Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Dr Rose Urges Scientists to Tell SeaWorld, "Stop Misinforming the Public"

NOTE: The email below was published with the permission of Dr. Rose.

The MARMAM e-mail list was established on August 6th, 1993, through the University of Victoria. It is a public e-mail list meant to serve researchers and managers working with marine mammals. As of January 2010 there are approximately 8,500 subscribers to the list. 


From: Naomi Rose
Date: May 12, 2015
Subject: [MARMAM] SeaWorld response to MMS paper on age milestones in killer whales

Dear MARMAMers:

Once again, I am compelled to post on SeaWorld’s current public relations efforts. A recent paper in Marine Mammal Science, which went through comprehensive peer-review, indicates that while survivorship rates have improved in captive killer whales, survival to certain age milestones is still poor compared to the wild. (It also found age milestones at which survivorship declined in captivity, suggesting that husbandry practices during these life stages are particularly problematic, such as separating juveniles from their mothers.) A popular article about this paper was just published, in which Dr. Doug DeMaster was quoted, as well as Dr. Todd Robeck, a veterinarian at SeaWorld. The article is here:  

Any members of the Society can read the original paper, by John Jett, Ph.D. and Jeff Ventre, M.D., online at

Dr. Robeck, in his capacity as a representative of SeaWorld, is highly critical of Marine Mammal Science and frankly of the peer-review process. (And I must confess, it has not been MY experience that the Society has a “large anti-captivity sentiment in a lot of [its] members.”) 


Dr. Rose does a Ted Talk on the Topic of Killer Whales at TEDXBend 


This is typical of SeaWorld – when the company does not like the facts as presented, it attacks the presenter, whether it is an individual or a journal or an academic association. 

In short, its typical response is the ad hominem attack, when it should be a presentation of data that counters the claims of the analysis it is criticizing. SeaWorld, in its ongoing PR campaign, has told people that captive whales live as long as wild ones (see, which is not supported by the peer-reviewed science.

"If the company has data suggesting otherwise, it should publish it."

I call again for the Society for Marine Mammalogy to write to SeaWorld’s executives and ask them to stop misinforming the public about marine mammal science and Marine Mammal Science. I strongly urge marine mammal scientists to publicly respond to this PR campaign. This campaign is how many people are learning about killer whales right now and they are being misinformed.

Marine Mammal Scientist

900 Pennsylvania Ave., SE
Washington, DC 20003
P  Please consider the animals and their habitat before printing.


Information on Dr. Rose & the Video Above

Published on May 25, 2015

The family structure of orcas is destroyed by captivity, and its time to return them to their world, the ‘real” sea world, instead of forcing them to live in ours.

As a scientist for Humane Society International and a marine mammal scientist for the Animal Welfare Institute, Rose has spent her entire career studying whales and dolphins (cetaceans) in captivity and how society’s relationship with these animals needs to change. Rose travels the world, most recently to Russia and Singapore, to give presentations about the concerns related to keeping cetaceans in captivity and using them in performances. She brings scientific grounding to an often divisive and emotional topic. Her work has been profiled in the book “Death at SeaWorld” by David Kirby; she also consulted on the 2013 documentary film “Blackfish” by Gabriela Cowperthwaite.

This talk was given at a TEDx event using the TED conference format but independently organized by a local community. Learn more at

Monday, May 25, 2015

SeaWorld Using Money and Politics to Push Back Against School Kids

Evan Dow Testifies in Favor of the "Humane Treatment" Resolution
How does SeaWorld use politics to maintain captivity in a country that now opposes it? And who is T.J. Zane?

Despite overwhelming evidence that killer whales are not suited for life in sterile concrete pools, SeaWorld continues to spread misinformation, to mislead shareholders, and to hold onto an exploitative business model that the U.S. public has outgrown. Even Ringling Brothers agrees & stated that public attitudes regarding its performing elephants have changed. The circus, now more progressive than SeaWorld, will retire its elephants by 2018.

There is data [on marine mammal captivity] to support Ringling's conclusion. Scientific polling data published in May of 2014, collected by Edge Research, and commissioned by the Animal Welfare Institute (AWI) &Whale & Dolphin Conservation (WDC), can be viewed HERE

Results: Only 21% of the American public support keeping killer whales in captivity; 50% oppose captivity; and 29% are undecided. With those numbers its clear why some politicians are jumping on board the anti-captivity train. It's now MAJORITY opinion, and politicians win elections on populist issues. 

With that in mind, what gives? 

How has SeaWorld been successful at influencing political outcomes or stalling progress in Washington & California, two states that are more progressive than most?

The answer is money, deals, & continuing to fabricate misinformation. What's odd is how openly dishonest SeaWorld continues to be, including making false statements in public settings that can easily be refuted. Also, they're apparently calling on political favors from recipients who have received donations. 

A good example occurred last week at the Poway School District Board Meeting, San Diego, California, USA, on 18 May 2015. A high school senior, Zach Affolter, submitted a resolution to the school board, entitled:  

"Supporting Educational opportunities for the humane treatment of animals."
After getting push-back from captivity supporters, Zach took the step of revising & watering down the original language of the resolution to say that SeaWorld does offer some positive educational opportunities, as well as other changes. 

SeaWorld's response was to mass email the school board, send employees, friends, & a family member to testify, and to call in a favor from board member T.J. Zane to block the resolution before it could be voted on (see video at 1:30). According to his website:

@tjzane has a foundation  and is a long-time political fundraiser through Lincoln Club & the city GOP.

From an article by Lisa Halverstadt, Voice of San Diego, April 2014:
SeaWorld scored a big win this week when a bill targeting the company [AB-2140] was sidelined – but the park’s influence extends far beyond Sacramento. 
The company’s political action committee has funneled more than $100,000 to federal candidates and national lobbying groups since 2012. In the same two-year period, the company itself has sunk another $12,500 into the political arms of the Lincoln Club of San Diego County, the California Restaurant Association’s local chapter and the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce
Its executives also wrote checks to city politicians including Mayor Kevin Faulconer and City Council President Todd Gloria totaling more than $5,000.

From THIS ARTICLE: A visual of San Diego-based politicians receiving donations from SeaWorld executives, the company or its political action committee since 2012

The Lincoln Club of San Diego is a pro business political action group that recently received $12,500 from SeaWorld. T.J. Zane is the former chief executive. It's worth pointing out that Mr. Zane has done nothing illegal. He's simply exercising a political favor for a corporate constituent that has donated money to his group. Both he and SeaWorld  appreciate the money generated by performing marine mammals. 

"Follow the Money." 

Another notable point regarding the testimony seen in the video is that SeaWorld animal training management continues to fabricate misinformation to suit it's needs. Note that head killer whale trainer, Robin Sheets, lies to the school board. 

Robin Sheets testimony begins at 16:38 in the video


Thanks to various lawsuits, some SeaWorld killer whale medical documents are in the public record, including the note above, which states that 80mg of diazepam (Trade name Valium) was prescribed to orca "Ikaika." It is widely known within the trainer community that SeaWorld, and other marine parks, sometimes use medications to "mellow" agitated animals and when transporting animals from park to park. According to ex-colleague John Hargrove, this isn't the first time Mr. Sheets has fabricated misinformation in a public setting. See John's Tweet, below: 

The value of this evidence is that it captures a head trainer spreading misinformation, and also the flow of money to politicians in San Diego. According to the Voice of San Diego, SeaWorld has given contributions to many politicians in California, and nationally. It's our job to hold them accountable by voting out those who put profit before the welfare of the animals in human care.   

Are the stockholders & lawyers paying attention? 

For more on this story read this piece by Jaime at Cetacean Inspiration: