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Summer is a time for escape reading. But that designation need not be limited to fiction; books written for the general reader on topics outside one's area of expertise can also provide passage to exciting new places. This month's bookshelf includes six non-fiction titles, five novels and one collection of short stories. The last three titles are now in paperback, suitable for a vacation or some beach time. Good reading to you!
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According to Bloomberg, "SeaWorld Entertainment Inc. received a subpoena earlier this month from regulators investigating disclosures and public statements by executives, including comments about the Blackfish documentary that caused a public backlash against the confinement of orcas.
The ocean park announced that the mother of four, grandmother of six and great grandmother of two died at approximately 8:15 p.m. "surrounded by members of her pod, as well as the veterinarians and caretakers who loved her."
By Amanda Froelich
According to a new report by SeaWorld, Tilikum—the infamous killer whale involved in the deaths of three people—died today. The well-known orca, thought to be about 35-years-old, was the focus of the 2013 documentary "Blackfish," which criticizes the marine park for keeping killer whales and other aquatic wildlife in conditions deemed to be less-than-ideal.
On the morning of Jan. 6, one of SeaWorld's most well-known orcas, Tilikum, passed away surrounded by trainers, care staff and veterinarians at the Orlando, Florida ocean theme park where the famous killer whale lived most of his life.
Sea Shepherd Conservation Society launched a series of images today illustrating the tragic fates met by real-life captive cetaceans.
The images come just as the holiday season begins and families are making choices about how to spend their money on entertainment. The pictures are being published to educate and deter travelers around the world from buying tickets to marine shows, swim-with-dolphin programs and other similar animal encounter experiences.
Sea Shepherd Conservation Society partnered with a group of Hollywood industry heavyweights and a middle school from the Los Angeles Unified School District on a student filmmaking contest.
The winner's film was released as Sea Shepherd's official PSA this morning for World Oceans Day.
Meet Takara, a 25-year-old pregnant orca living in SeaWorld San Antonio in Texas. Takara's newborn, expected to arrive in Spring 2017, will be the last remaining orca to live its life in SeaWorld's tanks after the ocean park announced in March it would end its captive orca breeding program after years of campaigning from animal welfare groups and concerned citizens.
Tilikum, the killer whale at the center of the 2013 documentary Blackfish, is in deteriorating health. SeaWorld's teams are treating him for what they believe is a bacterial infection in his lungs, the company announced on its Facebook page Tuesday.
"We are saddened to report that over the past few weeks, Tilikum's behavior has become increasingly lethargic, and the SeaWorld veterinary and animal care teams are concerned that his health is beginning to deteriorate," the company said.
The 35-year-old male orca is not responding to treatment and "a cure for his illness has not been found," SeaWorld said.
"Since Tilikum became a part of SeaWorld’s family 23 years ago, he has received the best in marine mammal health care and life enrichment available for killer whales—including a focus on his physical health, mental engagement and social activity with other whales," SeaWorld said. "Despite the best care available, like all aging animals, he battles chronic health issues that are taking a greater toll as he ages."
Tilikum, whose name means "friend" in Chinook, was captured from the wild in 1983 at the age of 2, according to Reuters. He came to SeaWorld 23 years ago from Sealand of the Pacific in Canada.
Average life expectancy for orcas in the wild is 30 to 50 years. Some males live 60 to 70 years, and females can live to be 80 to 100 years old. Life expectancy for killer whales in captivity is much shorter. The median survival rate for orcas in U.S. marine parks is just 12 years.
As America's most famous orca, Tilikum, has "shouldered a fraught history, emerging as the symbol of both orcas’ elegance and their capacity for violence," The Washington Post said.
Tilikum has fathered 21 offspring (1o of which are still alive today). But he's also been linked to three human deaths.
In 1991, while housed in poor conditions at Sealand, Tilikum and two females killed a 20-year-old, part-time trainer named Keltie Byrne after she slipped and fell into their tank.
“She tried to get back out and the other girl tried to pull her up, but the whale grabbed her back foot and pulled her under,” a witness told CNN in 1991. “And then the whales—they bounced her around the pool a whole bunch of times, and she was screaming for help.”
Byrne was the first trainer to be killed by orcas at a marine park. Sealand never recovered from the controversy, sold Tilikum and its other killer whales to SeaWorld and was forced to close.
Then in 1999, Tilikum appeared to strike again. Twenty-seven-year-old Daniel Dukes was found dead lying across Tilikum's back after Dukes snuck into the park at night.
And then, there was the most recent and well known death caused by Tilikum. In 2010, the male orca pulled a trainer, Dawn Brancheau, into the water and violently thrashed her around in front of an audience at SeaWorld Orlando. Brancheau was dead by the time SeaWorld employees reached her.
Tilikum was retired from doing shows for about a year, but was brought back for public performances in the spring of 2011.
Two years later Blackfish was released, documenting the plight of killer whales in captivity. The film has sparked a massive public outcry against keeping these large creatures in small tanks since in the wild they swim up to 100 miles per day.
In October 2015, to the delight of animal activists, California banned captive breeding of orcas at SeaWorld. However, SeaWorld has remained mired in controversy, as the death of Dart, a male dolphin, brought the park's death toll to four large marine mammals in just four months.
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By Ashley Palmer
Led by an "orca," People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) members descended on SeaWorld San Diego with signs urging, "SeaWorld: Send Corky Home!" The action was the first protest in PETA's new "Free Corky" campaign, which calls for the longest-held captive orca in the world to be released into a sea sanctuary planned for a protected bay in her home waters off the coast of British Columbia.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals
Corky was taken from the wild in 1969 and has known nothing but misery in a concrete tank ever since. She has been forced to endure seven pregnancies (she was continually pregnant for almost 10 years from 1977 to 1986), but none of her calves survived more than 46 days. Her last stillborn fetus was found at the bottom of the holding tank.
SeaWorld has taken a step forward by ending its sordid orca-breeding program, but that does nothing to help animals like Corky who will continue to swim in circles inside tiny tanks for decades until they die.
As PETA revealed in a new video, the sanctuary would allow Corky to relearn natural types of behavior, such as diving deep, swimming fast and in a straight line, and finding her own food. She could also communicate with her brother and sister, Fife and Ripple, who often visit the adjacent Blackfish Sound.
What You Can Do
Help Corky today by taking a moment to ask SeaWorld to implement a firm and rapid plan to release her into a sea sanctuary where she'll be given a semblance of the natural life that she has been denied for so long.
In a dramatic shift that signals an eventual end to the practice of keeping captive orcas for public exhibition, SeaWorld announced it would cease all of its orca breeding programs for the company's nearly 30 whales. This action will make the current group the last generation of SeaWorld's orcas. The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), which worked with SeaWorld on these new policies, praised its reforms as a major step forward toward a humane economy in which corporations respond and adapt to public concerns over animal welfare.
“These two organizations have been long-time adversaries, but we're excited now to see the company transforming its operations for the better on animal welfare," Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of the HSUS, said. “Today's announcement signals that the era of captive display of orcas will end and that SeaWorld will redouble its work around rescue and rehabilitation of marine mammals in crisis and partner with us to tackle global threats to marine creatures."
The HSUS has long been critical of keeping orcas and dolphins in captivity and has clashed with SeaWorld for more than two decades. Of SeaWorld's orcas, 23 were born in captivity. SeaWorld ended live capture of orcas and other marine mammals from the wild years ago and reaffirmed that commitment today.
“SeaWorld takes seriously its responsibility to preserve marine wildlife. As one of the largest rescue organizations in the world, we will increase our focus on rescue operations—so that the thousands of stranded marine mammals like dolphins and sea lions that cannot be released back to the wild will have a place to go," Joel Manby, president and CEO of SeaWorld, said.
“Together with HSUS and with our 20 million guests and 20,000 employees we can build an army of advocates to protect animals and wild places."
SeaWorld has weathered strong currents of public criticism since the release of the 2013 documentary Blackfish and today's announcement comes in the wake of increasing pressure and calls on the company to end captive orca performance at its parks.
“This is a first, massive step forward toward a more humane future for SeaWorld," Dr. Naomi Rose, marine mammal scientist at the Animal Welfare Institute and formerly with the HSUS, said. “I welcome these commitments from Joel Manby. He has given SeaWorld a new lease on life."
“This is a defining moment. The fact that SeaWorld is doing away with orca breeding marks truly meaningful change," Gabriela Cowperthwaite, director of Blackfish, said.
The announcement with SeaWorld exemplifies the HSUS's approach to act as a catalyst and contributor to the adoption of more humane practices by the corporate sector.
Through collaboration or confrontation or sometimes a combination of the two, the HSUS has worked in recent years to secure substantial animal welfare commitments from companies working within food and agriculture, cosmetics and chemical manufacturing, fashion, the pet industry, animals in entertainment and other sectors. In addition to its new policies for orcas, SeaWorld has committed to:
- Maximizing its focus on rescue and rehabilitation of marine animals in distress and highlighting the plight of unreleasable animals to foster a stronger bond between humans and animals and to educate people about ongoing threats to them.
- Participating in advocacy campaigns to end the commercial slaughter of marine mammals. Specifically, SeaWorld plans to advocate for an end to commercial whaling and sealing and to fight shark finning throughout the world. We expect the company will weigh in on a range of other issues that adversely affect the lives of marine creatures.
- Revamping its food policies by changing its procurement practices to source only sustainably raised seafood, crate-free pork and cage-free eggs and to offer more vegan and vegetarian options at all of its restaurants and other food service operations, which serve more than 20 million people annually.
- Protecting coral reefs and reducing the commercial collection of wild-caught ornamental fish.
It was almost exactly a year ago that Ringling Bros. pledged it would phase out its use of elephants in traveling acts—a game-changing announcement for the use of wild animals in circuses. Today's announcement by SeaWorld is also tremendously significant and marks a turning point in the movement to phase out the use of orca for captive display.
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As part of the Don't Buy From Icelandic Whalers coalition, Natural Resources Defense Council and other groups brought this message to Boston earlier this month, urging seafood companies at the Seafood Expo North America not to do business with the giant Icelandic seafood company HB Grandi or its subsidiaries—companies linked to and controlled by Icelandic whaling interests.
HB Grandi—Iceland's largest seafood company—plays a very active role in Iceland's whaling industry. Not only does it provide its facilities for the processing of endangered fin whale meat for the export market (i.e., to Japan), but it is also controlled by the whaling and investment company Hvalur hf. Last year, Hvalur killed 155 endangered fin whales, the highest number since the moratorium on commercial whaling took effect. Hvalur is responsible for the deaths of more than 700 endangered fin whales since 2006.
Fin whales, known as the "greyhounds of the sea" for their sleekness and speed, are the world's second largest animal and are listed as an endangered species.
Hvalur announced earlier this month that it would not hunt fin whales this summer, citing issues with exports to Japan, its main market. While Hvalur's planned suspension of its summer fin whale hunt is great news for the whales, whaling has been suspended in Iceland in the past (after the tsunami), only to later resume.
Endangered fin whales will receive a temporary reprieve from Iceland's harpoons this summer, but the coalition continues to urge companies to use their buying power to ensure Iceland stops killing whales permanently.
In addition to outreach at the Boston Seafood Expo, we wrote to major U.S. wholesalers and retailers that source Icelandic seafood, urging them to audit their supply chains in order to reassure the public that they are not buying fish from companies linked to whaling. Most recently, the popular retail chain Wegmans and seafood supplier Iceland Seafood International provided written statements confirming they do not source from companies linked to Icelandic whaling. High Liner Foods, Ahold USA and Trader Joe's have also pledged their opposition to commercial whaling and confirmed they do not source seafood from HB Grandi.
But many other companies have not responded to our request.
The coalition website, www.DontBuyFromIcelandicWhalers.com, identifies which North American businesses purchase seafood from companies linked to Hvalur and provides information for consumers about how to take action against Icelandic whaling.
Click here for more information and to take action.
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According to the San Diego Union-Tribune, which broke the news after seeing a SeaWorld document posted online in advance of a corporate webcast, the decision is "part of a comprehensive strategy unveiled Monday to re-position the embattled company amid persistent criticisms of how it treats its orcas."
Orcas perform at SeaWorld San Diego. Photo credit: C./flickr/cc
The Union-Tribune further reports that in the show's place will be a new orca "experience" debuting in 2017, described as "informative" and designed to take place in a more natural setting that would carry a "conservation message inspiring people to act."
In the wake of increased public awareness about the sea-park industry sparked by the 2013 documentaryBlackfish, the announcement drew limited praise from animal rights activists—and critics were quick to note that SeaWorld's plans appear to still be motivated by the company's bottom line as opposed to animal welfare.
"While SeaWorld would like us to believe their motivation is advocacy based ... the company has clearly ignored the millions who have already acted and voiced their stance," read a blog post at the Ric O'Barry's Dolphin Project website on Monday. "[S]pecifically, that: keeping orcas in captivity is an unacceptable and outdated practice, no matter the exhibit or size of the tanks."
In addition, "while it's possible the killer whale shows could come to an end at SeaWorld's two other namesake parks, in Orlando and San Antonio, no mention is made of that in the company's online presentation," the Union-Tribune reported.
"An end to SeaWorld's tawdry circus-style shows is inevitable and necessary, but it's captivity that denies these far-ranging orcas everything that is natural and important to them," said PETA's director of animal law Jared Goodman. "This move is like no longer whipping lions in a circus act but keeping them locked inside cages for life or no longer beating dogs but never letting them out of crates."Animal rights groups called for SeaWorld to go further.
He cited the recently unveiled Orca Responsibility and Care Advancement (ORCA) Act, a soon-to-be-introduced bill that would "phase out the captivity of orcas so that their display ends with this generation." Sponsored by Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the legislation would outlaw breeding, capturing and importing orca whales for the purpose of public exhibition in the U.S.
"The decision by SeaWorld to phase out killer whale shows in San Diego is a welcome step along the path towards ending the captivity of these magnificent creatures," Schiff said on Monday in response to the news. "Much more needs to be done, however, and I would urge the company to curtail the breeding of their orcas and partner in the creation of ocean sanctuaries. The fact still remains that as long as SeaWorld holds orcas in captivity, the physical and psychological problems associated with their captivity will persist."
The ORCA Act indicates that "no change to SeaWorld’s tanks will be sufficient to satisfy the needs of these animals," Goodman added. "That's why PETA is calling on SeaWorld to stop breeding orcas and start building sea sanctuaries where they can experience an actual natural setting and finally thrive."
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SeaWorld Orca Too 'Depressed' to Nurse Her Calf + 7 Other Reasons Killer Whales Should Not Be Captive
A disturbing new video of a SeaWorld San Diego orca too "depressed" to nurse her calf is going viral, and has once again shined a spotlight on the controversial practice of keeping killer whales in captivity.
The footage shows Orca Research Trust founder and marine biologist Ingrid Visser and former SeaWorld trainer John Hargrove observing a mother orca named Kasatka and her 2-year-old calf Makani at the ocean park's orca facility, the Huffington Post reports.
The two observe signs of "stereotypic behavior," such as the mother orca staring at the bottom of a concrete wall and ignoring her baby's repeated head-bumps to get fed. They add that Makani's constant nudging for food has left a bruise on the mother's stomach.
"That head-bump is a precursor to nursing," Hargrove says in the video.
"The calf is constantly trying to get food, so desperately hungry, so bored," Visser says. "It's a stereotypic behavior."
According to Hargrove, who appeared in the 2013 documentary Blackfish and authored the book Beneath the Surface which criticizes SeaWorld, Kasatka is "so depressed she's incapable of taking care of her calf."
The video above was part of the upcoming documentary, Superpod, about the state of endangered orcas in the Pacific Northwest.
In this timelapse shot by the same documentary crew, an orca is seen floating and nearly motionless in SeaWorld's stadium tank for six minutes as a busy crowd shuffles about.
A marine mammal expert told The Dodo that this orca's extensive floating in the video above is almost never seen in the wild. "It's very unique to captivity; it's very, very uncommon in the wild," Dr. Heather Rally, a veterinarian who works with PETA, said about the motionless orca. "It's believed to be the result of chronic stress, boredom and inhibition of natural behaviors that occurs as a result of inadequate living conditions at places like SeaWorld."
The timelapse video was shown at the California Coastal Commission's hearing earlier this month over SeaWorld's $100 million tank expansion plan.
According to the video's description, "This video played mere minutes after the Chief Vet at SeaWorld testified that their orca are 'not bored.'"
Although SeaWorld's expansion plan was ultimately approved, there was one major condition: No more captive breeding.
The new tank, which is part of SeaWorld’s planned Blue World Project meant for orca research and education and set to open in 2018, will have a surface area of 1.5 acres and a depth of 50 feet.
However, as Visser pointed out to the Los Angeles Times, whales in the wild swim an average distance of 138 miles per day and dive to depths of about 600 feet.
“These new tanks do not meet these basic requirements,” she said. “No facility ever will.”
SeaWorld plans to challenge the commission's decision. The ocean park also said in a statement after the commission's vote, “Breeding is a natural, fundamental and important part of an animal’s life, and depriving a social animal of the right to reproduce is inhumane.”
Ever since the documentary Blackfish debuted, the problematic nature of keeping these creatures in captivity has been thrust to the forefront.
While organizations such as SeaWorld say that orca captivity is harmless, here are seven facts you should know from the Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC) about the 151 orcas that have been taken into captivity from the wild since 1961:
1. 127 of these orcas are now dead.
2. In the wild, male orcas live to an average of 30 years (maximum 50-60 years) and 46 years for females (maximum 80-90 years).
3. At least 162 orcas have died in captivity, not including 30 miscarried or still-born calves.
4. SeaWorld holds 24 orcas in its three parks in the United States and owns (at least) a further four at Loro Parque in Spain. At least forty-four orcas have died at SeaWorld.
5. One of the most infamous capture incidents saw over 80 whales from the Southern Resident population of orcas in Washington State rounded-up at Penn Cove in 1970. Seven were taken into captivity while as many as five whales died. Today this population is recognized as endangered. Only one captured whale, Lolita, is still alive, held at Miami Seaquarium.
6. The longest surviving orca in captivity is Corky, captured in 1969 from the Northern Resident population that inhabits the waters around Vancouver Island, Canada. She is held at SeaWorld in San Diego. None of her seven offspring in captivity have survived. Her family (known as the A5 pod) continue to thrive in the wild, including Corky's brother, Fife, who you can adopt to help support our work.
7. At least 14 orcas have been taken from the wild into captivity since 2002, most recently in Russia.
Check out this infographic from the WDC to learn more about orca captivity:
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In January, SeaWorld Entertainment was blustering its way through the controversy created by the documentary Blackfish. The film, which detailed allegations of mistreatment of killer whales at the company's marine parks, had a short theatrical run in the summer of 2013, followed by airings on CNN, release to DVD and availability at Netflix.
The company refuted the movie's claims in several full-page newspaper ads and a flurry of media stories such as the one that appeared at DailyFinance "How SeaWorld Is Surfing to Profitability Over the Blackfish Scandal." The story touted SeaWorld's record attendance and revenue in 2013, causing the article to ask "Could the notoriety behind the widely watched documentary actually be helping SeaWorld?"
Today International Business Times reports:
SeaWorld’s stock took a nosedive Wednesday after the company reported fewer ticket sales and lower second-quarter earnings. SeaWorld posted a 1.5 percent drop in revenue last quarter and shares dipped more than 30 percent Wednesday morning, an indication that investors are aware of the controversy surrounding the company and the 2013 documentary Blackfish.
This comes on top of the news in late July that Southwest Airlines had ended its 25-year marketing partnership with SeaWorld.
While SeaWorld conceded that Blackfish has played a role in its stock dive, its release deflected the blame from the film to "media attention" surrounding proposed legislation in California to ban captive breeding and live performances of killer whales in the state. That legislation was inspired by the film, whose director, Gabriela Cowperthwaite, appeared with state assemblyman Richard Bloom when he introduced it in March.
SeaWorld also cited school schedule changes, bad weather and competition from other amusement facilities. It continues to maintain that the whales are healthy and happy, and that the parks provide them with a stimulating environment.
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SeaWorld is still taking a dive two years after the release of the gripping documentary Blackfish, about the company's treatment of killer whales in captivity. Most recently, renowned conservationist and primatologist Jane Goodall has delivered a scathing statement about the theme park. Her sharp words followed Mattel's announcement that it will no longer produce SeaWorld-branded merchandise, including its popular SeaWorld Trainer Barbie dolls.
"We are disappointed in Mattel's decision to stop production of the SeaWorld Trainer Barbie," SeaWorld said in a statement. "We are proud that Mattel had chosen to honor the women—and men—at SeaWorld who dedicate their lives to the care and conservation of killer whales and other animals living in our parks. Particularly disappointing is that the decision appears to be based on complaints from PETA, an extremist organization that works to close zoos and aquariums." According to Reuters, the prominent animal rights group had approached Mattel in 2012 to stop making the doll.
Mattel has not commented on why it's ending production of the Trainer Barbie line which launched in 2012. "A number of factors go into a decision like that," spokesman Alex Clark told NBC News. "Their licensing deal expired and we've elected not to renew it."
Despite strongly denying the documentary's claims, Blackfish has spurred a powerful anti-captivity movement that involves a growing list of bold faced names, including Jane Goodall. In an interview with the Huffington Post earlier this week, Goodall said whales and dolphins should never be held in captivity and Seaworld "definitely should be closed down."
Photo credit: Shutterstock
According to figures from the nonprofit advocacy group Whale and Dolphin Conservation, as of last December, SeaWorld has held 22 orcas in its three U.S. marine parks (Orlando, San Diego and San Antonio), five of which were caught in the wild, the Huffington Post reported.
"It's not only that they're really big, highly intelligent and social animals so that the capture and confinement in itself is cruel," Goodall said, but also "they have emotions like ours."
Goodall, who is considered the world's leading expert on chimpanzees, has spoken on marine animal conservation before. Last May, she urged the Vancouver Aquarium to phase out belugas and dolphins in captivity.
“When they are contained in these tanks ... that is acoustical hell,” she told Huffington Post. “The sounds bounce back from the walls of the tank.”
SeaWorld has refuted Goodall's claims. "Jane Goodall is a respected scientist and advocate for the world’s primates, but we couldn’t disagree more with her on this," SeaWorld said in an emailed statement. "Zoos and marine mammal parks like SeaWorld allow people to experience animals in a way that is inspiring and educational."
SeaWorld also tweeted, a link to its website about noise concerns. It reads, "We have worked with independent experts in the field of bioacoustics from Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute and the National Marine Mammal Foundation to measure the ambient noise in our environments (including music, etc.). Our underwater noise levels are quieter than the ambient ocean. And those above water sounds don’t transfer underwater. So, based on these studies, we are confident the sounds in our environment are not detrimental to the animal’s wellbeing."
Goodall hasn't responded yet, but this tweet from PETA was recently retweeted by the Jane Goodall Institute:
Thank you @JaneGoodallInst for speaking out against #SeaWorld! http://t.co/itbE97vHnw RT if you agree w/ her. pic.twitter.com/Z89JoLpkxB
— PETA (@peta) April 28, 2015
Last August, Southwest Airlines also ended its 26-year-long partnership with the company after Blackfish backlash.
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The Blackfish Effect: 40 Members of Congress Call on USDA to Revise Rules for Captive Marine Mammals
The tide of public opinion appears to be taking a serious turn against marine parks like SeaWorld as concerns about the consequences of keeping whales and dolphins in captivity continue to grow. Now members of Congress have added fuel to the fire with a letter criticizing the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) for failing to address regulatory upgrades for marine mammals in captivity for almost two decades.
In a bipartisan letter sent to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack, Congressmen Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael), Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) and 38 members of Congress called on the agency to take immediate action to adopt long-overdue rules addressing the care of captive marine mammals.
“Sound, modern science should inform our regulations on marine mammal captivity,” said Rep. Huffman and Rep. Schiff in a joint statement. “Unfortunately, USDA has refused to act for nearly two decades, endangering humans and orcas alike. It’s unacceptable that our regulations protecting orcas and other marine mammals have not been updated to reflect the latest science. It is past time for USDA to address this issue.”
According to the letter, in 1995 a committee advised the USDA on revisions for marine mammals regulations, but it never came to a consensus for sections about indoor and outdoor facilities, water quality, space requirements and swim-with-the-dolphin programs.
In 2002, the USDA asked the public to weigh in on proposed updates to standards for the care of captive marine mammals and received input from “the animal exhibitor industry, animal welfare groups, scientific community and the public” recommending improvements. Yet, 12 years later it still hasn’t taken any action to update regulations or implement changes.
Animal advocates have been raising concerns about the facilities and conditions whales and dolphins are kept in at marine parks and aquariums for decades, citing complaints that range from insufficient protection from the sun, hazards in the environment and tanks that are too small or don’t meet minimum standards for size.
One well known case is Lolita’s; advocates argue that Lolita is being kept in a tank that’s not just too small for an animal her size, but illegally small under federal guidelines, at the Miami Seaquarium.
In their letter, lawmakers also noted the increase in attention these issues are getting, thanks in part to the documentary Blackfish, which they point out “argues that keeping orcas in captivity and regularly requiring them to perform for the public is cruel and causes enormous physical and psychological pain.”
According to the results of two recent opinion polls, public sentiment is shifting against captivity for public display, particularly for orcas, to reflect what we’ve learned about the dark side of the industry and the harmful effects removing them from their family groups and denying them the opportunity to engage in natural behaviors.
A poll commissioned by the Animal Welfare Institute (AWI) and Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC) shows that half of Americans now oppose keeping orcas in captivity, while only 21 percent were in favor. According to AWI, there was a significant increase of 11 percentage points in the number of Americans opposed, as well as a 5 point drop in those expressing support since the last opinion poll was conducted in 2012.
“It is clear from the poll that the arguments supporting the maintenance of orcas in captivity have lost their luster and are increasingly failing to convince the American public of the value of this practice,” Courtney Vail, campaigns manager for WDC, said in a statement. “The poll clearly indicates the public’s ever-growing disaffection with captivity.”
Fortunately, opinions aren’t just changing in the U.S. A similar poll conducted in May on behalf of responsibletravel.com and the Born Free Foundation also showed that the majority of British tourists are crossing seeing whale and dolphin shows off of their vacation to do lists. A whopping 86 percent of people surveyed said “they would not wish to visit a marine park to see whales and dolphins as part of an overseas holiday.”
SeaWorld continues to deny the Blackfish effect and the growing public opposition, but people are protesting, artists are refusing to perform there, its attendance and profits are dropping and major shareholders are getting out.
With lawmakers pushing on one side and the public pushing on the other, long-overdue change is in the air, or really the water, for the captivity industry. Members of Congress are now urging the USDA to take swift action to update humane standards of care for marine mammals to reflect the latest science by bringing the proposed rule back to the public for comment and quickly finalizing it.
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