Tag Archives: captive orcas

What is SeaWorld hiding?

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By Dr. Heather Rally

Anyone who followed the tragic life of Tilikum, the orca at SeaWorld who recently died, should be wondering why SeaWorld is refusing to provide specific details about what led to his death.

The corporation did tell federal officials — it is legally required to do so — that Tilikum’s cause of death was bacterial pneumonia, but all other details remain a mystery.

Necropsies, or animal autopsies, provide important information about the state of an animal’s health prior to and at the time of death. After years of reassurances by SeaWorld that Tilikum was generally in good health, at least until the last year of his life, the public deserves to know what, if any, issues contributed to the development of the pneumonia that reportedly killed him.

Did he have any other infections or any injuries?

What was the state of his heart and other internal organs?

Did Tilikum’s ground-down teeth play a role in his illness and death?

Once upon a time, the public actually did have the right to know the contents of a captive marine mammal’s necropsy report. Public display permits issued by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) under the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) routinely required that these reports be submitted.

But thanks to the lobbying of the captive-animal industry, including SeaWorld, in 1994, Congress took away the NMFS’ authority to include any permit requirement for captive animal care and maintenance, including necropsy reports.

Since then, only the aquariums, zoos and marine theme parks holding whales and dolphins have been privy to the details of the causes of animals’ deaths. Information with enormous scientific value on species that are federally protected and held in trust for the American people by the captive-animal industry has become proprietary.

Tilikum’s situation is different, however. His import permit — issued prior to the 1994 MMPA amendments — requires that a necropsy and clinical history be submitted to the government within 30 days of his death. This is because he came to the U.S. as a killer killer whale — the NMFS wanted to learn what, if anything, a necropsy might reveal when this whale, who had drowned a trainer in Canada before being imported, finally died. Given that he subsequently killed two more people, this requirement now seems highly prescient. Yet SeaWorld has not submitted the report, claiming that the amendments, which passed after the permit was issued, effectively voided that reporting requirement.

The federal government must not allow SeaWorld’s self-serving assertion to go unchallenged.

It was about a year ago when SeaWorld first announced that Tilikum was in failing health, and at 37, he is the first captive male orca who can genuinely be said to have died at an old age. This makes his necropsy report even more valuable. Bacterial pneumonia is a leading cause of death in captive orcas and is also frequently seen in stranded whales and dolphins in the wild. It is often unknown, however, whether pneumonia in wild whales is the primary cause of death or the result of debilitation from another disease process. Coupled with his detailed life history, which is typically absent for stranded animals, Tilikum’s necropsy and pathology reports could contain information that would be applicable to wild whales. Releasing these reports to the greater scientific community and to the public is simply sound science and good policy.

If any good whatsoever can come from Tilikum’s tortured existence, it’s that learning more about what killed him could prevent the same thing from happening to other orcas, both in captivity and in the wild.

SeaWorld should disclose Tilikum’s health records. If it does not, the NMFS should enforce the requirements of Tilikum’s permit, compel SeaWorld to submit the reports and make them available to the public.

Other animal exploiters would be wise to follow Ringling’s example

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Nearly 40 orcas have died on SeaWorld’s watch.

By Craig Shapiro

The writing on the wall couldn’t have been clearer: protests outside every venue, empty seats inside and a seismic shift in the public’s attitude toward keeping animals in captivity and beating them until they perform. After years of stonewalling, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus finally acknowledged the message. A blatant animal exploiter since its inception almost 150 years ago, it announced this month that it’s going dark in May.

For the animals in the circus, the final show can’t come soon enough. But if Ringling — whose trainers kept elephants in chains and beat them with bullhooks (heavy batons with a sharp steel hook on one end) and will keep whipping lions and tigers until the curtain falls — can acknowledge that the days of abusing animals are coming to an end, how long will it be before other circuses follow suit?

Not long: Cole Bros. Circus folded its tent last year, the Big Apple Circus recently filed for bankruptcy and audiences are sparse at Shriners-sponsored circuses.

The public is rightfully appalled by the horrific abuse that circuses like Carson & Barnes inflict on animals, such as viciously beating elephants until they scream, as well as by the negligence that has allowed elephants to escape and run amok. The U.S. Department of Agriculture filed charges against the circus for two 2014 incidents that put elephants and the public at risk.

In the first, three elephants were on the run for nearly an hour after being frightened by a raucous crowd in Missouri. Two of them were injured. A month later in Pennsylvania, an adult and child got dangerously close to an elephant and took a photo. Carson & Barnes is lucky that this grievous safety violation didn’t result in catastrophe: Elephants who are forced to perform in the circus and spend their lives in chains have been known to snap.

The Kelly Miller Circus has a sordid history of federal Animal Welfare Act violations, including public endangerment and failure to provide veterinary records. The outfit still hauls an aging African elephant named Anna Louise around the country. She was taken from her home and family in Zimbabwe and has spent three decades alone, even though these intelligent, social beings need the companionship of other elephants in order to thrive.

Animal abuse and exploitation aren’t limited to circus tents. Orcas, dolphins and other marine animals imprisoned in SeaWorld’s aquatic circuses are also denied everything that’s natural and important to them. But the abusement park is beginning to see the writing on the wall.

Bowing to public pressure and a ruling by the California Coastal Commission, it ended its orca-breeding program in 2016.

It has said, though, that it will keep holding orcas in tiny concrete tanks, where they could languish for decades — if they live that long — unless they’re released to seaside sanctuaries, where they could swim free, socialize and experience some semblance of a natural life.

Nearly 40 orcas have died on SeaWorld’s watch, including Tilikum, the subject of the lauded documentary Blackfish. His death on January 5, after more than three decades in captivity, moved compassionate people around the world. But the sea change in public opinion isn’t new: The company’s attendance and profits have been tanking for years, and as a result, 320 employees were recently laid off.

It’s high time that Carson & Barnes Circus, the Kelly Miller Circus, SeaWorld and other animal exploiters followed Ringling’s example and did what’s right: Empty the tanks and unlock the cages.

Tilikum’s death must prompt a sea change

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By John Di Leonardo

Tilikum — the orca who was the subject of Blackfish, the damning documentary about SeaWorld — is dead. Death is likely the only peace he has known in more than three decades. We must make sure that he is the last orca to perish in a SeaWorld tank.

Wild orcas live in stable, nurturing, social family pods. They work cooperatively, circling schools of herring, for example, to force them to the surface and then taking turns eating. Captive orcas live in grotesquely unnatural conditions and are prevented from engaging in the fundamental kinds of behavior most important to them: diving to great depths, hunting and catching their own meals, and swimming vast distances with their families every day. As of December 2016, there were more than 50 orcas suffering in captivity at a dozen marine parks around the world.

Even though every performing orca at SeaWorld is called “Shamu,” they aren’t interchangeable. The species is made up of many different social groups, or clans. Each community shares ancestry, culture and distinct dialects (one description of their language calls it “as different as Greek and Russian”). Researchers believe that these disparate groups don’t interact in the wild, even though their ranges sometimes overlap. Even their food preferences differ. As Howard Garrett, cofounder of the Orca Network, puts it, “They depend on their society and live accordingly by old traditions.”

But in captivity, individuals from different social groups are often housed together, which — coupled with the lack of space — can lead to aggression and fights. There’s no way to escape from a conflict in a tank. Nearly all captive orcas are scarred with “rake marks,” which are lesions—often deep—on their skin inflicted by the teeth of another animal during an attack. Tilikum himself was frequently cut, rammed and raked, after which he was regularly placed in total isolation.

Being confined to an oversized fish bowl causes orcas to lose their minds. They destroy their teeth by chewing on the steel divider bars of the tank or eating paint off the walls. Sometimes they decide “enough” and lash out — with tragic results — as Tilikum did on three occasions. Because of the tremendous stress and frustration caused by life in captivity, many facilities drug orcas with diazepam (valium) or other psychoactive drugs in an attempt to manage their aggressive behavior.

Public opposition to marine-mammal captivity is growing rapidly, and unless facilities that have long exploited animals for profit recognize that their business model is dead, they are doomed.

Sea sanctuaries — large, protected ocean coves — would allow orcas greater freedom of movement; the ability to see, sense and communicate with their wild cousins and other ocean animals; and the opportunity to feel the tides and waves and engage in the forms of behavior that define who they are. Captive orcas could make the transition to these safe harbors gradually and be closely monitored. Visitors would be able to observe from viewing platforms and learn more about their natural behavior. It is even possible that wild-caught orcas, including Katina, Kasatka, Ulises, Morgan and Corky, could be rehabilitated and returned to their rightful homes and families.

Tilikum is dead. His life was filled with misery, deprivation and loss. We cannot in good conscience sentence one more orca to the same wretched fate.

2016 was a good year for animals

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Rose rescued Cece in 2016 …  pic: R.T.

The Worcester Animal Rescue League on Holden Street is where Rose got her Husky-Mountain Feist cross “Jett,” the late great Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever “Bailey” and beautiful brindle greyhound-lab cross “Grace.” All homeless dogs that needed to be rescued!

If you can’t adopt a homeless cat or dog – do the next best thing: VOLUNTEER on behalf of animals. There are infinite ways to help! A good place to start is  WARL (open to the public 7 days a week, noon to 4 p.m.)! To learn more and see their dogs and cats up for adoption, CLICK HERE!       – R.T.

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Lots happened in 2016 besides the election

By Jennifer O’Connor

Most Americans are still feeling a bit frayed by the divisiveness of the presidential election. It’s easy to feel jaded and worn out, and many commentators are happy to see the end of 2016.

But while it was easy to get caught up in the more lurid headlines, a ton of uplifting things happened in the past year, particularly for animals used in the entertainment industry.

Let’s begin with elephants. Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, which has been forcing elephants to travel and perform for more than a century, pulled the animals off the road in May. They will no longer be chained up and hauled around in fetid boxcars. When a circus as big as Ringling makes a decision like that, you know the days of performing elephants are numbered.

The National Aquarium in Baltimore also made a precedent-setting decision: It will send the eight dolphins currently in its possession to a coastal sanctuary. Animal advocates around the world have called on aquariums and theme parks to stop exhibiting marine mammals—and this is the first step. Protected sea pools afford dolphins and orcas room to move around and some degree of autonomy and self-determination. They’re able to see, sense and communicate with their wild cousins and other ocean animals — and they finally get to feel the tides and waves and have the opportunity to engage in the kinds of behavior that they’ve long been denied.

SeaWorld is starting to see the writing on the wall. In May, the corporation announced that it would stop breeding future generations of orcas, who would have to spend their lives in cramped tanks. But kind people everywhere are calling on the corporation to release all its animals into coastal sanctuaries. As the public’s condemnation of captive marine mammal displays continues to grow, there’s little doubt that protected sea pens are the wave of the future.

Travel giant TripAdvisor recognized the trend towards compassionate tourism and stopped selling tickets to most excursions using animals for entertainment, including cruel “swim with dolphins” programs, elephant rides and tiger photo ops. Since many facilities dupe visitors into believing that they’re helping animals, many vacationers unwittingly support cruelty by patronizing them. But by informing travelers about the dark underside of these excursions and refusing to offer them, TripAdvisor’s new policy will have a very real impact on animal exploitation in tourist traps.

Nearly a half-dozen roadside zoos — where animals suffered in filthy, ramshackle cages — closed their doors in 2016. Families are turning their backs on exhibits in which bears are confined to concrete pits and tigers pace in fetid pens.

But progress for animals hasn’t been limited to the U.S. In Argentina, a judge found that Cecilia, a chimpanzee languishing in a Mendoza zoo, isn’t a “thing” but rather a sentient being who is “subject to nonhuman rights” — and ordered that she be sent to a sanctuary. Countries as disparate as Norway and Iran banned exotic-animal acts.

Argentina passed a ban on greyhound racing, sparing countless dogs a short, grim life in the “sport.” India’s Supreme Court upheld a ban on a cruel pastime called jallikattu—in which bullocks are raced and often struck with whips and nail-studded sticks to make them run faster. And the annual Toro de la Vega “festival” — in which a young bull is chased through the streets of Tordesillas, Spain, and stabbed with darts and spears — was banned.

While 2016 was a good year for animals, there’s always more to be done. We all have the power to spare animals pain and suffering in the year ahead—and beyond—simply by making kind choices about what we do for entertainment.

Are orcas at SeaWorld suffering from PTSD?

By Dr. Hope Ferdowsian and Dr. Carol Tavani
 
There is no longer any serious disagreement among scientists that humans aren’t the only animals who have the capacity to suffer physically and mentally. Elephants, great apes, orcas, dogs, cats and many others can experience depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety and compulsive disorders.
 
We know that humans and other animals suffer in parallel ways because of similarities in brain structure, physiology, behavior and responses to comparable medical interventions. It’s likely that animals suffer even more than many humans generally, simply because it’s impossible for them to make sense of what is happening to them, escape from it or alter their conditions.
 
In humans, PTSD and mood disorders, such as major depressive disorder, are commonly diagnosed after acute, repeated or chronic trauma. These types of stressors can sometimes overwhelm normal responses, which can cause persistent physiological and structural changes in the brain.
 
Brain structures and neuroendocrine mechanisms associated with mood and anxiety disorders are shared across a wide range of vertebrates. The hippocampus, found in all mammals, is a brain structure involved in memory storage and retrieval. In humans, PTSD has been associated with reductions in hippocampal volume or activity, perhaps because of recurrent and chronically elevated levels of cortisol, followed by changes in the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, which helps regulate stress.
 
Abnormalities of this axis have been observed and documented in animals subjected to confinement, restraint, isolation or surgical procedures—all of which are routinely faced by orcas in SeaWorld’s tanks. Like humans with PTSD, throughout their lives, captive orcas suffer from threats to their physical health and families as well as exhibiting persistent fear, distress, avoidant behaviors and increased aggression.
 
Intelligent, sensitive orcas are waiting for a reprieve from their daily suffering. As is the case with humans, the best way to alleviate their distress is by removing the conditions that contribute to it—including imprisonment, social isolation and painful procedures—and by giving them the opportunity to live as nature intended.
 
Ultimately, we must ask ourselves, as a society, how we will allow those who are the most vulnerable to us — both human and nonhuman — to be treated.
 
As we’ve seen with SeaWorld, an impassioned public response can make all the difference. It’s time to acknowledge that justice for animals is the great social movement of our time and that the time for making it a reality is now.

SeaWorld must empty its tanks

By Jared S. Goodman

Even though SeaWorld was the last to accept it, the corporation has finally conceded: Orcas do not belong in tanks. And just as Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus did when it announced the end of its elephant shows, SeaWorld CEO Joel Manby admitted that an “attitudinal change” in the public prompted the decision.
 
As almost everyone knows by now, SeaWorld has announced that it has ended its orca breeding program. This means that this generation of orcas should be the last to suffer in SeaWorld’s tanks.
 
While welcome, the decision does not go far enough. Instead of forcing orcas to continue suffering for years, perhaps decades, in cramped tanks, SeaWorld must take the next logical step and begin the development of coastal sanctuaries that would allow the remaining orcas to become reacquainted with their natural ocean home.
 
Such protected seas pens would give orcas greater freedom of movement and many opportunities that they are now denied: to see, sense and communicate with their wild relatives and other ocean animals; to feel the tides and waves; and to engage in other natural behavior that is not possible when confined to a tank. They would have a degree of autonomy and self-determination. Family groups could be preserved, and incompatible animals wouldn’t be forced to live together. Caregivers would remain at a safe distance but could monitor the orcas and provide them with food as well as veterinary care if necessary. Visitors could observe them from viewing platforms. 
 
Orcas can recover their sanity, even after years in captivity. Let’s not forget Keiko, a wild orca who was captured near Iceland and sold to a series of aquariums, where he was forced to perform tricks for food. He became sick and severely depressed. After the movie Free Willy prompted the call for his retirement, he was moved to the Oregon Coast Aquarium and successfully rehabilitated.

Then in 1998, he was transferred to an ocean pen near Iceland. While his adjustment wasn’t completely trouble-free, Keiko was nevertheless able to communicate with nearby orca pods. He didn’t have to perform. He learned to catch his own food. Even though he was still being monitored by his rehabilitators, he navigated more than 1,000 miles of open ocean and was living free when he died in December 2003 — nearly eight years after he was rescued from his tank in Mexico City and five years after he was first placed in the sea pen.

Orcas Tilikum, Katina, Corky, Kasatka and Ulises—like Keiko, all torn from their ocean homes and forced to spend their lives in tanks—could get to experience some of the same pleasures. Every orca at SeaWorld deserves this. 

Unfortunately, it will probably be too late for Tilikum. Reportedly near death, he has spent three decades in captivity, forced to perform stupid tricks and used as a breeding machine. Kidnapped when he was only about 2 years old, he has never again known the joy of swimming with his family or exploring the vast ocean. 

The tide has forever turned at SeaWorld. PETA’s celebrity supporters, including Kate del Castillo, Jason Biggs, Jessica Biel, Wilmer Valderrama, Bob Barker, Marisa Miller and Joanna Krupa, have all worked to expose the unnatural living conditions and untimely deaths of animals in SeaWorld’s tanks, and people around the world were outraged after watching Blackfish, which documented the misery.
 
Until SeaWorld takes the next step and does what’s right for the animals who have long served its interests, kind people will continue to stay far away.