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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1. Stay Informed<p>A first order of business in pet evacuation planning is to understand and be ready for the possible threats in your area. Visit <a href="https://www.ready.gov/be-informed" target="_blank">Ready.gov</a> to learn more about preparing for potential disasters such as floods, hurricanes, and wildfires. Then pay attention to related updates by tuning <a href="http://www.weather.gov/nwr/" target="_blank">NOAA Weather Radio</a> to your local emergency station or using the <a href="https://www.fema.gov/mobile-app" target="_blank">FEMA app</a> to get National Weather Service alerts.</p>
2. Ensure Your Pet is Easily Identifiable<p><span>Household pets, including indoor cats, should wear collars with ID tags that have your mobile phone number. </span><a href="https://www.avma.org/microchipping-animals-faq" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Microchipping</a><span> your pets will also improve your chances of reunion should you become separated. Be sure to add an emergency contact for friends or relatives outside your immediate area.</span></p><p>Additionally, use <a href="https://secure.aspca.org/take-action/order-your-pet-safety-pack" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">'animals inside' door/window stickers</a> to show rescue workers how many pets live there. (If you evacuate with your pets, quickly write "Evacuated" on the sticker so first responders don't waste time searching for them.)</p>
3. Make a Pet Evacuation Plan<p> "No family disaster plan is complete without including your pets and all of your animals," says veterinarian Heather Case in <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q9NRJkFKAm4" target="_blank">a video</a> produced by the American Veterinary Medical Association.</p><p>It's important to determine where to take your pet in the event of an emergency.</p><p>Red Cross shelters and many other emergency shelters allow only service animals. Ask your vet, local animal shelters, and emergency management officials for information on local and regional animal sheltering options.</p><p>For those with access to the rare shelter that allows pets, CDC offers <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/healthypets/emergencies/pets-in-evacuation-centers.html" target="_blank">tips on what to expect</a> there, including potential health risks and hygiene best practices.</p><p>Beyond that, talk with family or friends outside the evacuation area about potentially hosting you and/or your pet if you're comfortable doing so. Search for pet-friendly hotel or boarding options along key evacuation routes.</p><p>If you have exotic pets or a mix of large and small animals, you may need to identify multiple locations to shelter them.</p><p>For other household pets like hamsters, snakes, and fish, the SPCA recommends that if they normally live in a cage, they should be transported in that cage. If the enclosure is too big to transport, however, transfer them to a smaller container temporarily. (More on that <a href="https://www.spcai.org/take-action/emergency-preparedness/evacuation-how-to-be-pet-prepared" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">here</a>.)</p><p>For any pet, a key step is to establish who in your household will be the point person for gathering up pets and bringing their supplies. Keep in mind that you may not be home when disaster strikes, so come up with a Plan B. For example, you might form a buddy system with neighbors with pets, or coordinate with a trusted pet sitter.</p>
4. Prepare a Pet Evacuation Kit<p>Like the emergency preparedness kit you'd prepare for humans, assemble basic survival items for your pets in a sturdy, easy-to-grab container. Items should include:</p><ul><li>Water, food, and medicine to last a week or two;</li><li>Water, food bowls, and a can opener if packing wet food;</li><li>Litter supplies for cats (a shoebox lined with a plastic bag and litter may work);</li><li>Leashes, harnesses, or vehicle restraints if applicable;</li><li>A <a href="https://www.avma.org/resources/pet-owners/emergencycare/pet-first-aid-supplies-checklist" target="_blank">pet first aid kit</a>;</li><li>A sturdy carrier or crate for each cat or dog. In addition to easing transport, these may serve as your pet's most familiar or safe space in an unfamiliar environment;</li><li>A favorite toy and/or blanket;</li><li>If your pet is prone to anxiety or stress, the American Kennel Club suggests adding <a href="https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/home-living/create-emergency-evacuation-plan-dog/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">stress-relieving items</a> like an anxiety vest or calming sprays.</li></ul><p>In the not-unlikely event that you and your pet have to shelter in different places, your kit should also include:</p><ul><li>Detailed information including contact information for you, your vet, and other emergency contacts;</li><li>A list with phone numbers and addresses of potential destinations, including pet-friendly hotels and emergency boarding facilities near your planned evacuation routes, plus friends or relatives in other areas who might be willing to host you or your pet;</li><li>Medical information including vaccine records and a current rabies vaccination tag;</li><li>Feeding notes including portions and sizes in case you need to leave your pet in someone else's care;</li><li>A photo of you and your pet for identification purposes.</li></ul>
5. Be Ready to Evacuate at Any Time<p>It's always wise to be prepared, but stay especially vigilant in high-risk periods during fire or hurricane season. Practice evacuating at different times of day. Make sure your grab-and-go kit is up to date and in a convenient location, and keep leashes and carriers by the exit door. You might even stow a thick pillowcase under your bed for middle-of-the-night, dash-out emergencies when you don't have time to coax an anxious pet into a carrier. If forecasters warn of potential wildfire, a hurricane, or other dangerous conditions, bring outdoor pets inside so you can keep a close eye on them.</p><p>As with any emergency, the key is to be prepared. As the American Kennel Club points out, "If you panic, it will agitate your dog. Therefore, <a href="https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/home-living/create-emergency-evacuation-plan-dog/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">pet disaster preparedness</a> will not only reduce your anxiety but will help reduce your pet's anxiety too."</p>
Evacuating Horses and Other Farm Animals<p>The same basic principles apply for evacuating horses and most other livestock. Provide each with some form of identification. Ensure that adequate food, water, and medicine are available. And develop a clear plan on where to go and how to get there.</p><p>Sheltering and transporting farm animals requires careful coordination, from identifying potential shelter space at fairgrounds, racetracks, or pastures, to ensuring enough space is available in vehicles and trailers – not to mention handlers and drivers on hand to support the effort.</p><p>For most farm animals, the Red Cross advises that you consider precautionary evacuation when a threat seems imminent but evacuation orders haven't yet been announced. The American Veterinary Medical Association has <a href="https://www.avma.org/resources/pet-owners/emergencycare/large-animals-and-livestock-disasters" target="_blank">more information</a>.</p>
Bottom Line: If You Need to Evacuate, So Do Your Pets<p>As the Humane Society warns, pets left behind in a disaster can easily be injured, lost, or killed. Plan ahead to make sure you can safely evacuate your entire household – furry members included.</p>
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