A Reply to Sea World’s Open Letter and an Invitation to Make a Meaningful New Year’s Resolution

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The documentary “Blackfish” has left a desperate SeaWorld in its wake, struggling to stay afloat in a sea of bad press and criticism from the public.

As performer after performer (eight total, so far) cancels their scheduled show for SeaWorld’s upcoming “Bands, Brews & BBQ” concert series due to concerns raised by the film, SeaWorld has fought back with a list of responses that they have called an open letter from SeaWorld’s “animal advocates.” While their representatives have declined to share how much money was spent putting this response out there, it is almost certain that SeaWorld spent thousands of dollars getting the letter published in eight major U.S. newspapers.

If you have read the letter, you might be finding it hard to separate fact from fiction as it is filled with SeaWorld’s spin on the captive marine mammal industry.

Sea Shepherd would like to present a few counterpoints to SeaWorld’s arguments that will hopefully clear up any confusion.

SeaWorld does not capture killer whales in the wild. Due to the groundbreaking success of our research in marine mammal reproduction, we haven’t collected a killer whale from the wild in 35 years.”

While SeaWorld admits that they have two orcas in their “care” who were captured in the wild, they leave out the violent and traumatic captures that these orcas endured. Footage of a notoriously brutal orca capture in Penn Cove, a capture which tore apart a family of orcas and left some dead, can be seen in “Blackfish.” Those responsible for the capture even sank the bodies of the dead whales in an effort to hide their deaths.

Tilikum’s capture took place off the coast of Iceland in 1983, when he was only 2. He was sent to SeaLand of the Pacific, before enduring a stressful transport once again to his current prison, SeaWorld Orlando.

Many of SeaWorld’s orcas were, indeed, born in captivity. Many of them are the offspring of Tilikum, who is used as SeaWorld’s breeding machine. SeaWorld’s marine mammals are often inbred, offspring of two mated members of the same family, resulting in a range of genetic abnormalities and mutations. That is the truth of SeaWorld’s “groundbreaking success” in marine mammal reproduction.

The letter also conveniently leaves out the fact that SeaWorld plans to take some of the 18 wild-caught beluga whales that the Georgia Aquarium is currently fighting so hard to get their hands on. Some of the belugas would be split between SeaWorld Orlando, San Antonio, and San Diego as well as other captive facilities. Why does SeaWorld support the captures of members of a healthy population of beluga whales from the wild, while claiming publicly that their orcas don’t come from the ocean?

“We do not separate killer whale moms and calves. SeaWorld recognizes the important bond between mother and calf. On the rare occasion that a mother killer whale cannot care for the calf herself, we have successfully hand raised and reintroduced the calf. Whales are only moved to maintain a healthy social structure.”

As you can see in “Blackfish,” SeaWorld has in fact removed calves from their mother’s side and transported them to their other parks. Just as any mother would mourn for her child, the orcas have cried out long-range vocals looking for their young, taken by SeaWorld.

Even if this is old footage, it is quite possible that SeaWorld continues this practice. They continue to breed marine mammals, including orcas. Some are transferred between facilities to breed or to perform. In the wild, orcas live in large pods, and in some populations, calves stay with their mother for their entire life.

Regardless, the way to “maintain a healthy social structure” for orcas, animals who live in matriarchal pods, is never to separate a mother from her calf.

“We give our animals restaurant-quality fish, exercise, veterinary care, mental stimulation, and the company of other members of their species.”

The “restaurant-quality fish” being served to these orcas refers to thawed dead fish, contrary to their natural hunting behaviour in the wild. These fish are filled with antibiotics and vitamins to combat the effects of captivity on these often stressed, sick whales.

Wild orcas get moisture from the fish that they consume, but the frozen fish provided at SeaWorld have lost most of the moisture they once contained. So, SeaWorld feeds its orcas massive amounts of gelatin each day for hydration.

While some of these orcas may be kept with members of their species, these artificial pods are not the families that they would live with in the wild. Tilikum often remains alone, and now spends most of his time floating listlessly at the surface of his tank. He is used as a “stud” for SeaWorld’s continuous supply of captive and in-bred orcas (perversely, marine park staff masturbate males in order to collect their semen, which is used to impregnate females), and occasionally he is forced to provide the “big splash” at the end of SeaWorld’s performances. The in-breeding has led to unhealthy offspring and many babies have been stillborn.

“SeaWorld’s killer whales’ life spans are equivalent with those in the wild.”

This is a lie that SeaWorld has been feeding to the public for years. They claim “no one knows for sure how long orcas live,” a claim that has been refuted by marine biologists and orca researchers who have spent the greater part of their careers studying the lives and natural behaviors of orcas in the wild.

SeaWorld’s claim that the life spans of captive and wild orcas are comparable is shattered by the real numbers. In the wild, the average life span for males is 30 years and 50 years for females. Males can reach an estimated maximum age of 60-70 years old, and females 80-90 years old. While SeaWorld points out “five of our animals are older than 30, and one of our whales is close to 50,” this is highly unusual for orcas in captivity, including those at SeaWorld. Many die before those ages, and some even before reaching maturity.

“The killer whales in our care benefit those in the wild. We work with universities, governmental agencies and NGOs to increase the body of knowledge about and the understanding of killer whales — from their anatomy and reproductive biology to their auditory abilities.” 

SeaWorld’s “research” on their captive orcas benefitting wild orcas is a stretch, to say the least. Captive orcas are mere shells of their wild counterparts, unable even to engage in the most basic of their natural behaviours or live in their natural social groupings. The collapsed dorsal fin that you see in captive orcas is something that SeaWorld claims is also common in the wild, but in fact is rarely seen in wild orcas. It is a sign of stress, illness, injury or other conditions.

killer whale5 killer whale6 killer whale1 killer whale2 killer whale4

“SeaWorld is a world leader in animal rescue.The millions of people who visit our parks each year make possible SeaWorld’s world-renowned work in rescue, rehabilitation and release…We have rescued more than 23,000 animals with the goal of treating and returning them to the wild.”

While SeaWorld does rescue, rehabilitate and release ocean wildlife, this statement included in their letter is disgracefully misleading. The animals released by SeaWorld are most often manatees, sea turtles, and other animals who cannot be used as “performers” in their shows. Dolphins and whales and other animals such as sea lions rescued by SeaWorld who can be forced to perform tricks for food are kept and used as performers.

We have yet to hear conclusive findings on the actual success of SeaWorld’s rescue and release program. They do not follow up and report on the survival of the animals who have been released from their care.

In addition, according to its 2011-12 Annual Report, SeaWorld has given only $9 million dollars over the last decade toward conservation efforts. That means for every 100 dollars in revenue they bring in, they donate approximately 1 cent toward saving the animals in the wild whose captive counterparts they are exploiting. That’s .0001 percent of their income going to help animals in the wild. I think that might be the most telling point of all — that, in fact, SeaWorld is really nothing more than a money-making enterprise.

The bottom line is that SeaWorld is part of the massive machine that is the captive marine mammal industry, an industry willing to spew whatever lies it can in order to keep you spending your money at their parks. This industry is inextricably linked not only to the deaths of the animals in their tanks, but to the deaths of marine mammals brutally slaughtered in Taiji, Japan where dolphin trainers work side-by-side with dolphin killers to hand-pick those who are suitable for captivity – those who are “prettiest” and without visible scars.

SeaWorld does not want you to know what “Blackfish” made so clear, and what our volunteer Cove Guardians continue to show on the ground in Taiji every day: captivity kills.

As that message spreads, a new generation is leading the way for a future of freedom for marine life. Children have begun to speak out and say that they will never spend another moment at SeaWorld or other marine parks that hold orcas and other dolphins and whales in captivity. Students have even gotten regular school trips to SeaWorld canceled.

Children may have small voices, but they also have powerful voices because they represent change. This may be the hardest hit to SeaWorld yet, as these future adults will usher in the end of support for the captive industry and a shift toward protecting marine mammals where they belong — in the wild.

Sea Shepherd has a call to action for our many enthusiastic and dedicated young supporters. You are a huge part of spreading Sea Shepherd’s message, including exposing the truth behind SeaWorld and other marine parks. We would like all Sea Shepherds — whether young in age or simply young at heart — to send us a picture with a sign stating your New Year’s Resolution — to never attend SeaWorld or other marine parks again.

You can even send us a video and tell us why this is your resolution for 2014 and beyond.

As a thank you for speaking up for these imprisoned animals in captivity, we will pick a winner from the entries to receive a special Sea Shepherd prize package!

You can send photos or links to your videos to: nomoretanks@seashepherd.org.
All entries must be received by January 4th, 2014 at 5pm PT.

Spread the word for 2014 and beyond: Captivity kills.

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Five Artists Have Cancelled At Seaworld -This Artist Needs To Do It Next: Petition To Sign Please‏

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“Perhaps more people need to see the documentary film ‘BlackFish’; for only then, can one begin to understand why it is so wrong to keep these magnificent creatures captive! I don’t blame Tilikum for the injuries or deaths  of any trainers (although of course I am sorry, they were put in that situation in the first place) I blame Tilikum’s captors & jailers for keeping him as a sperm donor & keeping him in the equivalent of a bath tub for kids! After 30 years wouldn’t you be pissed off?? As far as I am concerned anyone who performs there as an artist or pays to see the captive sea life shows (who haven’t seen ‘Blackfish; so perhaps don’t know any better); are just as bad as those keeping Orcas & other sea mammals captive”

“Take a look at the following – Just one piece of evidence as to why Orcas should not be held Captive!!”

killer whale5

“Watch a short clip about the film Blackfish”:-http://landing.newsinc.com/shared/video.html?freewheel=90302&sitesection=pennlive&VID=25294950

Blackfish Official Film Site (Preview):-http://blackfishmovie.com/download

Martina McBride: Don’t play at SeaWorld

Petition By Rochelle Corey-Ipswich, Massachusetts; Please sign below

Have you heard the great news?!? Barenaked Ladies and Willie Nelson have cancelled their performances at SeaWorld after becoming aware of the animal cruelty that takes place there. Martina McBride is scheduled to play at SeaWorld’s Bands, Brew & BBQ Festival on March 8th.

As an animal activist, who recently viewed Blackfish, I feel it’s important to make sure each of the performers SeaWorld has scheduled are made aware of what is truly happening to the amazing animals that are trapped there. Please join me in telling Martina McBride you do not want her to support SeaWorld’s animal cruelty. 

Martina McBride is an amazing artist who works diligently to end domestic violence.  

SeaWorld Orlando is where the orca Tilikum is kept. He was caught in the wild about 30 years ago and has since been involved in three human deaths including that of SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau right there in Orlando.

The orcas at SeaWorld’s theme parks (if they cared about animals, they would be non-profit sanctuaries or rehabilitation centres) are kept in tiny tanks where they become stressed, lack proper exercise, and are a risk to other animals and people.

SeaWorld also has also been fighting to import even more wild animals, beluga whales, into the United States, so it can make money off their captivity. And they’re fighting to get trainers back into the water for performances even though they’ve been fined tens of thousands of dollars because it’s already been proven to be a huge risk to the workers.

Please join me in politely asking Martina McBride to drop plans to perform at SeaWorld. To do so would be promoting cruelty to orcas and other animals.

Please sign the petition here:-https://www.change.org/petitions/martina-mcbride-don-t-play-at-seaworld?utm_source=action_alert&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=43688&alert_id=tFUDhkgCCe_xhRdbFmCqY

“We persuaded other artists not to play at Seaworld, so lets pursued Martina McBride also; please tweet & share to all; lets show Seaworld how a small group of misinformed individuals can act!” (Read last but one paragraph)

Dec 9th – Big Name Musicians Cancel SeaWorld Gig, Question Whales In Captivity

ORLANDO (CBSMiami/AP) – Top rock and country music acts are canceling plans to perform at SeaWorld Orlando because of questions raised in a new documentary about the effects of captivity on whales.

The rock bands Heart , Barenaked Ladies, along with country crooner Willie Nelson have cancelled their planned performances at SeaWorld in Florida for the Brew & Barbecue music series in February.

A posting on Heart’s official Twitter page said the decision was influenced by the recently released documentary “Blackfish.” The documentary raises questions about the effects of captivity on killer whales at marine parks such as SeaWorld.

Nelson and Barenaked Ladies made their decisions after fans launched Change.org petitions urging them not to perform at SeaWorld.

SeaWorld spokesman Nick Gollattscheck said  they were disappointed that “a small group of misinformed individuals” was able to influence the performers. “Cheeky Bxxxxxd!”

“The bands and artists have a standing invitation to visit any of our parks to see firsthand or to speak to any of our animal experts to learn for themselves how we care for animals and how little truth there is to the allegations made by animal extremist groups opposed to the zoological display of marine mammals,” Gollattscheck said. “Oh bla bla bla bla, of course it would be a small group of misinformed individuals; able to influence performers…so get over yourself….beware the wrath of animal activists….we are not that small a group; as you have clearly found out!!”

News Link:http://miami.cbslocal.com/2013/12/09/big-name-musicians-cancel-seaworld-gig-question-whales-in-captivity/

Graphic Video: Animals Are Not Ours To Use For Entertainment : Petitions to sign

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Most people go to circuseszoos, or marine parks because they “love animals” and have no idea what happens behind the scenes or how unnatural it is for animals to be captured, confined, and forced to perform for our entertainment.

Viewer Discretion Advised

Read

Undercover investigations have shown that elephants, tigers, and other animals on the road with Ringling Bros. and other circuses are electro-shocked, beaten with long metal rods called “bullhooks,” and denied proper veterinary care. Animals used in circuses spend most of their lives chained inside boxcars and never get to live freely with other animals, as they would in the wild.

Life in a zoo isn’t much better: Animals often live in barren enclosures—hundreds of times smaller than their homes in the wild. To make money, zoos breed animals in order to have babies to showcase, and sometimes older or less popular animals are even shipped off and replaced with cuter ones.

Even under the best of circumstances at the best of zoos, captivity cannot begin to replicate wild animals’ habitats. Animals are often prevented from doing most of the things that are natural and important to them, such as running, roaming, flying, climbing, foraging, choosing a partner, and being with others of their own kind.

Zoos teach people that it is acceptable to interfere with animals and keep them locked up in captivity, where they are bored, cramped, lonely, deprived of all control over their lives, and far from their natural homes.

Similarly, marine parks like SeaWorld give orcas and dolphins nothing more than what is essentially a concrete bathtub to live in. Forced to perform for large, noisy crowds, orcas become frustrated, bored, and aggressive.

If zoos, circuses like Ringling Bros., and marine parks like SeaWorld really cared about animals, they would let them live freely in the wild and wouldn’t force them to suffer for profit. You can show these industries that YOU care about animals by never purchasing a ticket to a zoo, a marine park, or a circus that uses animals and by spreading the word to your friends and family

News Link:-http://www.peta2.com/issues/animals-are-not-ours-to-use-for-entertainment/

Petition to support ‘last animal circus’

( If this petition is launched & you love animals; please don’t sign it)

The promoter of what is being billed as “the last animal circus” in Malta is planning to launch a petition in favour of the genre.

Pressure to ban animal circuses from the island has grown over the years. Last summer an overwhelming 94 per cent of those who took part in a public consultation exercise said they believe all animals should be banned from circuses.

Animal rights activists have staged repeated protests arguing that animals are often beaten during the training process.

And in the last Budget it was announced that a White Paper would be issued on banning circus animals.

Local circus organisers have always insisted that the animals they use in their shows are not ill-treated.

In the face of this trend, two circuses – an animal and a marine one – will be set up in Malta in the coming weeks.

The Viviana Orfei circus, featuring tigers, horses, hippos, zebras, camels and ostriches, among others, is at Gżira this weekend. Its promoter, Silvio Zammit, said in a statement that this was the last opportunity to see an animal circus in Malta.

However, on Facebook he said a petition would soon be launched in favour of animal circuses, in reply to one person who thought they had already been banned.

In his statement he said the animals were born on the circus and formed part of the circus family. Animal cruelty, he added, was totally condemnable.

News Link:http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20131209/local/Petition-to-support-last-animal-circus-.498170#.UqjScdLud84

Petition to sign against using animals in circuses:-

Circus tigers give birth on way to Malta

Animal circuses are accompanied by controversy every time they come to Malta at Christmas time.

But this year’s circus at Gżira came with a twist after two female tigers gave birth to six cubs on their way to Malta. 

The cute twist is unlikely to fend off criticism from animal lovers who feel animal circuses are wrong. But as the cubs whine under the watchful eye of their mothers the Viviana Orfei circus owners insist the birth of the cubs is proof of the good care they give animals.

Born in captivity, the owners argue the animals know no better. “They are part of our family,” they insist.

Video & News Link:http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20131211/local/tigers.498545#.UqjVHNLud84

Page full of petitions to sign: WE MUST HELP THE VOICELESS:

https://preciousjules1985.wordpress.com/more-up-to-date-petitions-that-need-your-signature-please/

SeaWorld Refutes New Film That Exposes the Cruel Treatment of Captive Whales

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The new documentary ‘Blackfish’ reveals the inner workings of the multi-billion dollar seapark industry.

Captive whales have been driven to disturbing and destructive behavior. (Photo: John Warden/Getty Images)

SeaWorld has unleashed a bitter attack on the new documentary Blackfish, accusing the filmmakers of being “shamelessly dishonest,” and filling the movie with serious inaccuracies.

As someone who has followed the saga of Tilikum and deceased trainer Dawn Brancheau for years, I was happy to rebut SeaWorld’s various grievances. The inaccuracies, it turns out, are found in spokesman Fred Jacob’s “Dear Film Critic” letter, which was sent out today:

I’m writing to you on behalf of SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment. You may be aware of a documentary called “Blackfish” that purports to expose SeaWorld’s treatment of killer whales (or orcas) and the “truth” behind the tragic death of trainer Dawn Brancheau in 2010.

In the event you are planning to review this film, we thought you should be apprised of the following. Although “Blackfish” is by most accounts a powerful, emotionally-moving piece of advocacy, it is also shamefully dishonest, deliberately misleading, and scientifically inaccurate. As the late scholar and U.S. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan famously noted: “You are entitled to your opinion. But you are not entitled to your own facts.”

The film’s most egregious and untrue allegations include: The insinuation that SeaWorld stocks its parks with killer whales captured from the wild. In fact, SeaWorld hasn’t collected a killer whale from the wild in more than 35 years; more than 80% of the killer whales at SeaWorld were born there or in other zoological facilities.

 First of all, an “insinuation” is not an accusation, and Blackfish does not make this claim. It is worth pointing out, however, that the wild orca Morgan, who was rescued in waters off the Netherlands a few years back, now lives at Loro Parque, Spain; in its SEC filing there, SeaWorld claimed her as one of their own whales, just as they own the other orcas in the park.

The assertion that killer whales in the wild live more than twice as long as those living at SeaWorld. While research suggests that some wild killer whales can live as long as 60 or 70 years, their average lifespan is nowhere near that. Nor is it true that killer whales in captivity live only 25 to 35 years.

Because we’ve been studying killer whales at places like SeaWorld for only 40 years or so, we don’t know what their lifespans might be—though we do know that SeaWorld currently has one killer whale in her late 40s and a number of others in their late 30s.

The research completed to date does not “suggest” average life expectancies and maximum lifespans; it methodically and scientifically documents them, at least among resident killer whales of the Pacific Northwest.

As I reported in Death at SeaWorld: “The average life expectancy for female orcas in the wild has been estimated at 45 to 50 years, with a maximum lifespan of about 90,” and, “the average life expectancy for a wild orca male is approximately 30 years, with an estimated maximum lifespan of about 60.”

Read More:http://www.takepart.com/article/2013/07/13/killer-whales-cruel-treatment-in-captivity?cmpid=tpanimals-eml-2013-07-20-seaworld

SeaWorld Orca “Vicky” Dies in Spain

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June 16, 2013 

After demonstrating ‘strange behaviours’ in the days prior, a 10-month-old whale passes away.

An infant female orca by the name of Vicky has died at the Loro Parque amusement park in the Canary Islands, park officials announced today on its Facebook page.

The whales owned by SeaWorld can be extremely hindered in their ability to mother their young. (Photo: Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images)

Vicky, just 10 months old, had been rejected by her mother Kohana, a young orca who was ripped from her own mother’s side at just 19 months of age and eventually shipped off to Tenerife.

“In contrast with joy with which Loro Parque announced the birth of the second baby orca in Spain, last August 3rd, today with enormous regret we inform you of the sad demise of Vicky, who with so much emotion and affection, the team of OrcaOcean cared for in her 10 months of life,”Loro Parque’s Facebook page says.

The death was sudden and the cause unknown, though Vicky had been showing unusual behaviours in recent days, according to the post. It was serious enough to fly in SeaWorld’s chief veterinarian to perform an examination.

The orcas at Loro Parque all belong to SeaWorld, and are cared for and trained according to SeaWorld protocols. In 2006, the company flew four young whales—two females, Kohana and Skyla, and two males, Keto and Tekoa—to Spain on a “breeding loan.

About two years later Kohana, at just six years of age, (extremely young for an orca) was impregnated and, in 2010, gave birth to a male calf named Adan. All orcas born at Loro Parque are the legal property of SeaWorld.

Kohana, however, was an utterly unfit mother, and she wanted nothing to do with Adan, rejecting him almost immediately.

Many critics speculated that Kohana had simply never learned how to be a mother, because there were no mother orcas at Loro Parque for her to emulate. It didn’t help matters that Kohana only spent 19 months with her own mother before being taken away.

Even as Adan was being hand-nursed by park staff, Kohana became pregnant again, this time with Vicky. The father in both pregnancies was Keto, who is Kohana’s uncle, making Adan and Vicky more inbred orcas to add to SeaWorld’s “collection.”

One whale at a SeaWorld park was impregnated by her own son. According to bloodline charts, Vicky was related to 21 out of 26 SeaWorld killer whales.

Last year, when Vicky was born, Kohana again immediately rejected her calf. The double-tragedy was covered beautifully by Elizabeth Batt at Digital Journal.

I have been studying killer whale issues intensively for about three years, and have never heard of a mother rejecting her calf in the wild. It is hard to imagine. But in my book Death at SeaWorldI document several cases of maternal rejection in captivity.

TakePart has written about Loro Parque in the past, including this article about the female orca Morgan who, after stranding in the Netherlands, was sent to Tenerife and is now listed on SeaWorld’s stock offering as belonging to them.

And last December, in another piece, TakePart reported that, “Advocates were aghast at the trans-Atlantic arrangement. Killer whales, whether in the ocean or a crowded pool, are highly socialized animals who learn from elders about proper norms of behaviour. Mothers, grandmothers and older siblings keep youngsters in check, and extinguish outbursts of disharmony that disrupt cohesion and proper pod functioning.”

“These whales are so young, without a normal upbringing, and now they’re in Spain together without any sort of adult orca supervision,’ one observer said. ‘It’s like Lord of the Flies over there.’”

It’s not clear if Kohana’s rejection of Vicky, or her inbreeding, contributed to her death (50 percent of wild-born orcas do not survive their first year). But it’s just another sad mark on the history and reputation of Loro Parque.

As I wrote in my book, at least one trainer was deeply concerned about the whales, and the way that Kohana’s uncle, Keto, kept trying to breed with her.

The trainer, Alex Martinez, turned to his personal diary to describe his growing worries about the erratic behaviour. The whales’ seemingly bottomless sex drives were on the verge of upending the fragile social order imposed upon the hormonally charged adolescents.

“Keto is obsessed with controlling Kohana, he won’t separate from her, including shows,” Martinez wrote. Tekoa was also “very sexual when he is alone with Kohana.”

A few months later, Keto would “go off behaviour” and brutally ram Martinez in the chest, killing him. Just two months after that, Dawn Brancheau would be mortally wounded in a similar fashion at SeaWorld Florida by the three-time killer Tilikum, who happens to be grandfather to Kohana and great-grandfather to her two hapless children, one of them now tragically gone.

News Link:-http://www.takepart.com/article/2013/06/16/breaking-seaworld-orca-dies-spain

TAKE THE PLEDGE:- Don’t the Ticket! Whales & Dolphins Shouldn’t Be in Captivity:- Please click link to sign :- http://www.takepart.com/actions/dont-buy-ticket-whale-show?cmpid=tp-ptnr-tab-d84909c52edcceb20c7bba62052b1b01

Activists to Orca Enslavers: Thanks, but No Tanks

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June 25, 2013 By 

Confining the planet’s second smartest mammal to aquarium tanks is cruel and unusual punishment.

July is shaping up to be a tough month for the captive marine mammal industry. My book, Death at SeaWorld, Shamu and the Dark Side of Killer Whales in Captivity, comes out in paperback in one week, on July 2, followed by the release of the critically acclaimed documentaryBlackfish, which opens July 17. The double-punch against orca captivity has been duly noted by major media around the world, including an upcoming feature article in Business Week.

Then, on July 27, comes a global day of protest against marine mammal facilities, taking place in at least 21 locations around the worldEmpty the Tanks Worldwide is billed by the group’s Facebook page as “a day for everyone around the world to stand up against marine mammal captivity. The abuse and exploitation of these sentient beings has no place in the 21st century.” 

Recently, I caught up with Empty the Tanks organizer Rachel Greenhalgh from her home near Seattle, not far from the San Juan Islands, Washington—one of the world’s premier places to see orcas in their natural habitat: the vast and open sea.

TakePart: How did you come up with this idea?

Rachel Greenhalgh: I was in Taiji, Japan, as a Cove Guardian in January of this year. On one of my last days there I was thinking that I wanted to find a way to be productive and proactive in this fight against the captivity industry after I returned home. That’s when and where this whole idea began. The captive animals floating listlessly in their tiny sea pens in Taiji are a sight that cuts you to your core. I wanted to come home and continue fighting for them.

How did you get the word out?

I began messaging other activists around the world, asking if they would become event coordinators. It took time but I eventually found passionate and dedicated individuals to help carry out this important event with me. Once I had about a half dozen participating locations, I began getting messages from people all over the world who wanted to host their own Empty the Tanks event. Facebook has created amazing connection opportunities for activists like myself.

How many people in how many cities are now signed up to take part?

We have 21 locations in nine countries participating in the Empty the Tanks event. I am expecting a few hundred people to participate in these events around the world. Those numbers will hopefully grow each year that this annual event continues.

What is the most unexpected place where a protest is taking part?

I don’t know that there is an unexpected place. I think it is amazing we have 21 locations in nine counties. The two events taking place in Japan are very meaningful to me simply because of the time I spent in Taiji, Japan. I think it is incredible to see such commitment in the Japanese activists.

Do you want to retire marine mammals over time, or close down marine parks altogether?

Ideally, I would want these parks to close down. I do not feel marine mammal entertainment parks have any place in the 21st century. We know the level of awareness these animals have. We know their social connections, their eating habits, and natural wild behaviours. You cannot breed natural instincts out of an animal in a handful of generations. These are incredibly social, intelligent beings that are being used to make money. It is animal slavery, and it needs to be brought to the general public’s attention.

Empty the Tanks is not a radical movement requesting the release of all the captive whales and dolphins. Some of these animals might be great candidates for release, but those that are not should be retired into sea pens, where they can enjoy the rest of their days in natural seawater, feeling the waves of the ocean around them. They should not be worked until their last breath is taken and then thrown out like trash and replaced.

Why Is SeaWorld Allowing Its Killer Whales to Live in Crumbling Pools?

What do you expect to happen outside these facilities and how will guests get the message?

These events are about getting a message to the general public. We are trying to reach those going to the ticket counter. We are not the ones buying the tickets and keeping these parks in business, and we need to reach the public and get them to understand what they are supporting. We have some great informational postcards that will be handed out to anyone willing to take one as well as some powerful banners with images that speak for themselves.

Have you received any response from the captive display industry?

I have not heard from anyone in the captivity industry so far. I have been banned from most of the marine parks’ Facebook pages so I haven’t been able to post event information on them. (Someone claiming to be a SeaWorld educator, and another person says she used to work at the company, have posted comments the EET Facebook page.)

Where can people get more information?

If someone would like to host an event on July 27, or get more information, please send me an email to Rachel@emptythetanksworldwide.com. They can also contact me via thewebsite.

What do you think will come of this and what can concerned citizens do next when it’s over?

I think we will reach new people who were unaware of this issue. Even if we only get one family to turn away from that planned day at the park, well that is one more family on our side of this fight. Every person matters and eventually we will win this fight. We will see an end to marine mammal exploitation and to places like SeaWorld. We have already seen other countries ban shows using dolphins, so it is only a matter of time before the whole world catches on. I will not stop until we do. The best thing concerned citizens can do is continue to spread the truth about the captivity industry. Never stop talking about this issue until we empty the tanks worldwide.

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Forced Inbreeding and Bloody Battles—Killer Whales Live in Horror at Spanish Theme Park

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“My apologies for these late posts” March 15, 2013 

Attacks against low-ranking orcas are not only intolerable—they’re illegal. Will U.S. officials step in and save them?

The battle scars of Tekoa, a killer whale living at Loro Parque, a Spanish theme park. (Photo: timzimmermann.com)

Animal welfare advocates are desperately seeking U.S. government intervention in the case of seven Sea World-owned killer whales on “loan” at Loro Parque, a theme park in Spain’s Canary Islands.

Armed with photographic evidence showing at least two lower-ranking orcas raked with teeth marks, and a new, damning report from a leading whale scientist, advocates say the federal government must repatriate the animals back to the United States at once.

“The group of orcas held at Loro Parque is fundamentally dysfunctional and the trainers there are not experienced enough to recognize or address this. Remote oversight by SeaWorld has been insufficient to prevent systemic social problems within this group of animals,” Dr. Naomi Rose, senior scientist at Humane Society Internationalwrote last month to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which shares jurisdiction over captive marine mammals with the USDA.

“The situation at Loro Parque cannot safeguard the orcas’ well-being and once again, we urge you to compel SeaWorld to repatriate these animals,” Rose said in a letter cosigned by the Animal Welfare Institute and Whale and Dolphin Conservation.

The two low-ranking members of the artificial, dysfunctional pod at Loro Parque are routinely subjected to violent attacks, leaving deep scars etched in their skin that would be unthinkable among orcas in the natural environment, critics allege.

One victim is the young female Morgan, a wild orca who became lost off the Dutch coast and, following lengthy court battles, ended up in Tenerife.

“Since her transfer she has been brutally and continually attacked and is subjected to excessive sexual pressure from a male orca who she is often locked into the same tank with,” Dr. Ingrid Visser of New Zealand’s Orca Research Trust wrote of Morgan in the report, which has been submitted to USDA and NOAA as evidence in the repatriation effort.

Trainers at the park show “a clear lack of empathy for this animal,” Visser said, “who ignore her calls for attention and her cries for help and disregard aggressive attacks on her by the other animals.”

Visser observed Morgan for 77 hours over eight days, and witnessed an “unprecedented 91 aggression events” involving the newcomer, who arrived in 2011. “Morgan, was attacked, on average, more than once an hour,” she wrote, noting that a similar study of another captive orca “recorded an aggressive episode only once every 234 hours.”

In other words, Morgan is “over than 100 times more likely to be attacked at Loro Parque than the orca in the other study,” Visser said. Morgan has suffered more than 320 puncture and bite marks (all documented by photographs), she added. “This does not include the damage she has self-inflicted from abnormal and repetitive behaviours such as banging her head on the concrete tanks.”

The other abused orca is Tekoa, who Visser once called in court documents “the most attacked and bitten orca in the world-wide captive industry.”

The young, confounding life of Tekoa has never been easy, and he has been both perpetrator and victim of serious attacks that simply do not happen in the wild. But when one considers the messed up little society in which he has been forced to live, the aggression becomes easier to comprehend.

In 2006, Sea World sent four young whales, all born in captivity, to Loro Parque on a renewable 25-year loan in exchange for a percentage at the box-office and ownership of offspring produced at the park.

All four transplants, two males and two females, had already led lives that I described as “interrupted” in my book Death at SeaWorld.  The females were Kohana, and Skyla. Both males are related to Skyla. Keto is a half-brother though their mother Kalina and the oldest and perhaps most dysfunctional of the quartet. But it’s the ravaged Tekoa, Skyla’s half-brother through Tilikum, who caught the attention of many advocates.

Tekoa was born in Orlando to an unstable mother named Taima, a bizarre hybrid of Icelandic mother and Pacific-transient father who could only be bred in captivity. Taima attacked her first-born and was equally aggressive with Tekoa. Mother and son were separated after Taima tried to kill him. In April 2004, Sea World sent Tekoa to San Antonio before “lending” him to Loro Parque in 2006.

Advocates were aghast at the trans-Atlantic arrangement. Killer whales, whether in the ocean or a crowded pool, are highly socialized animals who learn from elders about proper norms of behaviour. Mothers, grandmothers and older siblings keep youngsters in check, and extinguish outbursts of disharmony that disrupt cohesion and proper pod functioning.

“These whales are so young, without a normal upbringing, and now they’re in Spain together without any sort of adult orca supervision,” one observer said. “It’s like Lord of the Flies over there.”

The little dysfunctional family has grown recently.

In October 2010, the very young Kohana gave birth to a male calf, Adan, who she immediately rejected. Last August, she gave birth again, to a female named Victoria, who was also promptly rejected. Keto is the father of both, but as Elizabeth Batt pointed out at Digital Journal, he is a blood relative of Kohana, meaning she was bred twice “to her own uncle.”

Killer whale society is highly stable, though at Loro Parque, it seems to be anything but. Trainers have paid the price for this instability, but so have the orcas, especially the sub-dominant members of this matriarchal world.

Lowly Tekoa has borne much of the physical abuse, as evidenced by photos taken before and after his skin was covered in “rake marks” etched from the sharp conical teeth of tank-mates. Unlike the ocean, when an orca is attacked at Loro Parque, there is nowhere to escape, nowhere to hide.

This image, first published by journalist Tim Zimmermann, shows that Tekoa’s dorsal side is scarred, scraped and battered by teeth-marks inflicted by his tank-mates, some of whom are related to him, in Sea World’s tiny, inbred universe of captive orcas.

“Tekoa is definitely subordinate, although he is probably no longer the lowest in the hierarchy—Morgan and the two calves are in that position now,” Naomi Rose told TakePart. “In wild orca society, no one gets beat up like this.”

In the wild, offspring likely inherit their mother’s status, which along with age determines pecking order. Thus, “beating each other up doesn’t need to occur and doesn’t, occur,” Rose asserted. Calves might nip others out of “youthful ignorance and exuberance,” she said, and relatives sometimes show a few nicks.

Other nicks, scratches and scars “are probably inflicted when discipline is meted out within a maternal group,” Rose said. But those are minor wounds that only sometimes become permanent scars. “We never see this kind of mish-mash of scars and rake marks and wounds when photo-identifying a wild orca,” she said.

Ingrid Visser concurred. “In the wild, even these playful nips are exactly that: You don’t see the outright attacks like I’ve seen at Loro Parque.” She compared such aberrant activities to what takes place in prison, calling it “seriously aggressive behaviour, typically manifested on the lower individuals in the population,” as opposed to the “protective behaviour” of more “normal” societies.

The beat-up Tekoa is himself no stranger to displaying “seriously aggressive behaviour,” at least against people.

In October 2007, trainer Claudia Vollhardt was warming up with Tekoa when he became frustrated and took her arm into his mouth. Then he dove to the bottom. Tekoa held her underwater a moment, then dragged her to the surface. After escaping, even as Vollhardt lay injured and bleeding, Tekoa tried to lunge from the water at her. Her right lung was punctured and her forearm fractured into three pieces. 

Suzanne Allee, a former Sea World employee who worked at Loro Parque, recalled that in the summer of 2007, “Tekoa was forced to perform while injured and bleeding after the supervisor lost control of Keto and he raced into the show pool and attacked Tekoa.” The supervisor ordered the show to go on, but “Claudia was the one who continued to perform with Tekoa,” Allee said. “I still believe Tekoa remembered this incident when he attacked her just a few months later.”

Both Tekoa and half-sister Sklya were banished from “water work” with trainers, due to aggressive unpredictability. Now, only Kohana and Keto could be trusted to swim with humans.

That illusion shattered on Christmas Eve, 2009, when Keto brutally rammed and killed trainer Alexis Martinez, a close friend of Orlando employee Dawn Brancheau, who’d spent time in Tenerife training trainers. Two months later, Brancheau was killed by Tekoa’s father, Tilikum.

Because these unstable creatures belong to SeaWorld, they still fall under the jurisdiction of the USDA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Activists continue to lobby for action, but so far the feds refuse to intervene.

“We’re in touch with the U.S. regulatory authorities to pressure them to act under what we believe are their obligations under the law,” explained Courtney Vail of Whale and Dolphin Conservation. But the government has “put the onus on us to prove there are issues over there, and I think that Ingrid Visser’s eyewitness accounts, and these other photos, provide all the evidence they need to intervene,” Vail said. “We are awaiting their response.”

Meanwhile, she added, the Canary Island orcas are “beating each other up over there.”

Activists say the time to return these hapless whales to the United States is now, before more injuries and deaths occur. And though some might scoff at “repatriating” marine mammals, scientists like Rose take the idea quite seriously.

Rose noted that SeaWorld repatriated the orca Ikaika from Marineland Ontario after decrying his sub-par conditions in Canada. “Clearly the company is able and willing to relocate orcas when conditions at a present holding facility put them at risk,” she wrote, adding that, “Loro Parque and Sea World must act—if Sea World will not, NOAA must compel it to.”

News Link:http://www.takepart.com/article/2013/03/14/activists-us-repatriate-seaworld-orcas-dysfunctional-spanish-tanks

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