The Full Tilileak Document Dump

Screen Shot 2014-08-26 at 2.48.03 PM

Earlier this summer, dolphin advocate Russ Rector managed to use FOIA to secure the release from the National Marine Fisheries Service of all documents in their files related to the purchase and import of Tilikum, Haida (and her calf), and Nootka from Sealand of the Pacific to SeaWorld.

I’ve previously posted some of the documents, and analyzed them over on The Dodo (here, here, and here).

Today, with Russ’ permission, I have uploaded the rest to Scribd, so the full set is available for anyone to read and analyze (interesting tidbit: the cost to SeaWorld for all the permit work was $200).

I am sure there is plenty of additional info in the documents that is worth noting, so please feel free to comment and share your thoughts on anything that catches your attention. Of note, there are full necropsies and related analysis of the deaths of two SeaWorld killer whales, Kahana and Kenau, as well as SeaWorld’s full Marine Mammal Inventory Report from 1991. (I have had the necropsies analyzed by Dr. Jon Zern, a veterinarian, and will post his analysis in a separate post tomorrow morning).

Since these documents are all finally available thanks to Russ and his persistence, I have asked him for his thoughts on their significance. Here’s what he has to say:

The documents I obtained from National Marine Fisheries  Service (NMFS) after many years of requests and searching are going to be made public here for the first time. These documents are a wealth of information concerning marine mammals in captivity. The one thing that stands out to me is how Sealand, Sea World and the Canadian government all seemed to work together to mislead the National Marine Fisheries Service concerning a medical emergency at Sealand and the orca Tillicum, that did not exist. Yes, the animals were in a very bad situation created by a bunch of dumb people more interested in money than how the animals were treated and cared for. But there was no true medical emergency.

Before Tillicum killed the female trainer (Keltie Byrne) at Sealand there was no medical emergency, and suddenly after he killed her there was this medical emergency that everybody in the captive industry suddenly became aware of. My question is: why did this medical emergency only surface after he killed her, not before?

That in itself is very suspicious and proves to me that this was all about getting Tillicum–a sorely needed breeder–to Sea World no matter what they had to do or say.  Veterinarians of captive facilities and those beholden to the dolphin captivity industry wrote letters saying if he wasn’t moved to Sea World immediately he was going to die. This was a set up. SeaWorld, Sealand and the Canadian government said exactly what they needed to say to mislead NMFS into issuing the permit for the emergency transport. This shows me the permitting process at NMFS is broken and archaic and does not truly protect marine mammals as the Marine Mammal Protection Act mandates. This shows me the Marine Mammal Protection Act at this point in time is the Marine Mammal Facility Protection Act. In the coming days I will be asking NMFS and The Marine Mammal Commission to ask Congress for a full program review of the permitting process for the import and export of marine mammals to and from the United States.

These documents were kept secret for too long. That’s a problem. When we get so far downstream from any incident it becomes old news and seems to be ignored. That seems to be why the captivity industry lobbies government agencies and other captive facilities to make sure this sort of information doesn’t come to light at the appropriate time. These documents have spent 22 years waiting to be discovered by the public. It’s a lot of reading so go through them and see what you can find. Please contact me if you need any assistance please contact me at captivitykills@Comcast.net.

Russ Rector

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.

TiliLeaks: Tilikum’s Traumatic Final Weeks At Sealand

Screen Shot 2014-07-23 at 12.14.51 PM

I’ve got a new post up at The Dodo, examining the set of documents from activist Russ Rector’s FOIA haul that relate to SeaWorld’s application to move Tilikum from Sealand to SeaWorld in January 1992 on an emergency basis. The documents (and some additional commentary I solicited from Steve Huxter, who managed SeaWorld’s killer whales at the time) add many troubling details to what we know about Tilikum’s sad experience at Sealand–most notably that before he was shipped to SeaWorld he was confined to Sealand’s tiny module for 17 days, with a noticeable impact on his health and mental attitude.

From the post, here is how Steve Huxter described what he observed:

In all his years at Sealand, I had never seen [Tilikum] so immobile in the module; he was listless at the surface all of the time. He floated for hours on the surface at the gate and facing the pool that held Haida, her calf, and Nootka. He seldom moved around and primarily only when he was offered food. For the first few days he ate well but his appetite seemed to fade and  there were times when we would give him food and he would simply let it slide out of his mouth and let it sink to the bottom of the module pool.

Read the full Dodo post here. I’ve embedded the full set of documents below, or you can read them here. They are worth reviewing because they contain lots of additional information about SeaWorld, Sealand and Tilikum.

The Tili Files: SeaWorld’s Permit Application For Tilikum Reveals Complacency

Screen Shot 2014-07-16 at 5.18.11 PM

After years of persistent FOIA appeals, dolphin advocate Russ Rector has managed the very worthwhile feat of getting NOAA to release more than 1000 pages of documents related to SeaWorld’s purchase of Tilikum, Haida, and Nootka from Sealand Of The Pacific. I am going through them and posting some of the details and insights that the documents contain.

My first post, about the back and forth SeaWorld and NOAA had over how SeaWorld planned to deal with the fact that the three killer whales it was purchasing from Sealand had killed a trainer, is up at The Dodo.

SeaWorld’s take on whether Tilikum, Haida and Nootka’s behavior was normal, and whether SeaWorld was set to handle the three whales in the aftermath of Keltie Byrne’s death, doesn’t look so great in light of what followed with Tilikum’s life at SeaWorld. NOAA, which gets credit for pressing SeaWorld on the question of how it might deal with killer whales that had killed, was clearly not that impressed by SeaWorld’s complacency. Nevertheless, they ended up granting the permit.

You can download the full set of permit-related documents here, and I’ve also embedded them below: