Sea World Responds to Blackfish Documentary, Sea Shepherd Sets the Record Straight
By Laura Beans
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 in 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 two years old. 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 behavior 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 behaviors 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.
“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 one 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.
Visit EcoWatch's BIODIVERSITY page for more related news on this topic.
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Farmers are the stewards of our planet's precious soil, one of the least understood and untapped defenses against climate change. Because of its massive potential to store carbon and foundational role in growing our food supply, soil makes farming a solution for both climate change and food security.
Soil can act as a natural "carbon sink." Climate Central, 2019
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By Shelly Miller
The vast majority of SARS-CoV-2 transmission occurs indoors, most of it from the inhalation of airborne particles that contain the coronavirus. The best way to prevent the virus from spreading in a home or business would be to simply keep infected people away. But this is hard to do when an estimated 40% of cases are asymptomatic and asymptomatic people can still spread the coronavirus to others.
It’s All About Fresh, Outside Air<p>The safest indoor space is one that constantly has lots of <a href="https://www.epa.gov/indoor-air-quality-iaq/how-does-outdoor-air-enter-building" target="_blank">outside air</a> replacing the stale air inside.</p><p>In commercial buildings, <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK143277/" target="_blank">outside air is usually pumped in</a> through heating, ventilating and air-conditioning (HVAC) systems. In <a href="https://www.epa.gov/indoor-air-quality-iaq/how-does-outdoor-air-enter-building" target="_blank">homes, outside air gets in</a> through open windows and doors, in addition to seeping in through various nooks and crannies.</p><p>Simply put, the more fresh, outside air inside a building, the better. Bringing in this air dilutes any contaminant in a building, whether a virus or a something else, and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1600-0668.2010.00703.x" target="_blank">reduces the exposure of anyone inside</a>. Environmental engineers like me quantify how much outside air is getting into a building using a measure called the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/jes.2013.30" target="_blank">air exchange rate</a>. This number quantifies the number of times the air inside a building gets replaced with air from outside in an hour.</p><p>While the exact rate depends on the number of people and size of the room, most experts consider roughly <a href="https://doi.org/10.1034/j.1600-0668.2002.01145.x" target="_blank">six air changes an hour</a> to be good for a 10-foot-by-10-foot room with three to four people in it. In a pandemic this should be higher, with one study from 2016 suggesting that an exchange rate of nine times per hour <a href="https://doi.org/10.1177%2F1420326X16631596" target="_blank">reduced the spread of SARS, MERS and H1N1</a> in a Hong Kong hospital.</p><p>Many buildings in the U.S., <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/ina.12403" target="_blank">especially schools</a>, do not meet recommended ventilation rates. Thankfully, it can be pretty easy to get more outside air into a building. Keeping <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/S0960-1481(99)00012-9" target="_blank">windows and doors open</a> is a good start. Putting a box fan in a window blowing out can greatly increase air exchange too. In buildings that don't have operable windows, you can change the mechanical ventilation system to increase how much air it is pumping. But in any room, the more people inside, the faster the air should be replaced.</p>
Using CO2 to Measure Air Circulation<p>So how do you know if the room you're in has enough air exchange? It's actually a pretty hard number to calculate. But there's an easy-to-measure proxy that can help. Every time you exhale, you <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/ina.12383" target="_blank">release CO2</a> into the air. Since the coronavirus is most often spread by breathing, coughing or talking, you can use <a href="https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/dd7e/b2870c38f70e5285e5118ed6f158c091f7cf.pdf" target="_blank">CO2 levels</a> to see if the room is filling up with potentially infectious exhalations. The CO2 level lets you estimate if enough fresh outside air is getting in.</p><p>Outdoors, CO2 levels are just above 400 parts per million (ppm). A well ventilated room will have around <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1600-0668.1999.00003.x" target="_blank">800 ppm of CO2</a>. Any higher than that and it is a sign the room might need more ventilation.</p><p>Last year, researchers in Taiwan reported on the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/ina.12639" target="_blank">effect of ventilation on a tuberculosis outbreak</a> at Taipei University. Many of the rooms in the school were underventilated and had CO2 levels above 3,000 ppm. When engineers improved air circulation and got CO2 levels under 600 ppm, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/ina.12639" target="_blank">the outbreak completely stopped</a>. According to the research, the increase in ventilation was responsible for 97% of the decrease in transmission.</p><p>Since the coronavirus is spread through the air, higher CO2 levels in a room likely mean there is a <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/ina.12639" target="_blank">higher chance of transmission</a> if an infected person is inside. Based on the study above, I recommend trying to keep the CO2 levels below 600 ppm. You can buy <a href="https://doi.org/10.5194/amt-7-3325-2014" target="_blank">good CO2 meters</a> for around $100 online; just make sure that they are accurate to within 50 ppm.</p>
Air Cleaners<p>If you are in a room that can't get enough outside air for dilution, consider an air cleaner, also commonly called air purifiers. These machines remove particles from the air, usually using <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cap.2005.07.013" target="_blank">a filter</a> made of tightly woven fibers. They can <a href="https://shellym80304.files.wordpress.com/2020/06/miller-leiden-et-al-1996.pdf" target="_blank">capture particles containing bacteria and viruses</a> and can help reduce disease transmission.</p><p>The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says that <a href="https://www.epa.gov/coronavirus/air-cleaners-hvac-filters-and-coronavirus-covid-19" target="_blank">air cleaners can do this for the coronavirus</a>, but not all air cleaners are equal. Before you go out and buy one, there are few things to keep in mind.</p><p>The first thing to consider is <a href="https://shellym80304.files.wordpress.com/2020/06/air-cleaner-report.pdf" target="_blank">how effective an air cleaner's filter is</a>. Your best option is a cleaner that uses a high-efficiency particulate air (<a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/S0021-8502(05)80214-9" target="_blank">HEPA</a>) filter, as these remove more than <a href="https://doi.org/10.1063/1.2771421" target="_blank">99.97% of all particle sizes</a>.</p><p>The second thing to consider is how powerful the cleaner is. The bigger the room – or the more people in it – the more air needs to be cleaned. I worked with some colleagues at Harvard to put together a tool to help teachers and schools determine <a href="https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1NEhk1IEdbEi_b3wa6gI_zNs8uBJjlSS-86d4b7bW098/edit#gid=1275403500" target="_blank">how powerful of an air cleaner you need for different classroom sizes</a>.</p><p>The last thing to consider is the validity of the claims made by the company producing the air cleaner.</p><p>The Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers certifies air cleaners, so the AHAM Verifide seal is a good place to start. Additionally, the California Air Resources Board has a <a href="https://ww2.arb.ca.gov/our-work/programs/air-cleaners-ozone-products/california-certified-air-cleaning-devices" target="_blank">list of air cleaners</a> that are certified as safe and effective, though not all of them use HEPA filters.</p>
Keep Air Fresh or Get Outside<p>Both the <a href="https://www.who.int/news-room/commentaries/detail/transmission-of-sars-cov-2-implications-for-infection-prevention-precautions" target="_blank">World Health Organization</a> and <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/deciding-to-go-out.html" target="_blank">U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention</a> say that poor ventilation increases the risk of transmitting the coronavirus.</p><p>If you are in control of your indoor environment, make sure you are getting enough fresh air from outside circulating into the building. A CO2 monitor can help give you a clue if there is enough ventilation, and if CO2 levels start going up, open some windows and <a href="https://www.advisory.com/daily-briefing/2020/07/17/outdoor-gathering" target="_blank">take a break outside</a>. If you can't get enough fresh air into a room, an air cleaner might be a good idea. If you do get an air cleaner, be aware that they don't remove CO2, so even though the air might be safer, CO2 levels could still be high in the room.</p><p>If you walk into a building and it feels hot, stuffy and crowded, chances are that there is not enough ventilation. Turn around and leave.</p><p>By paying attention to air circulation and filtration, improving them where you can and staying away from places where you can't, you can add another powerful tool to your anti-coronavirus toolkit.</p>
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The tiny island nation of Mauritius, known for its turquoise waters, vibrant corals and diverse ecosystem, is in the midst of an environmental catastrophe after a Japanese cargo ship struck a reef off the country's coast two weeks ago. That ship, which is still intact, has since leaked more than 1,000 metric tons of oil into the Indian Ocean. Now, a greater threat looms, as a growing crack in the ship's hull might cause the ship to split in two and release the rest of the ship's oil into the water, NPR reported.
On Friday, Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth declared a state of environmental emergency.
France has sent a military aircraft carrying pollution control equipment from the nearby island of Reunion to help mitigate the disaster. Additionally, Japan has sent a six-member team to assist as well, the BBC reported.
The teams are working to pump out the remaining oil from the ship, which was believed to be carrying 4,000 metric tons of fuel.
"We are expecting the worst," Mauritian Wildlife Foundation manager Jean Hugues Gardenne said on Monday, The Weather Channel reported. "The ship is showing really big, big cracks. We believe it will break into two at any time, at the maximum within two days. So much oil remains in the ship, so the disaster could become much worse. It's important to remove as much oil as possible. Helicopters are taking out the fuel little by little, ton by ton."
Sunil Dowarkasing, a former strategist for Greenpeace International and former member of parliament in Mauritius, told CNN that the ship contains three oil tanks. The one that ruptured has stopped leaking oil, giving disaster crews time to use a tanker and salvage teams to remove oil from the other two tanks before the ship splits.
By the end of Tuesday, the crew had removed over 1,000 metric tons of oil from the ship, NPR reported, leaving about 1,800 metric tons of oil and diesel, according to the company that owns the ship. So far the frantic efforts are paying off. Earlier today, a local police chief told BBC that there were still 700 metric tons aboard the ship.
The oil spill has already killed marine animals and turned the turquoise water black. It's also threatening the long-term viability of the country's coral reefs, lagoons and shoreline, NBC News reported.
"We are starting to see dead fish. We are starting to see animals like crabs covered in oil, we are starting to see seabirds covered in oil, including some which could not be rescued," said Vikash Tatayah, conservation director at Mauritius Wildlife Foundation, according to The Weather Channel.
While the Mauritian authorities have asked residents to leave the clean-up to officials, locals have organized to help.
"People have realized that they need to take things into their hands. We are here to protect our fauna and flora," environmental activist Ashok Subron said in an AFP story.
Reuters reported that sugar cane leaves, plastic bottles and human hair donated by locals are being sewn into makeshift booms.
Human hair absorbs oil, but not water, so scientists have long suggested it as a material to contain oil spills, Gizmodo reported. Mauritians are currently collecting as much human hair as possible to contribute to the booms, which consist of tubes and nets that float on the water to trap the oil.
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Environmentalists and ornithologists found a friend in a federal court on Tuesday when a judge struck down a Trump administration attempt to allow polluters to kill birds without repercussions through rewriting the Migratory Treaty Bird Act (MBTA).
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By Elizabeth Claire Alberts
There are trillions of microplastics in the ocean — they bob on the surface, float through the water column, and accumulate in clusters on the seafloor. With plastic being so ubiquitous, it's inevitable that marine organisms, such as sharks, will ingest them.
Polyproylene fibers found in one of the sampled sharks. Kristian Parton
Spiny dogfish. NOAA / Wikimedia Commons<p>"There appear to be two routes for these particles to end up in the sharks," Parton said. "The first through their food source [such as] crustaceans. Their prey may already contain these fibers, and consequently it's passed to the shark through bioaccumulation up the food chain. The second pathway is direct ingestion from the sediment. As these sharks feed, they'll often suck up sediment into their mouths, some of this is expelled straight away, although some is swallowed, therefore fibers and particles that may have sunk down into the seabed may be directly ingested from the surrounding sediment as these sharks feed."</p><p>Some sharks only contained a few plastic particles, but others contained dozens. The larger the shark, the more plastic was in it, the findings suggested. The highest number of microplastics was found in an individual bull huss, which had 154 polypropylene fibers inside its stomach and intestines.</p><p>"It's perhaps likely this individual shark had swallowed a larger piece of fishing rope/netting and this has broken down during digestive processes within the shark, and also broken down into smaller pieces during our analysis," Parton said.</p>
Lesser-spotted dogfish caught as bycatch. Kristian Parton<p>While this study only examined the stomach and digestive tracts of demersal sharks, Parton says it's possible that plastic would be present in other parts of the sharks' bodies, such as the liver and muscle tissue. However, more research would be needed to prove this.</p><p>At the moment, there is also limited understanding of how microplastic ingestion would impact a shark's health, although microplastics are known to negatively influence feeding behavior, development, reproduction and life span of zooplankton and crustaceans.</p><p>"If we can show that these fibers contain inorganic pollutants attached to them, then that could have real consequences for these shark species at a cellular level, impacting various internal body systems," Parton said.</p>
Parton in the lab. Kristian Parton<p>This new study demonstrates how pervasive and destructive plastic pollution can be in the marine environment, according to Will McCallum, head of oceans for Greenpeace U.K.</p><p>"Our addiction to plastics combined with the lack of mechanisms to protect our oceans is suffocating marine life," McCallum said in a statement. "Sharks sit on top of the marine food web and play a vital role in ocean ecosystems. Yet, they are completely exposed to pollutants and other human impactful activities. We need to stop producing so much plastic and create a network of ocean sanctuaries to give wildlife space to recover. The ocean is not our dump, marine life deserves better than plastic."</p>
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By Loveday Wright and Stuart Braun
After a Japanese-owned oil tanker struck a reef off Mauritius on July 25, a prolonged period of inaction is threatening to become an ecological disaster.
<div id="bb0a7" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="e5aefc0fff61ab1aea2f4b03c5399864"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1291765757013983238" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">The #oilspill is devastating but I want to honour the community mobilisation at the Mahebourg waterfront today (to… https://t.co/UWFkZFdjdi</div> — Fabiola Monty (@Fabiola Monty)<a href="https://twitter.com/LFabiolaMonty/statuses/1291765757013983238">1596815930.0</a></blockquote></div><p>"Booms are made of nylon mesh filled with #sugarcane straws all hand-stitched by Mauritian volunteers, empty plastic bottles used as buoys," described Mauritian journalist Zeenat Hansrod in a tweet. </p>
How to Tackle Oil Spills<p>The method for tackling oil spills depends on several factors, including the type and amount of oil in question, location and weather conditions.</p><p>"Once the oil comes to shore, the more intensive the cleaning technique. You can risk causing further damage," said Nicky Cariglia, an independent consultant at Marittima, who specializes in marine pollution. </p><p>"If you wanted to remove all traces of oil, the techniques available become increasingly aggressive the less oil that remains. In mangroves, you would have the added risk of causing damage by trampling," Cariglia told DW. Highly sensitive mangrove ecosystems line the Mauritius east coast that is threatened by the current spill.</p><p>Because oil normally has a lower density than water, it floats on the surface of the ocean. This means that for clean-up action to be most effective, it should happen very quickly after a spill, before the oil disperses. </p>
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