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.
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At a press conference held Wednesday in San Diego, Jean-Michel Cousteau, oceanographic explorer and president of the Ocean Futures Society, urged SeaWorld to free its current population of captive orcas.
"They need to be released and put back into a place where we can keep an eye on them and they can reconnect with nature," Cousteau, who is the son of legendary underwater explorer Jacques Cousteau, said.
"[The orcas] need to be released ... & they can reconnect with nature." Ocean Futures Society President @JMCousteau https://t.co/ny9Qmdc9Yf— PETA (@PETA)1461784486.0
On March 17, the scandal-plagued ocean theme park made a dramatic shift when it announced the end of it orca breeding program and that its current population of killer whales will live out their lives at the company’s habitats instead of in the wild or ocean sanctuaries. SeaWorld explained that the orcas were born under human care and have never lived in the wild, they "could not survive in oceans that include environmental concerns such as pollution and other man-made threats."
SeaWorld CEO Joel Manby also explained in a Los Angeles Times op-ed published on the same day of the announcement that marine animals born in captivity would "likely die" if they were released:
If we release them into the ocean, they will likely die. In fact, no orca or dolphin born under human care has ever survived release into the wild. Even the attempt to return the whale from “Free Willy,” Keiko, who was born in the wild, was a failure.
But at the PETA-hosted conference, Cousteau argued against this reasoning seeing as how he and his team personally worked with Keiko after filming. Keiko was rehabilitated and moved to a seaside sanctuary in Iceland where he lived in ocean waters for more than five years.
Jean-Michel Cousteau's Letter to L.A. Times Editor about #Blackfish Keiko https://t.co/GFdj81sBhJ @SeaWorld $SEAS https://t.co/cOIi4VqMMB— clicks n' whistles (@clicks n' whistles)1458778237.0
Back in March, Cousteau also posted a letter to the Los Angeles Times editor in response to Manby's op-ed explaining why Keiko's livelihood was improved after his release:
As we congratulate SeaWorld for announcing this monumental step in ending the captive breeding program; I urge Mr. Manby to reconsider his statement about Keiko and I ask him to understand that the quality of Keiko’s remaining years were significantly enhanced by having an opportunity to live in an ocean sea pen with many weeks of forays in the open ocean. The orcas in SeaWorld are living in bare and boring enclosures. These highly intelligent animals deserve to live their remaining years in natural environment under human care. The overwhelming evidence of orca distress in captivity is far too great to ignore.
Cousteau was joined by a panel of experts including neuroscientist and orca expert Lori Marino, physician Dr. Hope Ferdowsian and PETA's captive wildlife veterinarian Heather Rally at the conference yesterday.
Rally said that the orcas will continue to suffer as long as they are displayed at SeaWorld and that the park's backstage tanks "are barely large enough to even accomodate the animal's body."
"#SeaWorld's backstage ... tanks are barely large enough to even accomodate the animal's body." - Dr. Heather Rally https://t.co/h0twwvOWxU— PETA (@PETA)1461783150.0
Dr. Ferdowsian said that the "orcas are waiting for reprieve ... what we need to do is remove the cause of their suffering."
Cousteau urged SeaWorld to be "a leader in showing the rest of the world, where there are other captive orcas, that they can do the same thing."
He suggested that if the theme park was worried about its business after releasing the orcas, they could instead create education centers and give visitors regular updates about its former orca inhabitants, The Guardian reported.
“It would be a win-win for–of course for all the captive marine animals, particularly dolphins and whales–to be put back there,” Cousteau said. “It would be a win-win for all these enterprises who now have access to communications we didn’t have many years ago and can literally educate the public.”
Amazing proof that animals CAN successfully be released into the ocean. Freed aquarium dolphin spotted with baby. https://t.co/wml9ap4aJA— PETA (@PETA)1461794581.0
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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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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.
Had #Tilikum been left wild, this would have been his view. https://t.co/F3OLw9E4eH #DontGoToSeaWorld https://t.co/baGOcaHFQj— Dolphin Project (@Dolphin Project)1457529994.0
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 is ill and may die soon and our loathing of #SeaWorld will only increase. #Blackfish #EmptyTheTanks https://t.co/aESxpGYdzr— SeaWorld Shut Down (@SeaWorld Shut Down)1457518156.0
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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A chain-smoking chimpanzee has become the hot attraction at the newly renovated Central Zoo in Pyongyang, North Korea outraging animal rights activists who say it's a form of animal cruelty.
The 19-year-old chimpanzee named Azalea became an Internet sensation Wednesday after the Associated Press posted photos of her smoking in her exhibit, a practice taught to her by zoo trainers to draw crowds. She can even light them herself, either with a lighter or an already lit cigarette.
"How cruel to willfully addict a chimpanzee to tobacco for human amusement," Ingrid Newkirk, president of the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, told The Huffington Post. "Gradually, zoos are learning that spectacles such as chimpanzee tea parties, elephant rides and photo ops with tiger cubs are inappropriate and exploitative. The big question now is why are we keeping wild animals behind bars at all."
While Azalea reportedly lights up a pack of cigarettes a day, zoo officials told the Associated Press that Azalea isn't actually inhaling the harmful smoke, but some aren't buying it.
"I doubt it, in the same way that I would doubt a human who smokes a lot but says he never inhales," primatologist Frans B.M. de Waal told the Huffington Post. "Like Bill Clinton."
The new zoo features traditional zoo attractions as well as unusual ones featuring animals that perform tricks—such as "a monkey that slam dunks basketballs, dogs trained to appear as though they can do addition on subtraction on an abacus, and doves that fly around and land on a woman skating on an indoor stage," according to the Associated Press.
"This exemplifies the problem with any captive wildlife displayed for profit," Carter Dillard, director of litigation for the Animal Legal Defense Fund, told The Telegraph. "They are made to do unnatural and freakish things to attract gawkers. The good news is that the civilized world is moving away from this, like the gradual elimination of orcas from places like SeaWorld."
Unfortunately in this case, the Associated Press reports the zoo is attracting thousands of visitors a day that seem to find extreme delight in Azalea's smoking habit.
Caught on Video: #TigerCubs Abused, Forced to Swim with Tourists at #Florida #Zoo https://t.co/MlrdfOMgX4 #Tigers @peta @pamfoundation— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1476975150.0
By Laura Goldman
In the desert near Scottsdale, the new tourist attraction Dolphinaris Arizona opened for business on Oct. 15. Customers will pay hundreds of dollars for the opportunity to swim with its three captive dolphins.
How did those dolphins get there? They were flown from Hawaii by FedEx.
Two activists from the nonprofit advocacy group, Animal Rights Hawaii, went inside a FedEx cargo warehouse at the Honolulu Airport in late September and filmed a container holding the dolphins. The video was posted on the Animal Rights Hawaii Facebook page.
The dolphins were likely kept inside the shipping crate for at least 12 hours, based on the flight itinerary.
"I think it was definitely shocking for a lot of people to see that FedEx is transferring live animals in a box," Alexis Thomas of Animal Rights Hawaii told Hawaii News Now.
The dolphins were provided by Dolphin Quest, a swim-with-dolphins company with two locations in Hawaii and one in Bermuda.
"I've been with these animals since they were born," Michelle Campbell, Dolphin Quest's vice president of animals, told Hawaii News Now. "They're second-generation dolphins under our care and no one cares more about them than we do."
But Alexis Thomas, who took the video, said one of the dolphins was showing signs of stress.
"The Dolphin Quest trainers were consoling the animal, who seemed to be in obvious distress, likely from the confinement of the box that it was in, of course, all of the noises that were happening, the fear of the unknown," she told Hawaii News Now.
Once their flight began, the dolphins were likely "bombarded with foreign sounds, sensations, changing air pressure during flights and are known to vocalize and thrash out in fear," Lisa Arnseth, co-founder of Dolphin Free AZ, told CBS 5.
The dolphins' scary experience didn't end when they finally landed in Arizona the next morning. The three are now part of the interactive "Dolphin Swim Experience" at Dolphinaris Arizona.
Learn About Dolphins by Shaking Their Fins and Rubbing Their Tummies
"Join the pod! You'll love our dolphin swims," says the website. "Swim with our dolphins in shallow water. Then interact by shaking a dolphin's fin, listening to their unique sounds and learning about their amazing evolutionary adaptions for life in water or simply caressing a dolphin's back or tummy!"
This is the first—and hopefully last—Dolphinaris tourist attraction in the U.S. There are also several locations in Mexico, where the company is based. CBS 5 reports that its newest facility is regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, but is not "bound by state-level regulation," which is troubling.
Dolphinaris Arizona is described on its website as "unique in design with an emphasis on providing animals variable enrichment and habitat." The only thing "enriching" about places like this that allow people to swim with dolphins are all those tourist dollars going into the owners' pockets.
As for the habitat, summer temperatures in Scottsdale average in the triple digits. But no worries! The Dolphinaris Arizona website notes that there are shades over the habitat, "though some direct sun is natural and healthy for dolphins." I don't understand what is "natural and healthy" about the desert sun beating down on these captive dolphins.
Not only is the heat an issue, but allowing people to swim with dolphins has been proven to have a negative impact on these animals. The stress has caused behavioral abnormalities, illness and lowered resistance to disease and death, according to Whale and Dolphin Conservation. For these reasons, TripAdvisor recently did the right thing and stopped booking tickets to attractions that allow people to interact with captive wild animals.
.@TripAdvisor Ends Bookings to #Wildlife Attractions https://t.co/P1WDhwpAsX @peta @World_Wildlife @Katie_Cleary @pamfoundation— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1476371928.0
More Than 167,000 Care2 Members Opposed Dolphinaris Arizona
As soon as Dolphinaris Arizona announced it planned to open in Scottsdale, animal lovers began to protest. More than 167,000 Care2 members signed a petition urging the CEO not to open the tourist attraction. Their signatures were hand-delivered on Oct. 16.
Regardless of the petition and the fact that similar tourist attractions like SeaWorld are experiencing huge drops in attendance, Dolphinaris Arizona opened for business anyway. Hopefully, anyone who cares about the welfare of animals will boycott it and tell everyone they know to boycott it as well.
And as for FedEx, the company needs to follow in TripAdvisor's footsteps and stop contributing to this cruel industry by transporting animals held in captivity. Please join more than 121,000 Care2 members who have signed and shared this petition telling FedEx to stop transporting live dolphins for the captivity industry.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Care2.
It’s business as usual for SeaWorld.
Yet another animal has died under SeaWorld’s watch, bringing the embattled theme park’s death toll to four large marine mammals in just four months. Three of the deaths occurred at SeaWorld San Antonio. Dart, a male dolphin, was the latest to die while kept in captivity.
R.I.P., Dart: Died February 2016
BREAKING: Pacific white-sided dolphin named Dart has just died at #SeaWorld San Antonio. He was only 12-years-old. https://t.co/0gEJnj8cJh— PETA (@PETA)1454872202.0
This dolphin is the fourth cetacean to die prematurely at SeaWorld San Antonio since July. Just like many of the dolphins, orcas, belugas and walruses who died before him, he never knew the world outside SeaWorld’s tiny concrete tanks, never had the chance to swim freely with his family pod and never got to feel the ocean currents.
R.I.P., Betsy: Died January 2016
Betsy was 1 of 12 Commerson's dolphins captured from the wild in 1983. Half were dead within a year, some within days. #SeaWorld— PETA (@PETA)1453749001.0
Though Betsy lived to a mature age for a Commerson’s dolphin—an anomaly for an animal held at SeaWorld, which has a history wrought with premature animal deaths—the circumstances surrounding her death are troubling. Days before she died, she was transferred from SeaWorld San Diego to SeaWorld Orlando, a transport that was undoubtedly hard on the older animal. Betsy was reportedly stolen from her ocean home in 1983, along with 12 other Commerson’s dolphins, half of whom died within a year of captivity. SeaWorld recently announced that it will no longer keep Commerson’s dolphins in captivity, but 20 have reportedly already died in its care over the last 30 years. Hopefully, the remaining Commerson’s dolphins at SeaWorld will be the last to experience the abusement park’s concrete tanks.
R.I.P., Unna: Died December 2015
BREAKING: Young orca, Unna, has just died at #SeaWorld after suffering from a fungal infection for months. https://t.co/sKEalGJ5ax— PETA (@PETA)1450744443.0
Unna, an 18-year-old orca imprisoned at SeaWorld San Antonio, died after prolonged suffering caused by the fungal infection candida. She was the 38th orca held by SeaWorld to die far short of her maximum life expectancy, which can be more than 100 years for female orcas in the wild. Her “life” in captivity consisted of being taken away from her mother just before her sixth birthday, being impregnated when she was only 8 years old, giving birth to a stillborn calf and being so deprived of enrichment and opportunities to engage in natural behavior that she obsessively picked at the paint on the bottom of SeaWorld’s show-pool floor until her face became badly injured.
R.I.P., Stella: Died November 2015
BREAKING: She was only two years old & could have lived DECADES longer. This isn't the first young beluga SeaWorld lost this year. http://peta.vg/1o3d
Posted by PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) on Monday, November 16, 2015
Stella died at SeaWorld San Antonio at just 2 years old, well short of a beluga’s natural life expectancy of up to 50 years. Her death added to a tally of at least 58 beluga deaths at SeaWorld locations. SeaWorld and other aquariums have proved again and again that belugas cannot be bred successfully in tiny concrete tanks, where they’re denied everything that is natural and important to them.
Disturbing Pattern in Captivity
Thirty-eight orcas and at least 58 belugas have died on SeaWorld’s watch, along with more than a hundred dolphins. Reports indicate that another dolphin at SeaWorld San Antonio named Betty is currently being treated for a possible infection.
Though SeaWorld’s website claims that “there are no apparent connections” between the recent deaths at its San Antonio facility, the high number of premature and unusual deaths there and at the other SeaWorld locations points to a serious common denominator: captivity.
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Yesterday’s headlines proclaiming that SeaWorld will be ending orca whale shows were almost as misleading as the alleged "educational value" of the shows themselves.
SeaWorld is not phasing out orca shows, just calling these shows by a different name. Photo credit: Josh Hallett
On Monday, SeaWorld announced that it will “phase out” the San Diego park’s theatrical killer whale show in 2016 and unveil a “new orca experience” in 2017. According to the announcement, which was made in a presentation to investors, the new experience will be "informative." SeaWorld also says the new shows will be take place in a “more natural setting” and that they will carry a "conservation message inspiring people to act.”
Unfortunately, many of Monday’s headlines exaggerated the announcement. SeaWorld’s infamous orca shows are being reworked, rather than eliminated, at the San Diego, California park. (The announcement does not pertain to SeaWorld’s other parks.) The announcement does not mean that SeaWorld will end orca exploitation or that it will release orcas to marine sanctuaries, the preferred course of action among many advocates.
The lack of meaningful change left many advocates frustrated. “SeaWorld fully intends to continue forced breeding of orcas in captivity,” says David Phillips, director of the International Marine Mammal Project (IMMP), an Earth Island Institute project that works to protect dolphins and whales. “They will continue to keep orcas in concrete tanks with no intention of retirement or release. They intend to continue to import and export orcas to other captive facilities as they see fit.”
Responding to the announcement in a press release, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals said: “This move is like no longer whipping lions in a circus act but keeping them locked inside cages for life.”
SeaWorld has faced mounting public pressure in recent years. The 2013 release of Blackfish, a popular documentary criticizing SeaWorld’s treatment of orcas, sparked public outrage and company profits have taken a hit. The marine mammal giant has also faced several lawsuits this year, including one by Earth Island’s IMMP, arguing that SeaWorld has misled the public about the health and wellbeing of captive orcas.
In October, the California Coastal Commission voted to ban SeaWorld San Diego from breeding orcas in captivity and to restrict transfer of whales. (SeaWorld has said it will sue the commission over these restrictions.) And just last week, California Representative Adam Schiff announced that he will introduce a bill in Congress to phase out orca captivity throughout the U.S. If passed, the bill would ban breeding, import and export and wild capture of orcas.
Orca protection bill would phase out SeaWorld’s killer whale captivity https://t.co/pK72VyikD5 https://t.co/AMH0lT9eNv— ThinkProgress (@ThinkProgress)1446922236.0
Given the timing of SeaWorld’s announcement, many animal welfare advocates believe it is simply a public relations response to negative publicity and amounts to nothing more than greenwashing. Referencing the October Coastal Commission vote on orca breeding and transfers, former Coastal Commission chairwoman Sara Wan notes that “[SeaWorld] is still proceeding with their litigation against the commission and with their captive breeding program as well, proving that this is all a PR stunt for their investors.”
On Monday SeaWorld CEO Joel Manby acknowledged the benefits that a more positive public image would bring. “People love companies that have a purpose, even for-profit companies,” he told SeaWorld investors in a webcast. “Just look at Whole Foods … I don’t see any reason why SeaWorld can’t be one of those brands.”
Manby also assured investors that any capital expenditures to spruce up orca tanks at SeaWorld San Diego will be “minimal,” leaving advocates to wonder how exactly the “theatrical” shows will be transformed into a more “natural” and “educational” experience.
What Manby doesn’t seem to understand is that the public is not only upset with the tricks the orcas are forced to perform for large crowds or the appearance of their tanks—it is the very fact of their captivity and the suffering it causes. SeaWorld is not phasing out orca shows, it is simply calling these shows by a different name, a semantic difference that makes no difference to the orcas still living in captivity.
To take action, sign IMMP’s petition demanding that SeaWorld begin telling the truth about orca captivity.
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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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The total number of wolves, coyotes, bears, mountain lions, beavers, foxes, eagles and other animals killed largely at the behest of the livestock industry and other agribusinesses represents a half-million-animal increase more than the 2.7 million animals the agency killed in 2014.
Despite increasing calls for reform a century after the federal wildlife-killing program began in 1915, the latest kill report indicates that the program's reckless slaughter continues, including 385 gray wolves, 68,905 coyotes (plus an unknown number of pups in 492 destroyed dens), 480 black bears, 284 mountain lions, 731 bobcats, 492 river otters (all but 83 killed “unintentionally"), 3,437 foxes, two bald eagles and 21,559 beavers. The program also killed 20,777 prairie dogs outright, plus an unknown number killed in more than 59,000 burrows that were destroyed or fumigated.
“Despite mounting public outcry and calls from Congress to reform these barbaric, outdated tactics, Wildlife Services continues its slaughter of America's wildlife with no public oversight," Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity said.
“There's simply no scientific basis for continuing to shoot, poison and strangle millions of animals every year—a cruel practice that not only fails to effectively manage targeted wildlife but poses an ongoing threat to other animals, including pets."
Agency insiders have revealed that the agency kills many more animals than it reports.
The data show that the Department of Agriculture boosted its killing program despite a growing public outcry and calls for reform by scientists, elected officials and nongovernmental organizations.
“The Department of Agriculture should get out of the wildlife-slaughter business," Robinson said.
“Wolves, bears and other carnivores help keep the natural balance of their ecosystems. Our government kills off the predators, such as coyotes and then kills off their prey—like prairie dogs—in an absurd, pointless cycle of violence."
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The California Coastal Commission has approved a $100 million plan to to double the size of SeaWorld San Diego's orca tanks but there was one major condition: No more captive breeding.
California's Coastal Commission bans captive orca breeding at SeaWorld San Diego http://t.co/8VfrYpsXEa http://t.co/eLin3U22L3— Los Angeles Times (@Los Angeles Times)1444360251.0
According to the Associated Press, the "last-minute amendment would ban breeding of captive orcas, including through artificial insemination, at the California park but not at SeaWorld facilities in other states."
Sale, trade or transfer of captive orcas has also been prohibited. "The amendment does provide a potential exemption for certain whales caught in the wild but it wasn't immediately clear whether that applied to any of the orcas at the San Diego park," the AP added in its report.
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, Ingrid Visser, head of the Orca Research Trust in New Zealand, pointed out to the Los Angeles Times that 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 said it was disappointed by the conditions set by commission, which oversees construction projects along California's coast.
“A ban on breeding would sentence these animals to a slow extinction in our care,” John Reilly, president of SeaWorld San Diego, told the Los Angeles Times.
The ocean park also said in a statement, “We are disappointed with the conditions that the California Coastal Commission placed on their approval of the Blue World Project and will carefully review and consider our options. 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.”
According to the AP, the decision has raised questions of whether SeaWorld will continue with the project or legally challenge the decision.
The embattled theme park has been facing continued public criticism and slumping in ticket sales since the airing of the 2013 documentary Blackfish, which exposed the cruel treatment of SeaWorld's captive orcas.
The vote from the California agency was declared a victory for animal rights activists as it ultimately bans any future breeding of the whales.
Former #SeaWorld trainer ft. in #Blackfish, Dean Gomersall, is one of the 100s here asking commissioners to #VoteNo. http://t.co/NGVsVHkSH8— PETA (@PETA)1444336877.0
"SeaWorld has admitted that it intended to breed even more orcas to fill the new tanks, but the commission’s action today ensures that no more orcas will be condemned to a nonlife of loneliness, deprivation and misery," People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) said in a statement.
"These 11 orcas would be the last 11 orcas there," PETA lawyer Jared Goodman told the AP.
The prominent animal rights group said it had sent 120,000 e-mails and letters urging the commission to vote against captive breeding.
Hundreds of protesters, including actress and noted PETA spokeswoman Pamela Anderson, showed up at the Long Beach Convention & Entertainment Center where an all-day, and at times emotional, meeting on the issue was held.
Several people in attendance provided testimony to the state panel.
“Captivity is still captivity no matter how gentle the jailer,” said former SeaWorld trainer John Hargrove, who also appeared in Blackfish, according to the Los Angeles Times.
SeaWorld staff countered that a larger enclosure would improve the livelihoods of the orcas and would also help visitors appreciate the orcas.
“We care for these animals as if they were our family,” said Hendrik Nollens, the head veterinarian at SeaWorld.
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Sysco Corp, the world's largest foodservice distributor, will be the first company of its kind to commit to sourcing 100 percent cage-free eggs in its entire supply chain in the U.S. by 2026.
Food distributor Sysco Corp is the latest major company to switch to cage-free eggs. Photo credit: Stephanie Frankle at Animal Place
The company, which clocked $48.7 billion in sales last year—about $10 billion more than McDonald’s—supplies food to restaurants, healthcare and educational facilities, hotels and inns and hospitality businesses nationwide, with approximately 425,000 customers to its name. It operates from 194 locations throughout the U.S., Bahamas, Canada, Ireland and Northern Ireland.
Sysco's commitment to cage-free eggs comes after strategic conversations with The Humane League, which approached the company about the policy. The international animal protection nonprofit pointed out that although Sysco previously has an animal welfare policy and a commitment to eliminate gestation crates for sows, the company had not yet addressed the cages used in its egg supply chain. Following conversations, The Humane League and Sysco negotiated a 10-year timeline that allows the company to accommodate their massive supply chain.
Sysco's clients go through innumerable amounts of eggs, making its latest commitment a huge blow to the inhumane practice of confining egg-laying hens in cages in the U.S.
"What this means is that distributors are going cage-fee," David Coman-Hidy, executive director for The Humane League, told EcoWatch. "It’s going to impact the entire country."
Significantly, this also impacts Sysco's restaurants and other clients that have not made the decision to go cage-free, Coman-Hidy pointed out, making it "one more nail in the coffin for battery cages."
Although the label "cage-free" has its problems, the food industry's overall shift to cage-free eggs is a big step for animal welfare. The vast majority of eggs that we see in the U.S.—such as standard supermarket varieties and, yes, the ones that Sysco has been distributing—come from hens confined in battery cages. These hens cannot spread their wings, they cannot walk around or express other normal hen behaviors. They may never see the light of day.
Factory farm causes immense suffering. So help The Humane League fight it. https://t.co/8GnT5K2Sdq https://t.co/oAvCXf5M6O— The Humane League (@The Humane League)1464887965.0
So why pressure companies to switch to cage-free and not, say, "pasture-raised" or other more humane alternatives?
"We’re focused on what could reduce the most suffering," Coman-Hidy said. For now, it appears that cage-free is the most feasible and realistic switch for giant multibillion dollar companies.
Sysco said that the transition to a 100 percent cage-free egg supply chain by 2026 will require significant collaboration amongst industry participants, including its suppliers, to specifically address food affordability and environmental concerns. The company said it is committed to working through the supply chain to achieve a sustainable solution for both egg producers and its customers.
The Humane League has previously influenced a number of major companies across several industries, including Walmart, The Walt Disney Company, Kroger, Target, Aldi, Denny’s, Nestle, General Mills, Costco, PepsiCo, Grupo Bimbo, Unilever, Carnival Cruises and Starwood Hotels to convert exclusively to cage-free eggs.
Notably, the organization is also responsible for United Egg Producer’s recent commitment of eliminating the practice of male chick culling in the U.S. The decision will prevent the suffering of 260 million chicks and 960,000 hens each year.
The Humane League is hoping to eliminate the use of battery cages around the world and is pressuring global companies to end the practice, Coman-Hidy said.
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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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