SeaWorld debuts ‘Killer Whale Up-Close’ program

December 12, 2017

A brand new program at SeaWorld San Diego brings visitor’s closer than ever to some of the world’s largest animals. 

Orca Behaviorist Missy Zderadicka shares her passion during the “Killer whale up-close tour.” 

“The first time I ever came to SeaWorld and I saw a Killer Whale, I was blown away,” she said.  “I hope that everyone else who comes here feels that same thing.”

Jacky Wiggin is one of the few who took the tour this week. Through it, she’s learned more about Killer Whales and got a chance to hang out with “Orchid.”

“That was amazing. It was like my childhood dream come true,” she said, still smiling. “A very cool experience for me. Probably the closest I’ll ever get.”

The experience is open seven days a week at SeaWorld and it’s guaranteed to be one you won’t forget. 

Source: 10news.com

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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

Otago scientist finds captive killer whales suffer toothaches – research

October 12, 2017

Researchers have discovered captive killer whales are likely suffering from toothaches as painful and distracting as they are for humans.

The international research team included a scientist from the University of Otago, which found 100 percent of the orcas examined had damaged teeth.

“We found that more than 65 percent possessed moderate to extreme tooth wear in their lower jaws, mostly as a result of chewing concrete and steel tank surfaces,” Stetson University’s Professor John Jett said.

The researchers found that more than 61 percent of the orca they studied had their teeth drilled to remove the soft pulpy tissue inside.

However the hole is not filled or capped and is instead left open for the rest of the animal’s life.

“Once the tooth gets worn to the point where the pulp is exposed this opens up a channel for disease and infection, so the staff then drill the teeth,” University of Otago’s Dr Carolina Loch says.

Another scientist involved in the research, Dr Jeff Ventre adds that once a tooth is drilled, the tooth is much weaker and is prone to fractures.

“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,” he said.

“We have documented more than 60 percent of the second and third teeth of the lower jaws were broken and this high number is likely linked to the drilling.”

Dr Ventre adds during his time as a whale trainer he also witnessed whales breaking their teeth on steel gates while jaw popping.

Source: News Hub.co.nz

Ex-SeaWorld president helping feds in ‘Blackfish’ investigation

September 25, 2017

The former president of SeaWorld Orlando in Florida, Terry Prather, is helping the feds by giving evidence in their probe into the company for matters related to CNN’s “Blackfish” film.

The company has said it’s the subject of probes by the Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Investigations are looking into “disclosures and public statements” made by company execs in 2014 or earlier “regarding the impact of the ‘Blackfish’ documentary” on SeaWorld’s stock, according to a filing.

A source says the feds are investigating whether there was a coverup at SeaWorld about the negative effect of the documentary as Blackstone took the company public in April 2013.

In the months before the IPO, “Blackfish” debuted at Sundance, was acquired by CNN Films, and was released in July 2013.

CNN’s “Blackfish” details the mistreatment of orca whales at SeaWorld, particularly in Orlando, Fla., where killer whale Tilikum was involved in three deaths. But then-SeaWorld CEO Jim Atchison said in 2013, “Ironically, our attendance has improved since the movie came out.”

Shareholders sued SeaWorld in 2014, alleging the company deceived investors about the impact of “Blackfish” before and after the IPO. The DOJ asked for a pause in the civil litigation while it conducts a “federal criminal investigation.”

Prather — who was president of SeaWorld Orlando from 2010 to 2015 — plans to cooperate with the probe. It is believed the feds want him and others to talk so they can go after “the bigger fish” at SeaWorld, which denied wrongdoing.

Prather’s attorney Sal Strazzullo said, “He wants to make sure that any person involved in covering up the problems at SeaWorld will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law, and that may include very senior figures.”

Blackstone bought SeaWorld for $2.3 billion in 2009. Shares were priced at $27 in the 2013 IPO, hit a low of $12.12 in September 2016 and were at $18.30 in March, when Blackstone nearly tripled its money on its investment in SeaWorld by selling it to a Chinese firm. Blackstone declined to comment.

Death by 50m camera clicks: As THREE SeaWorld killer whales die in a year, a former trainer says when the show is over, the gentle giant’s lives are a ‘disgrace to humanity’

August 19, 2017

  • John Hargove was a SeaWorld trainer for 14 years, quitting his job in 2012
  • Now he wants to expose the San Diego theme park for its malpractices
  • The trainer claims the animals are kept in tanks that are too small, become violent and develop diseases they would never get in the wild
  • SeaWorld said claims are a ‘miscalculation’ and they are committed to welfare

A thousand tourists hold their breath as a giant killer whale leaps skyward, the sun gleaming off its smooth back. 

As if auditioning for a Disney movie, the two-and-a-half ton leviathan performs an elegant backflip before landing with a thunderous splash.

It’s a Thursday afternoon, but SeaWorld in San Diego, California, is packed with visitors, many of them British, all drawn by the undisputed star attractions: ten huge killer whales performing two shows daily.

Who would not be moved by such a magnificent spectacle of nature?

And yet who would not be disturbed by the accounts now emerging of how these intelligent creatures are imprisoned away from public view, ridden with disease, and separated from their family members in what one former SeaWorld trainer last night described as a ‘house of horrors’?

It is once the sun-burnt crowds have drifted away that SeaWorld’s killer whales, or orcas, are herded off to backstage pools where, with little room to dive, they swim listlessly in circles, often banging their heads against the concrete sides in boredom or frustration.

Or worse, as last week’s death of disease-ravaged Kasatka made clear. ‘Euthanised’ after falling incurably sick in her artificial environment, she is the third SeaWorld killer whale to die this year alone. 

And this, in the outspoken words of Kasatka’s former trainer, is ‘a disgrace to humanity’.

John Hargrove, a SeaWorld expert turned whistleblower, is in tears as he describes the orca’s fate to The Mail on Sunday.

‘What continues to go on in parks like SeaWorld is an abomination,’ he says.

‘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. She lived out her days in a house of horrors – and I was complicit in selling the lie to the public.’

Hargrove has already played a central part in Blackfish, an award-winning documentary which gained near cult status after its release in 2013, and caused SeaWorld’s shares and attendance figures to plummet.

Viewers were shaken by one horrific scene in which Kasatka is shown dragging trainer Ken Peters to the bottom of a tank in 2006, nearly drowning him.

SeaWorld lambasted the film, calling it ‘inaccurate and misleading’.

Yet it has helped drive a growing international movement to ban the captivity of whales and dolphins, and Hargrove, for one, is unshakeable in his convictions.

‘In the wild, these magnificent creatures live to 80, 100 years old,’ he continues. ‘I have to speak out because if it stops just one person paying to go to a park where orcas are tortured to perform circus tricks, then Kasatka’s death won’t have been in vain.’

While capturing wild orcas has been banned by many Western countries, including the US, Russia and China continue to hunt and trap them. 

Globally, 50 million people visit marine parks with captive orcas. 

Thanks to films such as Blackfish, SeaWorld and other aquatic parks have been forced to change – although the message that ‘cuddly’ cetaceans are not pets is yet to reach the wider public, as shown by the needless death of a baby dolphin in Spain last week.

New legislation in California means mothers and calves can no longer be separated and captive breeding has ended.

SeaWorld, which also has parks in Orlando, Florida, and San Antonio, Texas, owns 21 orcas and attracts 10 million visitors each year, including thousands from the UK. 

They pay up to £75 to watch the killer whales pirouette to music and ‘beach’ themselves on the concrete sides of the pool. 

In January, an orca called Tilikum, notorious for killing his female trainer, died after a long battle with a lung infection. 

Then last month, Kyara, a three-month-old orca that was born under the park’s now-defunct breeding programme, died from pneumonia. 

Now it has been announced that Kasatka, too, was put down last Tuesday. At 41, she was half the age she might have lived to in the ocean.

‘In the wild, orcas rarely show aggression towards humans. But I lost count of the attacks I witnessed and suffered first-hand,’ Hargrove says. 

‘I’ve been butted against the side of the pool, grabbed by my torso and dragged down. I’m amazed I’m still alive.’ 

Kasatka, too, had become violent in captivity, as the Blackfish film demonstrated.

‘She was one of the most dangerous animals I met,’ continues Hargrove, who suffered broken ribs, fingers, toes and facial fractures during his time as a trainer. 

‘These animals are trapped, frustrated, unhappy. Of course they take it out on humans they come into contact with. Being in a tank for years on end wrecks them mentally.’

Hargrove, 43, worked for SeaWorld for 14 years until quitting in 2012. He had been friends with Dawn Brancheau, the female trainer killed by Tilikum after he grabbed her ponytail and dragged her to her death in 2010. 

Trainers were banned from the water after that. Hargrove claims that many of the attacks are laughed off as play by park officials, or not reported at all.

‘They tried to explain Dawn’s death away as a simple misunderstanding, as horseplay. Dawn had her scalp ripped off. Her spinal cord was severed. Her left arm was ripped off.’

Perhaps it is little wonder. Blackfish exposed how the whales were forced to perform thanks to training techniques including food deprivation, and how their calves were forcibly removed and shipped to other parks (in the wild, orca families stick together for life).

‘They chew the metal bars separating the enclosures, they grind their teeth on the concrete sides of their holding pens,’ says an emotional Hargrove. 

‘Pin-holes develop in the teeth and stuff gets stuck in there, causing infections. We used to drill the teeth down, using no anaesthetic, to clean the mess out.

‘Their eyes close, their jaws quiver. It’s obviously painful.’

SeaWorld has vehemently denied charges of cruelty and put out its own moving statement last week on the death of its star attraction.

Trainer Kristi Burtis was quoted as saying: ‘Today, I lost a member of my family. I am grateful for the special time we had together and for the difference she has made for wild orcas by all we have learned from her.’

While SeaWorld officially attributed Kasatka’s death to lung disease, Hargrove believes it was caused by fungal and bacterial infections brought on by years of being force-fed antibiotics. 

‘Orcas in captivity are constantly sick. They get daily doses of antibiotics and other drugs. Eventually their immune system breaks down. By the end she had lesions on her face, like an AIDS patient. SeaWorld will never release the autopsy but the internal wounds will be far worse.

‘She suffered unbearably so that kids could watch her do tricks and SeaWorld could get richer.

‘People always ask me why I didn’t quit sooner but it’s like being in a cult. I loved the animals – I bought into the mantra that we were educating people about these magnificent creatures by allowing millions of kids and their parents to see them up close.

‘I believed we were helping the species by the breeding-in-captivity programme. In reality, Kasatka was a corporate asset worth millions of dollars to a company which only cared about her ability to perform and generate cash.’

Hargrove adds: ‘Even as I started seeing the daily reality of the pain and suffering these animals go through, I stuck with it. How could I leave Kasatka? But in the end I knew I had to speak out. It’s too late to save Kasatka but if we can end this horrific practice of keeping orcas in captivity, I will be able to die in peace.’ 

While SeaWorld admitted in its statement last week that Kasatka had been ‘chronically ill’ since 2008, Hargrove says the company chose to increase her burden further, artificially inseminating her in 2011. 

She was also one of SeaWorld’s most successful breeders, giving birth to Takara in 1991, Nakai in 2001, Kalia in 2004, and Makani in 2013. 

Ha also points out that the hot southern states of America were thousands of miles from home for Kasatka, who was captured off the coast of Iceland in 1978. 

Hargrove recalls the death of two whales from mosquito-borne diseases – encephalitis and West Nile disease. 

‘This is because they were wallowing motionless near the surface of their pools, something which doesn’t happen in nature,’ he says. ‘Wild orcas are constantly on the move and not exposed to mosquitoes, which are limited to coastal areas.’

He is haunted by the anguish he believes Kasatka felt when her first-born calf Takara was forcibly removed from her. 

‘Takara was dragged off and taken to the Texas park. Kasatka was bereft. She vocalised her pain and swam around her pool violently. 

‘Years after they were separated we played Takara’s vocal sounds to her mother and Kasatka went nuts. She never forgave or forgot.’

Today, Hargrove treasures a picture of himself with Kasatka but can barely bring himself to look at it: ‘I’m beaming. It was back before I realised how wrong it all is. I feel guilt every day that I let her down.

‘Now she’s dead. My only comfort in her death is she is no longer being exploited. Finally she is at peace.’

Last night SeaWorld said: ‘These allegations are the same distortions and mischaracterisations that have been made and discredited over the years. No one is more dedicated to the health and wellbeing of our animals than the expert veterinarians and animal care staff working with this family of killer whales every day.

‘Our animal care programmes and policies are stringently regulated by US federal laws. The US Department of Agriculture has oversight of SeaWorld. Our park is inspected annually, often multiple times a year.

‘We pass these inspections, maintaining the highest quality standards. The Association of Zoos and Aquariums said SeaWorld is meeting or exceeding the highest standard of animal care and welfare of any zoological organisation in the world.’

To view the original article as well as VIDEO of John Hargrove and New Zealand Orca Researcher Ingrid Visser visit Daily Mail.co.uk

Orca Kasatka Dead at SeaWorld—Condition Called ‘Painful Way to Die’

August 16, 2017

Orca Kasatka is dead at SeaWorld, the third orca and sixth marine mammal to die at one of its parks this year.

According to reports, Kasatka had been suffering from a bacterial lung infection since at least 2008 and her ailing body was covered in lesions before her death. Even though she was sick and on medication, SeaWorld artificially inseminated Kasatka again in 2011 and forced her to bear a fourth calf for the parks to exploit.

Former SeaWorld trainer John Hargrove told Dolphin Project, that “[h]istorically, when a necropsy is performed on an animal with this level of fungal infection, the fungal lesions are far worse internally than they are externally. It is also an incredibly painful way to die.”

This June, he told the Times of San Diego that he believed that SeaWorld was likely “doing everything known to science to keep her alive” so that Kasatka would not become the third orca to die at the parks this year. SeaWorld let her suffer until, finally, last night, the company euthanized her. She’s the 41st orca to die on SeaWorld’s watch—and not one died of old age. In death, she’s finally free.

No orca should ever have to live and die in a barren concrete cell for SeaWorld’s profits and humans’ fleeting amusement. Read Kasatka’s sad story below, and demand that SeaWorld release the remaining captive orcas to sea sanctuaries today.

The following was originally published on July 19, 2017:

Kasatka was abducted from her family and robbed of any semblance of a natural life when she was just 1 year old. Since then, she’s been held captive at various SeaWorld parks and, in recent years, has been showing signs of severe illness and infection, a contributing factor in more than half of the orca deaths at SeaWorld’s parks, according to a San Antonio Express-News investigation.

To Read the FULL story visit the source at Sea World of Hurt.com

Frustration to attacks: Why captive orcas kill | Opinion

August 3, 2017

By John Hargrove

SeaWorld’s announcement introducing their new “Up-Close tour” is troubling. This ‘educational’ opportunity, where — according to SeaWorld spokeswoman Susan Storey — “visitors can signal for whales to do a tail wave or send them off for jumps,” is a not so thinly veiled entertainment show, through and through — and likely the first of many foreseeable broken promises.

During my 14-year career as a senior trainer at SeaWorld, guest interactions with the animals posed a challenge to us as trainers, or as SeaWorld now calls them, “behaviorists.” The interactions were both predictable and boring to the orcas. Often, we withheld food from the whales so we could use larger amounts of food for the interaction so they would be motivated enough to participate. Even then, it was not uncommon for the technique to be aversive, causing whales to refuse to cooperate after the punishment of withheld meals.

Behaviorally, there can be severe consequences to boredom and predictability because this causes frustration, which is a leading cause of aggression. I personally witnessed numerous incidences of aggression by the animals toward trainers during guest interaction sequences. When it happens with orcas, the potential for serious injury and death increases exponentially.

Case in point: Dawn Brancheau.

It cannot be overlooked that Dawn was grabbed and pulled into the water by Tilikum during a very predictable part of a guest interactive “Dine with Shamu” show, immediately before she was to point him underwater to another trainer to interact with a park guest through the underwater viewing area. We will never know why Tilikum made the decisions he made that day but it was discussed internally — at a senior level — that predictability and frustration could not be discounted as a possible large contributing factor to the fatal attack. Despite attempting to categorize her death as a drowning, the gruesome fact was that she was dismembered and the released autopsy report proves it. During my killer whale career alone, SeaWorld orcas killed three different people.

Since 2013, which saw the release of the revealing documentary “Blackfish,” the strides made in ending orca captivity have been unprecedented. The passage of ‘The Orca Protection Act” in California forced SeaWorld to end their orca breeding program, made them change their circus-like theatrical shows to more ‘educational’ ones and prevented SeaWorld from separating mothers from their calves by making it illegal to ship whales across state lines. This law also prevented shipping orcas to other sea parks worldwide — including genetic material used for artificial insemination. These laws ended SeaWorld’s breeding program, but the company proclaims they voluntarily ended it, which is simply false.

The tide has turned and public sentiment has changed, no one can argue on that. The public, in ever increasing numbers, has realized it’s unethical to hold orcas and other animals in captivity for profit and entertainment, and lawmakers in the United States and multiple other countries have agreed.

Now other bills are in the pipeline which mirror the bill signed into law in California. The Florida Orca Protection Act, championed by the Animal Legal Defense Fund, would solidify in law SeaWorld’s “promises.” With the company’s recent infusion of Chinese investors— and the potential for additional backslides in corporate policy —codification can’t come soon enough.

SeaWorld’s desperate attempts to rehabilitate their image, especially in the wake of new explosive revelations of two separate federal investigations against them by the U.S. Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission regarding securities fraud, are falling flat. The facts are the facts and the public is aware and watching.

A 3-month-old orca died recently in captivity from disease, bringing the total of orca deaths in captivity in the past 10 years to 10. Most recently, Tilikum died in January of this year and Unna last year, at only 18 years old. Despite these immunosuppressive related deaths and the fact that other whales are being treated with drugs for chronic illnesses, SeaWorld still maintains that their whales are “healthy and thriving.” Even as Kasatka, the matriarch orca, fights for her life, SeaWorld maintains their party line, concealing her true condition.

As someone who has spent countless hours caring for these animals – the animals who never benefit from the revenue brought in, who continue to swim in the same small facility — and who will only grow more frustrated and potentially aggressive with increased “guest encounters,” I am forced to ask, why hasn’t SeaWorld learned from past mistakes?

Source: Sun Sentinel.com

Altman blames staff after request for workshop on SeaWorld captive breeding policy

July 26, 2017

A fight over whether to ban the captive breeding of killer whales has ensnared state Rep. Thad Altman, who is blaming his staff following the circulation of a letter bearing his name that called for a hearing on the issue.

The Indialantic lawmaker said he knew nothing about the letter, but an animal rights group that worked with his office believes he was lobbied by SeaWorld, which the group says does not want the issue discussed publicly.

Altman blames staff for the letter, which is dated May 5. In it, he said that lawmakers should consider passing a state law banning killer whale breeding and theatrical shows. In 2016, SeaWorld announced it would voluntarily take those steps after intense pressure from animal rights groups — but some groups are concerned that policy could be reversed, and have been pushing for a state law.

In the letter, Altman seemed to sympathize with those with concerns.

“As home to one of the three domestic SeaWorld theme parks holding this protected species captive, it is important that Florida explore the necessity of legislation to formally codify SeaWorld’s state corporate policy,” he wrote.

He also noted that in 2017 the Chinese-based company Zhonghong Group bought a 21 percent share in the company, an indication that corporate ownership — and policies — can change.

“Discussing whether the stated corporate practice should be codified in law is vital, as corporate leadership and ownership change constantly,” read the letter. “In fact, in March 2017, the New York Times reported that a large shareholder stake in SeaWorld has been obtained by a Chinese investment firm.”

Altman said he did not know about the letter, which was under his office’s letterhead, and that he is not even opposed to killer whale captive breeding because “we don’t have enough science” to justify a blanket ban.

“I think what happened was my aide was probably getting information from stakeholders and wrote a draft letter and probably had them take a look at it,” Altman told POLITICO Florida. “I didn’t know about it, and I’d be shocked if you found a letter that was actually signed by me. I never signed it.”

He really began getting feedback after a copy of the letter found its way to the website for the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which was using it to ask people to reach out to lawmakers on the issue.

“I have called them and asked them to remove the letter,” Altman said.

The letter specifically asks that state House Natural Resources and Public Lands Subcommittee Chairwoman Holly Raschein, R-Key Largo, hold a workshop to discuss a 2016 California law that banned killer whale captive breeding and theatrical shows. SeaWorld, which did not oppose that law, has a location in San Diego.

Travis Moore, a lobbyist for the Animal Legal Defense Fund, said that his group is concerned the SeaWorld policy can change, especially in light of the purchase by the Chinese company.

“It’s now owned by a Chinese investment firm with not a great track record with this sort of thing,” he told POLITICO Florida. “If it’s a corporate policy, why don’t we codify in law because policy can change, it probably will.”

He said he reached out to Altman because he had worked with him on other issues and he seemed like a Republican who would be open to the idea.

Not so, Altman said.

“I am not ready at this point to pass a state law banning captive breeding,” he said. “I respect SeaWorld’s decision, but I don’t think we have enough science to pass a ban.”

Moore said he thinks SeaWorld, which he says opposes the idea of a Florida law or workshop, likely persuaded Altman to change his mind.

“It certainly looks that he has been talked to,” Moore said. “Everyone has a right to change their mind, but I am still pushing forward with this.”

Moore said during last session he was told by the those who represent SeaWorld that they did not want the issue to be the subject of legislation or discussed publicly.

“It was made clear to me in the Governor’s Lounge. They said, ‘If we could give any wiggle room, we would, but on this issue we can’t,’” Moore said. “They said, ‘We can’t have this issue discussed.’”

The Orlando-based company declined comment. Altman said SeaWorld reached out to him to see if he had actually requested a workshop, but he would not elaborate on the conversation.

“I don’t want to speak for them,” he said. “You would have to ask them.”

Source: Politico.com

SeaWorld Stock Sinks Amid Federal Probes; Care of Key Orca Kasatka Debated

June 27, 2017

SeaWorld shareholders had a sinking feeling Monday — three days after the Orlando-based theme park company announced it was under investigation by the SEC and U.S. Justice Department.

Fallout from the critical 2013 documentary “Blackfish” continued to take its toll. Share prices fell 6 percent to under $15 but inched back over $15 in after hours and early Tuesday trading.

(Before “Blackfish,” shares were as high as $39.65. At one point in September 2016, they had tanked to $11.77.)

Late Friday afternoon, SeaWorld revealed it had received a DOJ subpoena this month “concerning disclosures and public statements” it and “certain executives and/or individuals” made around August 2014, “including those regarding the impact of the ‘Blackfish’ documentary, and trading in the company’s securities.”

The Securities and Exchange Commission also asked for information; SeaWorld didn’t say when.

But former SeaWorld orca trainer John Hargrove, who appeared in “Blackfish” and wrote a book slamming his former employer, told Times of San Diego: “I’ve known about this SEC thing for two years. SeaWorld was covering it up somehow.”

A SeaWorld spokesman wouldn’t go beyond its 128-word statement on a Form 8-K filing — an unscheduled notice to shareholders of important company information.

SeaWorld San Diego’s David Koontz stressed Monday that the filing states: “The Company has cooperated with these government inquiries and intends to continue to cooperate with any government requests or inquiries.”

But MarketWatch also noted: “SeaWorld already faces an investor lawsuit focusing on the documentary, contending that executives ‘knew or were reckless in not knowing that “Blackfish” was impacting SeaWorld’s business.’ The suit seeks class-action status and compensation for investors who purchased SeaWorld shares between April 18, 2013, and Aug. 13, 2014, and a trial date of Sept. 18, 2018, has been set, according to SeaWorld’s filings with the SEC.”

Meanwhile, SeaWorld critics accused the company of not sharing honest information on the health of one of its prize orcas — SeaWorld San Diego matriarch Kasatka.

A widely shared post Saturday on the Dolphin Project alleged that Kasatka, mother of four SeaWorld killer whales and grandmother or great-grandmother of eight others, was near death from an undisclosed fungal infection.

SeaWorld in August 2016 said: “We have been treating Kasatka for a bacterial respiratory infection for several years.”

But Hargrove, who once worked with Kasatka, told Times of San Diego that SeaWorld was “doing everything known to science to keep her alive” for the sake of avoiding a third orca death in relatively quick succession — including the male Tillikum in January.

Hargrove shared photos that he says show open sores, and lesions over the orca’s face and skin, indicative of a massive fungal infection. Also what looks like “necrotic tissue,” or dead skin. (He said the photos were by a park visitor known as “Elizabeth.”)

Recent photo said to be of SeaWorld matriarch Kasatka. Image copyright Elizabeth via John Hargrove

“She has no immune system left,” he said in a phone interview. “She’s doped up with antibiotics. … I’ve never seen a whale torn up so badly.”

SeaWorld posted an FAQ in which it denied Kasatka has a fungal infection. But it allowed that “If an animal needs help, we provide it,” not ruling out use of antibiotics.

Citing recent photos, Hargrove also alleged that trainers were injecting hazardous-to-humans Regu-Mate into fish fed to Kasatka.

Hargrove called it a “very dangerous drug that only male trainers are allowed to administer” and only if they wear gloves. Female trainers could suffer infertility, he said.

He said the drug — marketed by Merck — has “gnarly, bad side effects for the whales.”

On Monday, spokesman Koontz confirmed the use of Regu-Mate, an equine drug also known as altrenogest that suppresses estrus in mares — keeping them calm in their cycles of uncontrollable “heat.”

“Kasatka is currently on Regu-Mate for birth-control purposes only,” Koontz said. “Regu-Mate is not part of her treatment program for her respiratory infection.”

Regarding the lesion accusations, Koontz said: “Our veterinarians suspect that her illness may have extended to her skin, or may be the result of the medication she is receiving.”

He said Kasatka has been regularly “sloughing off” the outermost layers of her skin in a number of areas on her body.

“However, her behaviorists and veterinarians see new growth underneath, which is good,” Koontz said. “This sloughing skin is also hyperpigmented, which is also probably secondary to some of her medication. There is no necrotic tissue.”

Although Hargrove has been an expert witness on orca health in various court cases, Koontz said the former Pacific Beach resident “is not a veterinarian and is not familiar with Kasatka’s condition, so it’s unclear why he would make those allegations.”

Moreover, Koontz said: “While we will continue to provide the best care for Kasatka, we know that this is a progressive disease, and understand that as she and her immune system age, she will continue to have a more difficult time fending off the illness.”

He said SeaWorld’s animal care team “remains passionately committed to ensuring her illness is properly managed and that above all else she continues to live a quality life.”

Tracy Reiman, executive vice president of SeaWorld nemesis PETA, said in a statement Monday: “The fate of captive orcas is to endure a miserable life and death. It’s too late for Kasatka, but it’s not too late for SeaWorld to start building sea sanctuaries for the other orcas trapped inside its tiny tanks, including Kasatka’s daughter and newborn grandchild in San Antonio. The decades of orca torment must end now.”

Fellow animal-rights advocate Naomi Rose — a renowned marine mammal scientist with the Animal Welfare Institute — said: “Without more information, I cannot say that Kasatka is near death.”

But statistically, she said, “it is likely that Kasatka will die soon. Kasatka is very old for a captive female whale (she is about 40-41 years old). Most female orcas who have died did so well before their 40th year. Only a handful are older than 35 at this time (Corky, also in San Diego, Lolita in Miami, Katina in Orlando and Kiska in Canada).”

But she agreed with Hargrove that SeaWorld is “not being forthcoming or transparent about the situation.”

“They should simply tell the truth about her health,” Rose said via email Monday. “This should not be something we are all speculating about – we should know, because SeaWorld should be accurately and without drama telling the public what is happening.”

SeaWorld spokesman Koontz said that the park would continue to provide updates on Kasatka’s condition — via its websites and social media (such as June 20 Facebook Live below) — “as we have new information to share.”

“It is worth noting that pneumonia, or respiratory inflammation or infection, is the number one cause of illness and mortality seen in all cetaceans, both in the wild and in zoological care,” he said. “Unlike wild orcas, Kasatka has been provided quality veterinary care to treat her respiratory infection.”

To View the original article and watch the two VIDEOS visit the source at Times of San Diego.com

SeaWorld under investigation by two federal agencies

June 25, 2017

SeaWorld is under investigation by two federal agencies who subpoenaed statements made by the company and its executives on or before August 2014 regarding the impact of the “Blackfish Documentary,” according to Securities and Exchange Commission filings published Friday. 

The theme-park company reports receiving subpoenas in June from the U.S. Department of Justice as part of an investigation into statements about the 2013 anti-captivity documentary “and trading in the Company’s securities.”

The filing also indicates the company received similar subpoenas from the SEC, although it is unclear when those were received. 

“The Company has cooperated with these government inquiries and intends to continue to cooperate with any government requests or inquiries,” the filing says. 

The filing also indicates the company’s board of directors formed a special committee with legal counsel to determine how to handle these investigations on June 16, two days after the company’s shareholder meeting. 

The full SEC disclosure reads as follows: 

In June 2017, the Company received a subpoena in connection with an investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice concerning disclosures and public statements made by the Company and certain executives and/or individuals on or before August 2014, including those regarding the impact of the ‘Blackfish’ documentary, and trading in the Company’s securities. The Company also has received subpoenas from the staff of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission in connection with these matters. On June 16, 2017, the Company’s Board of Directors formed a Special Committee comprised of independent directors with respect to these inquiries. The Special Committee has engaged counsel to advise and assist the Committee. The Company has cooperated with these government inquiries and intends to continue to cooperate with any government requests or inquiries.

Source: My Dayton Daily News.com