Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Superpod Four Recap & Superpod Five

Superpod Four was a success with many of the goals being achieved. It was well attended and whales were plentiful. For the 4th time in the past five years people walked away informed & inspired. Some will take action based on new knowledge. 


Jeff Friedman leads a group on his boat, The Peregrine. J. Ventre photo 

After years of evidence-based analyses and debate, there is little doubt that the removal of the lower four Snake River Dams is critical to improving the health of the Northwest salmon fishery, the region, & to the survival of the endangered Southern Resident Killer whale clan. 

This move not only helps whales, but stakeholders. The return of potentially tens of millions of salmon each year provides not only food for humans & predators, but organic material for soil, grasses, shrubs, crops, trees & small critters. Conversely, stagnant warm water behind dams kills fish, collects toxic sediment, & blocks the cycle of life. 


A dam to a river is the equivalent of a clogged artery.  It's time we...  #LetItFlow


Due to being very high in Omega 3 Fatty Acids, Salmon help unclog arteries in humans. We should return the favor. 


We sincerely apologize to Adam Wicks-Arshack whose moving short film, Treaty Talks, A Journey Up the Columbia River for People & Salmon did not get screened due to lectures running late, combined with ferry scheduling & poor communication (translation, "cell service," while on the island). 

We've embedded Treaty Talks Here, so you can watch it. Adam's film takes on salmon restoration as the cameras follow his crew from Astoria to the headwaters of the Columbia River in hand-carved canoes painted to represent five species of salmon that use the river. The Grand Coulee dam, one of many they passed, has NO fish passage. It's a must see film for those interested in this issue. 






The documentary DamNation, did screen at Superpod Four, & nicely encapsulated the argument for removing deadbeat dams. An all-star panel followed the screening & we learned that dams are not just detrimental to salmon passage, but also expensive; a key point that politicians need to be made aware of. After seeing wild killer whales at Superpod Four, Blackfish cast member John Hargrove took direct action and called The Whitehouse. Consider doing the same. 




From a summary memo (something to tell The Whitehouse):   
"The four lower Snake River dams impede access to more than 5300 miles of prime salmon habitat and operate with huge public subsidies, largely to maintain a seaport 465 miles inland at Lewiston, Idaho 
The fastest way to recover Snake River salmon according to many scientists and the court overseeing the fish litigation in the Columbia Basin is to remove the four lower Snake River dams."


Laurel & Ryan aboard the Western Prince "Blackfish trip" -- Photo JV
During the past week connections were made & collaborations initiated. These are the people that will get the job done. Over 300 individuals registered although we don't have an official count on how many people actually attended. Based on the final party at the Center for Whale Research, it was "a lot." All three "local" orca pods participated with plenty of J's, K's and L's making appearances throughout the week. 

Making the correlation (for hundreds of participants) between dwindling salmon & the endangered killer whale population was the biggest accomplishment of Superpod Four. 


Photo JV

The new babies looked healthy & much socializing, foraging & resting behaviors were witnessed from the shores, including at the Lime Kiln Lighthouse, as well as from the sea. Several authors, including Sandra Pollard, "Puget Sound Whales for Sale," David Neiwart, "Of Orcas & Men," and John Hargrove, "Beneath the Surface," all had excellent interactive presentations. Their books are all hyperlinked above. 


Much gratitude to Jeff Friedman and Dr. Deborah Giles for doing the on-island organizing, working the mics, and the securing of venues. It paid off during the event and time will tell what comes of the orca-salmon people cross-pollination. 


The Community Theater was a Great Venue for Lectures             Photo JV
The Community Theater was a great space and the presentations were informative. 


Killer Whale Families were Plentiful at #Superpod4 - And not a single collapsed dorsal fin. 

A Los Angeles based film crew led by Tessa Rapaczynski did an amazingly effective IndieGoGo campaign, raising enough funds to begin producing a new short film or documentary. (Hint for next year). 





They obtained interviews from notable orca scientists Ken Balcomb and Ingrid Visser as well as the staff at the Center for Whale Research & many others. The @SuperpodDoc team was all over the island & the Haro Strait and we can't wait to see what they'll produce in the months ahead. 



Kudos to that depth of vision, drive and execution, not to mention the faith they had in the event itself to deliver top rate material in just 5 days. With "black n whites" around... it's not hard to do. 

Derik, Riana & Dalton Nelson were on island to raise awareness with live music including this original song for Lolita.  






Dr Ingrid Visser and Blackfish cast members had a great live L.A. Talk Radio interview with The Barbi Twins, Jani Shultz & Captain Paul Watson. That interview is archived, HERE, & gets into several different issues regarding SeaWorld, whale watching, & the captivity debate. 



Dr Visser's rousing lecture received a standing ovation. Here she describes how SeaWorld & the captivity industry "green-washes" captures & calls them "rescues"    Photo: Jeffrey Ventre 

It will take many months for us to absorb everything that happened at #Superpod4, from the lectures to the amazing killer whales, bald eagles, seals, humpbacks & everything else. And this recap is not comprehensive in any way. There was a LOT going on. 





The weather was blue skies until the final day, when it turned wet, but that didn't stop the Southern Residents from making a pass by the Center for Whale Research for the final party. Like last year, the whale's timing couldn't have been better. 


Blackfish Cast Members Host & Help Put On Superpod Events Along with Jeff Friedman & Others


The Road Ahead: #Superpod5


This year our event theme was salmon. In 2016 we look to The Future & honor the new young leaders of the animal justice movement. They are the ones who will #EmptyTheTanks and redirect our global human society toward a sustainable course. We've already reached out... and with their help and leadership, next years event will take another step forward. 


#Superpod5: The Future
Dates: Mon-Fri, July 18-22, 2016 


______________________________________________________




Stay tuned for more material here and @Voice_OT_Orcas (interviews, presentations, photos, and more). Hashtags #Superpod5, #Blackfish, #EmptyTheTanks, & #LetItFlow (dam removal) are in full effect. I hope to see you at #Superpod5, The Future. JV



Photo JV

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

SeaWorld's Corporate Spy was in Much Deeper than PETA


On 14 July 2015 PETA announced it had busted Paul T. McComb, a SeaWorld employee, for corporate espionage. 

Immediately & via social media, the animal justice movement mobilized and dozens or maybe hundreds of screenshots, videos & images of McComb began showing up across the internet. The perpetrator, using the alias "Thomas Jones," had not just been involved with PETA demonstrations, but also the activities of its former employees, such as at the Superpod Three gathering and at SeaWorld protests. Here he is from August of 2012. This screenshot was shared: 





It illustrates Jones mixing it up with SeaWorld critics, digging around for information regarding a documentary film that was "217 days" away. The "counter," referred to above, was the countdown timer posted here at VOTO, indicating when Blackfish would premier at the Sundance Film Festival. Thus, we know Jones was active as early as August of 2012.  




"Thomas Jones" on the Left, posing as a SeaWorld protester. SeaWorld Employee Paul T. McComb on the Right


Today the story has gone international with Joel Manby, SeaWorld's CEO, issuing a public statement
"The allegations made yesterday against a SeaWorld employee are very concerning. These allegations, if true, are not consistent with the values of the SeaWorld organization and will not be tolerated. The SeaWorld Board of Directors and I have initiated an investigation into this matter which will be led by independent outside counsel, Ron Olson of Munger, Tolles & Olson, whose firm will have full access to our organization and people. In addition, we have placed the employee in question on paid administrative leave pending the findings of the investigation. We will take all appropriate actions based on the results of the investigation to ensure that the integrity and values of the SeaWorld organization are upheld."

Democracy Now! has published this piece which includes interviews with attorney Matthew Strugar, PETA volunteer Hal Weiss; and Will Potter, investigative reporter: 






According to Bloomberg
Jones used social media to contact other protesters for information... He also urged activists on. “Grab your pitch forks and torches. Time to take down SeaWorld,” Jones said in comments on Facebook before a July 4, 2014, SeaWorld protest.
Photos of Jones posted on his Facebook page resemble those of McComb on the page of his wife, Brittany McComb. Reached by phone, she confirmed she is married to Paul McComb, while declining to answer other questions. The Facebook page of Brittany McComb, which was available Monday, has since been taken down.



July 2014: Jones Attends #Superpod3, a gathering hosted by ex SeaWorld trainers that features lectures, Q&A panels, whale watching trips, social events and also the mixing of bloggers, activists, & journalists with prominent killer whale experts.   


This slideshow by Dr. John Jett was video bootlegged by a SeaWorld mole at Superpod3 and published online after the event




At The Whale Museum:

Notice Jones in the white T-shirt below. He's positioned in the front row for a lecture on captive killer whale survival. The speaker requested that the material not be recorded or published so as to not jeopardize it's publication status at a respected journal. Despite this request a bootleg video showed up published online and being shared among SeaWorld employees and fans. 



McComb, with camera in hand, about to record a lecture on captive orca survival:
In just 48 hours we now know that there are at least 4 SeaWorld moles who have infiltrated activist events

In addition to PETA protests, it's clear that Jones attended many other events since at least 2012, and he doesn't appear to be the only corporate mole. There are images of four suspected SeaWorld infiltrators here.   





While Voice of the Orcas absolutely does not condone many of Jones' posts--which try to incite violence, we do welcome Jones and all SeaWorld employees to attend any and all of our events. Hopefully, Jones met some amazing people in the San Juan Islands, was able to see wild orcas and learn about their sophisticated lives from many of the world's top scientists. 

The Irony. A SeaWorld Employee Holds Up a "Free Corky" Banner at Superpod Three 

We know how difficult it must be to see a wild killer whale swimming with their extended families over 100's of miles and then return to SeaWorld and see them in small tanks. We are sure Jones' life has been turned upside down in the last few days. He is another small cog in the SeaWorld corporate machinery which will do anything to protect the idea of captivity and the profits it yields. 

We wish him well and welcome him back, along with all SeaWorld trainers and employees. Join us at Superpod 4.



Sunday, July 12, 2015

An Open Letter to the California Coastal Commission Regarding SeaWorld Entertainment Corporation

Note: We encourage our readers to pen their own message to the CA Coastal Commission at this specific email address: seaworldorcafacility@coastal.ca.gov. 


________________________________________________________________________________


Dear California Coastal Commission:

On August 15, 2014, less than 48-hours after its value collapsed at the New York Stock Exchange, SeaWorld Entertainment corporation, SEAS, announced plans to dig a 50 foot deep killer whale habitat in Mission Bay, California, on land that is leased from the city of San Diego & without obtaining the needed permits from your commission. 


We posted a blog about the announcement last year, here.  



As you know, this announcement was made in haste, by a corporation that has lost nearly half its market value since August of 2014, is deeply in debt, thanks to Blackstone, and by a company whose industry is slowly dying in North America. 






Cetacean captivity is being phased out in first world countries. It is prohibited in several nations, regions, & municipalities around the world, and the trend is not favorable for the industry. There are no captive cetaceans in the United Kingdom. The Province of Alberta, Canada, just passed "The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act," in May, which "prohibits the breeding and acquisition of killer whales." 





There is currently a tabled bill in California, The Orca Welfare & Safety Act, AB-2140, that is awaiting a vote. This bill, if made into law, would end killer whale circus shows in California and prevent captive breeding and the transportation of killer whale reproductive cells (gametes) across state lines. Other bills have been proposed in Washington & New York States. 






Times are changing. Most people now oppose captivity


Read an article about this data HERE.    See the Edge Research memo HERE










SeaWorld parking lots have been relatively empty lately. The public is catching on & millions of young people are rejecting SeaWorld's business model of circus style performances using highly intelligent & social marine mammals. Medical records show that SeaWorld orcas are sometimes given benzodiazepines such as diazepam (Valium) to "mellow" them out and according to the chart note below, prevent "Ikaika" from "attempting to breed the calf." Does this sound natural to The Commission? 
  





SeaWorld has become the butt of late night jokes. Conan, below, refers specifically to SeaWorld's new plan for pool expansion. 






As recently as 2012, SeaWorld was cited & fined for polluting Mission Bay, and it wasn't the first offense. Please see this excerpt from Frank Gormlie of the  San Diego Free Press 23 October 2012:


SeaWorld is not just any corporate entity. Outside of the thousands of birds crapping in the water, one of the biggest polluters of Mission Bay is SeaWorld itself. Just earlier this year, SeaWorld was fined $6,000 for dumping excessive ammonia and animal waste into the Bay. (See Fox5 video here and “SeaWorld Cited for Exceeding Mission Bay Effluent Limits” in an article by Matt Potter, March 20, 2012 in the San Diego Reader.) SeaWorld is the largest discharger of water into the Bay and has been a known polluter of the body of water, as the bay has been on California’s list of impaired water bodies for several years as it does not meet the Clean Water Act standards. 

On Friday, pop icon Harry Styles sent shock waves & headlines around the globe by asking One Direction concert goers and his 25 million followers to just "Don't go to SeaWorld." 





Lastly, in a display of corporate arrogance, SeaWorld didn't bother to consult your Coastal Commission prior to making its plans known to the public. The CEO that made the announcement has since been let go. In short: 

Please deny SeaWorld the permissions it needs to expand the unethical & cruel practice of killer whale captivity for human amusement.  It's time to end the practice, not time to double-down on it.  California is a progressive state. We hope you'll take a progressive stance on this issue of killer whale habitat expansion at SeaWorld in San Diego. 


In addition to emailing The Commission, consider signing this petition from MoveOn:

Tell the CA Coastal Commission to say NO to SeaWorld!



Thank You, 

Carol Ray, John Jett, Jeffrey Ventre, Samantha Berg, aka Voice of the Orcas (VOTO) 



Wednesday, July 1, 2015

SeaWorld Tragedy Impacts US Medical Coding System

NOTE: Descriptive medical and forensic language is used in this article to describe the "struck by" hazard posed by captive killer whales on their human handlers 
________________________________________________________________________


According to Forbes Magazine the US National Healthcare Expenditure (or NHE) is approximately 3 trillion dollars annually. A portion of that expenditure goes to pay approximately 90,000 certified medical coders around the country. 

For those that work directly within the US medical healthcare system you know that the industry, including hospitals, administrators, doctors, nurses, & staff is carefully & nervously monitoring the transition from the current ICD-9 to the ICD-10 system. 


Medical coders are in short supply as the system becomes more complex & detailed 


ICD is an acronym for the "International Classification of Diseases." These diagnostic codes describe what condition you are getting billed for by your physician or hospital. For example, there is a code for low back pain, 724.2 and migraine headache, 346.9. The United States is currently on the ninth edition, and after several delays will be transitioning to the ICD-10 in October. 


The Connection to SeaWorld

As described in the movie Blackfish, killer whales do not harm humans in the wild. And no one in the ocean has suffered a killer whale "struck by" injury. But the same is not true of trainers interacting with SeaWorld killer whales both in the US and abroad. In fact, two trainers have been killed specifically by "struck by" injuries. Both fatalities were attributable to captive SeaWorld killer whales. 

Read about Keto's "struck by" attack at Loro Parque, here




As described HERE, the new ICD-10 codes are being implemented to provide more "detailed healthcare data and a greater flow of that data to improve medical communication, which could contribute to advanced... protocols and clinical pathways." 

Now, as a result of the two tragic deaths in Orlando & Loro Parque, the US medical coding system has adopted a specific diagnosis in its ICD-10 library to address future instances of captive killer whale aggression. And no, this is not a joke: 


Initial encounter



Specific code icon 2015 ICD-10-CM Diagnosis Code W56.22XA  

Struck by orca, initial encounter

    2015 Billable Code Not A Principal Dx
  • W56.22XA describes the circumstance causing an injury, not the nature of the injury, and therefore should not be used as a principal diagnosis.
  • W56.22XA is a billable ICD-10-CM code that can be used to indicate a diagnosis for reimbursement purposes.
  • On October 1, 2015 ICD-10-CM will replace ICD-9-CM in the United States, therefore, W56.22XA - and all other ICD-10-CM codes - should only be used for training or planning purposes until then.
  • This is the American ICD-10-CM version of W56.22XA. Other international ICD-10 versions may differ.



Excerpt From Court Records Related to the SeaWorld Tragedy: 

This tragic description is likely the genesis of the new ICD-10 code being implemented in October 2015



Lastly, in an effort to educate physicians, nurses and staff, at least one hospital in Washington state has hung the following poster in its hallways to raise awareness regarding ICD-10 changes. In all likelihood the artists and employees who crafted this piece are not aware of its relationship to actual events perpetrated by incarcerated orca against their human handlers.


This is just another sign that it's time to #EmptyTheTanks


Thursday, June 11, 2015

RIP Sweet Obie

I learned that Obie died yesterday at SeaWorld. He was blind when he died. 

I worked with Obie for just over a year, from 1993-1994. He was a sweet boy back then; Still nearly 2000 pounds in weight. 



My take on walruses, from direct experiences with Obie, Gwen, Slowpoke, and Garfield, are that they are nearly on par with killer whales, in terms of their sophisticated thinking. Maybe it's because they readily understand human vocal commands and you can casually ask them to "come" or "whistle" or "wave," by using plain English. Nothing against dogs, I love dogs, but walruses are, or at least seem, way smarter than the average canine.  


"For what it's worth, Walruses are great whistlers"


And in terms of the danger factor, walruses have large tusks and can do one thing captive killer whales cannot... muscle out of the pool, run you down, and pin you up against a wall, or worse. In general, the four walruses I worked with were very good-natured, despite their incarceration. 
Read about Gwen's sad story HERE 
I remember working with Obie one day when he heard a noise, a bird, or something...  and quickly raised his mammoth head. It was completely non-aggressive but the top of his skull did slam into my chin and broke one of my front teeth off. It was the most significant injury I sustained as an an animal trainer at SeaWorld and I was sent to the dentist for tooth repair. Of note, no incident report was generated from that injury, probably because it was out of the public view.  



 As I remember Obie, it reminds me to say that the walruses and sea lions are kept in a relative hell-hole at all three SeaWorld parks; especially when compared with the Shamu Stadium & the dolphin stadium.  They essentially live in small cesspools surrounded by steel cages. The pools are filled with their own stool and urine, and the facility is on a separate less-sophisticated filtration & treatment system that requires more chemicals; hence the blindness seen in many pinnipeds at SeaWorld. 


I worked at all three animal stadiums at SeaWorld of Florida. In trainer culture, the Sea Lion & Otter Stadium was definitely considered "bottom of the barrel." And this plays out in the media these days when SeaWorld itself points to ex-trainers as being disgruntled because they were "moved to Sea Lion."


In terms of the physical plant, the jail-like smallish hot-tub-sized enclosures were often filled with 4 or more animals swimming tight circles. Area work duties consisted of the daily scrubbing of snot and feces from the walls, floors, food stations and steel bars. Body fluids were everywhere when trainers arrived in the morning to open. When celebrities would come to the park, as far as I remember, they were never allowed to see behind-the-scenes at "Sea Lion." 

Think about it. How many "back area" photographs have YOU ever seen of SeaWorld's pinniped show areas? It's shocking and not fit for public exposure.  


SeaWorld knows this and keeps it hidden. Where's the media? Stossel? 


Former SeaWorld Trainer Jeffrey Ventre with young Obie the Walrus at the Sea Lion & Otter Stadium 1994

Cheesy photo, I know, but notice Obie sticking his head out between two steel bars of his small prisoner's cell. 

This is the real tyranny; intelligent animals in circus shows for corporations that pay low wages to regular employees while making a handful of executives incredibly wealthy. Obie is a victim of SeaWorld's ongoing exploitation of intelligent marine mammals.

It's time to #EmptyTheTanks

RIP sweet Obie 



________________________________


Jeffrey Ventre MD

Former Trainer, SeaWorld of Florida '87-'95
Note: Obie was transferred from Orlando to San Diego 

Friday, June 5, 2015

Rachel & 65 Cities Say Empty The Tanks

It's been a year and we're back. I've teamed up, once again, with #EmptyTheTanks founder & SeaShepherd Cove Guardian Rachel Carbary for some information regarding the 2015 event. We spoke last year about her inspiration for the event, HERE. She told us, "My time spent in Taiji absolutely changed my life. I remember on my trip to Taiji in January 2013, the first time I saw with my own eyes a skiff carrying dolphin killers and dolphin trainers go into the killing cove. They were all smiling and working together. The trainers go into the killing area to inspect the captured dolphins in order to determine if any of the animals there are worth buying." 



The paragraphs below are fresh answers to questions about #EmptyTheTanks in 2015. 

Jeff V:  Rachel, last year was a huge success. How many cities are participating this year compared to last?


Rachel: This year is our biggest year yet. We have 65 locations throughout 20 countries participating. All of the events will take place on Saturday, June 6th, 2015.



Rachel & Friends 2014


Jeff V:  Just so folks that are new to the event can get an idea of what to expect, can you share with our readers the montage video from #EmptyTheTanks 2014?



Rachel: Here is the video highlighting the events that took place around the world last year for the 2nd Annual #EmptyTheTanks





Jeff V: Last year SeaWorld spokespeople were spreading misinformation about the event, here. Have any captivists organized counter protests or tried to interfere this year?


Rachel: I have heard about a couple of unorganized attempts to protest the #EmptyTheTanks events. I am not sure much will come of it, though.
Most of the time these people underestimate our passion and commitment to this cause. Even if they do show up -- we'll be there; we will be seen and heard and we will not stop until the tanks are empty.


Animal justice goes mainstream,  Portlandia 2015, Notice Blackfish Poster on Wall 

Jeff V:  San Diego has consistently brought out big numbers for #EmptyTheTanks. Any idea which cities will have the large turnouts on Saturday?


Seattle #EmptyTheTanks 2014


Rachel: Yes, San Diego always has an amazing number of dedicated activists that show up for these events. I am sure this year will be no different. I think this year we will have big crowds at most of the event locations, especially the SeaWorld ones. I am expecting big crowds in Orlando, San Diego, and San Antonio. 


Empty the Tanks is an event that even more people know about now. 

We have expanded our reach onto other social media outlets and this is allowing us to interact with more than just the Facebook crowd.



Downtown Seattle is home base for #EmptyTheTanks Global 



Jeff V: The UK and Australia have cities in the mix. What other countries outside of the U.S. are participating and how do you communicate over distant time zones?



Rachel C: This year we have so many countries that have joined in on this day of protest and awareness. Spain has several locations, South Africa is joining us this year for the first time, and we also have a few different locations in Mexico. The countries participating this year are:



US

Canada
Holland
Spain
UK
Germany
Turkey
Belgium
Australia
China
Japan
Ireland
Mexico
Argentina
Hungary
Brazil
France
United Arab Emirates
South Africa
Portugal


Jeff V:  Wherever you are, globally, make sure to help us #EmptyTheTanks on Saturday; whether through direct action or on social media. Spread the word to raise awareness for our cetacean friends that are earning profits for large companies in cruel & inhumane settings. Let's help end the practice. Thank you, Rachel, for leading the way. 


March in Seattle. Same topic "Beneath the Surface" helps to #EmptyTheTanks. John, Carol, Rachel, Jeff