Saturday, July 15, 2017

Kasatka's Impending Death has SeaWorld in Full Scramble Mode

The tragedy of Kasatka... with a tribute to her by VOTO's Samantha Berg

First, some context: 

In the run-up to SeaWorld's (SW) next earnings report at noon Eastern time (USA) on August 8th, the company is in full scramble mode. SEAS stock is currently trading below $15.00 and pressure is mounting on CEO Joel Manby to get the ship turned around, or perhaps more accurately... prevent it from sinking. 

The captivity-corp is under two Federal Investigations & the old SW guard wants leadership change. Former execs are being investigated for misleading statements which downplayed Blackfish movie's actual impact on earnings & attendance, and also for possible insider trading. Our prediction is that the Justice Department & the SEC will find a bounty of Blackfish related emails on company servers. 

Duped investors are angry, having potentially lost millions. Insiders have paid themselves handsomely through rough times, publicly blaming things like "Easter," and in spite of missing financial targets. The natives are restless. 

Meanwhile the obvious solution to SW's woes, sea sanctuaries, alternately referred to as #EmptyTheTanks, are being ignored and mocked by the captivity giant, which is now primarily controlled by China’s the Zhonghong Zhuoye Group. Instead of changing its ways, SeaWorld is working with the Chinese & United Arab Emirates to exploit whales and dolphins in places with fewer animal protections. So much for conservation. But then again, it was never really about that.

There are multiple law firms working on class action suits, with at least one going to trial, at this point. See article here: 

Class Action Lawsuit vs SeaWorld Promises Drama & Discovery

And then there's Kasatka...

Immunocompromised Kasatka succumbing to opportunistic pathogens
A wild born female North Atlantic orca captured by the theme park in 1978, the mother of multiple "assets," as SW refers to "their" whales in financial documents, & the former matriarch at the California park for the last several decades. Kasatka will forever be immortalized by her thrashing of Trainer Ken Peters as seen in this video below from CNN: 

See CNN video below with comments from VOTO's Carol Ray. 

Estimated to be about 40 years of age, she won't experience that long post-menopausal life enjoyed by her wild cousins. Wild females experience reproductive senescence (the equivalent of menopause) at 40-48 years of age. Killer whales, humans, and short-finned pilot whales are the only 3 mammals on the planet known to go through menopause. Dr Darren Croft discusses the evolution of killer whale "menopause" here at #Superpod5: 


Learn more about killer whale matriarchs from Dr Astrid van Ginneken MD, PhD, in the video below: 

A Tribute to Kasatka by Samantha Berg 

I just saw photos of Kasatka’s disease ravaged body. 

Tom Hall, Gabriela Cowperthwaite, Manny Oteyza, Jeffrey Ventre, Samantha Berg (speaking), John Jett, John Hargrove 

Inevitably Kasatka’s death will be portrayed by the SeaWorld corporation as a tragedy. SeaWorld will say they are saddened to lose (yet another!) family member. They will tell the public and the media that they did everything they could to give her a loving home, restaurant quality fish, superior dental care and a whole host of other lies that should be familiar to anyone who is dialed in to the anti-captivity movement.

Kasatka’s trainers will be sad, the public will mourn, and the news cycle will move on to the next story and Kasatka will be forgotten. 

NOTE: This PR video doesn't show Kasatka very well. They strategically keep her hidden or turned away from the camera. Note the language. This video is preparing the public and media for death by pneumonia even though she is being eaten alive by disease.  SW will emphasize that pneumonia is the leading cause of death in killer whales, although not true for wild orca, as far as we can tell.  We have not been able to find evidence that pneumonia is the leading cause of mortality for wild orca. The reality is that Kasatka is being eaten away, possibly by a bacteria, fungus or photo-toxicity due to antibiotic overuse. Generally speaking the pathogen-type is not relevant to her impending death & current suffering. Of course SeaWorld doesn't tell us what is eating her flesh, just that it is not fungal. 

So, before she goes I want people to at least know this:

It is Kasatka’s LIFE – not her death- that is the real tragedy

Kasatka was stolen from her true family in Iceland in 1978. She has spent the last 39 years in prison. Her crime? She was born a killer whale – a species so intelligent, beautiful and intriguing to humans that the owners of Seaworld knew they could put her on display and charge other humans just to watch her swim in a tank.

Kasatka’ body has not been ravaged by illness alone – she has been forced to perform via food deprivation for every day of her life for the last 39 years. She has also been forced to bear children that were then removed from her side and relocated to other corporate-owned prisons. Given what we know about the bonds between mother and calves – this is an even greater violation than food deprivation and amounts to extreme emotional abuse.

Captivity: A bad idea from the beginning. The original Shamu seen here thrashing the company secretary for a promo video

Kasatka is not an individual – she is a corporate asset worth millions of dollars to a corporation that cares about her only to the extent that she can continue to perform and generate revenue. Her owners don’t care how she feels or that she just might have memories of another happier life in the ocean.

Kasatka is one of only 4 remaining wild-captured killer whales still living in US Seaworld parks. With her passing there will only be 3 – Ulysses and Corky in San Diego and Katina in Orlando.

Sadly, the practice of capturing wild killer whales has not ended – the Russians continue to capture whales and the Chinese are building new facilities for whales to perform, breed and be on display.

Morgan, a killer whale who was “rescued” in the Netherlands remains in prison at Loro Parque in the Canary Islands even though she could have been a candidate for release.

Tilikum, also captured near Iceland, lived a miserable life at SeaWorld from 1992 until his death in 2017

While SeaWorld will say that Kasatka’s life performing circus tricks for food helped them to provide an educational experience for countless numbers of school children who stream through their turnstiles every year – this is also a lie.

Watching whales perform tricks in captivity is a distraction from the very real dangers facing our planet and our oceans right now.

Did Kasatka’s prison term help to educate park goers about ocean acidification, plastic pollution, fish farm effluent or dams that are right now causing salmon populations to crash and thus leading to the death and starvation of a wild pod of killer whales in the Pacific Northwest?

Will her death wake people up enough to address these issues? Likely not.

At least in death, Kasatka’s decades of suffering will finally come to an end. My heart breaks for her, not because she is dying but because she deserved better.

RIP Kasatka

Note: Samantha's comments used with permission and also appear in this article at The Dolphin Project v Elizabeth Batt

Friday, June 16, 2017

Dam Expert & DamNation Cast Member Jim Waddell Responds to the Killing of Sea Lions to Save Salmon

NOTE: This letter (reprinted at VOTO) is from Jim Waddell, civil engineer, DamNation film cast member, to Matt Strickler, Senior Policy Adviser at U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Natural Resources. If you are interested in conservation, including saving wild salmon and thus the Southern Resident orca population from starvation, this letter will be helpful. We have added digital supplemental material, including brief videos, and a link to Damnation movie


As a Civil Engineer and a retired US Army Corps of Engineers career public servant with extensive knowledge of dams, reservoirs and salmon issues in the Columbia/Snake basin, I need to state that: 

"Killing more sea lions is not a solution to recovering salmon or preventing their extinction"

Sea lions are being scapegoated & shot for collapsing salmon populations when the primary culprits are dams 

HR 2083 is an example of government agencies and prodam advocates pitting endangered marine mammals against salmon and their recovery in another effort to deflect attention from the real problem, four too many dams on the Snake River endangering and preventing the recovery of salmon. 

Immediate breaching, starting this year, not only benefits all the endangered harvesters; whether they be sea lions, killer whales, birds; tribal, commercial or sport fisherman; or farmers, but also add thousands of jobs to the region and saves tax/rate payers money.

DamNation Film Can Be Viewed Online & Features Jim Waddell 

To avoid the most obvious, cost effective, economically viable and by far the best environmental choice, the Corps of Engineers has spent $2 billion on fish passage "improvements" on the four lower Snake River Dams (LSRDs) that a $33 million Feasibility Study and Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) in 2002 said was...

"Less effective than doing nothing"

The Corps does not have enough Operations & Maintenance money to maintain this massive investment which in turn causes more mortality than if they had done nothing. The ever smaller numbers of fish are making habitat investments pointless (a fact that the habitat proponents are only now waking up to). Ever smaller runs and declining genetic diversity makes recovery exponentially more difficult with every year that breaching is delayed. 

The overall spiraling loss of biomass into the Columbia/Snake is crashing the ecosystem from the micro biological food webs in the headwaters of Idaho to the lack of primary prey for endangered killer whales to loss of fisheries in the northwest Pacific Ocean

Endangered Southern Resident orcas. Photo Jeffrey Ventre #Superpod2

All this on top of the Corps failure to meet the fundamental federal objective Congress expected when the dams were authorized. That is, the National Economic Development benefits must exceed the cost of construction, operations, maintenance and repairs. These four dams never did and do not today. 

 Using the Corps own planning guidance and data, economist show the benefits to be only 15¢ on the dollar or .15 to 1. And this does not count the regional loss of thousands of jobs, indirect economic and ecosystems services benefits and higher power bills by the continued operation of these four dams. 

#Superpod5: The Southern Resident Killer Whales & Chinook Salmon 

This is the sordid truth that regional managers and leaders want to deflect from the public's view and elected leaders, especially those in the US Congress. The Corps and Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) is wasting ever more millions on these dams when it is much more needed on other dams and habitat programs.

We are using tax money to kill salmon 

They also seem to revile in response to another federal judge telling them they have five years to come up with an EIS for the Federal Columbia River Hydro System. This is due to the federal agencies fifth failure to avoid a dam breaching decision on the LSRDs. 

They, and other groups involved in the 25 years of litigation, have at least used this as an excuse to avoid discussions and actions for immediate breaching the earthen berms of the 4 LSRDs, in spite of plummeting salmon/steelhead runs and endangered Southern Resident Killer whales who depend on these Chinook runs for there survival. 

The Federal and State agencies, most especially the Corps of Engineers, do not have to wait on another NEPA process that will take 5-10 years to, maybe, get to the answer they already have in the 2002 EIS and Record of Decision. This EIS is the NEPA coverage for ongoing mitigation actions on the LSRD and as affirmed by the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works, see attached letter. This EIS can be updated in just a few months because it already has breaching in it as the preferred environmental alternative. 

Because the other non-breach alternatives in this EIS, used in an effort to improve salmon runs, have failed, this leaves breaching as the only recourse. 

Further, since the BCR is well below 1.0 and current costs are more than power revenues meant to pay or repay the US Treasury for these costs, the Corps has a fiduciary responsibility to Congress and the American people to place these dams into a "non-operational' status. 

To do so, would require removal of the earthen berm to stabilize each dam. This also restores a free flowing river around the dams' concrete spillways, power houses and locks allowing unhindered fish migration and opens 140 miles of spawning and rearing habitat. This breaching cost should be paid for by the BPA as "fish mitigation" in accordance with the 1980 Power and Conservation Act. The US Congress does not need to authorize or appropriate anything new. They should however be holding the Corps accountable and demanding immediate breach action instead of more studies of the LSRDs.

I have attached a letter to the Chief of Engineers written in July of 2016 reminding him of these facts. A year has gone by and things have gotten worse for salmon, steelhead, orca, fishermen, and with HR2803, sea lions, but he has done nothing but say that they will consider breaching in this new NEPA process. 

Thank you for giving me this opportunity to comment,

Jim Waddell
Civil Engineer, PE, USACE Retired
Port Angeles WA, 360-775-7799

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Our Comments on the New Orca Encounter at SeaWorld

Despite the corporation's reluctance to say it, SeaWorld's new "Orca Encounter" is just another show, without improvements for the killer whales who are forced to live at Shamu Stadium.

And based on space constraints, broken teeth, two deaths by mosquito, & witnessed aggression, the whales are not thriving despite the statements of SeaWorld's PR team. This includes Jungle Jack Hanna, a board of directors member for their "Conservation Fund." Jack has been shilling for SeaWorld since at least the mid 1990's when some of us at VOTO met him. His recent interview on Good Morning America is linked in the Tweet below: 

The set changes enhance the customers' experience and create different optics; a PR thing. The new set has a larger 140 foot screen, the music has shifted from "pop" to "cinematic," and now the waterfall pumps run for several hours daily. 

Sound can travel through any substance, but not through a vacuum like outer space. In water, due to it being non-compressible, sound has more power (watts) and intensity (watts per square meter or decibels) than it does in air. Thus, waterfall pumps, pneumatic gates, construction noises, roller coasters, & kids pounding on the glass are more intense from the perspective of the orca vs the kid eating popcorn in the stands. Bottom line: The captives are dealing with more noise intensity than ever. A third coaster is reportedly on the way: 

Currently, trainers (now referred to as "behaviorists") are sending orca maneuvers from backstage and also doing most of the feeding there. They've taken the (unnatural) trainer out of the scene. The show producers prefer audience members not-observing whales getting fish-for-tricks. This is a shift compared to previous shows which included "fish teases" and dumping double-handfuls of smelt, herring & the occasional salmon into the posterior oral cavities of the orca.  

In the past shows have focused on the human-whale relationship. Not so much here, although that could change as the show evolves, which they all do. This strategy has the added benefit of not exposing the dental damage in captive Orcinous orca, as seen below in Shouka. It's a shame SeaWorld doesn't share scientific data regarding the quantity and quality of teeth damage seen in captive orcas in their care. 

Shouka's mandibular teeth are worn flat with maxillary teeth impacting into her gums. Photo by Elizabeth, 2017 

In the show, SeaWorld claims they are helping wild whales, a debatable point as they have not lifted a finger or contributed a dime to restore the Southern Resident orca population, the one it decimated for over a decade, until it was kicked out of Washington, as seen here: 

Saving the So. Residents is an opportunity for SeaWorld to come out heroic. They could likely save the very population they drove to the brink of extinction if they made the decision to do so. This orca clan needs help getting more salmon and SeaWorld has a large PR team to spread the word.  

There is just one endangered orca population in the world, the Southern Residents, which included Shamu, Kandu, Winston and about 40 others they removed or killed. Why not step in and get these starving killer whales the Chinook salmon they need? It's an awesome idea and a win-win scenario for SeaWorld, the wild whales, and the public... it would be a huge success. 


The company could start a contemporary "save the whales" campaign, help bring down some deadbeat dams and restore the river systems where Shamu's descendants get their food from. In conjuction with select grocery stores, they could recommend that their guests purchase wild salmon only as fish farms are spreading disease, including salmon leukemia, to wild populations. Unfortunately and instead, SeaWorld is collaborating to build the largest fish farm in the world a few miles offshore from San Diego. It will have negative impacts on local wild fish as per this article: 

The Many Problems With the Proposed Fish Farm in San Diego

Watch SeaWorld's new Orca "Encouter" Here: 

Lastly, despite the PR blitz of happy thriving whales featuring "natural" behaviors, there are no "new behaviors." It's the same series of conditioned tricks;  breaches, slide outs, fast swims, waves, et al, wrapped in a different package. This might fool some people, but does nothing to improve the living conditions of the orcas in SeaWorld's care.  Instead of "Madonna" or "J-Lo" or other popular music, the whales get a high-decibel cinematic soundtrack in addition to  more hours of pump noise. 

While we appreciate the wild orca footage and attempt to educate, the show comes off as an infomercial, promoting a captivity corporation who's core business is the exploitation of marine mammals for profit. 

It's the business model that needs to change: Not the set or the script.  

The whales are still swimming in circles, neurotically grinding & fracturing their teeth, enduring social strife and aggression, living in confined spaces with nowhere to run, and generally living a degraded quality of life.  

Thus far SeaWorld has been unwilling to consider retirement of these captive #Blackfish to ocean sanctuaries. We'd welcome that shift with open arms. 

Monday, May 8, 2017

Human & Non-Human Deaths at SeaWorld

On Christmas Eve 2009 the SeaWorld orca Keto killed trainer Alexis Martinez. The two were practicing "stand-on spy-hops" for a show. Keto became frustrated when two high-energy but imperfect stand-ons were not bridged & rewarded by the lead trainer on stage, a supervisor from SeaWorld of California. The frustrated Keto took it out on Alexis, crushing his ribs & driving him to the bottom of the concrete pool. 

60 days later the SeaWorld orca Tilikum brutalized Dawn Brancheau, his third victim; except on this occasion he pulled her from a shallow ledge. All three of Tilikum's victims were dragged into the the water by an arm or leg, based on witness reports, video & forensic evidence. Why waterwork was not halted corporate-wide after Alexis' death remains a mystery, but in this case SeaWorld put profits over safety. 

The human tragedies, also including Keltie Byrne & Daniel Dukes, have been described by journalists including Tim Zimmermann and Elizabeth Batt, and they've also been immortalized in the documentary Blackfish, as well as in David Kirby's book Death at SeaWorld

Note: There remains volumes of unreported material on these human tragedies, the OSHA trial, the cover ups, the 27 minute delay in calling the Orange County Florida Sheriff, the gag orders, the misinformation; enough for many more books, articles, dissertations, or films. 

Click HERE to read this article

While tragic, these stories focus on the loss of human life, with less attention given to the suffering experienced by all captive marine mammals who are forced to live and be on display until death. We advocate for seaside sanctuaries as retirement areas for currently captive cetaceans. Read about the Whale Sanctuary Project, here

So what happens to the whales when they die at SeaWorld? The industry has been effective at keeping details away from the public, mainly by lobbying lawmakers to pen or amend laws that allow them to NOT publish necropsy reports & other health or welfare data. The industry realizes that more transparency translates into public outrage & lower stock prices. Below are 5 videos and a testimonial that describe the death process at SeaWorld, but for whales, not humans.  

Video one: Ex SeaWorld trainer Samantha Berg describes the death of the false killer whale known as "Zori." 

Video two: Ex SeaWorld trainer Dean Gomersall describes the death of the orca Kanduke

Video three: Excerpt from the Blue Freedom Film, Voiceless. Please go to minute 12:00 to hear Dr John Jett describe how killer whales are "disposed of" at SeaWorld 

Video Four with journalist Elizabeth Batt: Go to 4:20 to learn how the orca "Splash" died with "Hundreds of pounds of sand in his stomach." 

Video Five: At the end of the BBC radio interview with Dr. Jeffrey Ventre, he describes what happened with blackfish Tilikum 


More Death at SeaWorld 

Preface: Cynthia Payne is a former SeaWorld animal care handler and president of a company in North Carolina called Go Green, Inc, which she founded in 2007. She's lived in Holland & Germany and is an accomplished equestrian rider. After watching Blackfish, she reached out to us, at Voice of the Orcas, with this moving testimony, which we originally published, here.

She was employed by SeaWorld, in Orlando, from 1992 to 1994, and told us, "I truly, truly cared for the animals and admired several of the people I worked with and for, but I also recognized it was wrong." Cynthia adds her voice to ours, and to a growing number of former industry workers, and citizens, who are speaking out against companies who display intelligent, self-aware creatures for human amusement. 


Cynthia bottle feeds a small manatee as others surround her

"Over the course of three years and as an employee of the animal care department, SeaWorld of Florida, Orlando,  I witnessed the deaths and misery of several animals including that of [orca] Nootka’s stillborn calf."

[Below is Cynthia's story - unedited] 

During this time, I participated in “whale watch” [aka "night-watch"]; extra personnel to watch for the upcoming birth of Nootka’s calf. She seemed separated from all of the whales, her only apparent communication was through the gates. Touch, feel, social interaction is a critical component to a whale's life.  I remember so many nights of sitting up with her, listening to her cry at the gates.  I was young, 18-19 years of age. What did I know, I thought? But the doubts were amassing as to my remaining [employment] at SeaWorld.   

Cynthia on Night-watch at Shamu Stadium
On the night of her calf's birth, I was present, next to her pool on whale watch.  Nootka gave birth to a stillborn calf. 

The next few hours were a horror movie.

Staff members, everywhere, were giving orders and decided they must immediately remove the stillborn calf, thus refusing Nootka any time to grieve. 

Nootka fought and fought AND FOUGHT. She carried the stillborn calf repeatedly, trying to keep it at bay from the staff. 

Mercilessly, the staff seemed intent on the calf’s immediate removal. I turned to the vet on-site, almost in tears and I asked “Can't she have a moment to grieve?”  There was no debate, there was 'no time,' he stated. They needed to take the calf immediately.

The "Animal Care" Department at SeaWorld of Florida in 1994

This night replays over and over in my head, I can still hear her screams. 

The SeaWorld staff dropped a net the depth and width of the pool.  Nootka would try to pick up the net  and then at other times push her baby over it, all in an effort to escape this onslaught of people, everywhere, screaming orders and trying to take her calf away. Certainly, any mother would need, desire, require some time to grieve?

They gave her nothing. They took the stillborn. Nootka was forced into a holding pool, hardly enough space to turn around.

I sat with her that night on whale watch. I had witnessed everything. She cried through the night.  She cried and cried. I still hear her screams and I still wish I could have helped her. 

I sat in total disbelief at the events of that night. I was horrified... feeling as a participant, of any kind. She died shortly after this night. I was hopeful she was in a better place. This night replays as a vivid movie over and over again in my head with her screams and cries sounding just as sorrowful as they did that night .  I remember feeling sickened at my participation and then relief knowing… I was leaving SeaWorld.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Part Two: Elizabeth Shares more Damning SeaWorld Photos & Information

Ike's damaged mouth from jaw popping. Photo: Elizabeth
At our last blog, here, you met marine biology student, Elizabeth, who uses her proximity and season pass to access SeaWorld's California orca "collection." She has the goal of collecting forensic evidence and sharing truth regarding the conditions of captivity. Elizabeth is a cetacean lover who imagined becoming an orca trainer, at one point, but now advocates for captive whales and dolphins using a camera. We're honored to publish more of her photographs this week and pleased to share more information on Elizabeth's personal story via a brief Q&A session.  In her own words:
I witnessed a very aggressive attack between two orcas that changed the way I viewed them in captivity. After years of doing my own research on the captivity industry and learning how SeaWorld obtained many of its orcas I decided to take action. I’m currently in school for marine biology... Before I decided to go to school I really wanted to be a SeaWorld trainer.

Photo by Elizabeth shows extensive rake marks on Makani 

Q: Elizabeth, when did u first recognize the dental problems of captive killer whales?

A: I've noticed it since I was young. I even remember asking a trainer as a kid and getting the typical SeaWorld public relations (PR) answers. I started documenting each individual orca's teeth to show the public just how bad they are and still continue to decline.

Q: Dr John Jett and I have written several papers that discuss this issue. Have you read any of those?

A: Yes, your and JJ's paper in 2011, Keto & Tilikum Express the Stress of Orca Capvitity 

This solution was reportedly dripped into the eyes of a captive dolphin at SeaWorld, presumably for infection

Q: Have you witnessed teeth irrigations and how often do the trainers flush the broken teeth

A:  Flushing of teeth is hard to capture since trainers don't typically want the public to see this. But I have seen trainers do it. Normally teeth irrigations are performed after shows since the orcas received fish that can get impacted in the open [bore] holes. But this isn't always the case [that they do it after shows].

With mouth open, a captive orca is preparing to have her teeth flushed out. Fish gets trapped in the open bore holes

Captive orca is getting her broken left maxillary teeth flushed out by a SeaWorld trainer. Photo by Elizabeth 

Q: Have you witnessed orcas jaw popping or biting down in the steel gates?

A:  I have seen many orcas chewing on gates. I even have video of Kalia doing it. I also see Ike and a few others jaw popping. They do it a lot out of boredom.

Photo by Elizabeth shows the damaged mouth and jaw of Northern Resident killer whale Corky 

Q: Elizabeth, your research is valuable. Thank you for sharing this photographic evidence. How many hours or days of observations have you done in the past year or years?

A: Oh gosh...  I've been doing this on and off for a while. But I really cracked down on documenting it all since late 2015. I go to SeaWorld at least 2-3 times a month. Each visit lasts for about 5 hours; unless security chases me away.

Elizabeth's photo shows Shouka's damaged lower jaw with Amaya next to her. 

Q: Have you watched the whales grind their teeth on concrete?

A: Yes, I have. They often do this under the water so it's hard to capture it on film. But normally you will see paint left on their teeth

Drs Visser, Jett & Ventre could not determine what this photograph of Orkid's teeth depicts. Pigment vs tooth?

Q:  What message would you like to share with the people who will be appreciating & viewing your teeth photographs?

A:  Always speak up. The more voices we have talking about this issue the more changes we will see. People sometimes forget that SeaWorld is a for profit & publicly traded corporation, not a conservation organization. Profit and attendance means everything to them. So the more people that speak and share this information...  the more aware the public becomes & the more pressure it puts on the company to change its ways.