Tag Archives: Sea World

The Georgia Aquarium and The Art of War

The Georgia Aquarium has announced that it will not appeal the decision of Judge Amy Totenberg in Georgia Aquarium v Pritzker.  Resounding huzzahs were heard in all camps of those opposing captivity.  Feelings nearing jubilation and celebration of victory were shared across social media.

The Georgia Aquarium fights to import wild beluga whales.

The Georgia Aquarium stands down on this phase to import wild beluga whales.

The Georgia Aquarium’s decision not to appeal, however, came as no surprise, and signals little more than that the management at the aquarium was listening to legal counsel.  Its chances of overturning Judge Totenberg’s decision were miniscule, if that.  And so the Georgia Aquarium merely decided that standing down on this permit appeal was the right decision in this war over marine mammal captivity.  The Georgia Aquarium claimed that the appeal would have been costly; this much is true.  It does not say that the appeal would have been futile, but that, too, is most likely true as well.

When the Georgia Aquarium acknowledges that continuing the appeal “would not be in the best interest of the animals in Russia,” it likely means something different than what marine mammal advocates consider “best interest.” Does the Georgia Aquarium intend to step away from its stated goal of creating “a sustainable population of belugas at accredited zoological facilities in North America?”  Notably, its statement did not go that far.

The Art of War by Sun Tzu

We are waging a war against captivity. The Art of War by Sun Tzu

So, to the celebrants I say, as we claim a tactical victory, study the art of war.  Consider where and how this announcement plays in the overall war.  Know that this victory came as a result of little more than the Georgia Aquarium’s arrogance and feeling of entitlement at stealing wild animals from the ocean and importing them into the United States and of the system of laws working.  Appreciate the possibility that the Georgia Aquarium learned something valuable to itself in this war and how to play in the next battle, a battle that may not invoke a “taking”, a battle that may not involve a “Near Threatened” species.

Prepare yourself for the next battle.

Because it will come.

Beluga Cousteau quote

SeaWorld’s cluelessness about anything “natural”

As SeaWorld describes on its own page, SeaWorld Cares, its President and CEO Joel Manby announced, “the company has initiated production on a new orca presentation for its San Diego park.”  The new presentation will showcase “more of the species’ natural behaviors.”

The new experience will engage and inform guests by highlighting more of the species’ natural behaviors.

SeaWorld has provided little to no detail on what is meant by this, but the following image from its website may provide some clues.

What does this picture tell the public about what SeaWorld has in mind for its new show format?

What does this picture tell the public about what SeaWorld has in mind for its new show format?  Image from SeaWorld Cares.

I guess that SeaWorld is attempting to make the point that because, in the wild, orcas breach, when SeaWorld trains the orcas in its collection (by using food deprivation) to jump out of the water, this is a natural behavior.

But if it isn’t exactly clear that this is what SeaWorld means, one can read further in its blog for tells.  Describing the following image, SeaWorld states that “[i]t’s going to be focused more on the natural setting, natural environment and also the natural behaviors of the whales.”

SeaWorld's next example of "natural behaviors." Image from SeaWorld Cares.

SeaWorld’s next example of “natural behaviors.”  Image from SeaWorld Cares.

So, yet another image of orcas leaping out of the water is provided, with the implication, again, that because orcas leap out of the water in the ocean, when they do so upon command in a concrete tank, this makes it a “natural behavior.”  Never mind that the wild orcas are not rewarded with frozen, dead fish or signaled “trick successfully completed” by the toot of the trainer’s whistle, or “bridge”.  SeaWorld is apparently telling us that this is natural behavior.

The concept of “natural behaviors” seems to be the focus, because nothing in SeaWorld’s presentation to stockholders on October 9 or on its SeaWorld Cares site would indicate that “natural setting” or “natural environment” is truly in the offing for its collection of orcas.  Quite to the contrary, SeaWorld has steadfastly refused to signal any support for the creation of actual natural settings or environments, like a marine sanctuary.  In fact Mr. Manby has reportedly stated that “doing so would only lead to the orcas to get sick, and likely die.”

But what might SeaWorld have in mind to make the tanks a more “natural setting” or “natural environment?”  Less blaring music as during the theatrical performances?  Some concrete formed to look like, um, the ocean bottom?  Since it has abandoned the Blue World project, it has apparently rejected the notion of an additional 14 feet in depth to make the tanks more “natural”.  But of course, this additional 14 feet would have done nothing, as in nothing, to make a tank a more natural setting.

The natural setting and natural environment of an orca. Image by Candace Calloway Whiting

The natural setting and natural environment of an orca. Image by Candace Calloway Whiting

While we wait to hear what SeaWorld has in mind for its mission of “naturalness”, it is clear that just as whatever trick SeaWorld entices the orcas to perform, or whatever it may add or subtract from its system of tanks, there is nothing natural about it.

Too bad that the entity responsible for 24 orcas in the United States is apparently clueless about this.

The parallels between this graphic that I made for fun and SeaWorld's own are striking. And disturbing.

The parallels between this graphic that I made for fun and SeaWorld’s own are striking. And disturbing.

Rehabilitation and release for marine mammals – a stacked deck

Imagine that you’ve experienced a significant trauma, like a car accident.

A traumatic injury begins a journey of rehabilitation for marine mammals

A traumatic injury begins a journey of rehabilitation

You are taken to a hospital, where the hospital finds that you require emergency care and a prolonged rehabilitation with physical and occupational therapy.

After two and a half years, you can finally walk again, and you are able to resume your normal life.

But imagine that the hospital staff, instead of discharging you, claims that you must stay in the hospital indefinitely because the decision about your future was made at the two-year mark and that there is nothing mandating that your condition be re-evaluated.

Spoon-feeding in the long run teaches us nothing but the shape o the spoon.  - E. M. Forster

Spoon-feeding in the long run teaches us nothing but the shape of the spoon. – E. M. Forster

Imagine that during those two years of rehabilitation, the hospital staff, instead of teaching you how to feed yourself, insisted on spoon-feeding you your every meal.  Imagine that the food they fed you wasn’t anything you’d ever eaten, but was merely what the hospital insisted on providing.  And, to add insult to injury, imagine that you could have fed yourself, but that the decision to spoon-feed you was based on nothing to do with you as an individual, but was based purely on hospital policy and practice, a practice that was a function of cost, convenience to and, perhaps, an ulterior motive of the institution, rather than a decision based upon your well-being.

That is the life of many stranded marine mammals, especially cetaceans.

So, there are several questions:

  • Who makes the recommendations and determinations regarding the releasability of stranded marine mammals?
  • What are the criteria of releasability and are these criteria being followed?
  • When is this decision made?
  • Once made, can the decision be changed (or is the deck stacked against release)?

Who? For marine mammals who have the (mis)fortune of becoming stranded and rescued in the United States, it is up to NOAA to determine whether they can be released to the wild.  The criteria for “releasability” are not well-defined in regulation and, like many federal programs, are better-defined in guidance issued by the agency.  NOAA’s guidance on releasability provides more detail, where it states that it is not NOAA that actually performs the evaluation or makes the recommendation, but rather,

The attending veterinarian and their Assessment Team (i.e., veterinarians, lead animal care supervisor, and/or consulting biologist with knowledge of species behavior and life history) representing the Stranding Network Participant, Designee, or 109(h) Stranding Participant will assess the animal and make a written recommendation for release or non-release.

Part if not much of the team performing the evaluation and making the recommendation to NOAA is often occupied by SeaWorld staff.   NOAA reviews the written recommendation and uses it to make its determination.  Contrast that with the trainer message in the SeaWorld video below, where the trainer seems to go to great lengths to suggest to its paying audience that NOAA, without assistance from SeaWorld or others in the network, makes the recommendation to keep marine mammals at SeaWorld.

What?  The evaluation criteria in the guidance states that “[b]ehavioral clearance also should include confirmation that the cetacean is able to recognize, capture, and consume live prey when such tests are practical” and that “[b]asic behavioral conditioning of wild cetaceans for husbandry and medical procedures may be necessary during rehabilitation as long as every effort is made to limit reinforced contact with humans.”  In contrast with the guidance, the predominance of husbandry and maintaining human contact are evidenced in the SeaWorld video below, where the trainer states to the audience, “So, we teach [Fredi] lots of behaviors.  A lot of the behaviors we first started teaching her are called “husbandry” behaviors.”

When?  Further, releasability is a determination that is conducted no later than six months after a stranding, continued, theoretically, during the remainder of the first two years after the event, and effectively terminated after two years.  In your case, as with marine mammals, if the “hospital” has you at two years, they likely have you for life.  Especially if they never teach you how to feed yourself.

Meet Fredi, Ace, Ava, and Piper.  They stranded in separate events.  Fredi stranded in 2011 and Ace, Ava and Piper stranded in 2012.  They were all deemed unreleasable by NOAA on recommendation by, you guessed it.

This is a video of the event in which Ace, Ava and Piper and members of their pod stranded on a beach in Fort Pierce, Florida.

Ave, Ace and Piper, as Fredi before them, were turned over to SeaWorld.

See how they were doing in 2013.  And how SeaWorld wants to “invite you all back over the next days, weeks, months, and years, to come back to see how these guys are growing, and learned over time, because hopefully, one day you’ll see these four pilot whales do their own segment in the Blue Horizons show.”

I think I can hear you, thinking, along with many others who are becoming aware of the many secrets of the aquarium industry, that it is less than clear that SeaWorld, as part of its rehabilitation program, made any effort to teach Fredi, Ava, Ace and Piper to catch their own fish.  And doesn’t it suggest that SeaWorld did not follow NOAA guidance in its program?

It’s hard to know.  Obtaining documents through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) (whining here) isn’t always successful, especially if your fact-finding is constrained by being able to afford the cost of the request.

A change is clearly needed that will end the deck-stacking in favor of “unreleasability.”  And that change will likely come only if we insist that the deck should not be stacked, it should be neutral, and cetaceans should be taught to hunt, with husbandry used only to administer procedures beneficial to the once-free, now captive marine mammals.

But if the deck should be stacked at all, shouldn’t it stacked in favor of freedom?  Just as with your car wreck, cetaceans no more than you should have to worry about becoming victims of a system that spoon-feeds, and then blames the one injured for it.

Shouldn't the deck be stacked in favor of release?

Shouldn’t the deck be stacked in favor of release? Image by Emmanuel Jose

What you can do:

Contact and call upon your legislators to update the regulations that implement the Marine Mammal Protection Act.  Some suggested updates:

  • Specify that if the institution who will be receiving the marine mammal is part of the display industry, it is not a member of the review and recommendation team (or a more straightforward but also more dramatic change – and one I like better – would be to remove all members of the display industry from being part of the review teams).
  • Specify the behaviors that must be taught, if practicable, including a requirement that natural feeding behaviors be taught during rehabilitation, with a directive to remove the animal if there is no effort to teach natural behaviors, like feeding and hunting.
  • Require that the two-year “rebuttable presumption” be removed in favor of a neutral evaluation of the animal at each independent time period.
  • Require that reports of the rehabilitation agencies be made publicly available on NOAA’s website (rather than enduring the – ugh – FOIA process).

Former SeaWorld copywriter’s note in light of Open Letter

As we read SeaWorld’s Open Letter, which it wrote in response to the truth-telling documentary Blackfish and published in several U.S. newspapers, we could spot the spins and turns it wove for an unsuspecting potential shareholder and visitor base.

There have been several responses written to clarify the spins and turns, including:

Something floated across my radar screen today, and when I re-read it, it literally took my breath away.  It was a statement of an advertising agency copywriter for SeaWorld, who described SeaWorld as “one of my favorite accounts . . .”  She submitted her statement to the Orca Network, which published it a bit more than a month ago.  Her statements are truly chilling in light of SeaWorld’s advertisement, Open Letter, Op Ed, whatever it is (which isn’t clear and may be characterized differently in the different publications):

A devout animal-lover, I thought (as did most of the creative team) I was participating in the preservation of Orcas seemingly delighting in this magical environment of hands-on trainers soaring through the choreographed acts with them. Oh how very wrong I was. And oh how deeply ashamed I am today for being a part of this vile travesty. I never knew or saw SeaWorld in the truest sense. I bought the lie…

So, as I read SeaWorld’s Open Letter, I think of this copywriter, and her anguish at having been part of disseminating the SeaWorld view of these magnificent beings, the orcas and other dolphins, the beluga whales – all the wide-ranging marine mammals – and I find myself wondering whether, and even when, the copywriter who worked on the current piece will have a similar epiphany.

What you can do:

Write letters to the editor: In order to ensure that the newspapers who published the SeaWorld piece are presenting both sides of the issue, the Blackfish Brigade has initiated a CALL TO ACTION regarding writing a letter to the editor of those newspapers (but don’t forget your local paper), to request that they publish one of the above-linked responses to SeaWorld, and state your view that a business model that is built upon the captivity of these magnificent creatures is now outdated, and that SeaWorld must adapt to our new awareness and begin working to develop a new one that is not based on animals-as-entertainment or captivity.

Participate in Empty the Tanks: The plans for the second annual Empty the Tanks events to be held on May 24, 2014, have already begun.  Check to see if your city has an event or events scheduled and begin the rallying cry to Empty the Tanks!

Share the word that Blackfish, being watched by more and more people every day and getting Oscar buzz, is available on NetFlix, Amazon and iTunes.

I’m following Blackfish Brigade for coordinated actions to make sure that SeaWorld and all aquariums that hold marine mammals captive are @blackfished!

There is no eduation within the mind of man that can justify the enslavement of dolphins.  Certainly no miseducation can.

There is no education within the mind of man that can justify the enslavement of dolphins. Certainly no miseducation can.

SeaWorld uses full-page advertisement: an insult to both orca and human

As SeaWorld recoils from the truth-telling Gabriela Cowperthwaite film, Blackfish, various interests have stepped forward in SeaWorld’s defense.  Its defense by the Florida Attractions Association is not surprising.  Nor is SeaWorld’s own self-defensive ad, a statement which it today published in eight U.S. newspapers.

Also not surprising is its message which is a repackaged refrain that most will recognize.  Its first point, that SeaWorld “does not” capture killer whales in the wild, is a true statement.  Since Blackfish never suggested that SeaWorld is actively capturing orcas (killer whales), it is misleading that this was their ad’s opener.  Significantly, however, is that SeaWorld’s adverstisement omits the fact – the truth – that SeaWorld is part of an initiative to capture other whales for display at its parks, being party to the Georgia Aquarium’s 2012 application to capture 18 wild beluga whales in Russia.

When, however, SeaWorld states that it does not separate killer whale young from their mothers, except, for instance, if the mother cannot care for the young, the lack of truth rankles and the words fall hard on an ear that understands even a little about this process.

Katina is a female orca at SeaWorld Orlando.  SeaWorld has removed five of Katina’s seven young from her.  Because young, wild female orcas learn from older females how to be mothers, Katina, snatched from the wild at about the age of two on October 26, 1978, was premeditatedly removed from her maternal models by the aquarium industry and was, as a result, actively set up by its capture process to fail as a mother.

Despite the lack of appropriate maternal mentoring, however, SeaWorld used Katina to become a breeding orca and to continue the unnatural mother-child relationship that it would then use to justify its own artificial mother-child separations.

So does “bad mothering” explain why SeaWorld would take five of Katina’s seven children away?

Katina, a "stellar" mother, held at SeaWorld Orlando

Katina, a “stellar” mother, held at SeaWorld Orlando

Actually, the record supports just the opposite inference.  SeaWorld found itself extremely and undeservedly fortunate in Katina’s displaying, instead of a poor mothering record, one that indicates that the separation of her children had nothing to do with her mothering skills.  In contrast with SeaWorld’s ad, trainers who worked with Katina, found that her mothering instinct was strong.  Carol Ray, a former SeaWorld trainer featured in Blackfish, who worked directly with Katina, noted that “Katina took to nursing with no trouble and was immediately receptive to the babies.”  She seemed able to care for both her older children and the newborns, but only so long as SeaWorld allowed it.

Despite these good skills, Katina has experienced every mother’s worst nightmare:  the involuntary removal and even death of her children. She has had five of her seven calves taken from her (one was subsequently returned):

  • Kalina, also known as “Baby Shamu,” was Katina’s first-born, and is considered the first successful orca captive birth.  She was taken from Katina when Kalina was four.  While she was returned later, Kalina died at the age of 25.
  • Katerina, taken from Katina at age two, died at SeaWorld of Texas at the age of ten.
  • Taku, Katina’s third, and taken at age 13, died soon after the separation in 2007 at SeaWorld of Texas.
  • Unna, Katina’s fourth, born in 1996, was taken at age 6, and now lives at SeaWorld of Texas.
  • Ikaika, Katina’s fifth, born in 2002, was taken from her for another breeding program at age four, and now lives at SeaWorld San Diego.
  • Nalani, born in 2006, lives at SeaWorld Orlando with Katina.
  • Makaio, Katina’s youngest, born in 2010, is only the second of Katina’s seven calves who has never been separated from his mother.

The notion that a “healthy social structure” is fostered by removing a child from its mother is something that would be stated only by the captivity industry.

Repeating it only makes the nose grow longer

Repeating it only makes the nose grow longer

SeaWorld seems to think that if something is repeated over and over, it begins to ring like the truth.  The only thing that is ringing in this household is the insult that it lobbed at not only the orcas, and the orcas’ mothering skills, but also at our ability to distinguish fact from fiction.

Don’t take the bait.  Don’t go to the dolphin show.  Share Blackfish far and wide.  Join the Blackfish Brigade on Facebook and on Twitter.  Tweet using the hashtag #Blackfish.  Read Death at SeaWorld for a more in-depth understanding.

How can I watch Blackfish? Let me count the ways.

As Blackfish continues to open in theaters around the world, the U.S. is “atwitter” with the film’s buzz, with over a million viewers in the 9p to 11p time slot on October 24 alone.  Folks from the rest of the world are wondering when they, too, can see this game-changing film.

Not only showing the film, CNN has provided a week’s worth of programming, with Jane Velez-Mitchell, Anderson Cooper, and Crossfire, highlighting the issues inherent in keeping marine mammals in captivity.  Meanwhile the Blackfish-screening TIDE keeps rolling on CNN with two more scheduled showings, on October 26 and October 27.

Blackfish still wowing the U.S. audience this weekend.

Blackfish still wowing the U.S. audience this weekend.

For social media and interaction, CNN has its own, and Twitter has seen a list of celebrity tweeters join the conversation, including David Kirby, the author of the important book, Death at SeaWorld, Ewan McGregor, Kirstie Alley, the film’s director Gabriela Cowperthwaite, the former trainers featured in both Death at SeaWorld and Blackfish (Voice of the Orcas), and others.  Use the hashtag #Blackfish to join the conversation and to get a sense of its immensity.

Blackfish, The Cove, and don't forget A Fall from Freedom, the first of the three films.

Blackfish, The Cove, and don’t forget A Fall from Freedom, the first of the three films.

If you haven’t seen Blackfish, or want to own a copy, the following links will let you join the conversation:

  • Available from Amazon.com on November 12 (you can pre-order)
  • Available from UK distributor Dogwoof in various formats: streaming, DVD, Blu-ray (and iTunes UK).
  • Streaming from Viooz.

And remember, there is a better way to see orcas.  That is quietly, in the wild, from a distance, perhaps from the land where you won’t interfere with them at all, at The Real Sea World as shown in this video by the Humane Society of the United States where you may come to appreciate, as does marine mammal expert Dr. Naomi Rose, that this is a “life-affirming” way to see orcas.

In the end, it’s about respect.

Pledge NO! to going to see a dolphin show and be part of the solution!

Pixar: How about another tweak to revised ending to ‘Finding Nemo’ sequel?

In a truly awesome announcement, we learned that Pixar reconnoitered with the Blackfish folks, including director Gabriela Cowperthwaite, to discuss revising its ending to the sequel to Finding Nemo, called Finding Dory.

Apparently, Pixar, having seen Blackfish, realized that captivity may not be all it has been, by the aquarium industry, cracked up to be, and reached out to Cowperthwaite.  The original ending, in which the lost fish and marine mammals would spend the rest of their days in captivity, would be revised to allow the animals a “choice” as to whether they stayed at the aquarium or returned to the wild.

While Pixar and others may feel that this revision is a welcome one, I continue to live up to my “fly in the ointment” status and ask, “Wouldn’t this revision teach children that animals make a choice about their captivity status? When they see animals at aquariums and marine parks, having seen this new ending, might they not make this association?”

One of the things the public learned in Blackfish is that not all that they hear at SeaWorld is necessarily true.  Life spans of orca longer in captivity? You’ll hear from SeaWorld that, yes, they are.  But the reality is quite the opposite, as reported today in China Daily.  Orcas live a demonstrably shorter life span in captivity.  Another of the lessons that can be learned every day at SeaWorld, is that the animals only perform tricks (called “behaviors” by the Spin Tank of the aquarium industry) when they choose.  In Blackfish, we watch former trainer Carol Ray struggle with the fact that, as a trainer, she regurgitated this “choice” spin to the public on a regular basis, just as the trainers were instructed.

So, Pixar.  Choice?  The animals “choose” to remain in captivity?

Animated films have educated children about animals since there has been animated film.  And while anthropomorphizing is part and parcel of this process, such anthropomorphizing is not, in itself, a problem.  In fact, it’s quite good and quite effective at delivering a message to children.  But please, Pixar, don’t use this tool or teach our children, in a theatrical sleight of hand, that animals have some say in their residence at marine parks, or else be just like SeaWorld, teaching that dolphins perform tricks when they “choose”.

Blackfish, distributed by Magnolia Pictures, is playing across the United States right now.  See it.  Join the meaningful conversation about the end of marine mammal captivity and how we must not teach our children something about this issue that is just not true.

In fact, here is where you can teach your children about orcas, while they listen to them LIVE on hydrophones off the San Juan Islands.  How awesome is that?!!

Take your children to see them in the wild, and teach your children the true awesomeness of life.

Take your children to see them in the wild, and teach your children the true awesomeness of life.

And while you listen to them live on the hydrophone network or plan a family vacation to the nearest shore to see wild dolphins (or even river, where there are river otters and beavers), sign a pledge by Save Japan Dolphins not to see them in captivity and contact Pixar.

Pixar Contact information:

  • Pixar Animation Studios
  • 1200 Park Avenue
  • Emeryville, CA 94608
  • Telephone: (510) 922-3000
  • Facsimile: (510) 922-3151

Edited to add the following AWESOMENESS:  Earlier today there was an amazing occurrence recorded on the hydrophone network when a SUPERPOD graced us with their magnificence.  Selena Rhodes Scofield put together this excerpt and points to new vocalizations at 5:35 – 5:43.  Get ready for audio wonderfulness, not to be heard at any aquarium anywhere.

 

Atlanta’s ‘Blackfish’ audience recognizes the “pink dolphin in the room”

It was clear that Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s documentary, Blackfish, struck a chord with the Atlanta audience when the manager of the Midtown Art Cinema had to use a gentle nudge more than once to stop the questions in last night’s special appearance by Emory Senior Lecturer Dr. Lori Marino, to allow the 9:30 showing to begin even close to “on-time.”

Members of the packed house at the Midtown Art Cinema last night were visibly moved by the journey that they had just witnessed, a journey of not only the orcas who were captured by an industry intent on using them for their commercial value, but also of the trainers who were used in much the same way.

Blackfish takes the viewer on a journey, both  human and orca

Blackfish takes the viewer on a journey, both human and orca

Whether they came to “training” as a calling or on a college-age whim, what was striking was that the trainers’ journeys were not unlike Tilikum’s own.  Trained and rewarded for appropriate behaviors and shunned for missing a “bridge” is a method employed not just on the non-human charges.  While this method is not restricted to the aquarium industry, what is restricted to that industry is the maintaining in captivity of marine mammals who do not thrive in those conditions and using “trainers” to keep that captivity machine running.

Blackfish joins Death at Seaworld by award-winning author David Kirby, the Cove and A Fall from Freedom as important repositories of information about how our society treats marine mammals

Blackfish joins Death at Seaworld by award-winning author David Kirby, The Cove and A Fall from Freedom as important statements about how our society treats marine mammals

What is also clear in the film is the nearly-inevitable stress-response that results and how that stress-response is an individuated process, both for human and non-human.  For a thinking being who in a natural setting makes both individual and group choices, merely having this choice removed may induce a stress-response.  The continual exposure to a lack of control will, once it reaches a point of saturation, express.  Learning, as we do in the film, that the brains of orcas have an extremely developed brain structure related to communication and emotion, this lack of control and the inability of echolocators to fully “express” themselves in concrete sound-bouncing chambers, it is little wonder that orca-human interactions are bound to “go wrong.”

The humans involved, too, react to this inherent, systematic and institutional ignoring of marine mammal requisites for a full life.  John Jett’s statement in the film that he remained a trainer “for” Tilikum, and his question, “who would take care of Tilikum,” revealed a growing awareness that things were not right for Tilly.  Carol Ray shares her first inklings that the welfare of the orcas was less important than their survival and distribution among parks.

While Tilikum has nowhere to go to address the “flight” in “fight or flight stress-response,” it is heartening that certain trainers and others around the world recognize the horrors of marine mammal captivity and are taking on the fight for their freedom, in their own way, on their own journey.

What was also clear to the moviegoers was the “pink dolphin in the room,” and one brave young woman gave voice to it, when she asked whether what she had seen in the movie applied to dolphins and whales, as at the local Georgia Aquarium, which holds 11 dolphins and four beluga whales and is seeking more.  Marino’s answer, born of her own research on dolphins, was unqualified in its response: dolphins and whales are not suited to captivity.

For more information about Tilikum and the facts revealed during the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s enforcement action at SeaWorld, I highly recommend the very readable Death at SeaWorld, now in its third printing in just over a year.

What you can do:

Death at SeaWorld Panel Discussion Coming to Emory Bookstore

Cetacean lovers in the Southeast: mark your calendars!

Death at SeaWorld

Death at SeaWorld, by David Kirby, released July 17, 2012

On September 17, 2012, David Kirby, New York Times best-selling author and author of Death at SeaWorld, Dr. Naomi Rose, and Dr. Lori Marino will participate in a panel discussion, followed by book-signing.  Ask me if I’m excited.

While I have not seen a specific title of the discussion, it is a safe bet that it will address the safety of humans in close proximity to captive orcas, whether orcas and other cetaceans should be confined in captivity, whether SeaWorld has the best interest of either the human trainers or the orca “trainees” in mind as it runs its marine park enterprise, other issues brought out at trial in the OSHA v. SeaWorld that we may not have heard, and how science could and should inform sound U.S. policy on cetacean captivity, especially now.

All three speakers are experts in cetacean captivity, but bring their own perspective:

David Kirby is the latest to join the cetacean expert ranks, having earned his cetacean stripes while researching and writing Death at SeaWorld.  He brought his over 20 years as an investigative reporter to bear in crafting an engaging tale of the captive orca through the eyes of both orca experts and former orca trainers.

Dr. Naomi Rose, by being highlighted in Kirby’s book, has revealed more of her personal story and how she came to know the orca, than she  may have imagined.  But it is this story of a woman’s personal journey of coming to know the orca – from marine biology graduate student to researcher in orca’s behavior and its community structure to Senior Scientist at Humane Society International – that provides access to the orca in a way that few experience, but many, young and old, will recognize.  And to which the budding marine biologist will aspire.

Dr. Lori Marino, a behavioral psychologist, conducted the research that resulted in the first published findings regarding mirror recognition in bottlenose dolphins, findings that revealed that dolphins are self-aware, sentient beings.  Dr. Marino has not only published her findings on dolphin behavior and spoken on how dolphins are ill-suited to captivity, she has provided her expert opinion in testimony to Congress.  Atlanta is fortunate to have her here as a Senior Lecturer at Emory University.

Perhaps all three will have stories to tell of wild orca songs or news from the Nonhuman Rights Project, having just returned from Superpod II, a gathering of orca experts, which mirrors the gathering of orcas each Summer in a Superpod off the coast of San Juan Island, Washington.

While certainly some of the discussion will surround the issues of safety of the trainers in light of the OSHA judgment that SeaWorld must cease waterwork  (where the humans are in the water with the orcas) until it can better safeguard the lives of the trainers AND SeaWorld’s recent plans to return to waterwork, this little blogger is looking forward to Atlanta’s having more cetacean expertise in its city limits than ever before.  Notwithstanding that the world’s largest dolphin, whale and fish bowl is located right here.

It is such a tremendous honor to have these three experts here at the same time,  in the same room, and in the same city where the the world’s largest aquarium wants to erode cetacean protection from being wild-caught and watched in U.S. whale shows.

Panel Discussion: David Kirby, Dr. Naomi Rose and Dr. Lori Marino:

  • September 17, 2012; 6:00 p.m.
  • Barnes & Noble at Emory Bookstore
  • 1390 Oxford Road
  • Atlanta, GA  30322

It should be a fascinating evening, and one that this blogger will never forget.  And will expect to Tweet about all night long.  On the 17th. Well, and maybe the 16th.  Or the 15th, too.  Ah, hell.  This is the biggest cetacean GOOD news that I’ve heard in a long time.  I hope you don’t mind if I bask in it just a while.  Yes, I’m excited.

A Day in the life of the Captive Beluga Whale

Most people are not as familiar with the beluga whale as they are with dolphins or orcas.  What people will recognize when they see video of beluga whales is their intelligence, their awareness.

I thought I would gather a collection of beluga videos so that people could have a sense of what life is like for a beluga whale in captivity.

First, we demean them by using them as props for our shenanigans, whether it is a wedding reception, a cheesy wedding proposal, a corporate banquet, a Christmas or Pride party, or backdrop for a mariachi band.

And here are a few moments with a beluga identified as Juno. He is not happy, he is exhibiting aggressive behavior. This is, apparently, no surprise to the aquarium worker, who laughs it off to the visitor. That, my friend, is despicable. They know the whale is unhappy, and the nervous laughter tells it all.

Or here at SeaWorld San Diego, Ferdinand and Nanuq are exploited for touches and kisses. I heard some whale education: saltwater is apparently not good for belugas, according the SeaWorld expert. And it is apparently critical that we understand that belugas feel like a hard-boiled egg.

And then there are parents who don’t recognize when an animal is being teased.


Beluga whales do not belong in tanks.

The Georgia Aquarium is spearheading a dramatic reversal of U.S. practice and policy to import 18 wild-caught Russian beluga whales into the United States to add to the current captive population of 34.  Whales that were part of stable families and community groups until they were wrenched apart and taken into captivity.  And for what?  Mariachi bands, weddings, jazz evenings, kisses, phone teases? Which appear to be typical days, as good as it gets in a day in the life of a captive beluga whale.

Sign the petition to say no to this effort at importation of wild-caught beluga whales.  And stay tuned:  soon the import permit application will be published in the Federal Register for public comment.

Don’t support any more days like these.