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

Monday, March 5, 2018

Superpod Six Primer with Schedule Outline

Superpod is a biennial gathering on San Juan Island, Washington, USA, hosted by Voice of the Orcas

#Superpod6 is the sixth incarnation of an event that began in July 2011, organically. It is organized through volunteerism & minimal fund raising. It's an event for learning, sharing, & inspiration. It's open & free to the public and brings together scientists, authors, journalists, former trainers, naturalists, orca advocates and people who want to see killer whales swimming, playing & chasing prey in the ocean. It's fun & the San Juan Islands are stunningly beautiful. 

Recent years have seen an increase in the number of transient orcas in the Salish Sea. Whale watch patrons are just as likely to see transient families as they are to see the fish-eating Southern Residents. Humpbacks are increasing in number & frequently seen via boat. Bald eagles, dolphins & stellar sea lions are plentiful. 


Whale watching is land-based or via several whale watch companies. Here's a Southern Resident bull orca swimming in front of #Superpod5 attendees at Lime Kiln State Park, with voice over by attendee Brian Goodwin, who traveled from Florida: 

#Superpod6 happens Mon-Fri July 16th - 20th, 2018 

July 19th will mark the five-year-anniversary of #Blackfish opening at theaters in New York, Los Angeles and Hollywood. Appropriately, this year's theme is The Blackfish Effect. That said, topics will be far-ranging, including on current events, state of the Southern Resident orcas, shake-ups at SeaWorld, wild and captive orca research, the Russia-China-SeaWorld connection, Morgan, Lolita, Corky updates, salmon restoration, the lower Snake River dams, scholar advocacy, short films and more. Our venue is the San Juan Community theater, seen in the drone video here: 

At the theater, over two dozen experts & advocates will take the stage for Ted Talks Style presentations including short films on Granny & Moby Doll. The theater will also house booths and interactive information tables. Meet folks from the Center for Whale Research and conservation groups that will be on island for the event. The official #Superpod6 T-Shirt, designed by artist Kaarina Makowski, is below with her comments. Guess who the whales are on the official logo?  


16 July Monday: FLEX time. Arrival day. Explore the island, social events 

17 July Block ONE: Tues 1:30 pm to 4:00 pm: Meet & Greet at Friday's Crab House 

17 July Block TWO: Tues 6:00 pm to 8:00 pm or later - Welcoming at the San Juan Theater

18 July Block THREE: Wed 8:30 to 12:30 pm - presentations / films 

18 July Block FOUR: Wed 2:pm to 6:00 pm - presentations / films 

19 July Block FIVE: Thurs 8:30 pm to 12:30 pm - presentations / films 

19 July Block SIX: Thurs 2:00 pm until 6:00 pm or as late as needed / films 

20 July Friday: FLEX time. Whale Watching, social events, island exploration


NOTE: This list is a working list in no particular order. Most on this list will be presenting or involved in scholar advocacy. We will update the list with more details, add-ons or cancellations

Phil Demers - The Walrus Whisperer 
Charles Vinick - Lessons from Keiko Project 
Christine Caruso - Introduce her documentary on Corky with film clips 
Colleen Weiler, WDC Fellow, Rekos Fellowship for Orca Conservation
Margaux Dodds - Marine Connection (UK) - Introduce Whale Bowl Documentary
Carly Ferguson, Ontario Captive Animal Watch - Update on Kiska / status of Bill S-203
David Neiwert - Journalist, Author Of Orcas & Men 
Kim Ventre - Mistress of Ceremonies 
Dr Kathryn Comer - Portland State University, Blackfish impacts 
Dr Lori Marino - Neuroscientist, Scholar advocacy & Whale Sanctuary Project 
Dr Ingrid Visser - New Zealand orca researcher, multiple topics 
Dean Gomersall - Blackfish cast member
Murial Arnal - French Decree banning breeding of cetaceans 
Pedro Bicchieri - Book Author, The Blackfish Effect 
Dr Naomi Rose - Blackfish Effect, policy expert 
Rachel Carbury - Empty the Tanks Worldwide organizer 
Mark Leiren-Young / Rayne Benu -  Films: Moby Doll & The Hundred Year Old Whale
Suzanne Mager - Sound Action Org - protecting juvenile salmon
Jim Waddell - Dewatering the 4 Lower Snake Dams 
Ella Van Cleave - Scholar Advocate 
Mariah Kirby - Scholar Advocate 
Captain Jeff Friedman - Northwest orca -salmon connection
Simon Hunt - His work with the UK Parliament on animal justice issues
Michael Mountain - Whale Sanctuary Project 

Haze Sommer - social media guru 

Ken Balcomb - PI for Center for Whale Research 

Dr Deborah Giles - Orca scat study
Dr John Jett - VOTO - Tooth Damage in Captive O Orca 
Kaarina Mackowski - official SP6 artist / videographer 
Dr Jeffrey Ventre - VOTO
More to come...

NOTE to presenters. Contact one of us at VOTO if you don't see your name here! 

#Superpod1: On Legacy with David Kirby, Samantha Berg, Jeffrey Ventre, Michelle Duncan, Todd Bricker

Monday, January 29, 2018

Phototoxicity and is the Hybrid SeaWorld Orca Malia Dying?

Malia is a female hybrid killer whale born at SeaWorld of Florida on 12 March 2007. Her mother was Taima, a half-transient & half N. Atlantic mix & her father was Tilikum, a wild-captured Icelandic male. 

Aside: Contrary to conservation claims by the industry, hybrid orcas, bred exclusively for shows, have no conservation value. They could, however, live more meaningful lives if given access to wild fish & kelp, the tides, ocean sounds, a lot more space, & medical care in an open ocean sea pen. More on that, here

As posted on Instagram: 

Recent photographs show that Malia's skin appears diseased, likely a phototoxic reaction, at least in part, due to medication. One image, not available to publish, shows a large area of sloughed off skin encompassing most of her (white) ventral surface. Note that phototoxic reactions are typically "dose dependent." This suggests that whatever Malia is being treated for has developed some resistance & thus the medication dosage has been sufficiently increased to produce visible skin lesions.

Here's a peer-reviewed article from "Pediatric Dermatology" on dose dependent skin reactions in humans.

The "Heart Sign": An Early Indicator of Dose-Dependent Doxycycline-Induced Phototoxicity.

Phototoxicity tends to attack areas that lack pigmentation, the "white skin" of a killer whale, or areas without hair in other mammals like humans. For more on that see the Merck Veterinary Manual piece at the end of this. 

A drug induced photosensitivity reaction 
From our direct experiences & morning med sessions with Malia's parents & grandparents, Taima, Tilikum, Gudrun, & Kanduke, all deceased, we confirm that captive killer whales are medicated regularly, usually for stubborn infections including from broken & bored out teeth, and also for stress ulcers. Antibiotics & Tagamet were the main drugs we dished out regularly at SeaWorld of Orlando. Sometimes medications like Valium are used to calm the whales. And corticosteroids are used to treat breathing problems, inflammatory conditions & to increase a whale's appetite after they've "slowed down" or stopped eating. 

In a recent conversation with John Hargrove, former SW trainer at the Texas & California parks, he recalled administering Dexamethasone to whales. Indications for it and side effects can be found here. Like antibiotics, corticosteroids can suppress the immune system in mammals. That is why they are used in human recipients of organ transplants, so the body is less likely to reject a donor organ (i.e. the immune response is lowered). 

Malia's teeth, seen in the image below, are worn & drilled out with bore holes. There's a high probability she is on antibiotics, chronically, because of  poor oral health & complications from it. Open bore holes, a pathway for bacteria to enter the bloodstream, can lead to pulmonary infections, endocarditis and kidney disease. While SeaWorld typically reports that their whales die from pneumonia, we suspect most of these pulmonary infections are secondary infections from poor dentition including broken teeth & weak immunity. 

Click the image to expand 

Of most concern is that Malia's skin lesions resemble ones that appeared on Kasatka who recently died. This suggests Malia is being given  similar medications as Kasatka was and at sufficient dosage to trigger photosensitivity. 

The matriarch was euthanized at SeaWorld of California on 15 August 2017 after a long battle with "pneumonia."  A lawsuit seeks to discover more medical details surrounding her condition & the circumstances leading to her death. Unlike children who can stay inside or wear a hat after being prescribed Tetracycline, for example, the whales at SeaWorld have nowhere to run from UV exposure, especially in Orlando & San Diego. 

Photo of Kasatka from Elizabeth, months prior to her death (SeaWorld of California) 

Kasatka, seen with skin lesions above & below, is famously known for thrashing SeaWorld trainer Ken Peters in 2006 as well as her role in the #Blackfish documentary.

Left, note the more advanced cutaneous lesions as she neared death, appearing similar to an end-stage AIDs patient. One unconfirmed report is that SeaWorld stopped the phototoxic drug in Kasatka's case and her skin began to improve, but without the medication, she crashed. 

In memoriam, the unedited uncut version of Kasatka with trainer Ken Peters during a live public performance, courtesy of "Death at SeaWorld" author David Kirby: 


So, is Malia dying? 

The lesions tell us only that she is medicated and make it difficult to answer that question. We don't know what she is being treated for nor the current state of her immune system. For SeaWorld to use a drug that causes striking visual changes (i.e. "bad PR") one can presume that Malia is being treated for something fairly serious. Regarding immunity, she is younger than Kasatka was and stronger. We also know that degraded skin, like broken teeth, offers pathways for more aggressive pathogens to enter her body. Thus a phototoxic lesion can become a host for a secondary bacterial or fungal infection, and the cycle continues leading to more or different meds. 

What could SeaWorld do? 

An open "science-based" company, as SeaWorld likes to imagine & portray itself would share data, talk to outside researchers & discuss what Malia is being treated for and what drugs the animal care staff are using to combat her illness. They would publish research on it; perhaps a peer-reviewed journal article regarding phototoxicty in captive killer whales
I suspect we'll never get that information, related:  

SeaWorld is actively battling attempts from attorneys to see its orca medical records in the context of a current class action lawsuit & Federal investigation. For more on the teeth damage captive orcas sustain, John Jett, Ingrid Visser, et al: 

So, what can we deduce from the limited information we have?

Malia is being treated with a medication that is causing phototoxic skin lesions which expose her to more dangerous pathogens. The photosensitivity is amplified by a shallow water column, treated-water that doesn't block UV-radiation, and general exposure. In contrast, wild orcas spend 80-90% of their lives submerged and in darker water & with healthier teeth & stronger immunity. Darker, particulate-filled ocean water protects their skin and eyes, unlike captives who have both skin & eye issues. 

We also know that over time chronic antibiotic & steroid use & the stress of captivity leads to weakened immunity and sometimes immune systems collapse, as seen with Kasatka & Tilikum. 

An AV presentation of Keto & Tilikum express the stress of orca captivity is here: 

Historically, at SeaWorld, weakened immunity has been observed & described in several orcas like Kanduke (1990, cause of death St Louis Virus Encephalitis) and Taku (2007, cause of death West Nile virus) who both died from infections that are not typically fatal (in healthy subjects). 

Over half of SeaWorld's orcas end up dying from infections. This is likely due to compromised immune systems being unable to fight off various pathogens that enter the body via damaged teeth or skin.  

The bottom line is that Malia will live a shortened impoverished life with broken teeth at SeaWorld, being chronically medicated and with no where to run from aggression & small concrete pools that limit exercise & play. 

Based on the longevity & survival data we already have, Malia will likely die before the age of 20, or sooner if she loses the battle she is currently fighting. Lastly, if she lives, she stands the chance of being shipped from Orlando to China. SeaWorld's primary stock holder is the Zhonghong Group which has control of the company's board of directors, now. Yoshikazu Maruyama, of Zhonghong is SeaWorld's Chairperson of the Board of the Directors. Yongli Wang, also from Zhonghong, is a "director" on the board.

Some of us suspect that is why SeaWorld is fighting the Florida Orca Protection Act (HB 1305) with such vigor. They may be planning to ship orcas to China.

For more information on phototoxicity and photosensitivity the Merck Veterinary Manual has been copied below. 


Video attributable to the Center for Whale Research 
Jeffrey Ventre MD is a board certified medical doctor practicing in Washington state. He is a former SeaWorld trainer, 1987-1995, working at all three animal show areas including two stints at Shamu Stadium. His favorite orca was Taima. In 1995 JV was invited by Dr Astrid Van Ginneken to participate in "Orca Survey," an ongoing photo-identification study of the Southern Resident killer whales. His first encounters with wild whales, June 1996, can be seen here, and combined with captive observations radically altered his perspective on places like SeaWorld, Loro Parque, Marineland & Miami SeaQuarium. Along with John Jett Phd, Carol Ray MA CCC SLP, & Samantha Berg,M.Ac., Dipl.Ac. he is a part of "Voice of the Orcas," a group of former SeaWorld trainers who aim to pull back the curtain on captivity, also along with John Hargrove, author of Beneath the Surface, Dean Gomersall & many other pod members. VOTO hosts regular Superpod Events on San Juan Island that are open to the public. In 2018 the dates are 16-20 July 


Overview of Photosensitization from the Merck Veterinary Manual 

By George M. Barrington, DVM, PhD, DACVIM, Professor, College of Veterinary Medicine, Washington State University

Photosensitization occurs when skin (especially areas exposed to light and lacking significant protective hair, wool, or pigmentation (note that it impacts mostly the white areas of the captive orcas) becomes more susceptible to ultraviolet light because of the presence of photodynamic agents. Photosensitization differs from sunburn and photodermatitis, because both of these conditions result in pathologic skin changes without the presence of a photodynamic agent

In photosensitization, unstable, high-energy molecules are formed when photons react with a photodynamic agent. These high-energy molecules initiate reactions with substrate molecules of the skin, causing the release of free radicals that in turn result in increased permeability of outer cell and lysosomal membranes. Damage to outer cell membranes allows for leakage of cellular potassium and cytoplasmic extrusion. Lysosomal membrane damage releases lytic enzymes into the cell. This can lead to skin ulceration, necrosis, and edema. The time interval between exposure to the photodynamic agent and the onset of clinical signs depends on the type of agent, its dose, and the exposure to sunlight.

Photosensitization is typically classified according to the source of the photodynamic agent. These categories include primary (type I) photosensitivity, aberrant endogenous pigment synthesis (type II) photosensitivity, and hepatogenous (secondary, type III) photosensitivity. A fourth category termed idiopathic (type IV) photosensitivity has been described.

A wide range of chemicals, including some that are fungal and bacterial in origin, may act as photosensitizing agents. However, most compounds that are important causes of photosensitivity in veterinary medicine are plant-derived. Photosensitization occurs worldwide and can affect any species but is most commonly seen in cattle, sheep, goats, and horses.