Friday, May 30, 2014

Telling the Truth is a Revolutionary Act

Telling the Truth is a Revolutionary Act
By Jeffrey Ventre & Carol Ray 

The public condemnation of SeaWorld in the wake of the documentary Blackfish has put the theme park's crisis-management team into overdrive. 

State Legislators in New York and California have proposed bills to ban or end captivity in those states. Just yesterday, 38 US Congressmen sent a letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, citing outdated regulations protecting cetaceans and assert that the current rules don’t reflect “updated science." We couldn't agree more. 

Read about it HERE at The Dodo or Read about it HERE at CNN

Despite overwhelming evidence that killer whales are not suited for captivity, the giant captivity corporation continues to spread misinformation to hold onto a tired business model that the U.S. public has outgrown. Scientific polling data collected by Edge Research and commissioned by the Animal Welfare Institute (AWI) & Whale & Dolphin Conservation (WDC), released on 26 May 2014, can be viewed HERE. Only 21% of the American public support keeping killer whales in captivity; 50% oppose captivity; and 29% are undecided. With those numbers its clear to see why politicians are finally jumping on board the anti-captivity train.  

Read about SeaWorld's Misuse of Dr Ingrid Visser's research HERE 

As former SeaWorld trainers, we can offer a firsthand perspective on this controversy. We participated in Blackfish with the hope that the public would learn about the very real suffering of killer whales at SeaWorld. This is reflected in measurable ways, including shorter lifespans, broken teeth, collapsed dorsal fins, and social strife

SeaWorld's asking supporters to battle the Blackfish Effect 
We watched as young orcas were forcibly separated from their mothers to be shipped off to other facilities. We listened to the mothers' wails of despair. Katina, a nurturing and conscientious mother, has tragically had five of her seven offspring taken away from her. 

Katina currently lives with Nalani, her daughter who was fathered by her own son Taku, and young Makaio. Tragically, soon after impregnating his mother, Taku was separated and shipped to SeaWorld of Texas where he was killed at age 14 by a West Nile Virus infection transmitted by a mosquito bite.

SeaWorld spins these traumatic separations by defining youngsters who are no longer nursing as "independent." That's like saying a 5-year-old toddler is ready to be taken from his or her family. In the wild, orcas rarely leave their family pod and the bond between mother and child lasts a lifetime.

Incredible Art by Lee Harrison, New Zealand        @kiwiokuraorca 

There's an abundance of evidence that captivity kills orcas, usually at a young age, and that stress, social tension and poor health are chronic issues among orcas held in marine-park facilities. Genetically adapted to spend their entire lives within the complexity and security of family groupings, orcas captured from the wild have been denied the comfort and mentoring that these communities provide.

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

Killer whales at SeaWorld are confined to small acoustically inadequate concrete pools, where they must live in extremely close proximity to other whales, with whom they often share no ancestral or cultural connection. The squabbles and tension that result are exacerbated by the fact that they have no way to escape. Subdominant animals like Tilikum have no where to run, and he has no mother to provide him with any social status in the artificial pod. So he gets beat up, picked on, and isolated for his own protection. Those higher on the social ladder are like schoolyard bullies, ramming and raking (dragging their teeth over) more submissive individuals. 

Washington Post sports columnist Mike Wise: 

Serious injuries, including bites in which chunks of flesh are torn off, are not uncommon. SeaWorld's tanks are only a a tiny fraction of the area through which an orca would move during a single day of swimming in the wild.

SeaWorld's orca "inventory" in no way benefits orcas in the wild. In fact, the park's whale catchers devastated an orca population off the coast of Washington state by removing so many individuals to be used in theme parks. (Watch: "45 Southern Residents were taken.") Many orcas have died prematurely in SeaWorld facilities from violent accidents, preventable injuries, illnesses caused by stressful living conditions and many other causes, and the park has never released a captive orca back into the ocean.

3 Young Ladies deliver a petition of 1.2 Million Signatures in
Support of Richard Bloom's California Blackfish Bill AB 2140
SeaWorld reports 1.5 billion dollars in ANNUAL revenue, yet over the past DECADE has contributed $9 million to conservation, rescue and rehabilitation. Thus, only 0.0006 of its profits are funneled back into conservation. And conveniently, some of it's "beachies" wind up in display areas, helping generate more profits. SeaWorld has spent close to nothing on providing the whales and dolphins in its facilities with comfort, a real life or a plan to transfer them to a coastal sanctuary, where they would be able to feel the tides, communicate with far-flung friends and family members and experience the immensity of the ocean, where they belong. Instead, SeaWorld of California was cited for polluting Mission Bay in 2012. How’s that for conservation? 

SeaWorld's well-financed public-relations machine is designed to deflect and deny, and it is an expert at spinning twine into gold. But the riveting documentary Blackfish has drawn back the curtain on what George Orwell is said to have called "universal deceit." That curtain can never be closed again.



To Watch a GIS Tour of The Blackfish Effect produced by Michelle Duncan   @Chicasyoga  Click HERE

3 May 2014 in Rochester, New York
Carol Ray MA CCC-SLP earned a B.A. degree in Psychology from Rollins College in Winter Park, FL, after which she worked for several years training cetaceans at Seaworld of Florida. Carol serves on the expert board for the Free Morgan Foundation, and is a co-sponsor of proposed CA state "Blackfish Bill" AB 2140 which seeks to end captive orca performances and captive breeding. An outspoken freedom advocate, she has been a featured presenter at many orca related events in the Pacific Northwest. As a lover of marine life and an extensive traveler, she cherishes the opportunities she has had to experience whales and dolphins in their natural environment, around the world. Carol earned a Masters Degree (MA)  in Communicative Disorders from the University of Central Florida & is currently the owner/director of three busy pediatric speech therapy clinics in the Seattle area. She can be reached on Twitter at @CarolRay_WA

Jeffrey Ventre MD DC is a board certified medical doctor who specializes in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. He is also a board certified doctor of chiropractic. He practices in Central Washington State, treating patients with disabilities ranging from spinal cord injuries to back pain. He worked as a marine mammal trainer at SeaWorld from 1987–1995, spending seven of eight years with cetaceans. In June of 1996 he participated in “Orca Survey” with Ken Balcomb and Dr. Astrid van Ginneken, an ongoing photo-identification study of the Southern Resident community of killer whales in the Pacific Northwest. Seeing free-ranging killer whales radically altered his perspective. In 2011 he co-authored a paper with John Jett, PhD that describes the health issues and decreased lifespans of captive orcas. He's since teamed up with Dr Jett on two additional peer-reviewed scientific papers as well as an upcoming book chapter regarding animals in entertainment. He was subpoenaed in 2011 as a witness for the federal government in the case of OSHA vs SeaWorld. He can be reached on Twitter @jeffrey_ventre

Monday, May 19, 2014

SeaWorld Spreading Misinformation About Empty The Tanks

Busted Again. SeaWorld Continues to Spread Misinformation to Manipulate Public Opinion 

Interview with #EmptyTheTanks Founder, Sea Shepherd Volunteer & Cove Guardian, Rachel Carbary 

I guess if you're a multi-billion dollar corporation that has profited greatly from marine mammal captivity; and if weaving corporate misinformation into the public discourse to manipulate customers has been a standard practice for 50 years, what's one more whooper, or two? 

It's been said that the SeaWorld Public Relations  department is the "Gift that Keeps on Giving." And here is the latest example, from SeaWorld's fan page. The claims, packaged in an "Action Alert" were sent out into the world of social media, just this week: 

According to the Action Alert, "Activists are spending money to get big crowds out" to the global #EmptyTheTanks event scheduled for Saturday, May 24, 2014. To cut us some slack, SeaWorld is not officially calling for a counter "protest against the protest," but instead, just wants you to buy a ticket and spend a few hundred dollars at their parks, in a show of solidarity with its dwindling number of followers. The billion dollar corporation is also calling all hands on deck to "TWEET, POST, and SHARE the love that day!" 

Lastly, and most incredulously, SeaWorld is claiming that the message of captivity (which they call "love") is a "greater message than hate and fear." Basically, the cited polluter of Mission Bay, decimater of the Southern Resident killer whale population, low wage paying, mega corporation is calling the animal welfarist community a bunch of haters. 


To get to the bottom of this, Jeffrey Ventre (JV) from VOTO has teamed up with the event founder, Rachel Carbary, for a few quick questions. 

JV:  Rachel, as a Sea Shepherd Cove Guardian, you've witnessed the annual small cetacean slaughter at the infamous "Cove." This experience inspired you to create the #EmptyTheTanks event which will occur this Saturday, May 24, 2014, in cities all over the world. Can you connect the dots for us and relate how "The Cove" and the captivity industry are connected? 

RC: 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. 

When they do not find any that meet their specifications, they leave and that whole dolphin family is slaughtered. 

This past November, when I was in Taiji for a second time, I watched dolphin trainers ride on a skiff with dolphin killers and dead dolphins on board. The slaughter exists because the captivity industry exists. Every time someone buys a ticket to SeaWorld or MarineLand or any park with cetaceans, you are encouraging the dolphin killers of Taiji to continue their bloody business. It doesn’t matter if SeaWorld doesn’t have dolphins from Taiji. Other parks in the world do, so if you go to any park that is using cetaceans for entertainment, you are encouraging new parks to be built in other parts of the world, like Dubai and those dolphins will be victims of Taiji’s annual slaughter and capture season. It’s simple supply and demand. Take away the demand and you eliminate the need for the supply.

JV: This is your second annual event. Last year the event was in July, but this year it's in May. In the USA, this corresponds with Memorial Day weekend. What is the rationale to move the date up, and do you anticipate it being a Memorial Weekend tradition? 

Rachel & her Sea Shepherd Colleagues at the 2013 #EmptyTheTanks Event
RC: We simply moved the date up to 24 May because it was a weekend that we knew there would be a great deal of people going to the parks. Holiday weekends are big business for these places so we wanted to hit them on a day when we knew we could reach a lot of people. The goal of Empty the Tanks is public awareness so of course we wanted to reach as many members of the public as possible. The date for the 3rd Annual Empty the Tanks Worldwide has not been decided yet.

JV: You've participated directly at The Cove, and I presume you've seen Blackfish. Can you speculate how these two movies have "moved the bar" forward in regard to the animal justice movement? 

RC: I have seen both movies multiple times and think they are both such incredibly important films for everyone to watch. I think both The Cove and Blackfish did a great job of just opening people’s eye up to the truth. 

#Blackfish is on CNN the Thurs before & Saturday of  #EmptyTheTanks
Most people are so busy with everyday life and they do not stop to consider something as basic as the unethical decision to watch orcas doing circus tricks in a glorified swimming pool. They just see it as a family day out at the amusement park. Once they see these films their eyes are opened up to the truth. They see the dirty and bloodly truth behind the dolphin slaughters in Japan and they see what really goes on behind closed doors at the most well known marine park in the world. These movies have inspired so many people to speak out against the dolphin slaughters and the captivity industry. They have created a movement towards ridding our world of marine mammal captivity.

Rachel in Taiji, Japan, overlooking the captured dolphin holding pools
JV: SeaWorld is putting out PR saying that "Activists are spending money to get big crowds out at this event... we ask that you Tweet, Post, and Share the love that day. We can show that love is a greater message than hate and fear! 

#StandWithSeaWorld." That is pretty outrageous messaging. Can you comment on the various components of the corporate PR? 

RC: I honestly laughed when I read that statement from SeaWorld. 

It seems as though they are getting desperate to discredit the Empty the Tanks campaign. They are lying and trying to make it appear that Empty the Tanks supporters are being paid and bribed into showing up on May 24th. Nothing more could be further from the truth. The only money that has been spent on Empty the Tanks is my personal money for the website hosting. People are coming because they support this campaign and the freedom of whales and dolphins. Its compassion, not money that fuels Empty the Tanks Worldwide. I do not blame or hate the people who still want to “#standwithseaworld”. I just think they have yet to remove their blinders and accept the truth about what kind of place SeaWorld really is. SeaWorld's bottom line is about profits, not conservation and animal welfare. This latest attempt to say that Empty the Tanks is spending money to acquire supporters just goes to show that money is the number one thing on their minds. They don’t understand that money is not what drives activists like myself and the amazing event hosts from around the world, we are driven by compassion and a sense of what is right and moral.

JV: Your event seems to be growing daily. I know that Carol Ray (of VOTO) will be in Chicago for an event. I've been invited to the Seattle and Vancouver events, and will likely attend one of those. How many cities are now involved? 

RC: Well I hope we see you in Seattle, which is the event I will be attending. 

Right now, we have 52 locations in 21 countries standing up against the captivity industry on May 24th. We are united worldwide and we will get our message out that the time has come to empty the tanks!

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Superpod Three Is Rapidly Approaching

The Superpod events are gatherings that occur on San Juan Island, WA, usually via Seattle, in mid-July, and are open to the public. Folks travel in from around the world, and make their own arrangements. Dr. Ingrid Visser won the "man-mile travel award" at the last Superpod, coming from New Zealand. 


The event features Pacific Northwest killer whales, including the famous "Southern Residents," but also transients, whose numbers are on the rise, and who are frequently seen from boats and shore. 

Photo by Dr Astrid van Ginneken, Co-Principle Investigator of "Orca Survey" based on San Juan Island

The people that attend the event include scientists, journalists, former trainers, naturalists, film-makers, bloggers, and people that want to see killer whales in their natural home. This year the event begins on "World Orca Day, Monday July 14," as declared by Dr. Visser. Scheduled events will occur Monday through Friday, but most folks will be departing on Sunday, July 20. 

Howard, Ken & Tim were all involved in Blackfish at Superpod 1 & 2. Photo via JV.

The first two Superpods were successful. Whales were abundant & they provided an incredible setting for pod members & three film crews, including from Blackfish, the Humane Society, and the Non-Human Rights project.  David Kirby utilized Superpod 2 to launch Death at SeaWorld to a full house of whale enthusiasts. There have been multiple presentations including from Drs Lori Marino, Naomi Rose, Astrid Van Ginneken & Ingrid Visser; also from Terry Hardie, Howard Garrett, Attorney Jeff Kerr, Attorney/Professor Steve Wise (of the Non-Human Rights Project), Ella Van Cleave, and more. Sam Simon broadcast his radio program from the Best Western Hotel in Friday Harbor on 20 July 2012.

Superpod gatherings occur in the "San Juan Islands" of Washington state, and (also) on "San Juan Island." The San Juan Islands are an archipelago in the Northwest corner of the contiguous United States between the US mainland and Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada. They are accessible to the public by water and air. Friday Harbor is the main town on San Juan Island. It is where your ferry or sea plane will take you.

A Washington Stare Ferry Navigating the San Juan Islands. You drive your car onto this boat.

The waters between the islands are also the home to Chinook salmon, the Southern Resident killer whales' favorite food. J,K, and L pods, including Granny, the 103 yo matriarch, congregate each summer in a "Superpod gathering." Thus, this event is both a gathering of killer whales and "whale people," complete with annual customs, and festivities.

A Washington State Ferry at Friday Harbor. Photo by Jeffrey Ventre

The most common means of travel to Friday Harbor is by Washington State Ferry out of Anacortes. One advantage of this approach is that you can use your own vehicle for island transportation. But other options exist; and they include a high speed catamaran out of Seattle, called the Victoria Clipper.

This is a terrific ride, although it's a walk-on ferry only. It's a great option if you're meeting up with other folks that have transportation, or don't need a car. Of note, there are plenty of ways to get around on the island without a car, including bicycles, scooters, and island taxis.

Stunning View of Deception Pass. If you ride a Victoria Clipper Catamaran out of Seattle, You'll go under this Bridge

Lastly, one can arrive on a sea plane via Kenmore Air from Seattle. This will get you in and out of the event quicker than the other options, and the ride is stunning; definitely a great way to arrive. If you're a heavy packer, though, this ride has a weight limit. 

Kenmore Sea Plane takes off from Friday Harbor, San Juan Island, WA, USA. Photo via Jeffrey Ventre

Regardless of which method you select, they all offer incredible approaches to a very special place, Friday Harbor and the surrounding ocean. 

Once there, various options exist for lodging all over the island. These include hotels, B&B's, camping, marina cabins at Snug Harbor, large boats, and rental homes. Over the years, we've found the most cost effective method (excluding camping) is to get a group in a rental house together. This year, the four of us at Voice of the Orcas, will be co-hosting a party with Jeff Friedman @orcawild on Wednesday July 16, at this ocean front location, below. The deck provides a great view of killer whales and the Haro Strait. It also serves as a picturesque backdrop for interviews, especially when whales are swimming by (which typically is a daily occurrence). Superpod events have historically attracted journalists, authors, and film teams. Wednesday's deck party should bring lots of folks together in one location, and hopefully some very special #Blackfish. 

Photo by Jeff Friedman @orcawild

Events occur daily, and include whale watching tours, documentary screenings, presentations, and nightly social gatherings. Below is a rough schedule to give an idea of #Superpod3. Keep in mind that it stays light very late in mid July 

MON:  Arrive. See whales. Meet & Greet Social Event in the Evening
TUES: Whale watching activities / Presentation(s) / Whale Museum Event 
WED: Whale watching / Presentation(s) / VOTO Party / media
THURS:  Group Whale Watch Trip on The Western Prince / Presentation
FRI:  Whale watching / kayak trips /Movie Screening / Party
SAT/SUN: Possible Movie Screening / Flex time / departure 

Lastly, slide show presentation topics & potential movie screenings have been discussed and will be announced when various experts confirm their travel plans. For reference, Superpod gatherings have become an educational real world setting for disseminating (actual) killer whale knowledge & facts to regular people from all over the world. Most folks consider the experience pivotal or life changing, including the four of us at VOTO. 

Use the comment area for questions. This itinerary will be updated as new information becomes available.