Hurricane Irma Vs. Florida Keys Dolphins

This image of Hurricane Irma’s projected track from the National Hurricane Center puts a bullseye on the Florida Keys. It may change course, but it is making me wonder what the various dolphin facilities in the Keys that keep dolphins in lagoons will do to protect their dolphins (Dolphin Research Center and Dolphin Connection, Theater Of The Sea, and Dolphins Plus).

The Florida Keys are now under an evacuation order. Leaving the dolphins in their net pens has risks (if the pens get torn up they can tangle up the dolphins and drown them). So does letting them out into open water, which is the preferred protocol, and the dolphins usually show up again looking to be fed. During Hurricane Andrew, DRC opened the gates. One dolphin, Anessa, chose never to return.

Of course, Miami Seaquarium, and Lolita, are also at risk. During Andrew a wall of water washed through the facility.

Especially dangerous times for captive marine mammals in Irma’s path of destruction.

 

 

Animated Activism: Killer Whale Captivity For Children

Animator Joey Cheers (with Fishy Thom and Teon Simmons) concocts a beguiling video to speak to young minds. (h/t Marineland In Depth)

Welcome To The (SeaWorld) Machine

Absolutely brilliant use of music and film to convey one visitor’s understanding of SeaWorld:

Fellow Prisoners: A day at Sea World from Justin Hofman on Vimeo.

Filmmaker’s explanation:

I never set out to make this short film. I hadn’t been to Sea World in probably 20 years but decided to give it a shot and take my niece. I tried to see the place through the eyes of young child but logic and my love for wildlife took over. I’ve spent most of my life committed to exploring wild places and observing wild animals. I understand why these places exist but also feel that it’s time we stepped back and reassessed our need to collect and to display conscious, intelligent animals.

Yes, let’s re-assess.

Dolphins Are Really Smart

Thanks for the update. Is this research really telling us anything we don’t already know?

A dog may be man’s best friend, but dolphins can imitate human actions, and even how they solve problems.

When a dolphin has one of its senses blocked, it can use other senses to mimic a human’s movements, according to a recent study.

A bottlenose dolphin named Tanner was blindfolded and instructed to copy the actions of a trainer in the water with him. When Tanner wasn’t able to use sight to figure out the movement, he switched to another technique: He would emit sounds, listen to the echo and interpret the resulting sound waves. This process — known as echolocation — allowed Tanner to mimic movements by the trainer, such as spinning in the water.

The study, conducted at the Dolphin Research Center in the Florida Keys, expands on earlier studies looking at how dolphins are able to imitate other dolphins while blindfolded. To see whether a change in sound would affect their imitation, researchers used humans instead of dolphins to make the movements in the water.

Kelly Jaakkola, research director of the marine mammal center, said researchers were surprised by Tanner’s use of echolocation.

“He outsmarted us,” Jaakkola said.

Honestly, I can’t think of anything less surprising, and this conclusion tells us little beyond what Lou Herman and his researchers already demonstrated many years ago.

I am not a fan of any captive research. But if it exists, it would be nice if it at least had to achieve some minimal threshold of utility–for the species being held captive. Not sure how humans impressing themselves over and over again with how smart and creative dolphins are is not redundant, or how it extends at this point beyond idle curiosity.

Captive Orcas And Mosquitos

Mosquito landing pad?

Former SeaWorld trainers Jeffrey Ventre (now a doctor) and John Jett (now a university professor) have published a peer-reviewed scientific paper in the Journal Of Marine Mammals And Their Ecology, on the vulnerability of captive orcas to mosquito-borne viruses (PDF). Here’s the abstract:

Although unreported in wild orca populations, mosquito-transmitted diseases have killed at least two captive orcas
(Orcinus orca) in U.S. theme parks. St. Louis Encephalitis Virus (SLEV) was implicated in the 1990 death of the male orca Kanduke,
held at SeaWorld of Florida. In the second case, West Nile Virus (WNV) killed male orca Taku at SeaWorld of Texas in 2007.
Captive environments increase vulnerability to mosquitotransmitted diseases in a variety of ways. Unlike their wild counterparts who are rarely stationary, captive orcas typically spend hours each day (mostly at night) floating motionless (logging) during which time biting mosquitoes access their exposed dorsal surfaces. Mosquitoes are attracted to exhaled carbon dioxide, heat and dark surfaces, all of which are present during logging behavior. Further, captive orcas are often housed in geographic locations receiving high ultraviolet radiation, which acts as an immunosuppressant. Unfortunately, many of these facilities offer the animals little shade protection. Additionally, many captive orcas have broken, ground and bored teeth through which bacteria may enter the bloodstream, thus further compromising their ability to fight various pathogens. Given the often compromised health of captive orcas, and given that mosquito-transmitted viral outbreaks are likely to occur in the future, mosquito-transmitted diseases such as SLEV and WNV remain persistent health risks for captive orcas held in the U.S.
[JMATE. 2012;5(2):9-16].

At the time Kanduke died there was uncertainty over the cause. But here is the necropsy which indicated that something unusual had happened, and helped Ventre and Jett find the answer..

This is an important insight into how captivity affects the lives of killer whales, and what is particularly interesting is how a confluence of captivity-related issues–logging, temperatures, lack of shade, teeth-drilling, etc–combine to create a vector of vulnerability that wild orcas likely do not experience. Which is one more reason that mortality in captivity is greater than mortality in the wild. Very well-done, informative, fact-based, work.

The Death Of Sumar: Raw Footage

I hesitate to post this, which was shot over SeaWorld San Diego when Sumar died in September 2010, because I don’t want it to seem gratuitous. But I am going ahead, because death for orcas at marine parks, usually premature death, is part of the orca experience in captivity that marine parks would prefer the public knew little about (much less see).

But marine parks can’t control everything that gets presented to the public, or the air space over their pools. So when there are opportunities to tell a fuller story than gets told from a marine park stage, or in a cheery brochure or TV commercial, the fuller story should be told.

GMA Looks At The Death Of Kalina

Vodpod videos no longer available.

 

There’s a lot more about Kalina, her life, and her death, here. She was the first orca born in captivity. Here’s a video of her birth, at SeaWorld Orlando.