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Killer Whale Breeding: Artificial Insemination From The Female Perspective

December 13, 2010

 

Tommy Lee

Cover of Tommy Lee

Thanks to Tommy Lee and PETA, the methods used to extract sperm from killer whales for the purpose of artificial insemination are getting plenty of attention. Now the world probably knows a lot more about the mechanics involved in working with male killer whales than it probably ever wanted.

Well, for those of you who can handle it, and who want to know even more, here is what goes on from the female side of the equation. The pics in the slideshow below show Orkid, a 22 year-old female at SeaWorld San Diego undergoing recent training for the procedure, and an up-close of the actual procedure being performed (this picture was taken in 2005).

As background, Orkid is the only mature female at SeaWorld’s parks who has never given birth to a calf. She has been inseminated many, many times without success, and these training pictures–taken in August–seem to indicate that she is being prepared for insemination yet again, or perhaps has already been inseminated.

I was also tipped to a YouTube video clip from Animal Planet that also gives a very up close view of what is involved in inseminating a female killer whale. In this case the killer whale is SeaWorld’s Kasatka, who was SeaWorld’s first female to be artificially inseminated with success (using Tilikum’s semen), in 2000.

Here’s a description of what the video shows, from a friend who follows the AI program closely, and sent me the link to the video:

Basically, they push that tube down into the vagina, through the cervix, and a camera is threaded down it to see what they are doing. They actually inject semen directly into the womb, using the camera to help get it into the uterine horn that they detect is ovulating.

The video embedding has been disabled, which seems increasingly common with videos which show the husbandry practices behind killer whale shows. But click on the video image to be taken to the video.

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9 Comments leave one →
  1. Anne permalink
    December 15, 2010 12:37 pm

    For those that disagree with captivity and husbandry programs, I can see where this would be upsetting. However, as you have clearly shown, this is very old news. Nothing about this process has ever been hidden. In fact, since the inception of the program these methods have been well documented. Those with any interest have known of the process for years. The process differs little from many other species that have been propagated through artificial insemination, including I might add, the human species. Due to cancer, I myself had to rely on Insemination in order to have a child. At no time during the ordeal did I feel violated or wrong. I also would like to note, that this type of program, and study has saved many species from being lost to us. Though I am fully aware that we are not to that point where the Orca is concerned, at least not yet.

    I find it hilarious that Tommy Lee has made comments about this being abusive and disgusting, considering his own rap sheet of assault and child abuse. I suppose he considers those alright, but god forbid we perform sperm recovery from an animal in order to study husbandry.

    I find it even more odd and disturbing that his letter would be given the attention is has been, considering the source. Journalists are a bit off their game in my opinion, considering the much more important topics facing us these days. If we find this type of breeding program to be inappropriate with one animal, than I can only assume we consider the same across the board, and that would be a shame. Considering the damage we have all done, that is one area of science that has seen promising results.

    • Jordan permalink
      December 16, 2010 8:34 am

      The whole process of AI is not the issue that we should be really concerned about. Yes, I would rather prefer the SW staff to be using artificial vagina devices rather than using their hands, but that’s beside the point.

      What we should be concerned about is how SeaWorld uses the AI program, and their breeding program, which is clearly to restock their tanks. I know the argument against my claim is that they’re using AI to help “diversify” the captive gene pool but that’s quite the opposite if you just took a moment to look at the evidence.

      If you noticed from 1992 onwards, with the exception of Kotar, Keet, Keto and Taku, all the calves are sired by Tilikum, either naturally or through AI. Those calves are still alive, and now a majority are at or approaching breeding age. You know what’s going happen in the next few years? Inbreeding. It’s already happened when Taku (son) mated with Katina (his mother) and produced Nalani, and unless every female is continuously knocked up by Tilikum (which is stupid because then you’re producing more calves of his lineage and increasing the chances of inbreeding in the future), we’re going to be seeing alot more inbred offspring.

      If Seaworld really was a respectable zoological facility, they would be spending a heck of alot more time trying to make negotiations with parks in Japan, France, and the one in Argentina, to use semen from other orcas in order to keep their gene pool healthy, rather than just relying on Tilikum as their default source. But clearly they’re not.

      They don’t even have so much of a dame or stud book, which I know facilities that breed cows, livestock and thoroughbred horses MUST HAVE so they can keep track of lineages. Even zoos that participate in the endangered species programs only breed animals that have been recorded and determined to having a good pedigree lineage, so inbreeding can be prevented.

      We should be truly worried about how they are using this AI program to increase their gene pool’s QUANTITY rather than QUALITY. AI has only been successful twice in the SW parks, but clearly they must be having some other successes with it, since one of Marineland France’s orcas, Wiki, is pregnant via the semen of a SW orca (most likely Tilikum, but possibly Keet).

      AI has done wonders for the endangered species that zoos and respected wildlife parks are trying to save, and I’m perfectly fine with that. AI is a tool, a method that really isn’t good or bad, but the way it’s wielded is – and SeaWorld is clearly using it to increase and protect their profits.

  2. Kath permalink
    December 18, 2010 1:55 pm

    Anne there is one HUGE difference between what you did and what is happening to the animals … you had a choice.. they do not… it is wrong and it is wrong on every level….
    I love that Tommy Lee spoke out regardless of what you accuse him of… without this media blitz it would still be buried at the back of you tube…. I applaud him and others who have the balls to speak out to stop this greedy company from force breeding and killing these animals for entertainment purposes … it is just sick!

  3. Rachel Bronwyn permalink
    December 25, 2010 5:05 am

    People actually, y’know, chose for themselves to become pregnant via artificial means. Other animals from whom we can obtain absolutely no means of informed consent undergoing the procedure despite it not benefitting them or their population in any way is not the same by any means as me undergoing IVF.

    The artificial insemination of orca by SeaWorld is not a matter of research just as Japan’s “scientific” whaling isn’t research. All Japan researches is how many whales they can kill. All SeaWorld researches is how many orca calves they can produce in the shortest amount of time which they will use, not for research, for for entertainment. The “research” doesn’t benefit their captive orca or any orca in the wild. It keeps their tanks stocked. SeaWorld does NOT use artificial insemination for good.

    I don’t care what animal it’s happening to. When it serves no benefit whatsoever to the species or individual animal and you can’t obtain demonstrable informed consent from that animal, artificial insemination is unethical.

    To claim an animal that is fully aware it is dependant on it’s caretaker for the fulfillment of it’s every need consents on the basis it doesn’t kill it’s caretaker when they stuff something up it’s vagina is just lazy. Do you honestly think orca are so stupid they don’t realise the negative reprecussions of doing away with their only food source?

    Tommy Lee has no record of child abuse. He pleaded no contest to the spousal abuse charges against him and it never happened again. He never defended his actions. He spoke out against them figorously. More importantly, even if it were true that he was a wife-beating child abuser who thinks both are great, it wouldn’t illegitimise his argument against the artificial insemination of orca. Claiming “You’re a wife-beater and that means you’re wrong about everything” is just plain argumentum ad hominem and it’s nothing more than an incredibly lazy logical fallacy. Fail. Have a cookie.

  4. Rachel Bronwyn permalink
    December 25, 2010 5:12 am

    And please, let’s not pretend SeaWorld is preparing to save the species. Ask them yourselves and they will tell you none of their captured orca are releasable and none of their captive born orca everwill be due to their rearing as captive, human-depedant individuals. SeaWorld has been very candid about the fact the only population of orca they ever intend to benefit via artificial insemination is the captive population.

    They are involved in no orca conservation programs nor have they ever been.

    SeaWorld has never leant any support to helping any conservation and restoration programs pertaining to the sourthern resident orca population, ten percent of which died in their very tanks after capture.

    I’m so tired of people claiming we should focus on captive breeding instead of protecting the wild populations we have.

    • Jordan permalink
      December 25, 2010 4:22 pm

      In a perfect world, people would agree with your latter statement, stop the captive breeding and actually focus on the wild populations’ homes and habitats.

      In a perfect world, governments would be willing to listen to citizens, zoologists, biologists, people who just care about the well-being of wildlife and environments.

      Unfortunately, it’s not. Rhinos are being hunted faster than they can repopulate; same goes for Bengal and Siberian Tigers for their coats. And for sharks and sea turtles. You know what these animals have in common – valuable body parts. Rhinos for horns, tigers for skins, sharks for fins, sea turtles for flesh, eggs and shells.

      For rhinos and elephants, if they get wiped out by poachers, you know what happens to their horns and ivory? They go up in value, and they go up, up and up. If that’s what it will take for the poachers to satisfy their greed, then that is what they’ll do. You know that, I know that. The same will most likely go for the tigers and the sharks, if the poachers have their way.

      Governments aren’t always keen on preserving their fauna, either because they don’t give a damn, or because of financial interests (the Japanese government has no intention of stopping their fishermen from shark finning, probably because there are a number of politicians in their government who LIKE having shark fin soup or whatever entree they want to have the relatively taste-less cartilage in it.).

      I don’t want to justify captive breeding since I’d much rather see animals in the wild, being free and undisturbed, having their own choices, and immersing into their natural habitat like they should. But it’s not going to happen. For other animals like the Scimitar Oryx, the Dhole, Spix’s Macaw, Przewalski’s Horse, and the Iberian Lynx there really isn’t any other choice since they’re extinct in the wild, or their numbers are so disastrously low that captive breeding is the only other option, either naturally or through AI to keep their populations healthy. For some of these listed above animals (Spix’s Macaw specifically), their governments are cooperating and trying to create space for the animals when the time comes to reintroduce them. This worked for the Mexican Wolves and Californian condors, it can hopefully work for these species.

      TL; DR – You can’t completely condemn captive breeding since it can serve as a last resort boon some animal species are already screwed due to poachers, and/or the foreign governments either not caring, or having financial interests in those said animals. I wish governments would cooperate with scientists, citizens and groups alike to help protect and restore their wildlife and their habitats, but it won’t.

      If done properly, captive breeding and reintroduction via cooperation and correct handling of animals (read: limited contact), it can work.

      But, I agree 110% that SeaWorld’s excuse that they’re breeding orcas and their bottlenose dolphins, like there’s no tomorrow, for the sake of “conservation” and “maintaining diversity” is complete bullshit. And I really don’t like the fact that elephants, tigers and chimps are bred frequently, for the zoo’s monetary sake to bring in more of a public draw. (The fact that there are more tigers in captivity than there are in the wild pisses me off to no end, although most are in private homes, which is another issue altogether).

      • Jordan permalink
        December 25, 2010 4:48 pm

        I would like to edit that I really don’t want to see animals taken out from the wild for the sake of captive breeding, since that only adds stress to the animals and that can do more damage than good. There are examples of governments cooperating with naturalists and scientists, like New Zealand aggressively protecting their Hector’s porpoise and the Mexican government granting a sanctuary of sorts for the Vaquita, which I would love to see happen more often in other countries for certain endangered species.

        But if the government isn’t really doing anything or can’t get a handle of whatever is causing that species’ demise, then captivity or a closely-watched sanctuary should be considered.

  5. Jennifer permalink
    February 8, 2012 9:32 am

    I think you cannot compare human artificial insemination with that of an animal. It is humans’ free choice, while animals have no choice in that matter. They don’t need artificial insemination and those in captivity probably wouldn’t want it because why would they like to give birth to a baby whale that will live in misery. And this is not done for research purposes but mainly for entertainment purposes and money. And we should not forget that we only have to save endangered species because humans are the cause for their disappearance. First we destroy and then when it is almost too late we try to find a ridiculous solution, like artificially insemination in animals. As if this was going to protect the lives of orcas (or other animals) living in the wild. In the end the only animals left will be those living in small parks or reservations because humans will have taken their natural habitat. And then we think artificial semination is the trick to protecting endangered species? I highly doubt it.

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  1. 4 of the Most Outrageous Things that Seaworld Trainers (and Cetaceans) Have to Deal With | Cetacean Inspiration

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