Tuesday, June 7, 2016

The Morgan Monitor Who filmed The Escape Behavior Provides More First Hand Details about the Orca

This week, controversial video footage gathered by the anonymous "Morgan Monitors" was posted by the DolphinProject and picked up by major news media. The "Monitors" are seeking justice for the young killer whale who was captured & betrayed by the Dutch Dolfinarium Harderwijk and shipped to Loro Parque, in the Canary Islands, Spain, with the help of SeaWorld, from the United States. If that sounds like whale laundering, read THIS


The footage shows Morgan distressed and beaching herself on the stage area at "Orca Ocean," the circus style arena at the theme park. 

The story made global headlines with articles appearing at media sights including PEOPLE, TIME, Mashable, Russian TV, FOX News, the Telegraph, and more. Some headlines were overtly sensational & the responses from Loro Parque and SeaWorld claiming that Morgan was exhibiting "normal behavior" were patently false. 

One video, posted at Sky News, caught the attention of the anonymous "Morgan Monitor" who actually filmed the distressed orca. The video is linked here:

Within hours & via Twitter, the anonymous Morgan Monitor reached out to the former SeaWorld trainer who provided the analysis seen in the video. With permission, this information is being shared, below: 

date:Tue, Jun 7, 2016 at 1:06 PM
subject:Regarding Morgan Video

Hi...  I took the footage of Morgan. 
What you said in the interview on Sky news was spot on... 
I wish there was some way I could get it out to the media that this was not a suicide attempt,
but without my identity being exposed... So here is my unpublished blog, which may give you a better idea of what led to her jumping out. 

A visit to Loro Parque 16th May 2016: 
Morgan the female orca has captured the hearts of many around the world. She was spotted swimming alone in waters of the Netherlands. She was extremely underweight but swimming freely. She was captured by a local theme park (Dolfinarium Harderwijk), under a Dutch Government issued ‘rescue, rehabilitation and release’ permit. The theme park failed to fulfill the rehabilitation and release part of the permit.
She was trained and kept in a life of captivity. Morgan now spends her life in Loro Parque on the island of Tenerife. Here she is constantly attacked, and the male [Keto] tries to mate with her.  The Free Morgan Foundation was formed to get Morgan back to her family in Norway. Morgan has suffered a significant injustice most of her life. This visit was to follow up on Morgan after the release of footage of her violently banging her head against the gate of the med pool a few weeks earlier. The last show Morgan made her first appearance of the day. The show arena was not as full as it had been earlier that day. Video footage was taken of the show; the first part of the footage shows a splash and 3 orcas going under the water, It seemed like some kind of scramble or attack by two orcas on the other one (Morgan). 
The following moment Morgan jumped and beached herself onto the concrete. Her breathing was rather shallow; her vocals seemed stressed and sounded as though she was in pain, even more so each time she lifted her head. 
The first part of the video...  shot of her beached lasted over 2 minutes, and the trainers did not attend to her. Most of the audience seemed to think that this was the ending of the show; many took selfies with Morgan suffering in the background. I then decided to video again as Morgan was still in the same position still showing signs of shallow breathing and severe discomfort. Now people were leaving, I moved around taking footage until I had Morgan facing the camera lens. A female trainer stood a few feet away from Morgan just watching the crowd leave. The other 2 orcas were still swimming around in the tank and often just spy hopping at Morgan. A trainer stood by the bridge was asked if Morgan is ok, His reply " Yes she’s fine just like’s to be out of the water” The audience was still leaving and we were eventually all asked to leave. At this point I stopped filming and I glanced back:  Morgan was still in the same position as where the trainers. This had now been over 10 minutes. So all I could do now was make my way to the exit. As I left for the exit, heart pounding, feeling choked up and holding back the tears. 
I had just witnessed the true face of captivity. As much as they are controlled and trained. The only place for these majestic creatures is the ocean with their true family...
Anonymous, Morgan Monitor  

Monday, May 23, 2016

Superpod Five Killer Whale Conference is "The Future"

Updated 6-27-16 with scheduling information at bottom. 

In its fifth incarnation since 2011, Superpod Five kicks off 18 July 2016 in Friday Harbor, on San Juan Island. This year's theme, The Future, will feature presentations and activities that blend the work of our youth leaders with whale watching, updates on research, dams, salmon, & more. 
Click HERE to go to this Friday Harbor website  
A lot has happened with the local killer whale population since #Superpod4, and notably, SeaWorld has announced an end to captive orca breeding. These current events will be popular topics in Friday Harbor and at the San Juan Island Community Theater, our primary terrestrial venue.

Photo series v J. Ventre #Superpod4 

#Superpod5 is the fifth in a series of gatherings, hosted by Voice of the Orcas, open to the public and attended by an international group of scientists, filmmakers, authors, journalists, former trainers, naturalists, & orca advocates. 

Ella van Cleave, Michelle Duncan, , and journalist Melissa Cronin at #Superpod3 on the deck of Headquarters

The official itinerary includes events beginning Monday 18 July through Friday 22 July, but many visitors arrive before the event begins, or depart several days after the event closes. Once arriving in the "San Juans," most folks don't want to leave, and all can understand why orcas prefer the surrounding waters to concrete tanks. The Haro Strait, separating the West side of San Juan Island, from Canada, can be seen in the short video below: 

In general, the ideas & connections made at superpod gatherings have been significant in helping to bring concepts like captivity, dam breaching, & salmon restoration to the public through presentations, documentary films, direct action, social media, and journalists who attend and report on it. Four film crews have attended past gatherings, including for Blackfish, and we're told a fifth crew, another documentary team, will be attending in 2016. 

Below, hear Katie Emmons, one of the event organizers, speaking at the Kodak Theater, Rochester, New York, with Phil Demers in the foreground: 


The Business:

If you have questions about #Superpod5, the event planning committee for 2016 consists of:

Kimberly Ventre @KimberlyVentre
Dr. Lori Marino @Whale_Sanctuary
Carol Ray @carolray_wa
Dr. Jeffrey Ventre @jeffrey_ventre
Katie Emmons @BlueFreedomOrg
Captain Jeff Friedman @orcawild

Kim has secured the community theater, is handling the #Blackfish whale-watch ticket sales on June 1st, and is the lead organizer of Superpod5. The Blackfish trip will be on the "Western Prince II." 

[ SOLD OUT - quickly. Note that there are plenty of other whale watch opportunities & we can direct you to them. 

GO HERE: http://sanjuanislandwhalewatch.com/ or you can also email: jeff@sjiwhalewatch.com

Dr. Marino is speaking at the event and organizing a scholar-advocacy conference on the island. Please read the notice below and contact Dr. Marino if you would like to participate. 

Captain Jeff Friedman & Spencer Domico will be operating three whale watching vessels, The Peregrine, Imagine, and the new "J-1,"  during the event. For questions about getting on a WW boat, please contact Jeff. 

Jeffrey Ventre is organizing the speaking line up, utilizing this blog, Twitter, and direct communications to get people information, such as: 

1. Information about how to get to the island can be found HERE
2. Information about last year's event can be found HERE
3. The history of the event can be found HERE
4. The website for the event (built by Jeff Friedman) is HERE 

Note that you can register for Superpod events at the site. The information is used to estimate how many will be attending & planning venue size.  Also, this event is free & open to all, but there are costs, including rental fees for the community theater, over $2000. In an effort to keep the event free to attendees, there is an option to donate on the http://www.orcasuperpod.com/ website

Carol Ray has secured Superpod5 headquarters, is a potential speaker and is an organizer of the event. Reach out to her for general questions. Carol is one of the cast members of the new documentary, Voiceless. See her in the new official trailer, below: 

Katie Emmons is one of our youth leaders and director of the new documentary, Voiceless, which will be premiering at #Superpod5. You can see Katie interviewing Dr. John Jett for her film HERE 

In this second video, Katie explains what Voiceless is: 

We're excited for #Superpod5 as it will attract folks from distant places who all share a love of killer whales, nature, and conservation, in general. Please use hashtag #Superpod5 as we approach this event. Based on early numbers, it will likely be the most attended superpod yet. We are expecting 300 to 400 attendees. Please return to this space for updates on tickets and the schedule, below: 


SCHEDULE -- Partial  

#Superpod5 Schedule (So far)

Monday July 18
2-4 pm: Meet & Greet at Friday’s Crabhouse
This is a casual get together to greet old friends and make some new ones. Everyone tends to gather on the top deck for a drink or bite to eat.

6:30pm Welcome to Superpod 5 “The Future” San Juan Community Theatre
History of Superpod and the Blackfish Effect
Ex-SeaWorld Trainer/Blackfish Cast Member Dr. Jeffrey Ventre

7:00pm Screening of documentary film Voiceless
Q&A with Voiceless Director and Blue Freedom Founder Katie Emmons

Tuesday July 19  San Juan Community Theatre 9 – 4pm
Scholar Advocacy Day
Presentation times to follow including:
9:00am – Young Adult Novel The Blackfish Prophecy
Rachel Clark, Science & Environment Author

How I Followed My Dreams to Superpod Using Social Media
Mariah Kirby, Biology Student, University of Missouri-St. Louis

To the Sea a film about (re)connection
Ella Van Cleeve, aspiring documentary film maker/advocate

Cetacean Awareness: Using Social Media to Create a Vibrant Community
Michelle Strom, Student/Founder Cetacean Awareness

Every Drop
Roya Paller, Social Worker, Founder/President Generation Change

Scholar Advocacy Roundtable including Dr. Naomi Rose, Dr. Lori Marino, Dr. Jeffrey Ventre

The Whale Sanctuary Project – the Future for Captive Cetaceans
Dr. Lori Marino, neuroscientist
Founder and Executive Director the Kimmela Center for Animal Advocacy

“I Am Not an Animal!”
Michael Mountain, founding member of The Whale Sanctuary Project Former President of Best Friends Animal Society
Founder EarthinTransition.org

Conservation Canines
Dr. Sam Wasser, Director, Center for Conservation Biology
University of Washington

Wednesday July 20
Whale Watch Wednesday
Spend the morning exploring beautiful San Juan Island. Many Superpod participants are whale watching from shore, kayaks or boats–but the island also has wonderful hiking, biking, shopping and beachcombing. Don’t forget to check out the Whale Museum.

Afternoon – San Juan Community Theater 1:30-4pm

#EmptyTheTanks presentation
Rachel Carbary

Closing the Wild Capture Loophole: Working to Ban the Importation of Wild Cetaceans into Canada
Katherine Sussman, Ph.D

Alphabet Soup: Legislation, Regulation, and Agencies, oh my!
Dr. Naomi Rose, Marine Mammal Protection Advocate and Orca Biologist

Dolphin Project
Lincoln O’Barry

Whale Museum 6:30pm
David Neiwert Of Orcas and Men Presentation and book signing

Thursday July 21 – San Juan Community Theater 9am-5pm

Presentation times to follow including:
The Ecosystem Approach: The Future of Endangered Species Recovery
Colleen Weiler, WDC, Rekos Fellow for Orca Conservation

Dolphin and Whale Brains – More Evidence for Complexity
Dr. Lori Marino, neuroscientist/Founder and Executive Director the Kimmela Center for Animal Advocacy

Navy Sonar & Marine Mammals: Potential Measures to Mitigate Harmful Effects
Meegan Corcoran, ex-Navy Biologist, University of Washington 

Center for Whale Research 40 years and Counting Shifting Baselines in the Salish Sea
Ken Balcomb, Founder/Executive Director, Center for Whale Research
Dr. Deborah Giles, Research Director, Center for Whale Research

A Captive Orca and Her Natural History

Howard Garrett, Co-Founder Orca Network

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Our Statement Regarding SeaWorld’s announcement to End Captive Orca Breeding

SeaWorld’s announcement to end captive orca breeding is a step in the right direction, for orcas, and we support efforts to phase out all marine mammals from captivity. 

SeaWorld’s partnership with the Humane Society is significant [two former foes pledging to work together] and we hope the company will become a leader in ocean conservation, help to restore salmon runs, and assist the animal justice community in obtaining nonhuman rights for cetaceans. We understand it took courage for CEO Joel Manby to make these changes; Kudos to his leadership. 

It must be pointed out that SeaWorld’s shift is a financial decision and the public itself has made this happen over a several year time span. THANK YOU for not buying a ticket. There are some inaccuracies in the announcement, such as the characterization of Keiko's release effort and no mention of other species still incarcerated at the park. 

We’d like to send love to Tilikum, who continues to languish alone in Orlando, and wish we could comfort him in his final hours. In the end, his message was heard. Thank you, Tilly

Voice of the Orcas: 

John Jett Ph.D. 

Carol Ray M.A. 
Jeffrey Ventre M.D. 
Samantha Berg M.Ac. 

Monday, March 14, 2016

SeaWorld Can Extend Tilikum's Legacy Beyond the Show Pool

NOTE: This blog was updated as Tilikum lived for almost a year after this publication date. The updated article is HERE


To Whom It May Concern:  

Myself, and the other members of VOTO, Samantha Berg, John Jett, and Carol Ray, have been informed that Tilikum, a SeaWorld killer whale in Orlando, is near death. We are saddened by this announcement, although it is not unexpected.  

Tilikum has developed an antibiotic resistant bacterial infection of the lungs, with pneumonia being the leading reported cause of captive killer whale mortality. Efforts to treat Tilikum have failed due to decades of antibiotic and antifungal therapy, medications that three-of-us at VOTO have fed him, and medications he was on in 2010 when he killed Dawn Brancheau, as reported by APHIS, here

Tilikum IS the Blackfish Effect. He changed the world from a small tank at SeaWorld in Orlando. Photo: VOTO 

Tilikum has been getting fed antibiotics consistently for at least two decades, primarily because of his badly damaged teeth, including open bore holes that must be flushed with antiseptic solution 2-3 times daily. These bore holes can lead to fish particles, roe, and other debris getting into the jaw and eventually into his blood stream, causing chronic low grade infection(s), and able to seed various organs, including the lungs. The end result is that, now, Tilikum is filled with bacteria that are resistant to powerful and broad spectrum medications that SeaWorld is dosing him with. 

Tilikum is, at this time, likely suffering from pulmonary edema, or excess fluid in his lungs. When the surface area of his alveoli diminishes sufficiently, he will suffocate in a stretcher, at SeaWorld. In a last ditch effort to obtain air to oxygenate his tissues, he will likely thrash in the stretcher, and go through a period of "death throes," prior to finally passing. This is a particularly dangerous time for the animal care and training staff on hand. 

A crane is reportedly standing by, possibly to recover his body if he should pass. This information is unconfirmed, but it does correspond with SeaWorld's recent announcements seen in this video:

Many citizens, including some in the scientific community, are hopeful that SeaWorld will dedicate Tilikum's cadaver to science. This gesture would advance our understanding of the impact of captivity on marine mammals such as Tilikum. 

Histological samples of dorsal fin collagen would help us understand collagen fibrillogenesis in killer whales, and why dorsal fins collapse in captivity. Kidney tissue samples could help us understand the effects of chronic dehydration on orcas, like Tilikum, who require gelatin as a dietary supplement. Cardiac tissue could be examined for evidence of physical deconditioning. Eye tissue could be used to understand the effects of looking upward toward trainers, a behavior that is probably contributory to early cataract formation in show animals that must look for hand signals from trainers, on stage. Blood tissue can be used to test for elevated titers of viruses such as West Nile, St Louis encephalitis, and other mosquito transmitted "bugs" associated with zoos, but not seen in wild animals. Immunoglobulin levels could provide information on captive orca immunity. Detailed bone and joint examinations could be examined for evidence of various arthritides. DNA testing could help identify Tilikum's natal pod, and so on. 

Take the NFL as an example 

Samples of brain tissue were critical in understanding the newly described condition (seen in NFL players) known as Chronic Traumatic Encephalopaty (CTE), and as depicted in the feature film "Concussion," with Will Smith. The NFL was initially resistant to outside scientists performing these studies, but is now helping to fund them. SeaWorld can mimic the NFL, and CEO Joel Manby can get credit for the change, something that might give him some job security.  

Killer whales in captivity are also known to slam their heads on solid objects such as gates and concrete walls, especially adult male killer whales, with Kanduke being a famous example. Tilikum's brain tissue, or perhaps a new MRI, as depicted in Blackfish, could push our understanding of the orca brain forward, a brain four times larger than our own. 
An MRI can be used to scan Tilikum's brain. This has been done once, previously, & was depicted  in Blackfish movie 

SeaWorld has an opportunity to extend Tilikum's legacy beyond the performance pool and to substantiate it's claims of performing relevant science. We are hopeful they will take up this idea for the benefit of science, the public, policy makers, whale lovers, and for future killer whales. 

Thank you, Tilikum, for your sacrifices. Your legacy will live on through us and the millions of people your story has touched.  

Jeffrey Ventre MD
Blackfish cast member
Former trainer at SeaWorld