Shamu Flu?

“Dammit, this trainer’s runny nose is getting all over me.”

Maybe the world–forced into social-distancing lockdown and economic pain–is finally waking up to the many dangers of zoonotic viruses that can pass back and forth between humans and animals, and how close contact between humans and animals in factory farming, the bushmeat economy, and the wildlife trade and its “wet markets,” sharply elevates the risks.

And we have also seen how zoo animals, like a tiger at the Bronx zoo, can “catch” a virus from a human. Now the Voice Of San Diego notes that Sea World’s Shamu, and two other killer whales, were also likely infected by a flu virus passed from a trainer:

SeaWorld’s founding veterinarian was named Dr. David Kenney, a young man in the 1960s “who took credit for naming Shamu … and then figured out how to fly her to Sea World from Seattle,” according to his 2012 obituary in the Wall Street Journal.

In January 1969, Kenney noticed that Shamu and two other killer whales named Ramu and Kilroy seemed out of sorts. According to The San Diego Union, they had “bad cases of the sniffles, poor appetite, weakness and that all-over aching feeling.” Shamu, the paper reported, had been “moaning all day” and was “lethargic and irritable.”

The killer whales got a lighter schedule (although they apparently didn’t get to sit around and do nothing), and Kenney wondered whether they’d come down with the human flu. “We can’t be certain that they have human influenza,” he told the paper, “but the symptomology correlates, and blood tests indicate their infection is viral in nature.”

That killer whales in captivity can be victim to viruses they likely would not pick up in the wild, has already been established. And now Ingrid Visser and 20 scientists have published a detailed review of novel viruses in captive marine mammals and issued a call for killer whales and other marine mammals to be added to a permanent ban on the import of wildlife into China. They note that dozens of captive orcas have died from respiratory infections over the years, but that we don’t really know the extent of the problem because so many necropsies are kept confidential. It’s an eye-opening review, and you can read it here (and below):

Factory farms and wildlife markets are no doubt the most worrisome vectors for zoonotic viruses. But the fact that captive marine mammals and other zoo animals have also been infected by viruses that likely were passed from humans, and could themselves be the source of viruses that pass to humans, is just one more urgent reminder that humanity needs to dramatically change its relationship with animals–especially the degree to which they are commoditized and industrialized, and brought into the human economy.

Animal Care Angst

AC HortonNursing

Over the past month I’ve been digging into the lives of former SeaWorld Animal Care workers, and publishing their stories (here, here, and here). Many of their experiences seem shocking to people unfamiliar with animal care work, and how difficult it can be. And it is easy to see how the stories can fuel an anti-SeaWorld sentiment.

Jim Horton, one of the three former Animal Care workers I interviewed, was troubled by the vehemence and hardcore anti-SeaWorld nature of some of the comments he saw posted to social media in the aftermath of the stories (big mistake, to read comments, I explained). And also by the fact that many of the stories published in the Animal Care series focus on the negative aspects of the lives of the workers and the nature of managing animals in captivity.

Animal Care obviously includes a lot of positive experiences, where animals are nurtured, rescued, or saved. And the thing I admire most about the Animal Care workers I spoke with and wrote about is that they did the work–with all the good, the bad and the ugly–because they cared first and foremost about the animals. They weren’t there to become Shamu Stadium stars. They were there because they loved animals and wanted to care for them. Eventually, especially for Krissy Dodge and Cynthia Payne, the nature of the work, and the way in which captivity compromised the lives of the animals, forced them to step away and pursue other careers. But the point is that Animal Care work, and the emotions and realities involved, is not at all simple. How Animal Care workers feel about the work they do, especially post-Blackfish, is an intensely complex subject, and that didn’t always come across in the articles I published.

So in order to dig deeper into what Jim Horton felt and feels about the work he did, and how Blackfish opened up many difficult questions, I am posting (with Jim’s permission) a letter that he wrote to a friend. In it, Jim explores and articulates the powerful and conflicting emotions he feels about the work. And if you want to judge him or Animal Care workers harshly, as so many were quick to do, I only ask that you make sure you read this letter first:

Dear ……,

I feel your pain. I think the movie Blackfish and it’s flock of anti captivity followers has made us all take a deep look inside at what we have done over the years and where we are now emotionally in our careers as animal care takers. Torn between our love of the animals we have come to know and the public outcry from those that have never experienced what we have, with the exception of a few. I find it very ironic that the world of those we entertained and taught priceless educational values to are now claiming injustices and untruths that rock the very core of our souls, creating gaps and even bitterness between our friends, co workers and family.

I’m sure you can recall as I can the hundreds of times we were told by the public, family and friends that we must have the greatest job in the world. I recall, later on in my career, often scoffing at that comment and explaining to those that would listen, that this career is a labor of love and full of extreme highs and extreme lows and at times can very well be the worst job in the world. Those people, the ones looking from the outside in, so-called experts by the very knowledge that we as teachers have taught them, through the media and personal interactions, have no idea what it was like and also what it is like now.

What they don’t know and what the media never found newsworthy is the extreme duress we’ve gone through. The news only covers the animal’s story, not ours. The nights on end of watching, medicating, note-taking of sick animals. Every 3 hour tube feedings, injections and enemas, standing alone in poop-filled pools in freezing temperatures to bottle feed baby manatees or baby dolphins, while those around us celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas, forgetting their anti-captivity rhetoric, while we shiver through the night, tired and hungry in the middle of a 24-hour shift doing everything you can to save a creature who has put all of it’s trust into us. Knowing fare well that if you screw up, fall asleep standing up, or miss a subtle cue of distress that this beautiful creature may die. They have not experienced the pain of watching and the feeling of the last heartbeat and breath of a dolphin, sea lion, or manatee dying in your arms, looking you straight in the eye as if to say help me or thank you, and in those final moments only you can decipher the final thoughts before death. You begin to cry if you’re alone there in the dark and cowboy up if you’re surrounded by peers, only to let it out in the seat of your car in your employers parking lot at the end of a very long day. You sit and ponder in anguish at what you could have done differently to save this one and what you can do the next time. You celebrate their life by helping the next one of their species.

Unless you’ve done it, one could never understand what it’s like to cut open and remove the brains and eyes of an animal you’ve cared for all it’s life. Sure, you put on your scientist mask, bundle up all of your emotions and swallow them like a big nasty pill and commence to do your job in the efforts of science and discovery and the personal need to know why. Your internal emotions and feelings of sadness, images of the happier times with this animal run through your veins in the form of liquid courage and it takes all of your might to carry on stoically. Hoping to find that smoking gun, that reason for not surviving your treatment. You hope to see the worst, a cancer, an infected kidney, inoperable stomach blockage or a brain abnormality. Often we find nothing and spend the rest of the evening wondering what went wrong and what could you have done differently. The thoughts haunt you through the night as your friends and family wonder why you’re so despondent and can’t sleep or why you aren’t in the mood to eat that piece of steak. Our reward is to move on to the next case unless you are one of the unfortunate ones that has to make that trip the following day to the rendering factory to dispose of the carcass and once again, feel those emotions as you toss a head that you’ve hugged a thousand times into a vat of guts while dodging the spray of nastiness.

They will never know the pain of the animal bites, the broken bones, contusions, sprains, cortisone injections, IV fluids, stitches, ear infections and the unfortunate times you had vomit, the diarrhea and the long dead animal guts and maggots fly into your eyes and mouth.

They will never know the disappointment and the emptiness you cast upon your families with missed vacations and birthdays and the wonderment by those you love that can’t understand why you lack emotion at the death of a family pet or when you make an early decision to put the animal to sleep, knowing early on the inevitable suffering that prolonging death can create.

They will never know what that final rub down, that saying of I’m sorry, what that pat on the back of an animal feels like when you are getting ready to inject a life ending medication in an upwelling of humbleness and hopelessness, a surrender of effort of all your skills to prevent suffering.

They will never know the terror and horror, the sounds and images of being in a rescue van or cage or pool when an animal goes through its death throes. Flailing about in a final fit of uncontrollable rage, sending humans, skin and blood flying through the air, destroying everything in it’s path and then the sudden unexpected feeling of what was once hope comes crashing to the ground in a matter of seconds.

They will never know the many times we came very closed to being killed, mauled, drowned, or losing a limb, toe or finger or co worker in the efforts of just doing our job, you know, the one that is the greatest one in the world?

And so now were are forced to believe by many that this isn’t the greatest job in the world, that all that we’ve done, all of the pain and effort, tireless nights and trips to the hospital is a bad thing. They say our animals are treated poorly, our facilities are substandard, and we should be ashamed. Ironically, in a much misinformed manner, these foul cries of care seemed limited to the United States, where the best care in the world is provided. Having transported animals all over the world, I have truly seen the atrocities of animal care in third world countries. But that’s ok I guess, because we only believe what we see and fail to listen to the real experts. Untouchable they are the third world facilities, look at Taji. Those animals are captured and slaughtered every year, yet there are more outcries regarding a little blonde haired girl blowing a whistle–feeding and rubbing down an animal that she truly loves and will give her all with great sacrifice to her life and those around her in an effort to give that animal a good life- than the cries of slaughter. The paths we chose in the animal industry we didn’t always chase. We started as education staff, operations staff, cigarette butt picker up’ers, scuba divers and bucket washers. Suddenly, we were given the opportunity to be closer than most to these wonderful creatures. I’m sure there isn’t a soul in the business who hasn’t stated that “I can’t believe I’m getting paid for this”. So innocent and inexperienced, having no idea that this journey will take you through a river of emotions, good and bad and that those children that you teach and share the joy of making a connection to animals, those children will grow up to say what you are doing, the efforts that you made, were not in the animals’ best interest.

I can truly say that I am against captivity and I am for captivity. I think perhaps, maybe it’s time to end Killer Whales in Captivity, but why not the elephants? I don’t really see the need anymore, we’ve learned about all we can. On the other hand, if it were not for having killer whales in captivity, who would have freed Willy? Who would have rescued, rehabilitated and released Springer? Who would have flown to Turkey for 2 years of their life to train captive dolphins to be wild again and set them free? Who of you out there are planning and watching every day the case of Morgan the Killer whale in Spain. Who of you is experienced and ready to leave your family for years to train and release this little whale back to her family? Who is prepared to make real sacrifices other than spouting verbal diarrhea from your warm cozy couch with an I Pad……..We are!

We are the ones who still love our job, we love animals in our care more than our friends and our future. We are proud of our accomplishments, we do make a difference in the lives of others, we are tough as nails, we are not afraid, we can control our emotions, we can laugh in the face of adversity and we can succeed where others have never tried. We teach and train the animal caretakers of the future, there will always be a need for us. Who is going to save the beached animals of the future? Movie directors?

I am proud of who I am and those that I have helped have a better life. I am not part of the problem, I am the solution. I am an animal husbandry specialist and I will never stop caring.

There you have the conflicts, the pathos, and the doubts (and certainty) of animal care, all wrapped up into one deeply felt letter. I don’t criticize Animal Care workers. In my view they are doing their best, for the right reasons, in a captive entertainment model that is flawed and that I think needs to be reinvented. I reserve my skepticism and criticism for that model, not for the people who do their best to ease the lives of the animals trapped in that model. It is easy to say they shouldn’t do that work. But if they didn’t do you think the lives of the animals would be better or worse? I thought so.

Animal Care KNOWS

 

seaworld-animal-care-employees

Over the past few years, the more I heard about the Animal Care staff at SeaWorld, the more I wanted to be able to hear their stories. They seemed to be involved in everything: births, deaths, rescues, illnesses, transports. If anyone could add texture to what we know about the lives of the animals at marine parks it was Animal Care workers.

Over the past ten months I have been speaking with three SeaWorld Animal Care veterans, who worked at SeaWorld Florida and SeaWorld Texas (I also spoke with a fourth, but for reasons never explained, he/she just dropped off the radar after telling me some amazing stories; sadly I couldn’t use them). Their tenures spanned a period from the late 1980s through 2006, and they had plenty of interesting and revealing tales to tell.

You can read them all here.

One of the most surprising and intriguing new revelations was supplied by Jim Horton, the most experienced of the trio. He told me about the existence of a ring knife, a small blade which slips over a finger and can be used to cut open and eviscerate a stillborn calf that is stuck in the mother’s birth canal. It is a procedure with a noble aim–to save the life of the mother. But if you imagine the experience of the mother–suspended in a sling or otherwise immobilized as a person inserts a hand up inside her vagina, eviscerates her dead calf, and starts pulling its internal organs out–it is at the same time grotesque.

Horton sent me a picture of what the ring knife he was describing looked like:

knife

SeaWorld’s Fred Jacobs confirmed the existence of this knife, and explained that the procedure in which it is used is called a “fetotomy.”

“Our veterinary medical care program is identical to that found in referral hospitals and veterinary medical teaching hospitals around the United States. We practice comprehensive medical and surgical care. That includes obstetrical care and, rarely, surgery to reduce fetal dystocia. The tools used for veterinary obstetrics are similar to those used in human medicine. The instrument you’re referring to is used in a procedure known as fetotomy.”

Horton told me he was pretty sure that a fetotomy was performed on the stuck, stillborn calf that killed Gudrun in 1996 (the calf was forcibly removed with the help of a winch, tearing Gudrun up, which led to her death days later). But he couldn’t 100% remember, in the chaos and stress of trying to save Gudrun’s life, actually seeing the calf being eviscerated.

Asked about Gudrun, SeaWorld’s Fred Jacobs would not confirm that the calf was eviscerated, but did note that instruments and procedures were used to try and help Gudrun pass the fetus:

“On rare occasions veterinarians have to help an animal pass a fetus. With very large animals like whales, elephants, rhinos, horses and cows, there are specifically designed veterinary obstetric instruments. The goal of any such procedure is to save the life of the mother and quickly ease any discomfort she would have as a result of the stillbirth. The tools used by SeaWorld are identical to those used by large animal veterinarians.”

Even more intriguing to me about the existence of this sort of knife was that it offers a potential explanation for something that has puzzled me for years: rumors and tips that the 2010 death of Gudrun’s daughter, Taima, also from a stuck stillborn, was especially bloody, and involved some sort of operation to try and remove the calf.

Some speculated that some form of modified Cesarean had been attempted. But that didn’t really make sense since it seems almost impossible that an orca mother could survive an intrusive operation so there would be little to gain.

However, an attempted fetotomy, especially if that is a procedure that SeaWorld uses to try and deal with fetal dystocia (as Jacobs acknowledges), could well explain what happened with Taima and her calf. We’ll have to wait for an eyewitness account, or a miraculous release of SeaWorld records, to know for sure. But it is an intriguing potential explanation to questions about Taima’s death have been a bit of a mystery.

Interesting Notes From The Virgin Captivity Summit

In February 2014, Sir Richard Branson, in response to criticism of Virgin Air’s involvement with tourism to marine parks, pledged that Virgin would no longer partner with organizations that take marine mammals from the wild. To develop that pledge, and Virgin’s business strategy going forward in a time of increased debate about the ethics of marine mammal captivity, Virgin convened a two-day summit in Miami, in June, so it could sit down with marine park industry representatives and animal welfare advocates to explore all the issues around marine mammal captivity.

It is rare for advocates on both sides of this issue to sit down face-to-face, and it is a reflection of Virgin’s weight and importance that it happened at all. It must have been been a very, shall we say, interesting discussion. And Virgin has just released a fascinating summary of the discussion.

How Virgin proceeds from the summit in refining and implementing Sir Richard Branson’s pledge will help set a standard for other businesses that are connected to the marine mammal captivity industry.

For now, and for the record, here are some of the key points and discussions from the Summit (highlights are mine):

John Racanelli (Balitmore’s National Aquarium): In an effort to understand the future “customer,” the National Aquarium was part of a larger consortium of U.S. Universities, zoological institutions, and government agencies that commissioned a nationwide study to understand public attitudes, perceptions and beliefs in the U.S.A. regarding aquariums. The ongoing survey has collected data over
eight years with annual sample sizes of up to 32,000 and asks respondents nationwide to rank levels of agreement with
a range of statements. The data are not publicly available, but John Racanelli did share some of the findings. The data
indicate a shift in attitudes, perceptions and beliefs regarding the value and appropriateness of holding cetaceans in
captivity and it becomes particularly pronounced for the Millennial generation, where the survey observed a material decline in the desire to see cetaceans in any kind of captive setting. 

Continue reading “Interesting Notes From The Virgin Captivity Summit”

SeaWorld Bogus Critique Of Blackfish

Despite insisting that Blackfish is having no impact on its business, SeaWorld continues to invest heavily in a PR counter-attack on Blackfish and the former trainers who appear in the film.

It’s latest minute-by-minute critique of Blackfish was perhaps the most detailed, and most tediously off-base, critique it has issued yet.

Below you will find the Blackfish production team’s rebuttal. What’s notable is that SeaWorld continues to massage and manipulate the facts even as it tries to accuse Blackfish of mis-representing the facts. What’s also notable is that SeaWorld continues to try and distract and divert from the core issues raised in Blackfish about the wisdom and morality of killer whale captivity, without ever directly addressing those issues.

I guess we can keep going round after round on this, but the facts simply are not on SeaWorld’s side. And it seems clear that the public is beginning to understand a very different, more credible, and increasingly troubling version of killer whale captivity than the narrative SeaWorld has been promoting for the past 50 years.

Vancouver Aquarium’s Internal Response To Blackfish

What do you think of me being here at the Vancouver Aquarium?

Here is what I am told was a note sent to staff at the Vancouver Aquarium, to help address the issues raised in Blackfish. It is a lot more reasoned than SeaWorld’s response to Blackfish, but at the same time is an interesting insight into the arguments aquariums make about captive marine mammals. 

Vancouver Aquarium has had a long and checkered history, that has included trading in, and keeping captive, killer whales, dolphins and belugas. At the same time, it is a non-profit, and I think is qualitatively different (especially in its current version) than a for-profit entertainment corporation like SeaWorld. That doesn’t mean I think that Vancouver Aquarium should keep cetaceans, or has always acted sincerely or with the best interests of marine mammals in mind. I don’t (and I wish more aquariums would follow the more ethical model of the Monterey Aquarium). But I do think that Vancouver Aquarium is on more solid ground when it comes to trying to make the case for keeping cetaceans captive. So their arguments are worth noting.

That said, what I think is most interesting about Vancouver Aquarium’s response to Blackfish is that it doesn’t really try to make the case that marine mammals are suitable for captivity, and don’t suffer in captivity. Instead, it makes the tried and truthy argument that keeping marine mammals captive helps humans connect with them and care about how they are doing in the wild. In other words, there is a trade-off, and the ends justify the means. I disagree with that calculus, and think that the more people understand the reality of what killer whales and dolphins experience in captivity, the less they will be willing to buy that argument.

Here’s the memo:

Some of you may have seen the documentary “Blackfish” which has been playing in theatres across North America and aired on CNN several times last week. The film is a documentary that focuses on SeaWorld, their display of killer whales and the tragic death of one of their trainers in 2010. SeaWorld chose not to participate in the making of the documentary.

Blackfish attempts to “expose” SeaWorld’s supposed negligence in areas from employee safety to animal welfare largely through personal opinion and allegations made by a handful of former trainers depicted in the film. Some of the footage and testimony is disturbing and there are staff here that can tell you from first-hand experience that caring for killer whales is a demanding occupation, requiring concentration at all times and a comprehensive understanding of killer whale behaviour.

A member of the Senior Staff has spent a great deal of time working with the professional and dedicated team at SeaWorld and has also spent time at all their facilities and with many of their animals. He comments that their facilities are amazing, their animal care expertise is outstanding, the safety training that he has witnessed is first class and, without a doubt, their research has directly and  positively impacted the lives of thousands of marine mammals around the world.

SeaWorld, like all U.S. facilities caring for marine mammals, is licensed to do so by the U.S. federal government and regularly inspected. SeaWorld adheres to the strict standards of all federal and state laws, including the Animal Welfare Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act, as well as the professional Standards and Guidelines of the international Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums, which surpass government standards for the care of the animals.

Although the film is not about Vancouver Aquarium, it is important to share some of our messaging on killer whales so that you may respond to inquiries as needed.

What happened to the killer whales at Vancouver Aquarium?

Bjossa, the Vancouver Aquarium’s last killer whale, was transferred to SeaWorld in San Diego in April 2001 to provide her with the companionship of other killer whales. Sadly, Bjossa succumbed to a chronic lung infection that she had been battling for two years and passed away on October 8, 2001.

What is the Aquarium’s policy on capturing whales and dolphins?

On September 16, 1996, Vancouver Aquarium became the first aquarium in the world to make a commitment to no longer capture cetaceans from the wild for display and to only care for:

• Cetaceans that were captured before 1996

• Cetaceans that were already being kept in a zoo or aquarium before 1996

• Cetaceans that were born in a zoo or aquarium

• Cetaceans that were rescued from the wild and rehabilitated, but deemed un-releasable by the appropriate government authorities

Why have animals in aquariums?

Aquariums perform a vital role in educating people about aquatic conservation and contribute to critical research to conserve aquatic life. Seeing animals in aquariums has helped change public perception and increased support for conserving wild populations. There is no real substitute for connecting with our oceans and animals first-hand to generate a feeling of interest and engagement that leads to positive behavioral changes.

More information: http://www.vanaqua.org/learn/aquafacts/the-aquarium/whales-in-aquariums

Morgan’s Unusual Training At Loro Parque

From what I am told, Morgan spends a lot of time alone, and has very little involvement in the Loro Parque orca show (spending many shows alone in the med pool). But as this video shows, Loro Parque continues to experiment with different training systems for Morgan, and is working on show tricks. This appears to be a visual system of letting Morgan know when she has performed correctly (known as a “bridge”). If I get more detail or insight into this bridging system I will post it.

UPDATE: I received an e-mail from someone who follows Morgan’s situation closely, which adds detail to Morgan’s training program. Part of the information is based on a presentation about Morgan at the recent IMATA conference (which also produced this).

In the IMATA presentation they described the plan they have to develop a bridge for Morgan so that she can participate in shows. 

The light on a pole you see being used in the video is a way to teach Morgan to connect the original bridge (hand signal) with the light bridge so that she will eventually just respond to the light bridge. The intention is to install lights in the walls at various places around the pools, which will be controlled by a trainer holding some kind of a remote. The idea is that Morgan will have a visual underwater bridge that is visible to her from anywhere in the pool to let her know she’s done what was asked and can return to the trainer. At the moment, wherever Morgan performs in the pool, there has to be a trainer at that part of the pool to bridge her which somewhat limits her performances. When I was at Loro Parque in November of last year, I saw Morgan slide out at the end of a show on cue, but one of the trainers appeared to have forgotten this and there was no one at the slide out to bridge her. She obediently stayed in her pose while looking (in my opinion) a little unsure of what to do next until a trainer had run around the perimeter of the pool to be within her vision for the hand bridge.

Also, Morgan does follow the other whales if they are sent on a behavior together. So, the example being used in this video was Morgan and Tekoa sent on a bow (jump) together. Sent alone, Morgan did not respond to a whistle bridge, only a visual. But when sent with Tekoa, and bridged with only a whistle, Morgan followed his example when he returned to the trainer upon hearing the bridge.

One final detail, for Morgan-aholics, in the IMATA presentation Morgan’s size was updated as 15.45 feet in length and 3,570 lbs.

Anyone else have any insights, or more information about the IMATA presentation on Morgan?

The Story Of Moby Doll

If you want to know how the whole raking-in-the-bucks-by-putting-killer-whales-on-public-display thing really got rolling, you need to know the sad and enraging story of Moby Doll.

Recently, there was a gathering to reflect on the (almost) 50-year anniversary of Moby Doll’s capture, and all that followed:

Orcas, or killer whales, were traditionally feared, revered, and respected by the indigenous people of the coast. That sentiment morphed with the growth of commercial salmon fisheries into one of dislike and aggression, as the so-called “blackfish” were seen as dangerous competitors for fish. No one thought it was safe to come near them and it was not uncommon to shoot them. Little was known about their natural history, and they were still scientifically unstudied by the 1960s.

In 1964, the Vancouver Aquarium, which had been in operation for eight years, planned to harvest a killer whale for dissection, study, and use as a model for a realistic statue at the entrance to their facility. A team from the aquarium headed to Saturna, the southernmost of the Gulf Islands, and set up a harpoon on the rocks of East Point, now part of the National Park Reserve.

In due course, a pod of orcas arrived, and the five-metre-long Moby Doll was harpooned. Unexpectedly, it failed to die, as two other members of the pod swam to support it at the ocean’s surface. The aquarium team realized that they could bring the relatively calm animal back alive, and towed it 65 kilometres back to Vancouver.

They called it Moby Doll, mistaking the young male for a female, and exhibited him in a pen in the harbour, where he created a sensation. The public and media flocked to visit.

This was the first ever captive orca and as described by the Saturna symposium organizers, it “triggered a goldrush” on young orcas. Dozens were subsequently captured and put on display in aquariums around the world. The intelligent animals were often taught tricks, and would perform in shows.

Moby Doll survived just 88 days in captivity, but that was long enough to demonstrate the profit potential of live killer whale displays. More here, from the Whale Of A Business site over at PBS.

Another Take On Morgan The PR Star

A few weeks back, I posted a video of Morgan that was created by Loro Parque, along with some quick analysis.

Here’s the video again:

One element of the video that caught people’s attention was the apparent use of a whistle to bridge Morgan, which bears on the question of Morgan’s alleged deafness.

Bridgette Pirtle, a former trainer at SeaWorld Texas, got in touch with her view of the video, and graciously allowed me to share it here:

[UPDATED] A few observations…  LoroParque chose some interesting footage to use to show how “well” Morgan is doing. Particularly towards the end, that video appears to give stronger evidence for how she is not acclimating well. The white water looks like displacement not play. Those wide eyes in the closing frames are consistent with behaviors seen in whales anticipating more acts of dominance directed towards her, not of one settling into the hierarchy. Her eyes are of a whale tight and uncomfortable in her social environment.  I understand Morgan has a unique history along with some physical disabilities that further distance her from a “regular” orca, but those behaviors are far from that of the ” happy-go-lucky” captive norm.  That’s a little more like throwing a Mizzou fan in the middle of KU country. That Tiger is blending in anonymously, hoping to make it through without any altercation.  All the while, that Tiger is always watching his tail.  The behaviors observed in this video are more consistent with those of learned helplessness rather than proof of her successful acclimation within the social environment of LoroParque.

In regards to earlier comments made suggesting a possibility of the trainers continuing to use auditory stimuli amidst claims of Morgan’s loss of hearing, I feel that this isn’t sufficient evidence to support any speculations of the conflicting claims of poor hearing yet continuing to use the bridge whistle.  The session with Jose and Morgan at the slideout isn’t a good indicator of the possibility of a whistle being used as a bridge.  Audio is edited and a trainer placing a bridge in his or her mouth doesn’t always mean guarenteed bridge.  I was always “chewing on my whistle.”  In fact, there is a video on YouTube with me and Halyn doing a hand target learn session for campers where I also go into explaining my habit to the group.  I feel the more noteworthy points to take home from this video are that actions viewed are not quite lining up with the words being heard. Although the audio is edited over, I can tell you from the years I worked with him, Jose definitely was just as bad as me at “chewing on the whistle.” Most likely that would get chopped up to a trainer’s superstitious bad habit. There had been a video on YouTube with Rafa using his bridge while working Morgan that would better prove they don’t even really believe their own spin on Morgan’s deafness. It actually may have been one of the first installments of LP’s promo porn regarding Morgan. 🙂

Regardless of whether or not there’s a presence of auditory cues or that there is any substance to Morgan’s situation being compared to that of the whale euthanized by a shotgun blast, I feel the footage incorporated into this LoroParque PSA isn’t necessarily in line with the idealistic image they hope to achieve.  Killer whale social structures are extremely dynamic and complex.  Morgan’s unique variables contribute even more variables and complexities into this already delicate balance.  I would think even an untrained eye would be able to identify the social happenings observed here as being anything but an all-in-all acceptance within her new pod.

This is like Kremlinology, from the bad old days. But it’s nice to have some real experts providing the analysis.

Video Smackdown: Marineland vs. Taiji

Video is a powerful medium for trying to shape opinion and emotion, a point that is made by two videos which I came across this morning.

One, from Marineland Canada, aims to convince the public that allegations of animal cruelty at Marineland are false.

The other, from a group of citizens dedicated to trying to end the Taiji dolphin hunts, aims to mobilize public opinion against captivity and Taiji.

It’s interesting to see them both together. What strikes me is that the anti-captivity side has more powerful material to make their case.

Here’s Marineland’s argument in favor of captivity and the way Marineland does business:

And here’s the argument against captivity, and the way in which the Taiji dolphin hunt is connected: