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SeaWorld to End Captive Breeding of Killer Whales

Animals
SeaWorld to End Captive Breeding of Killer Whales

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.

The announcement with SeaWorld exemplifies The Humane Society of the United States' approach to act as a catalyst and contributor to the adoption of more humane practices by the corporate sector. Photo credit: Cmeder / iStockphoto

“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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A net-casting ogre-faced spider. CBG Photography Group, Centre for Biodiversity Genomics / CC BY-SA 3.0

Just in time for Halloween, scientists at Cornell University have published some frightening research, especially if you're an insect!

The ghoulishly named ogre-faced spider can "hear" with its legs and use that ability to catch insects flying behind it, the study published in Current Biology Thursday concluded.

"Spiders are sensitive to airborne sound," Cornell professor emeritus Dr. Charles Walcott, who was not involved with the study, told the Cornell Chronicle. "That's the big message really."

The net-casting, ogre-faced spider (Deinopis spinosa) has a unique hunting strategy, as study coauthor Cornell University postdoctoral researcher Jay Stafstrom explained in a video.

They hunt only at night using a special kind of web: an A-shaped frame made from non-sticky silk that supports a fuzzy rectangle that they hold with their front forelegs and use to trap prey.

They do this in two ways. In a maneuver called a "forward strike," they pounce down on prey moving beneath them on the ground. This is enabled by their large eyes — the biggest of any spider. These eyes give them 2,000 times the night vision that we have, Science explained.

But the spiders can also perform a move called the "backward strike," Stafstrom explained, in which they reach their legs behind them and catch insects flying through the air.

"So here comes a flying bug and somehow the spider gets information on the sound direction and its distance. The spiders time the 200-millisecond leap if the fly is within its capture zone – much like an over-the-shoulder catch. The spider gets its prey. They're accurate," coauthor Ronald Hoy, the D & D Joslovitz Merksamer Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior in the College of Arts and Sciences, told the Cornell Chronicle.

What the researchers wanted to understand was how the spiders could tell what was moving behind them when they have no ears.

It isn't a question of peripheral vision. In a 2016 study, the same team blindfolded the spiders and sent them out to hunt, Science explained. This prevented the spiders from making their forward strikes, but they were still able to catch prey using the backwards strike. The researchers thought the spiders were "hearing" their prey with the sensors on the tips of their legs. All spiders have these sensors, but scientists had previously thought they were only able to detect vibrations through surfaces, not sounds in the air.

To test how well the ogre-faced spiders could actually hear, the researchers conducted a two-part experiment.

First, they inserted electrodes into removed spider legs and into the brains of intact spiders. They put the spiders and the legs into a vibration-proof booth and played sounds from two meters (approximately 6.5 feet) away. The spiders and the legs responded to sounds from 100 hertz to 10,000 hertz.

Next, they played the five sounds that had triggered the biggest response to 25 spiders in the wild and 51 spiders in the lab. More than half the spiders did the "backward strike" move when they heard sounds that have a lower frequency similar to insect wing beats. When the higher frequency sounds were played, the spiders did not move. This suggests the higher frequencies may mimic the sounds of predators like birds.

University of Cincinnati spider behavioral ecologist George Uetz told Science that the results were a "surprise" that indicated science has much to learn about spiders as a whole. Because all spiders have these receptors on their legs, it is possible that all spiders can hear. This theory was first put forward by Walcott 60 years ago, but was dismissed at the time, according to the Cornell Chronicle. But studies of other spiders have turned up further evidence since. A 2016 study found that a kind of jumping spider can pick up sonic vibrations in the air.

"We don't know diddly about spiders," Uetz told Science. "They are much more complex than people ever thought they were."

Learning more provides scientists with an opportunity to study their sensory abilities in order to improve technology like bio-sensors, directional microphones and visual processing algorithms, Stafstrom told CNN.

Hoy agreed.

"The point is any understudied, underappreciated group has fascinating lives, even a yucky spider, and we can learn something from it," he told CNN.

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