Archive | February 2012

My favorite Whale Keet has moved to San Diego


Giving Keet a hug back in 2008 was one of the best memories I have of working with animals during my SeaWorld camp years.

I got to work with Keet during a three day Advanced Specialization program at SeaWorld San Antonio back in 2008. During that three day perid, I got to learn about what it takes to be an orca trainer, how orcas are trained and cared for at SeaWorld, and interacted with them, including Keet. It was a very special time indeed and I hope I get the chance to work with Keet again one day.

As all of you may know, Keet, a 19-year-old orca has moved to SeaWorld San Diego from his native San Antonio, Texas and his transfer went very well as I have heard. Born to Kalina* and Kotar in Texas in 1993, Keet has lived in San Diego before before he was moved back to Texas in 2004 where he would be seen hanging either by himself or with his aunt Unna and half-brother Tuar. While there are rumors suggesting a possible pregnancy was the reason behind his move, according to SeaWorld officials, Keet was moved to enhanced his social needs and since the move, he has been eating and doing well. Currently, he has been paired with Corky, an elderly killer whale who first adopted him when he first moved to San Diego in 1999. Eventually, Keet will be integrated back into the SeaWorld San Diego orca pod if all continues to go well.

 

Maybe someday, I can give you a fish again Keet just I did back in 08'.

So far, Keet has been paired with Corky by the trainers. The ultimate goal is to have Keet fully integrated back into the SWC pod. (Photo by SeaWorld San Diego).

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Help Wanted: Looking for Zoo and Aquarium Professionals to Interview


Any one who works with animals interested in doing an interview? (photo of trainer scuba diving with a dolphin at SeaWorld San Diego is by SeaWorld).

Hey everyone,
I’m looking for any zoo or aquarium professional who I can interview for my next blog entry which will focus on them and their career. If you or someone you know works as a zoo or aquarium professional and would loved to interviewed for “The Winter Dolphin Chronicles”, feel free to email me at Animaltrainer104@aol.com and I will come up with a series of questions. Professions can include:
*Animal Training
*Zookeeping
*Marine Biology
*Zoology
* Veterinary Science
*Wildlife Rehabilitation
*Animal Care and Husbandry
*Wildlife Education
Keep in mind that all questions that I’ll ask will all focus on your field and your take on the animals as you know them and how you are inspiring others to love and care about animals. I will greatly take interview more than one person and all I just is need out of this interview is just being yourself and opening up about the profession while inspiring others at the same time.

Thank you all for taking your time and have a great evening everyone,
~Jenna~

How to Feed and Enrich an Otter


A captive Asian small-clawed otter catches a live fish in it's exhibit at SeaWorld San Antonio on August 11th, 2010. Photo was taken by yours truly.

One time, when I went to camp at SeaWorld in San Antonio, Texas, I went into the lake where the ski stadium is located with my camp group to collected some freshwater fish that would help feed the small-clawed otters in their exhibit. As a group, we would round the fish up by walking behind them before putting a net in the water to catch them.  The fish, which are taken alive from the lake, are then taken into the animal care department before they are placed into the otter exhibit to serve as both food and enrichment to the otters. This is because in the wild, hunt food by using their vibrissae to detect movements of prey in the water. They use their forepaws to locate and capture items rather than their mouth. To recreate that behavior, animal care staff at SeaWorld San Antonio acutally catches fish from lake where the ski stadium is located and bring the live fish to animal care where they are prepared to be brought to otter exhibit. For the otters on exhibit, the live fish in their exhibit is not only a form of a feeding session performed by their caretakers, but, it is also an enrichment session for them too. However, if a trainer is training them, it’s a good idea to start with a large enrichment item first because then, they would be much more responsive to training afterwards.

This small-clawed otter gives a recyclable object for it's trainer during a show at SeaWorld San Antonio on August 12th, 2010.

More Orca FAQs


While resident orcas will remain in the same pod for life, this is not the case for transient orcas. Photo of orcas Unna, Kyuqout and Tuar was taken on July 24th, 2008 by yours truly.

Hello everyone,

In response I got from Yovani Valdes regarding my first blog entry that was about frequently asked questions about orcas, I decided to add a sequal to that blog entry. This entry is all based off six of seven questions that were asked by Yovani and the one other question that I have found on yahoo.com.

1. How are new pods formed?

Females will begin to branch off from from their birth pods when they start having calves of their own. From there on, they will eventually start new lines of their own even though they will continue to travel closely with their mothers and other family members.

2. How large can pods get?

Orca pod sizes can range from two to forty animals.

3. What’s a transient pod?

Most transient orcas may have short term associations with other pods from time to time. Photo by National Geographic.

Transient orca pods are small loosely-based social structures that may consist of an adult female and two or three of her offspring. However, while the eldest male calf will remain with the mother for life, the other calves must leave her. Transient calves will leave their mother’s pod at around 5-12 years. Females have been known to travel with other transient animals who they may or may not be related too while males will travel with one group after another for time to time. However, the only exception to this rule is if female offspring fail to produce any offspring of her own and will remain with the mother for life.

4. What are the intervals between births?

Born year around, killer whale calves may nurse from their mothers for up to two years. Photo of Katina with her son Makaio was by taken by yours truly in July 2011.

 

Female orcas will give birth to a single calf every 3-5 years. On average, females will probably give birth to 4-6 calves during her lifetime.

5. When do they start breeding and until what age?

While female orcas will mature at around 7 to 10 years of age, it could be another six to nine years before they have their first calf. The average age for females to give birth for the first time is around 11-15 years. They become post-reproductive in their mid-forties.

6. Why do dorsal fins bend? 

There are a series of theories about why an orca's dorsal fin bends. photo is by Public Domain

Although it’s not really known why an orca’s dorsal fin bends, many believe that gravity may have something to do with it. For example,  when orcas dive under water, the surrounding water helps support the dorsal fin which is made of nothing more than muscle and connective tissues. Also, orcas who spend most of their time at the surface with their fins protruding out of the water has greater chances of flipping over on a long-term scale. Additionally, the collagen becomes more flexible when warm such as exposure to the sunlight. However, there are also theories about collapsed dorsal fins being genetic (there there’s evidence to support that too).  Yet because the dorsal fins of male orcas can grow up to six feet tall, the height of the fins may have a great tendency for the fins to naturally collapse or become wavy over time. However, it must be reminded that neither the shape or droop of a whale’s dorsal fin are not indicators of an orca’s health, or well-being.

If you have anymore questions about orcas and other marine mammals, feel free to email me at Animaltrainer104@aol.com

Hope you all have a great weekend everyone,

~Jenna~

Right Whale Tale(s)


A female North Atlantic Right Whale swimming in a Provincetown Harbor in 2004.

Since the movie Big Miracle, a film that’s a about a grey whale rescue in Alaska is out in theaters, I thought to commemorate it by sharing with you two whale watch experiences I had with the endangered North Atlantic right whale. These encounters occurred in 2004 and 2010. 

The first encounter with a wild right whale took place in October 2004. I was 12 at the time and whale watch boat that my family and I were aboard on was just leaving the harbor to see some whales in the Stellwagen’s Bank National Marine Sanctuary which was 10 miles off of Cape Cod. About just a minute into leaving the harbor, the naturalist unexpectedly stopped the boat about 500 yards out of port; it was then, he announced that there were right whales in the harbor. He then went on to talk about the right whales when suddenly, two right whales, a mother and her calf surfaced about 150 yards from our boat and believe me, it was such a site to see. However, just as we were all enjoying the right whales swimming by the boat, two jet skiers passed by the boat and they were too close to the whales and just to make matters worse, the jet skiers were skiing to fast in the harbor. As a result, the horrified naturalist warned them that he would report them if they slowed down and stayed 300 yards away from the whales, but the skiers kept on ignoring the naturalist before he finally called the coast guard on them. That was such an unexpected day because normally, you will not find right whales swimming in harbors but rather like 10-30 miles offshore if you’re lucky.

Then about almost two years ago in March 2010, my mother and I went down to coastal town of Provincetown, Massachusetts for Easter weekend in hopes that we to try out some land-based whale watching and see some whales. One the first evening we were there, we were at Herring Cove Beach when three North Atlantic right whales were sighted just five and a half miles offshore. Although they were far away, but you were able to see them up-close via, binoculars. Just to make things more interesting, I witnessed a young right whale calf learning how to breach from her mother and “auntie”. One of the two adult animals would breach first before the calf would repeat the behavior over and over again. It was such a precious moment to watch a whale calf learn from her mother.

These two right whale encounters were just amazing and far beyond my wildest imaginations. I hope that the next time I go whale watch, I get to see some right whales again.

Have a whale of a Valentine’s Day everyone,

~Jenna~

Orca FAQs


Trua is a six-year-old male killer whale, or orca who resides at SeaWorld in Orlando.

Hello there everyone, sorry I was not able to blog for a while. This was because I have been busy with school and homework and it has been slowing me down lately. However, since I know a lot of people who regularly visit my blog are big time orca lovers like myself, I have come up with some FAQ’s that I have been asked by a few people regarding killer whales.

  1. What’s a killer whale’s social life life?                                                                                                                                                                     Orcas live in groups known as “Pods” which can consist of anywhere from 2 or more animals. Many of these pods are matrilineal and are led by an older female known as a matriarch.  The matriarch, her siblings, their offspring, her offspring, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren all belong to the same pod. Because these matrilineal pods are stable for a long period of time, all pod members may contribute to calf rearing and ensuring that calves survive their first few years of life and learn all the ways of the pod.  While this is very common among resident orcas, this is not always true for transients in which pods may involve females leaving their birth pods to form their own pods and forming short term association with non-related breeding males. Meanwhile, their brothers are known to travel either alone or form short-term associations with other males. Overall in most pods, both male and female offspring will stay with their birth pods for life.
     2.  How to killer whales hunt their prey?
         While it’s well known that resident and offshore killer whales feed on fish, squid, sharks, and rays and transients feed on sea birds          and marine mammals, every orca population has it’s own prey and hunting techniques regarding how to catch it. For example, killer whales in Norway have been known to consolidate and maintain tight balls of herring by rounding huge schools into a large ball before taking turns slicing through it. Meanwhile, orca populations in New Zealand have been known to catch stingrays by first sinking themselves to the bottom by blowing out air trough their blowholes before picking up the rays by their stingers (which leaves them immobilized and thus not being able to sting the orcas). In Argentina, transient orcas have been known to catch seals and sea lions by beaching themselves on the beach before catching and dragging them into the water. However, transient and offshore orca populations off the coast of California have been known to use cooperative hunting in order to harass large animals like sharks and baleen whales.
 3. Why do some killer whales have worn down teeth?
     The reason why some killer whales have worn down teeth is the result of the long term effects on their diet. For example, offshore orcas off the coast of California are known to have worn down teeth as a result of feeding on sharks and feeding on certain species of fish. As a result, the teeth will start to naturally wear down over time due to the rough skins of sharks and other fish species they may feed on. However, some transient and resident orca populations in the North Atlantic have been known to posses worn-down teeth too, just like their some of their captive counter parts.
4.  Is it true that all killer whale pods have their own calls?
     Yes they do. In fact, these calls may range from 0.5 to 25 kHz with the peak energy of 1 to 6 kHz and orca experts believe that various calls function when it comes to group recognition and coordination behavior. However, individual pod members share the same or similar dialects as the other members of their pods. While researchers believe that that is some type of structure to the calls, the dialects are not the same as languages. While dialects vary from one population to another, each pod has their own dialect “accent” that allows researchers to determine which pod may be in the area by listening to clips of their vocalizations. Whales learn the calls and dialects of their pods from their mothers during their first year of life. Yet, while researchers have been studying killer whales  for almost four decades, little is known about how their communication system works.
5.  How long can a killer whale live?
While there are reports of a very few orcas living into their eighties, the average lifespan is no more than 60 years. The average lifespan for males is around 30 to 35 years while their female counterparts may live around 45 to 55 years. This is likely due to the child rearing roles females play in orca society.
6. Why do orcas perform the various surface behaviors that can normally be seen at SeaWorld killer whale shows?

Katina the killer whale breaches during a killer whale show at SeaWorld

While some researchers believe that certain surface behaviors may be some sort of sign that they might be communicating with other animals, some believe that it could be a display of playfulness, aggression mating call, or a navigational purpose. These behaviors may include, breaching, sharking, pec slap, and spy hopping. However, the full purpose behind the behaviors are not fully understood.

If you have any more questions regarding orcas, feel free to email me at Animaltrainer104@aol.com and have a great evening everyone.
~Jenna~