Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Killer Tooth Ache


Statements compiled & composed by Dr Ingrid Visser 

Anyone with a tooth ache knows how painful and distracting that can be. For an orca (killer whale), which has around 48 large teeth, a sore tooth is likely no less painful or debilitating than for a person. A new study, investigating teeth of captive orca, found that every individual studied had damaged teeth.

Dr John Jett, an ex-orca trainer, now professor and first author on the paper says, “We investigated 29 orca owned by one company and held in the USA and Spain. Every whale had some form of damage to its teeth. We found that more than 65% possessed moderate to extreme tooth wear in their lower jaws, mostly as a result of chewing concrete and steel tank surfaces.” 

Drs John Jett & Ingrid Visser 
Additionally, the researchers found that more than 61% of the orca have ‘been to the dentist’ to have their teeth drilled. Officially termed a ‘modified pulpotomy’, a hole is drilled into the tooth to extract the soft pulpy tissue inside. But unlike us, the resultant hole is not filled or capped, but rather is left open for the rest of the animal’s life, requiring daily flushing with chemicals to keep the teeth empty of food and bacteria in an attempt to manage ensuing infection. 

Dr Loch At the Muséum national d'Histoire naturelle
Dr Carolina Loch, a scientist who specializes in the dentition of whales and dolphins and a co-author, explained that once the tooth gets worn to the point where the pulp is exposed, “this opens up a channel for disease and infection, so the staff then drill the teeth.” 

Dr Jeffrey Ventre another of the authors, who is also an ex-orca trainer and now a medical doctor stated that he had drilled orca teeth and that "teeth damage is the most tragic consequence of captivity, as it not only causes morbidity and mortality in captive orcas, but often leads to chronic antibiotic therapy compromising the whale's immune system, as we saw recently with the orca known as Kasatka.”

Loch added that “A drilled tooth is severely weakened and if any other trauma occurs, fractures will happen. We have documented more than 60% of the second and third teeth of the lower jaws were broken and this high number is likely linked to the drilling.” During his time as a trainer, Ventre said that he had witnessed "whales breaking their teeth on steel gates while jaw popping. Small tooth fragments were then collected below the gate while diving the pool."

An investigative researcher and co-author noted that “the damage to the teeth of these animals is so severe that most individuals can be identified by the specific fractures and tooth wear alone, much like forensic pathologists use for identification of
humans post-mortem.”

Ventre noted that “The obligatory daily teeth irrigations render the compromised orcas poor candidates for full release”, should companies ever make the transition to look at rehabilitation for their captives.

Dr Ingrid Visser with Samantha Berg at Superpod 2 
Dr Ingrid Visser, a scientist who has studied orca in the wild for more than three decades and has long been advocating for an end to orca captivity, stated that “We know that confining them in tanks is bad for the animals and this research now gives us some hard numbers to illustrate just how their health and welfare is compromised. Given how big the root of an orca’s tooth is and that orca have a nervous system similar to ours, these injuries must be extremely painful.” 

She is a co-author for this study and noted that compared to free-ranging orca, “the teeth of captive orca are incredibly compromised and you just don’t see this type or level of damage in the wild.”

Drs Ventre & Jett August 2017, Image Mariah Kirby 
Loch pointed out that “dentists have long said that oral health is a measure of general health as our mouths are the gateway to our body”, and she believes that this is likely the same for orca. Jett concluded “We have documented that tooth damage starts at a very early age in captivity and that all the orca in the study have issues with their teeth. Teeth are incredibly important to the overall health of an animal, and the results of our study should raise serious concerns for the health and welfare of captive orca.”

Author contact details, Study Highlights and Citation details are given below. 


The authors can be contacted on: (J. Jett); (J. Ventre); (C. Loch), (I. Visser);

Study Highlights:

1)  Using high-resolution photographs, individual teeth in the mandible and maxilla of captive orca were scored for coronal wear, wear at or below the gum line, fractures, bore holes and missing.

2)  Dental damage was commonly observed across all captive whale cohorts, with damage beginning early in a whale’s captive life.

3)  Forty five percent of whales exhibited “moderate” mean mandibular coronal wear, and an additional 24% exhibited “major” to “extreme” wear.

4)  More than 61% of mandibular teeth 2 and 3, and 47% of mandibular tooth 4, exhibited evidence of having undergone the ‘modified pulpotomy’ procedure.

5)  Conspecific aggression and oral stereotypies such as biting on hard tank surfaces likely contributed to the tooth pathology observed.

Study Citation details:

John Jett, Ingrid N. Visser, Jeffrey Ventre, Jordan Waltz, Carolina Loch, Tooth Damage in Captive Orcas (Orcinus orca), Archives of Oral Biology, Available online 29 September 2017, ISSN 0003-9969,

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Hurricane Irma and the Tragedy of Lolita

Dear APHIS & the City of Miami: 

You have warned Floridians not to abandon pets in the wake of Irma. The city has mentioned felony penalties for animal cruelty. The governor issued mandatory evacuation orders for South Florida. The mayor of Miami Beach told residents to leave early. Irma was described as "catastrophic" and "nuclear." 

Why does the Miami Seaquarium get a free pass? 

Executives at the company elected to roll the dice with Lolita's life. Captive orca transports are routine. And while not completely risk free, leaving her to perish in a flimsy facility on Virginia Key is unconscionable. Does the Seaquarium get infinite passes regarding clear cases of animal cruelty? 

They left Lolita, aka Tokitae, in the cross hairs of a major hurricane. What gives? You preach animal safety, but your record in policing the Miami Seaquarium calls into question your ability to enforce the law fairly, especially versus institutions like captivity companies. Lolita's tank is undersized, cruel and illegal. When, if ever, will the city or APHIS take action? Lolita is an endangered Southern Resident killer whale with a known home, living family and obvious potential happy ending. 

Commentary below is from Jeffrey Ventre & Samantha Berg of Voice of the Orcas 

JV:   In 1995 I rode out a hurricane with SeaWorld's killer whales including Tilikum, Katina, Gudrun, Taima, Nyar and others. That storm, much less powerful than Irma, passed over Orlando in August of that year. 

Shamu Stadium 1995 showing concrete pillars & reinforced roof 
Unlike the flimsy undersized-illegal facility where Lolita is held captive, Shamu Stadium in Orlando is generally stout; basically reinforced concrete, steel, cement pillars & reinforced roof

"The hurricane threats to captive killer whales include missile injuries, blunt force trauma, stress, contaminated water and foreign objects in the pool"

In nature whales can ride out storms spending their time predominantly below the surface and at greater depths. The shallow water columns of captivity force the animals to be exposed. In 1995 the whales were extremely agitated when Hurricane Erin passed over, mostly swimming together. Nyar was a sick calf that required tube feedings and we accomplished that in the medical pool under high winds.

In the case of Lolita, her stadium could literally collapse, and she's alone. The Seaquarium was cited in 2003 for a "rusty roof beyond repair" as well as other issues. Unlike the "bunker" of Shamu Stadium in Orlando there's a fair chance that the roof over Lolita could blow off due to high wind velocities from Irma or a future storm. If she was lucky enough not to get hit by collapsing stadium parts, she stands the chance of being sliced by metal from the roof. A second concern is that the storm surge could or could have (we still don't know) undermined the structural elements of her tank including the perimeter glass that holds back the water.

If that were to happen, she'd be in dirty foreign-object-filled water trapped in her rusty whale prison with no way to swim to the sea, which is meters away. Electrical pumps may be out of commission due to power outages and Lolita may be forced to live in contaminated water until power is restored.  

In the context of the original storm forecast, which predicted a CAT 4 or 5 direct strike on Miami, the Seaquarium's decision to roll the dice with her life is callous, immoral, and unjust. If she's still alive, Lolita must have been terrified. While there may have been a skeleton crew on hand, for the most part her trainers were gone. The park is now dark and closed. 

She has no peers like the Orlando captives do. The company executives decided that leaving her exposed to a "catastrophic" hurricane, alone, was better then moving her out of the way. It's unconscionable, especially after the wealth she's created for them. If she survived, more likely since the storm turned West, the public may become physically ill if and when executives return from their silence and say "they had it covered." We haven't heard anything in days... 

The truth, as seen in their actions, or lack of, is that they left her to possibly die, rolling the dice, saving the expense (she's insured), and also likely not wanting to prove that she could survive a transport. Surviving a transport, which she would, undermines the company's prior claims. Spokespeople for the park tell the public that Lolita can't survive a transport as their justification to reject the idea of a sea sanctuary. 

In my  opinion, of all the whales in captivity, worldwide, Lolita is the best suited for release. Her teeth are good. Her mother is still alive, as are her family members. 

After swimming circles in her illegal tank for over 45 years, retire the girl. Learn from Irma. With any luck she could have another 20 years of life, in the ocean, and with or near her pod in a seaside sanctuary.

Jeffrey Ventre MD DC
Former SeaWorld trainer
Blackfish movie cast member 

------------ Below is From Samantha Berg ----------

My biggest fear for Lolita was always that she would die in her tiny illegal sized tank mere yards from the ocean, never having had a chance to be reunited with her mom, Ocean Sun, and the rest of her Pacific Northwest Southern Resident Orca family.

WATCH this powerful short video: 

Sadly, it appears that in the hours during and after Hurricane Irma, Lolita stands a chance of not only being injured but possibly dying in that woefully inadequate kiddie pool of a tank. Her pain and suffering will be made worse by the fact that she has been utterly abandoned by her owners.

Even in the best case scenario where Lolita is mostly unharmed, she will likely spend a harrowing amount of time being tossed around in a pool with flying projectiles and possible storm surge pouring into her enclosure and she will have absolutely no where to go.

Her tank is not deep enough for her to submerge and find refuge from flying debris. And, in an ironic turn of events, she even faces the potential of drowning if the surface of her tank becomes sufficiently blocked by falling detritus. Or maybe the filtration system will fail and she'll have to spend days or weeks floating around in her own excrement. Her tank may over-heat if the power goes out and this could easily lead to a slower death from disease and injury.

None of the options are good.

As bad as I imagined the end of Lolita's life on earth, this is a significantly worse fate - and it would be the final injustice in a long-line of injustices perpetrated against this magnificent animal and her family members.

Even more heart-wrenching is the fact that this could have been avoided. Killer whales can be moved to safety in the event of a natural disaster - and Irma's likely path has been more or less obvious over the past 7-10 days.

Why didn't the Miami SeaQuarium prepare for a hurricane? 

Although there are no Seaside Sanctuaries for killer whales yet the Whale Sanctuary project is working on it as is The Orca Network

MSQ could have easily established a training program for Lolita that involved regularly lifting her up on a stretcher to get used to the procedure. 

A transport box could be standing by AND if no suitable inland temporary tank could be established, even Seaworld would be a better option for a short-term holding facility to ride out the storm.

Although Shamu stadium in Orlando was built in the mid 1980's - it's still a bunker compared to the death trap where Lolita currently resides.

And, yes, I'm calling out Seaworld. SeaWorld management should have stepped up to take her once the dire nature of Lolita'a situation became obvious. SeaWorld prides themselves on being a "rescue, rehab and release facility" - I think this situation more than qualifies as a rescue - and they could sort out the logistical and financial issues after the emergency has passed.

After all, Lolita has earned millions of dollars for her captors and owners. She deserves better than to be left alone to fend for herself just because there are some details to sort out.

Lolita's plight couldn't be a better example of why large, social complex, intelligent animals like killer whales don't belong in captivity.

But, honestly, at the moment, I don't care about how Lolita ended up where she is - I just want the Seaquarium to do the right thing - which would be to mobilize every resource at their disposal to relocate Lolita to a safe place.

And if by some miracle Lolita survives the latest undeserved ordeal being thrown her way, I will make it my life's mission to see that she is at least given the chance to return to her family.

Miami SeaQuarium is a disgrace and they should be ashamed of their actions.

Samantha Berg Samantha Berg, M.Ac., Dipl.Ac.
Former SeaWorld Trainer
Blackfish movie cast member

-------------------------  City of Miami & APHIS Contact Info  --------------------------

Mayor Tomás Regalado 
3500 Pan American Drive
Miami, FL 33133

Office 305-250-5300 
Fax 305-854-4001

USDA-APHIS Animal Welfare contact info:

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Criminal Investigation by Dept of Justice is a Big Can of Worms for SeaWorld

A new article by Kyle Swenson at the Washington Post has SeaWorld in, what some describe as, big trouble. His story lays out The Blackfish Effect onto the company, blow by blow; a can of worms for a captivity corporation who is facing increased public scrutiny & numerous allegations contained in class action lawsuits. 

Famed Ringling Bros. circus closing after more than 100 years

In February of 2017 U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White ruled that a class-action lawsuit filed against SeaWorld, for false advertising, can move forward; important as SW was feverishly trying to have the case thrown out so it could avoid legal discovery. Discovery is a nightmare for the captivity corporation; one that has a lot to hide. The company is still trying to block discovery by designating its orca medical records (documents key to the case) as "secret." 

In regard to the newly described federal investigation at the United States Department of Justice (DOJ), many of us "Superpod-ers" were watching the alleged fraudulent statements from SeaWorld and associated SEAS stock collapse happen in real time. Its a breath of fresh air during a time when it's easy to question whether malfeasant corporations ever receive justice. 

Today's stock report shows the Blackfish Effect. Note the one day collapse in August of 2014

We also speculated that BlackStone rushed the initial public offering (IPO) back in April 2013, so to best extract maximum wealth out of the marine-circus before it started to tailspin from the foreseeable Blackfish Effect. 

The Washington Post piece is the first time the impact of Blackfish (on SW) as well as the executive response has been articulated in an accurate, chronological and nearly comprehensive way. Also, it specifically mentions the Blackfish Effect, a term coined by the filmmakers 

According to Swenson at WaPost: 

In court documents filed last Friday, the U.S. Department of Justice asked a California judge to temporarily pause depositions in an ongoing shareholders lawsuit against the theme park chain.

Sandra Moser, the acting chief of the DOJ’s fraud section, petitioned the court for a temporary stay while the government conducts an “ongoing federal criminal investigation,” the filing stated. 
The documents indicate the investigation concerns “disclosures and public statements made by” the company and executives “regarding the impact of the ‘Blackfish’ documentary.” 

Those concerns echo the allegations shareholders leveraged in the 2014 lawsuit, which accuses the company of purposely deceiving investors about the business hit triggered by the exposé. SeaWorld has previously denied any wrongdoing and is fighting the lawsuit.

This new can of worms is both legal & perceptual for SeaWorld. The executives have consistently tried to blame their collapsing public appeal and overall value on anything but the truth. They've unloaded their holdings while simultaneously describing that everything was "OK" to their investors. It seems like a clear case of fraud, at least to some of us.

In Memory of our Friend Sam Simon 
Perhaps one day SeaWorld will #EmptyTheTanks & move its marine mammals to seaside sanctuaries or open ocean pens, where they can continue to receive medical care, live in cleaner chemical-free water, feel the tides, interact with fish, kelp and other sea life. 

This story tees up the case for the class action suits that follow

Gif file compiled by Jeffrey Ventre from #Superpod4, Salish Sea, WA, USA


Supplemental material: 


Author:   Jeffrey Ventre is a board certified medical doctor in the specialty of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (PM&R). He treats patients with physical impairments from back pain & stroke, to spinal cord & brain injuries. He worked with SeaWorld killer whales Katina, Tilikum, Kalina, Gudrun, Nyar, Kanduke, Kotar, Taku & favorite, Taima. JV appears in Blackfish movie along with Carol Ray, Samantha Berg, and John Jett. The four ex SW trainers, collectively "Voice of the Orcas" or VOTO, appear in Voiceless film, Death at SeaWorld & JV & JJ appear in New York Times best seller & Good Reads choice award winner (2015) Beneath the Surface, by John Hargrove. 

Associated reading: Blackstone Nearly Triples Money on SeaWorld Amid Controversy

The complete article can be read here:

NOTE: Credit to the artists who produced the gif files used in this article. They were circulated publicly without attribution on social media 

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Kasatka's Impending Death has SeaWorld in Full Scramble Mode

The tragedy of Kasatka... with a tribute to her by VOTO's Samantha Berg

First, some context: 

In the run-up to SeaWorld's (SW) next earnings report at noon Eastern time (USA) on August 8th, the company is in full scramble mode. SEAS stock is currently trading below $15.00 and pressure is mounting on CEO Joel Manby to get the ship turned around, or perhaps more accurately... prevent it from sinking. 

The captivity-corp is under two Federal Investigations & the old SW guard wants leadership change. Former execs are being investigated for misleading statements which downplayed Blackfish movie's actual impact on earnings & attendance, and also for possible insider trading. Our prediction is that the Justice Department & the SEC will find a bounty of Blackfish related emails on company servers. 

Duped investors are angry, having potentially lost millions. Insiders have paid themselves handsomely through rough times, publicly blaming things like "Easter," and in spite of missing financial targets. The natives are restless. 

Meanwhile the obvious solution to SW's woes, sea sanctuaries, alternately referred to as #EmptyTheTanks, are being ignored and mocked by the captivity giant, which is now primarily controlled by China’s the Zhonghong Zhuoye Group. Instead of changing its ways, SeaWorld is working with the Chinese & United Arab Emirates to exploit whales and dolphins in places with fewer animal protections. So much for conservation. But then again, it was never really about that.

There are multiple law firms working on class action suits, with at least one going to trial, at this point. See article here: 

Class Action Lawsuit vs SeaWorld Promises Drama & Discovery

And then there's Kasatka...

Immunocompromised Kasatka succumbing to opportunistic pathogens
A wild born female North Atlantic orca captured by the theme park in 1978, the mother of multiple "assets," as SW refers to "their" whales in financial documents, & the former matriarch at the California park for the last several decades. Kasatka will forever be immortalized by her thrashing of Trainer Ken Peters as seen in this video below from CNN: 

See CNN video below with comments from VOTO's Carol Ray. 

Estimated to be about 40 years of age, she won't experience that long post-menopausal life enjoyed by her wild cousins. Wild females experience reproductive senescence (the equivalent of menopause) at 40-48 years of age. Killer whales, humans, and short-finned pilot whales are the only 3 mammals on the planet known to go through menopause. Dr Darren Croft discusses the evolution of killer whale "menopause" here at #Superpod5: 


Learn more about killer whale matriarchs from Dr Astrid van Ginneken MD, PhD, in the video below: 

A Tribute to Kasatka by Samantha Berg 

I just saw photos of Kasatka’s disease ravaged body. 

Tom Hall, Gabriela Cowperthwaite, Manny Oteyza, Jeffrey Ventre, Samantha Berg (speaking), John Jett, John Hargrove 

Inevitably Kasatka’s death will be portrayed by the SeaWorld corporation as a tragedy. SeaWorld will say they are saddened to lose (yet another!) family member. They will tell the public and the media that they did everything they could to give her a loving home, restaurant quality fish, superior dental care and a whole host of other lies that should be familiar to anyone who is dialed in to the anti-captivity movement.

Kasatka’s trainers will be sad, the public will mourn, and the news cycle will move on to the next story and Kasatka will be forgotten. 

NOTE: This PR video doesn't show Kasatka very well. They strategically keep her hidden or turned away from the camera. Note the language. This video is preparing the public and media for death by pneumonia even though she is being eaten alive by disease.  SW will emphasize that pneumonia is the leading cause of death in killer whales, although not true for wild orca, as far as we can tell.  We have not been able to find evidence that pneumonia is the leading cause of mortality for wild orca. The reality is that Kasatka is being eaten away, possibly by a bacteria, fungus or photo-toxicity due to antibiotic overuse. Generally speaking the pathogen-type is not relevant to her impending death & current suffering. Of course SeaWorld doesn't tell us what is eating her flesh, just that it is not fungal. 

So, before she goes I want people to at least know this:

It is Kasatka’s LIFE – not her death- that is the real tragedy

Kasatka was stolen from her true family in Iceland in 1978. She has spent the last 39 years in prison. Her crime? She was born a killer whale – a species so intelligent, beautiful and intriguing to humans that the owners of Seaworld knew they could put her on display and charge other humans just to watch her swim in a tank.

Kasatka’ body has not been ravaged by illness alone – she has been forced to perform via food deprivation for every day of her life for the last 39 years. She has also been forced to bear children that were then removed from her side and relocated to other corporate-owned prisons. Given what we know about the bonds between mother and calves – this is an even greater violation than food deprivation and amounts to extreme emotional abuse.

Captivity: A bad idea from the beginning. The original Shamu seen here thrashing the company secretary for a promo video

Kasatka is not an individual – she is a corporate asset worth millions of dollars to a corporation that cares about her only to the extent that she can continue to perform and generate revenue. Her owners don’t care how she feels or that she just might have memories of another happier life in the ocean.

Kasatka is one of only 4 remaining wild-captured killer whales still living in US Seaworld parks. With her passing there will only be 3 – Ulysses and Corky in San Diego and Katina in Orlando.

Sadly, the practice of capturing wild killer whales has not ended – the Russians continue to capture whales and the Chinese are building new facilities for whales to perform, breed and be on display.

Morgan, a killer whale who was “rescued” in the Netherlands remains in prison at Loro Parque in the Canary Islands even though she could have been a candidate for release.

Tilikum, also captured near Iceland, lived a miserable life at SeaWorld from 1992 until his death in 2017

While SeaWorld will say that Kasatka’s life performing circus tricks for food helped them to provide an educational experience for countless numbers of school children who stream through their turnstiles every year – this is also a lie.

Watching whales perform tricks in captivity is a distraction from the very real dangers facing our planet and our oceans right now.

Did Kasatka’s prison term help to educate park goers about ocean acidification, plastic pollution, fish farm effluent or dams that are right now causing salmon populations to crash and thus leading to the death and starvation of a wild pod of killer whales in the Pacific Northwest?

Will her death wake people up enough to address these issues? Likely not.

At least in death, Kasatka’s decades of suffering will finally come to an end. My heart breaks for her, not because she is dying but because she deserved better.

RIP Kasatka

Note: Samantha's comments used with permission and also appear in this article at The Dolphin Project v Elizabeth Batt