One might think it is a scene from a horror movie. Rather, it is video taken from Taiji, Japan depicting the almost unspeakable acts that occur beneath the tarpaulins from September through April each year in the dolphin drive hunts there. A recently published clinical analysis of the killing methods utilized in these hunts reveals their extreme cruelty.
Anyone familiar with the old Quaker philosophy of ‘bearing witness’ will know that it is often embraced by advocates and other humanitarians working to expose and rectify injustices through personal testimony and presence on the ground where atrocities are occurring. Fundamental to this philosophy is the cultivation of personal integrity and faith by speaking the truth, even when it is difficult; taking responsibility for one’s actions and consequences; and confronting others who are committing wrong or unjust acts.
Here, bearing witness takes on new meaning as the intimate details of the actual killing procedures utilized by the fishermen have come to light in a recently published clinical analysis of the methods in the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science (JAAWS) and through the video documentation of the hunts, forcing us all to confront this unnecessary cruelty. The public is now exposed to a close-up view and detailed understanding of the trauma experienced by the dolphins in their last moments, and having already endured the arduous process of round-up and confinement in the killing cove.
With gratitude to Atlanticblue.de for providing the video footage, and utilizing the expertise of veterinarian Andy Butterworth and dolphin scientist Dr. Diana Reiss, we have been able to challenge the data collected by Japanese researchers that suggests the methods being utilized are humane and result in a swift death. This analysis and video has pulled back the curtain and given us an unfortunate front-row seat to the killing. The analysis and video provides the world with a better opportunity to see what is happening underneath the tarpaulins in Taiji, and to better understand the extreme suffering that is occurring during these hunts. These abhorrent procedures were tested on a variety of species, and deployed as the primary method of killing dolphins in the drive hunts. The original data can be found posted on the Taiji fishing Cooperative’s very own website.
I was in Taiji in 2006, alongside Hardy Jones and Ric O’Barry. At that time, the fishermen were just starting to use tarpaulins to shield the view of the shoreline in the killing cove, and would even wait to slaughter the dolphins until we (the witnesses) left town. There have been some changes since then, including this newer slaughter method that was introduced more fully in 2008, as well as new structures along the rocky shoreline to prevent frantic dolphins from bashing themselves against the rocks (as if this is any more horrible than the fate which awaits them), coast guard surveillance of the hunts, and even discussion of a proposed whale farm that might hold whales and dolphins for the public’s amusement and ‘education’ and to line the town’s coffers with yet another form of dolphin exploitation. Public awareness has also increased, with annual pilgrimages to Taiji being undertaken by citizens from every walk of life, many of whom saw the documentary The Cove and find travel to Taiji where they can bear witness to the hunts is the most tangible thing they might do to confront them. Even more promising, citizens within Japan are also becoming involved by launching peaceful walks and protests against the hunts. Surveillance by Cove Guardians provides daily video feeds of the hunts as they occur in real time and as the season unfolds. And more dolphins are being taken into captivity from the hunts than ever before.
But what hasn’t changed is the desire of the fishermen to keep the activities in the cove hidden from public view. If culture and tradition, why such secrecy and shame? Albert Schweitzer, in a call to unveil the cruel activities in the name of tradition everywhere, stated “The thinking (person) must oppose all cruel customs, no matter how deeply rooted in tradition and surrounded by a halo. When we have a choice, we must avoid bringing torment and injury into the life of another.” What is deplorable is the disparity between how dolphins and other animals are treated, even within Japan. The current techniques employed in the drive hunts violate even current animal welfare regulations within Japan where domesticated animals are afforded protection under their equivalent of the Animal Welfare Act. These guidelines intended to minimize pain, suffering, fear, and “agony” are outlined for species such as horses, cattle, sheep, pigs, dogs, and other animals under human care or management. Dolphins and whales are not protected by this law, nor are they afforded protection under the wildlife protection and hunting laws. Instead, dolphins and whales fall under the jurisdiction of the Fisheries Agency under the Department of Agriculture, which affords them little protection. This is in sharp contrast to the protection for dolphins and whales in legislation in other parts of the world where the slaughter of whales and dolphin is strictly prohibited and even their harassment incurs penalties.
Even Japan’s stranding guidelines, issued by the very same agency (Japan Fisheries Agency) responsible for issuing quotas for the dolphin hunts across Japan, cite the necessity of involving a veterinarian in the humane euthanasia or slaughter of a stranded dolphin, and only under extreme circumstances where the individual animal is not likely to survive. Here, the stranding manual suggests that the spinal incision method, similar to killing method in the drive hunts (without the utilization of the wooden plug), ‘gives psychological damage to observers’ and that spectators should be eliminated from the site, and drugs used instead to “execute” small cetaceans such as dolphins. In the drive hunts, dozens are killed at a time, dragged to the shoreline by their tailstocks after an exhausting round up at sea. Under many commercial slaughter regulations, and even compassionate euthanasia standards, it is required that animals should not be in close proximity when killed to avoid the distress associated with the sight, sounds, and smells of slaughter. For example, in the US and UK, the regulations and guidelines governing the humane treatment and slaughter of animals prohibit the killing of an animal in the presence of other animals. From a scientific, humane, and ethical perspective, the treatment of dolphins in these drive hunts sharply contradict current animal welfare standards employed in most modern and technologically advanced societies.
And who is complicit in supporting this horrible slaughter? Beyond the whaling politics of Japan, we are faced with a harsh reality that implicates many in the cycle of violence at Taiji. The airlines that continue to carry dolphins from the drive hunts within Japan and to international destinations around the globe support a deadly international trade in dolphins that fuels these devastating hunts. The captive facilities that continue to acquire dolphins from the drive hunts sustain this cruel practice. So, too, the patrons who vi sit captive facilities that either acquire dolphins directly from the hunts, or whose programs support the continuation of captivity worldwide, are ultimately complicit. And any of us that continue to remain silent in the face of such horror and yet choose not to act or deny the obligation that comes with bearing witness to a wrong that needs to be made right.
“Think occasionally of the suffering of which you spare yourself the sight”--Albert Schweitzer. WDC continues its call for an end to the drive hunts on welfare grounds alone. In the end, it is not just about the metal rod and dowel, it is about the entire process of the hunts which is inhumane and that involves extreme suffering. The stress and acute trauma that is experienced by the dolphins as they are rounded-up at sea, driven miles by speedboat into a tiny cove, and the panic that ensues as they are then dragged to shore, is all part of the killing process. The bottom line is that these hunts are both unethical, and unnecessary.
Find out how you can help our campaign to end these hunts.
Entries tagged as dolphinaria
One might think it is a scene from a horror movie. Rather, it is video taken from Taiji, Japan depicting the almost unspeakable acts that occur beneath the tarpaulins from September through April each year in the dolphin drive hunts there. A recently published clinical analysis of the killing methods utilized in these hunts reveals their extreme cruelty.
In the post festive haze, as we wade through the sea of discarded Christmas presents, it is hard not to recognise that one of the things that sets us humans apart from many other species (but perhaps not quite all species), is our relationship with ‘stuff’. We make it, we buy it, we collect it, we recycle or bin it and then the whole process starts all over again. But this is no surprise, our amazing ability to manipulate ‘stuff’, our ancestry as hunter-gathers and our ability to collect and store the objects vital to our existence has enabled our success, bald apes that we are.
This relationship with the material things around us is one element of our existence which differentiates us from whales and dolphins. Our ability to build cities, write and store religious texts, historical chronicles and technical documents, have local and national government and a global economy and through such commerce fund national education and healthcare, all of this and more make us uniquely special as a species. There can be no doubt that we have extraordinarily complex social systems that differ culturally between geographic regions.
As a result it is perhaps understandable that we have a natural tendency to consider ourselves as the pinnacle of evolution and we tend to measure the ‘success’ of any other species against ourselves. But, this may be one of our grandest follies. Success is a relative concept, if biomass were the indicator then many other species, much less complex beings than ourselves, would be resounding winners in the ‘success’ competition.
But back to the issue of complex species and their relationship with ‘stuff’. Who at times does not envy the liberated existence of a whale, swimming wild, feeding, socialising and going about their daily business without the encumbrance of any ‘stuff’. Perhaps admiration for ‘living free’ (not just wild, but also ‘free’) is one of the appealing factors that send us in our droves to go whale or dolphin watching.
Orcas, for example, are top marine predators, a fact which places them, by our own reckoning, at the apex of evolutionary success. However, their ability to go about their lives so successfully without the need for clothing to keep them warm, cooking utensils, food storage facilities or the possession of trinkets to keep them entertained, surely warrants at least some humble respect from we the collectors.
Over the millions of years of our planet’s history, the single biggest driving force for life on Earth has been evolutionary success. The simple point is that when observing the world through the snap shot of geological time which is the existence of Homo sapiens we must be careful not to use ourselves as the benchmark of success and refinement. There is a bigger picture. Whilst we often feel like it - and perhaps we are even wired this way - it is just possible that our species is not the centre of the universe.
There are ever unfolding revelations about whales and dolphins: their intelligence, their complex brain structure, the possession of spindle cell neurons by some species, their multifaceted relationships with each other and even the revelations that behaviour can vary – like our own - between different cultures. We also now know that bottlenose dolphins can demonstrate a sense of self, by recognising themselves in a mirror. The more we learn, the more questions we have. One particularly intriguing notion is the idea that some whale and dolphin species have such close social bonds - biologically important for ensuring feeding and even survival - that rather than just a sense of ‘I’ they may have a more profound sense of ‘us’, almost a collective consciousness driving certain behaviours.
To ask the question ‘Are they smarter than us?’ is to miss the point. Orca’s and many other cetacean species are certainly ‘smart’ by any definition, they are successful, but they are also very different to us.
Many now recognise that these impressive, cognitive beings are a ‘who’ not a ‘what’. They are not the property of any state, corporation or individual and that the time of keeping these sentient, sapient ocean giants in small tanks for our entertainment is over.
PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) is bringing a controversial court case against SeaWorld in the USA which will challenge the captivity of five orcas, on the grounds that it is an infringement of the 13th Amendment to the US Constitution which prohibits slavery and involuntary servitude.
The analogy with human slavery is a strong one. There can be little doubt that the orcas in captivity are held involuntarily for our entertainment. These orca’s are not offered a choice about whether they want to live in captivity. But there has also been some sensitivity in the US in comparing the plight of the orcas with that of African American slaves. Perhaps this demonstrates rather well that the initial social and legal hurdle that must first be overcome is that the status of orcas and other cetaceans as non-human persons in their own right must first be recognised. There is a mental journey required to recognise the rights of others, firstly in recognising their status as non-human ‘persons’ we recognise their basic right to life and from there work to recognise the right to various other freedoms and norms. At the time when the 13th amendment was raised in the US, some challenged the notion that African Americans were equal to whites, indeed some argued that African Americans were not even of the same species. Fortunately, those days of ignorance have largely passed and serve to reminds us what a long way we have come as a species in developing respect and understanding for each other, but, of course, we still have a long way to go.
Nevertheless, the strategy of highlighting the captive orcas’ plight as slavery and against the US Constitution is controversial, even among those who advocate for whale and dolphin rights. Steven Wise, a Law Professor and head of the Non-Human Rights Project (NhRP) is concerned that a judge will simply rule that orcas are not slaves under the Constitution (because they are not recognised as ‘persons’), which will then set a difficult precedent. Wise and colleagues believe that first they need to establish the legal non-human personhood status of cetaceans. This certainly seems a more logical strategy.
Rather extraordinarily, the NhRP has been invited to participate in the orca case on the basis of an ‘amicus curiae’ or ‘Friend of the Court’. This in itself is an interesting development. The NhRP has not sought to appear as an amicus to either PETA or SeaWorld, but instead to work to assist the court in understanding some of the legal and philosophical issues raised within the context of this case and to further the interests of the orcas.
“Our purpose is to ensure that the orcas’ best interests are being properly represented, that their legal status is advanced, and that an unfavourable ruling inflicts the least possible harm on the development of an animal rights jurisprudence” said Wise.
The fact that this expert advice has been sought independently by the court reveals that the issue of animal rights, and in particular the interests of these orcas, is being taken very seriously by a US court. There doesn’t appear to be a similar move to have a ‘Friend of the court’ provide a view on cetacean husbandry or the economics of keeping orcas in captivity from the industry perspective. This is an – albeit tacit – recognition that the interests of the orcas in this case may be more important than the interests of the industry itself. Perhaps some progress.
Wise states: “SeaWorld opposes our request to appear as an amicus because it is confident the Court will rule the orcas are not slaves under the Thirteenth Amendment. PETA apparently opposes our request because it wants the case to ‘go down in history as the first time that a U.S. court considers constitutional rights for animals.’ Winning is beside the point. But losing this case will neither help these orcas nor further any long-term strategy for creating a viable animal rights jurisprudence”.
WDCS is committed to the campaign for the recognition of cetacean rights. The Declaration of Rights for Cetaceans agreed in Helsinki provides a series of profound propositions to challenge the way that we currently perceive and treat whales and dolphins. The road to recognising their rights in national and international legislation will not be easy.
At the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Annual Meeting, scheduled for next month in Vancouver, WDCS CEO Chris Butler-Stroud will be presenting at a symposium titled ‘Declaration of Rights for Cetaceans: ethical and policy implications of intelligence’.
Many still consider the idea of recognising the rights of other highly cognitive mammals as an extremist view point, some even view it as a threat. Certainly it is challenging to the current status quo. The fact that we can now credibly use the emerging scientific understanding of both cetacean intelligence and the social complexity of whales’ and dolphins’ lives to argue for the recognition of cetacean rights in a highly esteemed forum such as the AAAS demonstrates that the scientific community is now taking the proposition of cetacean rights seriously as a topic for debate. Rationalising how cetacean rights, once recognised, will manifest through legal and political structures will be one of the greatest challenges as we work towards fully realising all the rights enshrined in the Declaration of Rights for Cetaceans and this will be the topic of Chris Butler-Stroud’s presentation.
We have the support of philosopher’s such as Thomas I White, we have the support from leading scientist such as Lori Marino and Hal Whitehead and the commitment of lawyers such as Steven Wise who are working to provide the mechanism by which the rights of non-human persons can be first recognised and then protected. A US court has tacitly recognised that cetacean ‘interests’ are a valid part of the debate and through the AAAS the scientific community acknowledges that we must examine the ethical implications of the emerging science on cetacean intelligence. Is it now only a matter time? The question for the orca’s who remain in captivity is just how long this journey will take us.
Find out more about the issues surrounding whales and dolphin rights on our website. Also, have a look at our new book - "Whales and Dolphins: cognition, culture, conservation and human perceptions" which brings together a wide range of experts to look again at our current knowledge of these amazing creatures. Available from the WDCS Shop.
The long-awaited hearing between the Occupational Health and Safety
Administration (OSHA) and SeaWorld started this week near Orlando, Florida. At the heart of the hearing are an administrative law judge’s attempts to evaluate whether the August 2010 citation issued by OSHA against SeaWorld is justified, and whether recommendations prescribed by OSHA to remedy the cited hazards are feasible. And we cannot forget that at the heart of this week’s review are the deaths of two beloved trainers, and the countless injuries of others. As I attend the hearing this week, it has become painfully obvious that SeaWorld is very confident: it is confident in its processes and protocols, and it is confident in its collective ability to control the behavior and responses of not only its trainers, but its orcas.
It is not merely arrogance that leads SeaWorld to claim a fool-proof system with a 98% success ratio between correct (desirable) and incorrect (undesirable) orca-trainer interactions while at the same time leaving its trainers to rely upon their personal judgments and abilities to remain calm in aversive or challenging situations with orcas. It is actually cavalier folly to rely upon a system that is based solely on the knowledge and judgment of individual human trainers. SeaWorld’s ‘system’ is based in the practice of operant conditioning (an animal training protocol based on positive reward and relationship building) and is comprised of ‘standard operating procedures’, ‘training the trainers’ and mentorship through on- the- job experience.
What is actually on trial is SeaWorld’s ability to convince the judge that in spite of ever-present human error, the unexpected behavior of a killer whale or even a perfect track record of performance between trainer and orca, the lethal or near-lethal events over the past twenty years are preventable and avoidable. That a captive orca can kill even the most experienced trainer grown in the SeaWorld system is explained away not as a failure of the SeaWorld ‘system’ and its safety measures,but as an incident borne of specific contexts and circumstances, a complex mix of trainer response and orca compliance, and one that requires each trainer to be fully aware of his or her surroundings at all times, accountable for every nuance of behavior of his or her whale in the vicinity. When the system works, SeaWorld claims that orcas are predictable. When the system fails, as it has done many times, SeaWorld claims trainer error, and moves forward with a blind eye toward the root cause of these calamities: the stress of confinement for the orcas in its possession.
SeaWorld may acknowledge the ultimate vulnerability of trainers, but cannot seem to find a way to acknowledge that its entire program is based upon a very flagrant denial of the risk involved in interacting with a wild and ‘caged’ animal. Orcas will never be domesticated, and to pretend that they are as predictable as your family pet dog verges on delusional.
In their testimony, SeaWorld representatives claim to have witnessed and identified every possible behavior a killer whale could express in captivity. There is little they haven’t seen. They work closely with these animals, they take into account their personalities and behavioral histories, and they know how to preempt an undesirable response from ‘their’ orcas. And yet, despite this professed familiarity with killer whales in general, and their individual orcas more specifically, they act surprised when an orca doesn’t respond like a predictable automaton, even as they have spoken out of the other side of their mouth that each interaction is variable and does not necessarily lead to an expected behavior or response. They claim that every killer whale has the potential to behave like any other, yet act surprised when an orca pulls a trainer into the water by her arm (a behavior that has been shown by another orca at another location). This also means they do not label a whale as aggressive, even with a history of deaths left in his wake. They label his behavior as aggressive, and continue to believe in a program reliant upon human judgment and interpretation, hoping and predicting that an aggressive tendency can be corrected or eliminated by the SeaWorld system.
Perhaps surprisingly, SeaWorld gives their orcas the benefit of the doubt. SeaWorld testimony suggests that captive orcas may respond aggressively in a certain stage of their life (like many of us do), they may outgrow certain behaviors (like many of us do), or they may learn from past ‘mistakes’ (also like many of us do). We are left to believe that the only weak link in the system is the trainers, and their ability (or inability) to predict the unpredictable. SeaWorld suggests that they ‘know’ whether an orca is enjoying an interaction, and are able to interpret every behavior to guide a favorable outcome. But a whale has to eat to survive, and the fact that he is performing a behavior for a reward or reinforcement of fish, ice cubes or gelatin is no guarantee that the whale is ‘enjoying’ the interaction, or that he will not someday, or in some instance, reject the relationship. And sometimes the rejection of that relationship ends in death.
Judge Welsch made a point at the very beginning of the hearing to clarify that its purpose was not to explore the issue of whether killer whales should be in captivity, or even whether SeaWorld is responsible for the death of trainer Dawn Brancheau, but to examine the citations issued in August by OSHA. But I would like to suggest that the hearing is all about captivity, and whether or not whales should be there.
From my perspective, it IS all about captivity that Mrs. Brancheau is no longer with us and died a horrible and tragic death at the mercy of a 12,000 pound orca named Tilikum. It IS all about captivity that orcas have displayed serious acts of aggression and aberrant behavior towards their human caretakers on over 100 occasions, but yet such aggressive acts towards humans have not been documented in the wild. And it IS all about captivity that orcas are the subject of the hearing that began on Monday where OSHA is facing off with SeaWorld to defend the citation it issued just over a year ago and reprimanding the theme-park giant with ‘willful’ negligence in failing to protect animal trainers from hazards associated with working with Tilikum and the other orcas at SeaWorld. The two are intimately connected: holding orcas in captivity and the inevitability of trainer harm. To pretend that the welfare of these animals is not important is to ignore the root of the problem.
SeaWorld has historically held a special place in our society. It has been blindly accepted and promoted as a cultural icon of entertainment and a popular family vacation destination. This seemingly blind acceptance of captivity by society is supported by annual attendance figures in the tens of millions. Is there any place more idyllic than a marine amusement park, where visitors can get up close and personal with ‘Flipper’ the bottlenose dolphin or ‘Shamu’ the killer whale? Orcas are among the most popular of species in the dolphin family. They share the captivity stage with belugas and bottlenose, but are distinguished by their stark black and white form and immense size. It’s good family fun, at least on the surface, especially if you buy into the feel-good advertisements that adorn our magazines, billboards and television sets. SeaWorld is represented as being just about as American as you can get, joining the ranks of baseball and apple pie, and perhaps even a bit more magical.
But all of that changed over a year and a half ago when Alexis Martinez and then Dawn Brancheau were killed within a few months of each other, both by orcas owned by SeaWorld. Captivity is not an end product, it is a process. It begins with the inhumane and traumatic capture from the wild or transport from another facility and ends with a life sentence of medication, cramped spaces and forced associations. Once in captivity,
if it is not septicemia or pneumonia that takes the life of a stressed and medicated orca, it will perhaps be the ingestion of foreign objects, routine medical care, or a variety of hazards associated with confinement. Regardless of how ‘state of the art’ a facility is, and considering the decades of breeding technology and methodology employed by captive facilities, there will always be the need for fresh DNA to maintain a healthy gene pool. It is a fact that US facilities are contemplating future captures of belugas in Alaska to freshen their gene pools, and orcas are on the menu for captures elsewhere in the world to replenish dying breeding lines. This means captivity is not just a welfare issue, but a conservation issue. And it is not only about the individual animal taken into captivity, but the families that are left behind in the wild.
Media attention to controversial captures, unnecessary deaths, inhumane transportation and injuries incurred in whale and dolphin interaction programs has had an impact on the public’s perception of marine theme parks. Opinion polls conducted over the past decade reveal that most people now think that captivity of marine mammals is justified only when there are measurable scientific or educational benefits.
I argue that the exposure to whales in captivity does exactly the opposite of what SeaWorld and other marine parks claim—instead of sensitizing visitors to marine mammals and their habitat, it desensitizes us to the cruelty inherent in removing these animals from their natural habitats and holding them captive for our entertainment and self-fulfillment. Education is one of the most important ways we can instill the foundations for humane and ethical existence alongside the animals that share our planet. It should not be taken lightly. I am certain the trainers and staff of these parks love the animals in their care, but is possession in the best interest of the animals—and in the case of captive orcas, in the best interest of their trainers?
Corky (SeaWorld) and Lolita (Miami Seaquarium) have been confined for over 40 years since they were taken from their families in the Pacific Northwest. I am certain that they still remember, and still long for their family members and the expanse of ocean that nurtures their intended role in the ecosystem. Is not freedom, especially after the significant cost of a life in servitude to our entertainment, the best educational message we can send for all living creatures and future generations?
I hope for the day when the public will perceive the captive experience for what it really is. The repetition of a whale or dolphin jumping through a hoop, begging for dead fish pool-side, or swimming in endless circles is nothing short of an experience in despair and deprivation, despite the sugar-coating that is part of the captive experience. Plush toys, thrill rides and marketing can do little to erase the realities behind captivity.
Times are changing, and so are public attitudes. It is time that OSHA and the public demand a “product recall” on captive orcas. And it is time for SeaWorld to stop gambling the lives of its trainers and orcas while pretending it is an acceptable cost of doing business. No safety measures can ever fully mitigate the consequences and depravity of captivity.
Continue reading "Pulling back the curtain: why it took unthinkable tragedy to question our culture of captivity"
It has been nearly a year and a half since SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau was tragically killed by a 12,000 pound orca named Tilikum. Preceding Ms. Brancheau in death was Alexis Martinez, who was killed at Loro Parque in the Canary Islands in December 2009 in a similar and unfortunate accident by Keto, a 6,000 pound orca on loan to the park since 2006 by SeaWorld. What has transpired since has been a mixture of increased public scrutiny aimed at the keeping of orcas in captivity and a flurry of defensive responses from the marine park giant SeaWorld. Ranging from a congressional oversight hearing questioning the educational value of public display (captive) facilities and their programs, to a series of orca deaths at SeaWorld parks in the US, to exploration of safety measures by SeaWorld seeking to ultimately reinstate in-water work with its trainers and orcas, this past year has exposed some of the shocking realities facing both orcas and trainers alike.
Thanks to the courage of former SeaWorld trainers, the public has been provided detailed information regarding the chronic stress that these orcas endure, exacerbated by and inextricably linked to the poor dental condition and chronic infections that occur in captivity and require constant regiments of antibiotics, and perhaps also contribute to their aggressive tendencies and shortened lives in captivity. News also came to light about the cause of death of an orca (Kanduke) that occurred over twenty years ago in 1990 at SeaWorld Orlando due to an encephalitis virus transmitted through a mosquito bite, further illustrating the risks to orcas in captivity.
WDCS was not surprised by SeaWorld’s immediate challenge to OSHA’s citation and fine issued in August 2010 which stated that SeaWorld acted knowingly and irresponsibly in exposing its trainers to known safety hazards (orcas) that could result in death. SeaWorld will appear before an administrative law judge this September to contest OSHA’s findings and to defend its position, outlining recent mitigation measures meant to create a safer environment for its trainers. The hearing before the independent US Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission was postponed from last April, and is slated to occur September 19th. It is uncertain whether the hearing will be open to the public.
Among the measures that SeaWorld has offered as abatement include the installation of railings at the orca performance stadium; a ‘net box’ that is intended to allow trainers to more quickly deploy safety nets in case of an emergency with an orca; and spare air devices that would allow life-sustaining oxygen to be incorporated into trainer wetsuits. Other measures that are being considered are a pool floor that can be lifted to quickly dry dock an orca, and underwater remotely controlled submersibles or robots that can be used to distract the animals. WDCS maintains that there is no way to reduce or remove the risks to trainers inherent to interacting with orcas in captivity, particularly physical injury from an aggressive orca.
SeaWorld has tried to address the elements it has control over (the pool and surrounding environment), but has done little to address the orcas or their circumstances in captivity. WDCS has documented over 40 separate incidents involving orcas and their trainers, ranging from the 1970s to present day. Other sources have cited higher figures, documenting the injuries and accidents between orcas and trainers that were never reported or revealed to the public through media accounts. SeaWorld boldly announced the reopening of the ‘Dine with Shamu’ show at SeaWorld San Antonio on February 26th, 2011, just a year after the accident that took Ms. Brancheau’s life in the same attraction in Orlando, and returned Tilikum to performances in April. Also in April, SeaWorld showcased its new One Ocean show as a replacement to its Believe show at its Orlando location, and to accommodate a new format where trainers do not directly interact with the orcas in the water during performances. However, SeaWorld has stated that it intends to have its trainers enter the water again as soon as it has exhausted every safety measure.
Furthermore, and perhaps in an attempt to convince the public that it is making significant contributions to conservation, SeaWorld is diversifying , including the recent announcement that it will open a dolphin rehabilitation ‘hospital’ at its Orlando location. While we would like to believe in the good intentions of SeaWorld, the real proof of their commitment to conservation and the welfare of the stranded animals it brings into this facility will be the release of these animals back to the wild, rather than their retention in marine parks across the US.
But SeaWorld’s troubles are far from over. SeaWorld is also involved in a court case with Marineland, Canada and has been thrust into the spotlight again with more orca troubles. Despite SeaWorld's claims of having their orcas' best interests' in mind, an argument that is being used to justify its request to cancel its breeding loan with Marineland and return an orca named Ikaika (Ike) back to one of its US facilities, Ike is only one example of an orca born at a SeaWorld facility and moved to another. Ike was taken from his mother Katina and father Tilikum in November 2006 at the age of 4, disrupting their family unit, and shipped off to Marineland from SeaWorld Orlando to breed with the now 36-year old Kiska. A recent article focusing on the troubles at Loro Parque, where Alexis Martinez was killed by an orca on loan from SeaWorld, details the lethal potential of orcas being trained for our entertainment, and the inadequacies of the facilities holding them.
Through the affidavits associated with the Marineland case, WDCS has learned that SeaWorld has inadvertently validated the very arguments that WDCS and others have presented against keeping these large predators in confinement: citing aggression, poor dental health, stress and other factors as the basis for their concerns over the welfare of Ike at Marineland, SeaWorld is demanding that Ike come home.
The struggle for control over Ike clarifies for us that orcas are the property of no one. They are part of the public trust, and any public display facility is accountable to us--all of us--in its treatment, transfer and ultimate wellbeing of these animals, whether they were originally taken from the wild, or whether they were born in captivity. Furthermore, human lives are also being weighed against the costs and benefits of maintaining these valuable, yet dangerous, orcas in captivity
Further illustrating our assumptions regarding SeaWorld’s attempts to acquire and control valuable orca assets, and in blatant conflict with growing public opinion in opposition to holding orcas in captivity, SeaWorld has announced its intent to acquire Morgan, a juvenile orca rescued from the Wadden Sea in the Netherlands and transfer her to Loro Parque. WDCS, along with a coalition of partners, submitted a plan for the rehabilitation and retirement of Morgan, as an alternative to keeping her in captivity. With the troubled past and current orca issues at Loro Parque, including aggression and questionable care, and the likelihood that Morgan will eventually end up as a performing orca at SeaWorld in the US, WDCS opposes this transfer.
This past year and a half has brought us a personal glimpse of the truth, tragedy and risk associated with the confinement of orcas in captivity. It has also revealed the quality of life and welfare concerns that orcas in these theme parks must endure for our entertainment. And the stories are not over. As more and more details surface from the orca trainer and research communities, through lawsuits and media inquiries, and even from SeaWorld itself, WDCS is certain that the mounting pressure against holding orcas in captivity will serve to provide the public with an aversion to these shows and outdated practices, and serve as a tipping point in the right direction. WDCS continues to call for an end to the confinement of whales and dolphins in captivity.
2011: if you ask a politician, a government within a Member State of the European Union, today how many dolphins are displayed within the Member States of the European Union, about the reproduction rate of the breeding programmes etc. No one would be able to give you a precise answer, as there is no such register available that lists such data and provide transparent access to such information. Please keep in mind we talk about large mammals. Forget even trying to think of asking about the percentage of abortions, still births, miscarriages, what kind of medical treatment dolphins get etc.. Just forget it. No one knows, just the institutions displaying these large mammals themselves.
In 2006 and 2007 several dolphin calves and an adult female died at the dolphinarium in the Nuremberg Zoo, Germany. WDCS took action and asked the representatives of the Nuremberg Zoo as well as the City of Nuremberg (who have responsiblity for the Zoo) to have access to all data relating to the display of dolphins for an independent review. The request and access was denied. In 2008 WDCS took legal action, as denying access to such information violates the law that grants access to Environmental Information. Since then we have been in court fighting for the public's right to know what is happening with dolphins and whales held in captivity. We won, the city of Nuremberg appealed, we won again. Meaning: in May 2011, the Bavarian Appeal Court confirmed that WDCS has the right to access all information relevant to the display of dolphins. The first verdict of its kind. The first time, a public institution has to open their books. You might think, this should be standard practise. You might think, why did the Zoo fight so hard to prevent the law being applied?
Yes, this is an amazing result, but I want to offer you another thought.
The City of Nuremberg has provided the guarantee for the investment of more than 20 Million EUR to expand the dolphinarium at the Nuremberg Zoo. No instruction to undertake an independent evaluation of the breeding programme had taken place before the politicians came to their decision (acting on tax payers money).
When you consider that the total budget for research, field work and conservation projects by the Convention on Migratory Species, the Agreement for the Conservation of Small Cetaceans in the North and Baltic Sea (ASCOBANS) and the Agreement for the Conservation of Whales and Dolphins in the Mediterranean and Black Sea is less than 500.000 € a year …
then you might agree with two things:
1. the verdict is a Milestone for transparency that was bitterly needed
2. If you are a tax payer - there is a huge scandal up in the air and you may be asking further questions of our elected officials.
Its rare that I would publicly identify WDCS colleagues for individual actions but it would be remiss of me not to mention the outstanding work of the German WDCS team for their incredible work in taking on Nuremberg Zoo for the public's right to access information about the dolphins it keeps. Yesterday the Munch Appeals Court ruled in WDCS's favour by granting the public access to all information relating to the display and husbandry of captive dolphins at the Zoo.
You might think on first inspection that this ruling is a small matter, but its a first and will have a dramatic effect on conservation and welfare campaigns for whales and dolphins. It means that the days when cetaceans were just to be thought of as the property of a zoo or aquarium are long gone, and that such institutions have a duty of care to the public to open its doors and files to independent scientific evaluations of its data relating to dolphins in
captivity. We can now ask such questions as 'what is the keeping of dolphins in captivity doing for animals in the wild?' and, 'how successful is their captive breeding programme?'.
A bright light has been shone into the darkness of this commercial industry which has more to do with the circus than conservation.
So to Dr. Karsten Brensing, Niki Entrup and the whole German team, - chapeau! Your actions have brought the end of dolphinaria in Europe a lot closer.
Latest news from Taiji.
By Hans Peter Roth – WDCS rep on the ground.
A month of horror – and of hope
January 2011 ended in Taiji as calm as it has begun.
During the last three days no dolphin was killed. Today the hunting vessels remain in the harbor. But yesterday there was a hunt. Once more pacific white – sided dolphins were the victims. Again the hunters lined a horseshoe-shaped net, several hundreds of meters away from the harbor. Sadly, two dolphins walked into that trap – and will have to carve out a miserable existence in captivity for the rest of their lives.
It’s time for a quick review of the past month: Approximately 185 dolphins were killed in January. According to our own observations of the killings we counted 25 bottlenose dolphins, 120 Striped dolphins, 38 Rissos dolphins and 2 Pacific White-Sided dolphins. 20 of these animals were selected for aquariums, mainly Bottlenose dolphins and White-sided, but also some Rissos dolphins. These numbers may be not accurate as a precise counting is not always possible from our viewpoints – especially when the hunt get chaotic, like we reported on the Striped dolphins hunts.
And now it’s time to talk about the horror. The brutality and the suffering I had to witness surpassed my worst expectations. Every claim saying the new killing method (severing the spinal cord as more “human” and killing the animal in seconds) is a sheer and cynical lie. There is enough evidence from this month the 'new' killing method results in senseless suffering and the slow and painful death of the animals. (I will get back to this in another blog soon).
What the dolphins have to go through before their death is also indescribably cruel. The drive and the associated underwater noise that is created to stampede those dolphins. The fear. The total exhaustion – until death - due to the hunt. The expectation of their own emanant death, tied up by their flukes while another individual from their group is killed.
And these dolphins – like those Striped dolphins – that strand on the razor sharp rocks in panic. That abrade until they exsanguinate. Once we had to witness stranded striped dolphins half dry writhe due to the pain up to one hour exposed to the sun, bleeding, until the hunters dragged them away from the rocks.
Please apologize my radical language.
January 2011 – a month of hope, too? I’d say: Yes. I got to know several Japanese who now engage actively in the conservation of Japanese dolphins. Courageous women and men with different backgrounds, everyone of them contributing their own part to achieve the common goal. A growing grass-roots movement in Japan! This is very important. Furthermore the number of killed animals in this hunting season is low compared to the last season. In sum 660 to 690 dolphins were killed. In the last hunting season 1,700 animals had to die. It’s very likely that this number will not even be approached.
There is the hope of understanding that it simply is not okay that one single nation – unjustified – is undertaking acts so backward to the majority of the world's public. Although it is just a small group of backward people in a remote village that continues the barbaric killings with the blessing of corrupt officials and subsidized with tax money of a nearly bankrupt* government.
Hans Peter Roth
* On January 27th the Rating agency Standard & Poors downgraded the solvency of Japan due to increasing national debts.
Traditionally conservation scientists have viewed animal welfare with a bit of indifference. Animal welfare has been seen as the territory of the hippy animal rights activists, rather than a serious science that can help protect our planet. But that needs to change.
The Compassionate Conservation conference held in Oxford last week discussed how to make conservation better. After all, our planet has never before faced such enormous biodiversity loss. And the answer could be that conservation needs to become compassionate. It’s time to bring animal welfare out from the cold and join it with conservation science to create an attitude of really caring for the animal inhabitants of this planet.
You might think this is obvious stuff but it’s not as commonplace as you think. Seals are still hot-iron branded (a painful process where the scars can take up to a year to heal) to allow population research that might reveal an urgent conservation need. Hamsters are bred with the sole purpose of training endangered captive ferrets how to hunt so that they can be reintroduced to the wild. Kangaroos are inhumanely killed because they are considered 'pests'.
How can conservation move people to care about animals if conservation itself is not carried out in the most compassionate way? We need to think differently and be smarter about the way we practice conservation.
So what does this mean for dolphins and whales? Well a common reason for keeping these animals in captivity is that they are teaching people about the need to conserve them. But how can we really get across how amazing these creatures are and the need to protect them when all we see are bored, frustrated, stressed animals in a concrete puddle? Or worse, animals performing circus style tricks and making us laugh by splashing us with water? Conservation needs to be about caring for all individuals and not subjecting a few to cruelty in what might be a misguided effort to help protect the majority. If conservation is going to succeed it needs to lead from the front – treat all animals with the respect and care that we want to see for the whole species.
To find out more about the conference have a look here - presentations will be uploaded soon!
This weekend something changed for cetaceans. One big step for man; one giant sweep of the caudal fin for cetaceans.
We spend great deal of time and energy battling the many threats to cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises) and their habitat, but this weekend we made significant progress in a new arena. At a conference hosted by WDCS and Paola Cavalieri, co-founder of the ‘Great Ape Project’, experts gathered to discuss the recent findings in cetacean science which demonstrate that these animals often live in complex societies and that some species even have their own culture, which they transmit between generations or groups. The objective of the meeting was to determine what these, and other, scientific findings mean for how we treat cetaceans and what obligations such knowledge bestows upon us, as the perpetrators of much harm to cetaceans.
Some people are already suggesting that we aim to ‘give’ ‘human rights’ to cetaceans. But this is not the case; in fact it rather misses the point. Cetaceans do not need ‘human’ rights, what we are seeking is the recognition that cetaceans have their own set of rights, including the right to life, freedom of movement and residence within their natural environment and the right not to be held in captivity or servitude, or be subject to cruel treatment, or be removed from their natural environment. We do not want to ‘give’ these rights, but instead to ‘recognise’ that these rights already exist. As our colleague Paola Cavalieri has stated, this would indeed be moral progress.
Declaration of Rights for Cetaceans: Whales and Dolphins
Based on the principle of the equal treatment of all persons;
Recognizing that scientific research gives us deeper insights into the complexities of cetacean minds, societies and cultures;
Noting that the progressive development of international law manifests a growing sense of entitlement by cetaceans;
We affirm that all cetaceans as persons have the right to life, liberty and wellbeing.
We believe that:
1. Every individual cetacean has the right to life.
2. No cetacean should be held in captivity or servitude; be subject to cruel treatment; or be removed from their natural environment.
3. All cetaceans have the right to freedom of movement and residence within their natural environment.
4. No cetacean is the property of any State, corporation, human group or individual.
5. Cetaceans have the right to the protection of their natural environment.
6. Cetaceans have the right not to be subject to the disruption of their cultures.
7. The rights, freedoms and norms set forth in this Declaration should be protected under international and domestic law.
8. Cetaceans are entitled to an international order in which these rights, freedoms and norms can be fully realized.
9. No State, corporation, human group or individual should engage in any activity that undermines these rights, freedoms and norms.
10. Nothing in this Declaration shall prevent a State from enacting stricter provisions for the protection of cetacean rights.
Agreed, 22nd May 2010, Helsinki, Finland
Click here to sign the Declaration
Humanity's treatment of nature and our environment has always been very much about how our society lives and interacts with not just nature, but one another.
That's why we've been so heartened to see how online social networks, such as facebook and twitter, have allowed organizations to work and organize together on important issues in brand new ways.
We all know the power of word of mouth and social networks in our own lives, but it really does take social networking to save whales too. Through facebook and twitter we've been in contact with dedicated advocates, one of the most dedicated is Jeff Friedman. Jeff volunteers with The Climate Project, BlueVoice.org, Orca Network, and Orca Lab. Last weekend Jeff traveled to Miami to protest the conditions that Lolita (an Orca taken out of the wild 40 years ago) has been kept in at Miami Seaquarium. Below Jeff shares with us what it was like to see Lolita in person. We want to thank Jeff for his tireless efforts fighting captivity.
I want to share my experience at Miami Seaquarium. First, my disclaimer: I did not pay admission to get in. As someone who is against keeping orcas and other dolphins in captivity, I will not support these places financially. I was given a free entrance pass which had been donated to a friend.
Hopefully by now you've seen the photos and read Lolita's story, and even though I had seen many pictures i was not prepared to see first hand how bad Lolita's situation really is. Pictures don't capture depth. Just as pictures of the Grand Canyon can never convey its true size and depth, pictures of her tank do not convey the lack of size and depth.Many hotels and health clubs have larger pools. Her tank is like a large backyard swimming pool. As soon as I walked in this reality hit me and has stayed with me. I had seen many pictures beforehand, but none of them prepared me well for its true lack of size. 40 years in that pool is unimaginable.
I will also say that Lolita is beautiful. That hit me right away too and it was surreal to see this orca in front of my eyes that I have read so much about. Suddenly, the injustice being done to her became more real to me.
Lolita is mostly unavailable for public observation. Unlike other marine parks (SeaWorld), you can only see Lolita during her 2 shows a day. The public was allowed to entered the stadium 10 minutes before the show. Lolita listlessly floated near the front of her tank, as the stadium music blares loudly, she looked at people for a few minutes. Then she sank to the bottom and was still for several minutes, up for a breath and a look, then back to the bottom. Barely moving.
During the show itself, I was shocked at the lack of Lolita's presence. In the intro the trainer asked in a salesy voice, "Where is the one place in the world where you can see a killer whale swim and play with Pacific white-sided dolphins?" Of course her answer was Miami Seaquarium, but I was thinking British Columbia. The show is 20 minutes. Lolita swims around with a trainer standing on her back, breaches 3 or 5 times, tail slaps, pec slaps, demonstrates her L pod calls and splashes water on the first 6 rows. Hardly 20 minutes worth of material. So they spread it out. She does one "trick" then swims to the platform for 3 to 5 minutes, mouth open, catching dead fish from a trainer while the Pacific dolphins take over the show. Then Lolita does a breach or another "trick" and back to the platform for another 3 to 5 minutes. Combined, literally, she is performing for maybe 5 minutes of the 20 minute show. The dolphins played a much larger role. I cried the entire show.
I don't know why she's not the main feature of the show, there are rumors and speculation though. Apparently her long time trainer left a year or so ago and there is talk that Lolita has not been the same since and this is impacting her ability/desire to perform. There are rumors that she shows signs of depression and her food is being laced with prozac.
At the end of the show, Lolita immediately swims to the corner of the tank. She was not able to access the back tank, which was gated off and had the 6 Pacific white-sided dolphins. Lolita waits there in front of her trainers, at one point with her mouth open as if she was waiting for food. Yet they completely ignore Lolita, instead watching the dolphins and talking to each other. Lolita then floated still with her head against the gate, watching the dolphins, still with no attention from trainers.
We were able to get to the rail of her tank and stand within a few feet of her, making eye contact with her. We said hello in an excited, friendly pitch. At one point Lolita nodded her head up and down. Of course I cannot tell you she was reacting to us or what she was thinking or feeling. Only that she nodded and we had eye contact.Within 5 minutes of the show ending, security kicks everyone out.
So she does 2 shows a day, 20 minutes each. You can see her 10 minutes before and 5 after. That is a total time of 1 hour and 10 minutes public view time per day. At all other time she is behind closed doors, literally. The stadium is secured by metal garage doors. There is no way in. This raises so many questions of what is going on behind closed doors. Do they open the gates to give her access to the back tank behind the trainer platform? Or is she confined to the front of the tank, making her living space even smaller? Is she getting attention, stimulation and exercise? Enough food? Medical care? It all happens privately with no ability for the public to know.
I left the facility very depressed. The facility is a relic to the 1950's. The crowds are small. Many of my photos show empty bleachers. I watched 2 bottlenose dolphins (in a tank larger than Lolita's) pushing beach balls around. I got bored watching them after 5 minutes. I had the freedom to walk away. I can only imagine their plight.
It was all an experience I am grateful to have seen firsthand. I am hopeful that this firsthand experience with Lolita and her conditions enables me to enrolling more people in the cause to return her home. I took a lot of sadness out of there with me that will remain with me for a very, very long time.
Getting Lolita home is so important for her and us. Though we can never fully give back what others have taken from her, we need to give her what we can. After witnessing this, leaving her there is inhumane and wrong. It is terrible for her and it speaks poorly on us if we allow this to continue.
You can follow Jeff on twitter