s one that has a foundation in science,” Marino said. “It’s not a question of ‘Would I like to see animals in tanks or cages?’ The data are in and they are all saying the same thing. They don’t belong in these facilities.”

Source: Tampa Bay.com


SeaWorld’s Toothless Denials Expose Orca to Peril

October 19, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: Huffington Post.com