Tag Archives: oceans

Octopuses are ‘too smart’ to eat — and so are other sea animals

By Paula Moore

Gwyneth Paltrow made headlines recently when she declared that octopuses are “too smart to be food.” During a Slack chat with her Goop coworkers, Paltrow recounted the story of Inky — the octopus who famously escaped from his enclosure at the National Aquarium of New Zealand and slid down a 164-foot drainpipe to freedom — and said, “I had to stop eating them.”

She’s right: Octopuses are extremely intelligent, resourceful and inquisitive, and we would do well to leave these Einsteins of the ocean off our plates. But I’d go even further than Paltrow: We should give all sea animals the benefit of the doubt and take seriously the moral implications of eating them.

Paltrow is hardly the first person to come to the conclusion that clever octopuses are friends, not food. Several years ago, a chain of aquariums in the U.K. launched a campaign to urge the public to stop eating them. “[A]ny aquarist who has worked for any length of time with octopuses will tell you they not only think … they are all individuals,” explained Sea Life curator Aisling Graham at the time.

Octopuses use tools, communicate with one another and form social bonds. They have been observed carrying and using coconut shells as shelter and wielding the poisonous tentacles of Portuguese man-of-wars like swords. They can navigate mazes, solve puzzles and open childproof jars.

Octopuses’ cephalopod cousins — squid and cuttlefish — are also highly intelligent, self-aware animals. Squid can pass the “mirror test,” which is commonly used to demonstrate self-recognition and consciousness. And both squid and cuttlefish use complicated color patterns and waves to communicate with potential mates, prey and rival suitors. Some researchers have likened these displays to a type of visual language.

But cephalopods aren’t the only smarties in the sea. Rabbitfish pair up and take turns keeping watch for predators so that their friends can safely eat. Rainbowfish can learn to escape a net via a single hole after only five trial runs — and remember the escape route a year later. Catfish and cichlids glue their eggs to leaves and small rocks so that they can carry the precious cargo to safety. And goldfish can tell the difference between music by Bach and by Stravinsky.

Scientists have verified that sea animals are also capable of experiencing pain. Octopus expert Dr. Jennifer Mather says, “[Octopuses] can anticipate a painful, difficult, stressful situation — they can remember it. There is absolutely no doubt that they feel pain.” Biologist Culum Brown, author of a study about fish sentience in the journal Animal Cognition, maintains that “it would be impossible for fish to survive as the cognitively and behaviorally complex animals they are without a capacity to feel pain.”

And Dr. Jonathan Balcombe, author of What a Fish Knows: The Inner Lives of Our Underwater Cousins, says that we “grossly underestimate” fish. “They are not just things; they are sentient beings with lives that matter to them.” Yet despite the evidence that fish are smart, sensitive animals with a capacity for suffering, we continue to kill them by the billions every year. According to Balcombe, “lined up end to end,” these estimated half-trillion dead fish “would reach the sun.”

We continue to learn more about the intelligence, talent and awe-inspiring capabilities of other animals. If we want to call ourselves “thinking animals,” the least we can do is acknowledge that each of these beings is an individual — a “who,” not a “what” — and allow them to live their lives in peace.

What is SeaWorld hiding?


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.

Tilikum’s death must prompt a sea change


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.

The future of sustainable seafood

By Jennifer Bates
Driverless cars, virtual-reality theme parks, human tissue produced by 3-D printers—it seems that nearly every day there’s a new technological advancement that sets the world abuzz with excitement. But, while these innovations will no doubt improve lives, what could be more exciting than an innovation that can improve the world? Enter, shrimp created in a laboratory.
Yes, shrimp. You’ve likely heard of laboratories that grow beef patties from real bovine cells, but these days all eyes are on re-creating one of the tiniest living beings … from scratch. This shrimp differs from other lab-produced meats in that it contains no animal protein. How is that possible? Scientists simply analyzed shrimp at the molecular level in order to build a replica out of algae and other plant proteins. The result is a product that tastes and feels like the real thing—so much so that a major tech company has already placed an order for it to be served in its staff cafeteria.
And synthetic shrimp is much more than science fiction come to life—it is an absolute necessity.
Shrimp are fascinating social beings. They use sound or polarized light to communicate, and one shrimp species is even considered to be the loudest animal on the planet. Some live in complex colonies similar to beehives, while others mate for life. And they can live for more than six years.
But our dinner plates belie the tale told by these remarkable characteristics. Every year, Americans consume 1.3 billion pounds of these interesting little animals. We pull them from their watery homes, rip off their exoskeletons and boil them without a second thought.
And it’s not just shrimp who suffer, thanks to our gluttony. We Americans expect our shrimp to be plentiful, and we expect them to be cheap. But the prevalence of low-cost shrimp is an ecological disaster: Boats that net wild shrimp are also responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of endangered sea turtles each year in the U.S. alone, while shrimp farms create cesspools of antibiotics, fertilizers, pesticides, feces and other waste. And despite their tiny size, farmed shrimp’s carbon footprint packs a wallop, roughly 10 times more damaging than that of beef.
Humans suffer, too. Investigations in Thailand have revealed that the country’s $7 billion shrimp export industry and modern-day slavery often go insidiously hand-in-hand. The forced laborers—including children and victims of human trafficking—spend up to 16 hours a day with their hands in icy water as they peel and disembowel shrimp, which then make their way around the globe, including into U.S. grocery stores and restaurants. 
Lab-produced shrimp is free of these drawbacks. Greenhouse-gas emissions generated from creating meat in a laboratory are up to 96 percent lower than those from producing traditional meat, and there is no resulting disruption to ecosystems or food chains. No humans must toil for hours to peel these shrimp, which are naturally shell-free. And unlike the disingenuous “humanely raised” labels slapped onto meat from animals who were still abused and slaughtered, this meat truly is humane. 
Synthetic shrimp — what’s not to love? The future’s so close, you can literally taste it.

Please vote for Ed Markey tomorrow!

I remember the BP spill – how thousands upon thousands of animal and fish suffered horrific deaths, how thousands of fishermen’s businesses and jobs were lost …. . I also remember Ed Markey, a congressman from Massachusetts, ripping into BP, willing to go toe to toe with these lying billionaires. He demanded the ‘oilcam’ be set up so people could monitor the millions of gallons of oil gushing into the ocean. That undersea camera, on 24/7, powerfully conveyed the deadly havoc humankind can wreak on the environment, all in the name of the all-mighty buck.

I was totally impressed with Markey and the way he dealt with BP. He wanted them to be fully responsible for the aquatic hell they unleashed. Tomorrow I will remember Markey’s stand for the environment when I go into the voting booth. I will vote for Ed Markey, who is also all too aware of the perils of global warming and the brash stupidity of the Keystone pipeline. America’s future, the world’s future, is inexorably tied to the health of our oceans, air, land and beautiful fauna and flora. Ed Markey gets this.

To learn more about Markey, and where he stands on other issues such as jobs, please visit his informational website www.edmarkey.com


He will make a great US senator. It is important to have another foward-leaning environmentalist in the senate.

Thank you!

Rosalie Tirella
InCity Times

SeaWorld: a world of suffering!

By Debbie Leahy

SeaWorld’s damage control team is in overdrive following the tragic death of a trainer who was attacked by one of the theme park’s captive orcas. But if SeaWorld held news conferences every time an animal died at its facilities, people would be staying away in droves. SeaWorld, which owns most of the captive orcas and bottlenose dolphins in the U.S., has one of the worst animal care records in the country.

Twenty-one orcas died in U.S. SeaWorld facilities between 1986 and 2008 — an average of nearly one each year for 22 years. Their deaths were caused by a range of factors, including severe trauma, intestinal gangrene, acute hemorrhagic pneumonia, pulmonary abscesses, chronic kidney disease, chronic cardiovascular failure, septicemia and influenza. In some cases, the cause of death could not even be determined, but it is clear that none of these animals died of old age. Dozens of bottlenose dolphins have also died at SeaWorld. Marine mammals are literally dying to entertain you.

Ocean animals inhabit vast, fascinating and complex worlds. Orcas are intelligent predators who work cooperatively in search of food. They share intricate relationships and swim as much as 100 miles every day. At SeaWorld, orcas perform circus-type tricks for food; swim endless circles in small, barren concrete tanks; and live far short of the 60-year maximum life span that orcas enjoy in the wild. Their worlds have been reduced from fathoms to gallons. Continue reading SeaWorld: a world of suffering!