Friday, February 7, 2020

Superpod Seven: Tipping Points



Superpod is a biennial gathering & conference on San Juan Island, Washington, USA, hosted by Voice of the Orcas and in consultation with The Whale Sanctuary Project & The Center for Whale Research. The event occurs from 20 to 24 July & the 2020 theme is Tipping Points 

2020 SP7 theme sketch (preview) by artist K. Makowski @d_delphinidae 

This year, you'll hear from at least three scientists from the Center for Whale Research, & also from Drs Naomi Rose, Ingrid Visser, & Lori Marino, as well as movie makers, NGO's, a race-car driver, dam experts, a rhetorician, journalists, former trainers & more. There will be between 30-40 presentations over a 3 day period, including a scholar advocacy program organized by Mariah Kirby, an alumnus of the program (now a biology teacher) & Dr Lori Marino 

Bigg's (transient) Orcas #Superpod1 Video / Gif via @jeffrey_ventre

Ex Marineland Trainer Phil Demers talks to Dr Ingrid Visser on the deck at Friday's, #Superpod6

Dr Katie Comer, Portland State U, presents her research on The Blackfish Effect, the 2018 Theme of #Superpod6
Attendees gathered on the deck at the Center for Whale Research. Photo via Phantom 2 drone, jmventre pilot 
Interested scholars should email Dr Lori Marino or Mariah Kirby for more information. See above

Dr John Jett presents our captive Orca survival paper at  #Superpod3. We later found out SeaWorld's mole was in attendance

#Superpod7 is the latest incarnation of an event that began in July 2011, & after an OSHA investigation was triggered into the tragic deaths of two killer whale trainers; one at SeaWorld of Florida & another at Loro Parque

The OSHA investigation & trial formed the backbone of #Blackfish movie & Death at SeaWorld, book. The ex SeaWorld trainers featured in those works became galvanized after a misinformation campaign was waged by the company; SeaWorld publicly attempted to blame the deceased trainers for their own deaths

--------------------------- SeaWorld's Misinformation Campaign was Extensive ------------------
SeaWorld's Expert Witness Jeff Andrews made this statement to the court. For more, see link below


Click HERE
Thus, #Superpod1 was a reunion of former trainers who once worked together at the Orlando park. The concentration of ex trainers combined with orca scientists & folks familiar with the SeaWorld whale captures attracted journalists & a documentary film crew. Most of Blackfish was filmed at #Superpod1 & #Superpod2. David Kirby collected interviews at SP1 & released Death at SeaWorld at SP2. Film crews have attended all Superpod events, including with Bill Neal, director of Long Gone Wild, who attended SP6 & is expected to return for SP7 

The event has grown each year & continues to be organized by former SeaWorld trainers, marine mammal advocates & experts whose mission is to illuminate three primary topics, unified by an annual theme, in an evidence-based way: 

1. Marine Mammal Captivity & the need for an Orca / Whale Sanctuary
2. Scientific updates regarding orcas, especially the So Resident population
3. Salmon Restoration & the need for a free-flowing Snake River 

Southern Resident Orcas swimming in front of Lime Kiln Lighthouse, photo J Ventre #Superpod2
Jim Waddell, Ret Army Corps of Engineers, presents on the urgency of breaching the Lower Snake River dams
#Superpod6, Kim Ventre introducing Dr Lori Marino, Pres of Whale Sanctuary Project & our 1st presenter at #Superpod1

Bill Neal, Dir. of Long Gone Wild, updates the audience on captive orcas in China, #Superpod6

Scholar Advocate Ella Van Cleave, Michelle Duncan & Journalist Melissa Cronin, who just saw wild orcas, #Superpod3
Samantha Berg doing a live Barbi Twins Radio Interview over the phone from a rental home at #Superpod4
Ken Balcomb, P.I., CWR lays out census data regarding critically endangered So Resident orca population, #Superpod6

Volunteerism & minimal fund raising keep the event going. There will be opportunities to contribute if you are interested. The venue has changed as the event has grown. It began at private homes, moved to The GrangeThe Whale Museum & San Juan Community Theater. This year, we've rented the SJI Yacht Club, on the water in Friday Harbor, WA. Whale trips on the Salish Sea or whale-watching from Lime Kiln have changed lives, and continue to bring magical moments to attendees 

The San Juan Islands are stunningly beautiful. Many attendees stay the entire week of the event. If you only have 3-4 days, here's a rough outline: 

MON: Whale Watching. Event organizers meeting Monday Afternoon Friday Harbor 
TUES: Whale Watching in the morning. Lunch at Friday's Crab House
TUES Evening: Gather at San Juan Island Yacht Club for Welcome & Lectures 
WED: Lectures All day, social events at night 
THURS: Lectures all day, Lime Kiln Lighthouse whale watching 
FRI: Good Byes 

Dr Naomi Rose of AWI Presenting at #Superpod6, Theme The Blackfish Effect 
Film Crew documents an ex trainer seeing WILD orcas for the first time, #Superpod6
Carol Ray (Blackfish) waves to a passing boat from a rental home on the West side of the island, as whales swim by #Superpod4

If you are an orca lover (aka "dorca"), former animal trainer, naturalist, #Blackfish movie lover, SeaWorld worker, whale biologist, journalist, or just looking for an amazing week of "island time," consider attending #Superpod7. All are welcome. For more information: 

Via email: 
Via Twitter: @SuperPod2020, @Voice_OT_Orcas @jeffrey_ventre
Via Facebook: Superpod7

Friday, January 25, 2019

Loro Parque's Baby Orca Ula Possibly In The Fight of Her Life

Loro Parque, Canary Islands: 

The new baby killer whale, Ula, recently celebrated with fanfare at the Loro Parque theme park, is battling an infection or trauma & may be fighting for her life. The calf is under a sun protection tent, with apparent phototoxic skin lesions, a misshappen head, & a diseased left pectoral fin. She's currently getting bottle fed with evidence of her mother Morgan pushing into the steel gate separating them. 

The tiny calf, born with what appears to be a congenitally disfigured head (or a never-before-seen variant) has contracted a pathogen or suffered an injury which may be life-threatening. We don't know for sure. Photographs of the ventral surface of her tail show extensive needle-stick marks, for age, suggesting frequent blood draws and/or the administration of IV antibiotics. 

When only days old she was separated from Morgan and has recently been photographed by visitors to the Spanish theme park, Loro Parque (LP), where she was born. Note, unless otherwise noted, the images & the video below were supplied by activists who requested to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation from LP. The captions in this video came with it. Please watch:

Dozens of images have been reviewed by experts who suggest, along with the abnormality of her melon, the infant may be in a declining state of health based on the diseased appearance of her left pectoral fin & areas of the body

Dr. Naomi Rose, Marine Mammal Scientist for the Animal Welfare Institute told VOTO: 

"Various photos suggest the calf has a flattened profile at the front of her head, where it should be rounded with the melon. This could be because of the angle of the photos, but given the number of them, some of them from Loro Parque, it’s hard not to wonder if something is wrong there. While we cannot confirm there is a deformity, the management of the park should be transparent, given the public concern, and offer evidence that all is well with the calf. Not just statements at face value, but medical records and even an independent assessment.”

Dr. Ingrid Visser, Marine Biologist with the Orca Research Trust reacted to the images of the calf’s left pectoral fin saying: 
"I’ve never seen anything like this in the wild. Not a disfigurement of the melon or pathogen of any body part like this poor calf has. I feel so sorry for both her and her mother, Morgan. It emphasizes to me just how wrong captivity for these animals is at facilities like Loro Parque.”

Dr John Jett, of VOTO, research professor at Stetson University & former SeaWorld killer whale trainer adds: 

“The animal’s appearance, her separation from mom, and their bottle-feeding intervention reminds me of Nyar, a baby killer whale that I helped to hand raise at SW of Florida.  Nyar was separated from her mother Gudrun not long after she was born.  The little whale lacked coordination, which hindered her ability to eat, swim upright, and interact with the other animals.  Her difficulties were so severe that she was force-fed, and at times she struggled to get air.  Nyar eventually died at 2 years of age, with a necropsy report suggesting that a fungal infection in her brain had killed her.  Nyar’s case was heartbreaking to me. Unfortunately, if Ula does survive then her life will be spent in a barren tank performing tricks for frozen fish. Not a good life for an orca. Not a good life for any cetacean."

The calf’s mother, Morgan, has been observed as she floats forlornly outside the barred metal gate, hoping to catch a glimpse of her child. Loro Parque initially stated:
“From the very first moment, Morgan demonstrated to be an exemplary mother attending to her newborn, which is swimming next to its mother”

And then they said:

“the experts are pleased with the strong bond the pair have developed”

Reiterating a few days later:

“the bond between mother and calf continues to grow and Morgan is demonstrating exemplary maternal instincts as she swims alongside her calf at all times they are together" 

Despite demonstrating that powerful maternal bond, the LP staff have removed the calf from her mother, first stating that it was because Morgan was not providing enough milk and then that it was in the interest of safety.

Rather than providing supplementary feedings, or temporarily separating them only for feeding times, the facility has placed the newborn in a tiny barren tank, alone.

For more on Phototoxic skin lesions in captive Orcinus orcas go HERE

On the 21st of Jan 2019 the first evidence that Morgan's calf is no-longer-bonded with her was posted on-line by a member of the public. This video shows Morgan being allowed to enter the medical tank and then departing, with the calf ignoring her.

To date, Loro Parque has not made any public mention of the issues concerning either the melon or the compromised left pectoral fin. The sad irony of this lack of transparency is that Loro Parque has repeatedly justified its keeping and breeding of Morgan in the name of “scientific research” and even touted research already being conducted on the young infant regarding echolocation which, by the way, is facilitated by an orca’s melon.

Click to Enlarge this Photograph
As questions continue to be raised whether SeaWorld’s transport of Morgan from the Netherlands to Spain could have resulted in her alleged hearing loss; the question must be asked, could some of the “research” already imposed on this infant by LP and several universities have contributed to her compromised condition as well?

The background story on Morgan is just as appalling. She has been used as a commercial pawn in one of the most highly valued live-animal trades in the world. As Matthew Spiegl, Legal Counsel for Free Morgan Foundation notes, the breeding of the calf’s mother, Morgan, is already the subject of both legal and legislative challenges in the Netherlands and the European Parliament. Questions also persist of the Spanish Government’s complicity in condoning the unauthorized breeding of Morgan. 

Spiegl and Dr. Visser have collaborated with Professor Arie Trouwborst, Tilburg Law School, on a new peer-reviewed article about Morgan’s legal rights which has just been published in the Review of European, Comparative and International Environmental Law (RECIEL) on 15 January 2019

If all of this wasn’t troubling enough, the fact that Morgan, a wild-born orca was cross-bred with a male killer whale on loan to Loro Parque from SeaWorld, has not even been acknowledged, let alone addressed by SeaWorld. 

Remember, SeaWorld promised the public to put an end to the breeding of all its captive orcas. That promise, part of an agreement with The Humane Society of The United States (HSUS) took effect on 17 March 2016 and covered all whales including those loaned to LP. It also included wild-born Morgan, who was sent to Loro Parque by the Dutch Government under a permit which limited her use to research, not commercial shows or breeding, both of which Loro Parque has used her for. Morgan and the calf were already expecting to face problems, as Loro Parque claims that Morgan is deaf – which theoretically would limit her ability to communicate effectively with the baby. 

Dr. Jeffrey Ventre, medical doctor and former SeaWorld killer whale trainer summarizes the evidence:  

"On the video the calf continues to be active. The venipuncture marks suggest an animal that is having frequent blood draws and probably IV antibiotics. This is based on the skin discoloration which I attribute on a more-probable-than-not basis to medical infusions. As someone that works with brain injury patients including malformations, I wonder if this is a congenital deformity of  the head, a normal variant, or something not before seen in orcas. If Ula suffers from a congenital brain insult or malformation this would likely be associated with movement disorders (think spastic cerebral palsy), diminished cognition and increased muscle tone. The cratered ulcerated pec looks a lot like a fungal issue, which would explain a lot; the meds, the skin discoloration & the protective tent. I hope Ula survives. In the wild she'd have the full support of a trained mother, midwives, babysitters and brothers to protect her. In this situation I imagine her chances of survival are small."

Tragically, as the current situation unavoidably illustrates, Loro Parque’s insistence on ignoring the SeaWorld/HSUS breeding ban, has now resulted in the birth of this poor calf; essentially a genetically modified orca or ‘GMO’ with tragic and heartbreaking consequences. 


NOTE: This story is still developing & we will provide additional reactions as we hear back from experts who have been asked to comment. We can be reached @Voice_OT_Orcas


Thursday, September 13, 2018

Reactions to Orca J-50's Untimely Death

With the passing of another Southern Resident Orca, J50, & the ongoing lack of urgency shown by Washington State Leaders Governor Jay Inslee, & Senators Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray... 

The world watches as a corrupted political system, one that places monied interests over science & reason, leads to the functional extinction of Washington's most iconic species, the Killer Whale, aka #Blackfish. These leaders, if they had the political will, could compel the Army Corps of Engineering's Commander to breach the deadbeat (money losing, salmon killing) dams on the lower Snake River, using Alternative 4 from the 2002 Environmental Impact Study (EIS), opening up hundreds of miles of currently inaccessible habitat. Instead, they all seem to agree that shooting sea lions is a good idea, with Senator Cantwell co sponsoring the law that allows for it. 

Each dam plus it's hot slack-water reservoir has > 10% mortality for migrating smolts. If you have 4 dams on the Snake & 4 more on the Columbia River, that's a total of 8 dams that a salmon above Lower Granite dam, near Pullman, WA, has to navigate on its way to the ocean, and another 8 to get back home to spawn! Those are impossible odds. 

Historically So. Resident killer whales obtained up to 50% of their diet from Snake River Chinook salmon, spending nearly a quarter of their lives at the mouth of the Columbia River waiting. Based on a 2016 NOAA study, which analyzed orca scat for salmon DNA  - these whales now derive 0% of their nutrition from the Snake River fish & are forced to look elsewhere. With Chinook runs dwindling everywhere in the NE Pacific, you can understand why these whales are starving. By the way, both culturally & physiologically (with unique teeth & gastric fluids) it is not possible for So Residents to "switch prey" like some suggest. They are fishermen with 8 million years of evolution on us. 

Why on Earth does Governor Inslee have a Koch-Funded climate denying "think tank" participating with his salmon recovery task force? Why is dam breaching not a priority at these meetings? In all likelihood because the task force is basically a ruse, a show; to create the impression that he is taking affirmative action & being inclusive. Spoiler: Salmon need riverine habitat, not beach clean ups or other marginal efforts. There's plenty of climate-change resistant habitat that would be opened up by decommissioning the lower Snake River dams. If you want a quick course on these arguments, watch this video with Jim Waddell, RET Army Corps of Engineers: 

Good news:  If breaching happens, it's a win for everyone, including the Governor, the Senators, the salmon, steelhead, orcas, the tribes, trees & even the GOP. Why?  Because these dams are MONEY LOSERS producing 100% surplus energy. Bonneville Power is selling it mostly to California for a loss while having to raise your rates. (Translation: You're rate payer bill is LESS if the Snake River is restored to it's natural course!). 

MORE at  DamSense website here & at DamStupid Website here 

They are "run of river" dams with NO FLOOD CONTROL. And lastly they are easy to breach with earthen berms. Thus when you consider the facts (not the propaganda): 

The decision to breach is a NO-BRAINER


A message from chief scientist at the Center for Whale Research in Washington state, Ken Balcomb, followed by Twitter's reaction to J-50's demise: 

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Katina's Gruesome Dorsal Fin Injury is no April Fool's Joke by SeaWorld

SeaWorld's most valuable matriarch suffers gaping laceration at the base of her dorsal fin 

Thanks to Heather Murphy @oceanadvocatefl for obtaining the first outside photographs of Katina, a key which broke the story; one that SeaWorld had been hiding for two weeks. Per SeaWorld's announcement, below, Katina was injured on 17 March, but the secretive captivity-corp only put out a response when Heather's images caught the attention of both mainstream & social media

------------------------------  SeaWorld's Vague Response below ---------------------------

NOTE: SeaWorld uses a deceptive camera angle to minimize the perceived damage to Katina's dorsal fin 



Background: Captured near Iceland in 1978 at the age of two, Katina is arguably SeaWorld's most valuable killer whale. Not only has she provided matriarchal leadership and stability at the Orlando park for decades, she's trained dozens of young trainers and has been a prolific mother. In SeaWorld terms, she has produced many "assets" over the years, and has doubled the typical lifespan of a captive at SeaWorld. 

"KAT" is known as The Cadillac to those who've worked with her due to her steady personality & ability to consistently deliver "hot dog" segments for crowds at Shamu Stadium. Waterwork was banished at SeaWorld, per Judge Ken Welsch's ruling, here, after the tragic death of Dawn Brancheau in 2010. Note the (lesser) degree of dorsal fin collapse from 1995.  

A top mom, KAT was the first female killer whale to successfully give birth in captivity; in part due to larger pool sizes constructed in the mid 1980's. These bigger pools gave calves enough room to nurse. KAT's first "Baby Shamu" was Kalina, half Icelandic and half Southern Resident, like her father, Winston.  

Note that Winston impregnated KAT in San Diego when she was only 7 years old. A pregnant Katina was stretchered & transported to Orlando, where she gave birth to Kalina on 9/26/1985 at the age of 9

Katina is also known for having a son, Taku, whom would later impregnate her, producing the inbred whale, Nalani, who was born 9/18/2006. For this, Taku was shipped to Texas, where he would die a year later from neuroinvasive West Nile Virus transmitted by a mosquito. 

Orca (Orcinus orca) captivity and vulnerability to mosquito-transmittedviruses, Jett, Ventre, 2012

As you can see, Katina has had a tragic life at SeaWorld over the past 40 years, outliving 3 of her offspring Taku, Kalina & Unna, where her circular swimming pattern and time at the surface have both contributed to her collapsed dorsal fin. 

That fin, now badly damaged, may have to be partially amputated, depending on how much blood flow can be preserved above the lesion. We will be looking for evidence of tissue necrosis over the next several weeks. 

Photo of Katina's dorsal fin injury by Heather Murphy 

Former SeaWorld Killer Whale Trainers Chime in via Social Media 

What can we determine from SeaWorld's Public Relations Response? 

With the recent change in leadership, from former CEO Joel Manby, to current CEO John Reilly, we now know that the misinformation campaign at SeaWorld will continue. Reilly, a long time insider, seems to be turning back the hands of time.  This translates into less transparency & more misinformation. As pointed out already, the company has been hiding this injury from the public for two full weeks; only fessing up after Healther Murphy published her own photographs. 

SeaWorld's actual response to this injury, here, is both vague and delusional. This injury is a DIRECT CONSEQUENCE of captivity itself, for two reasons. 1) In the open ocean whales that are being chased or displaced can simply get out of the way 2) It was the concrete & steel enclosure at Shamu Stadium that caused the laceration itself, whether it was bars on a gate or her impacting the glass, as former trainer John Hargrove has postulated.  

SeaWorld's delusional corporate response

Author: Jeffrey Ventre MD is a medical doctor practicing in Washington state. He's a former SeaWorld trainer, 1987-1995, & Blackfish cast member