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Seal Tale


Fur seals Cordova and Issac are two of the New England Aquarium's seven northern fur seals that resude at it's New Balance Foundation Marine Mammal Center exhibit along with two female California sea lions.

It was a cold Sunday Morning in Boston on February 28, 2010 and my mother took me to the New England Aquarium so that I could do a “Trainer for a Morning” program. In this program, I could work along with the trainers during training sessions with fur seals and harbor seals. I was very excitedabout spending time with the animals and looking forward to every moment with them. When my mother and I arrived at the main entrance, it was crowded with both couples and families who came to the aquarium to see all of the animals that lived there. As I was waiting for the trainer to take me in for the daily session, I could not stop thinking about some of the activities I was going to do that involved animals. As I waited for my session to begin, It was just beginning to dawn on me on why marine mammal training is very important.

New England Aquarium's New Balance Foundation Marine Mammal Center.

It was about 9:02 AM and a male trainer has arrived at the main entrance to take me in for the daily session. The trainer’s name was Justin and I had met him before almost two years early.At the time, I was doing a job shadow for my high school sophomore economics class. Seeing Justin again was great and was looking forward to spending the morning with him and the seals. So, after meeting Justin in the main entrance, we went into the aquarium. There, we met up with another seal trainer named Patty and off we went into the New Balance Foundation Marine Mammal Center, anopen-air exhibit that housed fur seals (as of 2011, this exhibit now includes two juvenile female California sea lions who were rescued off the coast of California).
When I got to the Marine Mammal Center, I was just very impressed with how well-complex it was. The pool was partially shallow, and yet, it was large and wide enough for up to 10 seals to call it home. As I walked on to wooden platform, two fur seals named Issac and Cordova swam near the platform like they were being very curious about us. Cordova would constantly yell like a man as if she was saying hello to everyone. Erin told me a story about the time when Cordova was yelling so loud,that someone thought there was a crime going on the Aquarium so, they called the police. When the police did arrive, however, it turned out that there was no crime going on and it was just Cordova’s vocals that triggered the false alarm. Her Seattle Aquarium-born friend Issac, on the other hand, was a quiet and yet,a mischievous seal who is known for his fine-tune behaviors such as a head shake, his purr-like vocalizations, and sticking his tongue-out to the crowd. Cordova and Issac were two of five northern fur seals to call the New England Aquarium home.

Cordova is a very estudious fur seal when it comes to doing interactions and training sessions.

The same time I was introduced to the seals was when the training session began. The session consisted of trainers interacting with the fur seals by doing various activities with them that were all based on their different needs. Just watching the seals interact with their trainers was such a sight to see. Erin had me use a target pole for Cordova. From the moment she got on the platform after Erin gave her the signal, Cordova mastered aiming at the target not just one, but twice. It was like she knew her stuff. For example, if you had the target on your hands, Cordova will come to you right away. She was pretty studious for a seal who loves to vocal. Issac, however was not quite sure about the target. But, after only a few seconds, he simply placed his nose on the target and got it right. I guess it took a little bit of encouragement to find his inner studious-side. Soon after that, Cordova gave me a kiss on the nose that lasted for an estimated ten seconds. That was such a fun session with the fur seals.The session lasted for about an hour.

This chart is a record of how much food should the seals eat depending on their health, age, gender, and weight. Each diet plan is set up to meet each animal's need.

Following my training session with Cordova and Issac, Justin brought me into the fish room where I learned about how the diets are set up for the animals. For example, the harbor seals will feed on mainly herring and caplin while the fur seals will feed on a combination of both fish and squid. Each diet was set up to meet each animal’s needs depending on their health, age, and gender. After talking a little bit about the food preparations, Justin asked me if I would like to add some vitamins into the gills of the fish and I did not hesitate to say“yes”. This is because in all of my years I have gotten to work with animals, I have had a chance at preparing diets for them. So, I got myself some gloves and started to add the vitamins into the gills of the fish. The vitamins are used to held the animals get their nutrients while keeping them healthy at the same time. It took an hour to fill all the fish with vitamins; but, it was all worth it because part of a trainer’s job is to prepare the diets for all of their animals.

After doing some food prep for the seals, Patty called me over to make some enrichment toys for the seals. Enrichment is the act of providing stimulating and challenging environments, toys, and activities for animals in zoological facilities. This is very critical to the animal’s well-being as having their own right to both food and medical care. It also promotes animals to perform their natural behaviors that they would normally do out in the wild like diving and exploring while it keeps them both mentally and physically fit. The seal enrichment was made of soft, long ribbons, fish, ice, water, and pet toys. I would decorate the pet toys by stringing up the large ribbons into each hole. For some of the toys, I would just simply tie a single knot at the sides. While I was making toys for the seals, I was beginning to picture how the seals would react to the toys the next time the seals have another enrichment session with the trainers. I would think that maybe the seals might be curious about them before starting to play around with them. After I got the last toy all decorated with ribbons, Patty called me over to the freezer where the toys that were already made were stored for the next session. That was when, we made our way to the harbor seal, which was outside of the building.

Smoke just loved the toys I had to ffer to her. She just had a ball with them.

As we made our way to the harbor seal exhibit for the play session, I could not stop thinking about the reactions the harbor seals would have the moment they first see the toys. The session was consisted of two attempts. The first attempted was to do the play session through the exhibit’s glass windows. This is in which the window to the seal exhibit and would allow us to drop the frozen enrichment into the water without having to sit on the platform. However, after about five minutes and with the large of visitors watching on, the seals showed no interest in coming towards the window to play with the enrichment. So, we pulled it out and decided to perform our second attempt, which was to do it within the exhibit. As I laid down on a soft black mat, I tossed the enrichment into the water in hopes the harbor seals would show signs of being interested. Then, all of the sudden, Amelia, one of Aquarium’s seven harbor seals came close to the enrichment and began to play with it. For several minutes, Amelia would attempt to get the fish out of the icy block by sticking her teeth to ice as if she was trying to grab on. Then, an elderly seal named Smoke began to play with the ice block. As the ice began to melt, she and Amelia would attempt to grab on to the enrichment and by the time it melted away, both females had a few bites of the fish and no longer showed any interest in the enrichment. After the play session was over, Erin brought over a male harbor seal named Ragaee for a quick hands-on session. I got the chance to feel his wet fur by rubbing his stomach. His fur felt so wet and slimy. Then, I leaned down once more to get a nice big kiss from Ragaee. It was such a nice kiss on the face that, I jokingly exclaimed that I would never want to wash my face again because the moment to me, was very special. Soon after that, our my session with the seals was over and believe me, it was the best morning ever. I felt like that I had a great experience with all of the animals at the Aquarium on that cold February morning. It was such a great day at the aquarium and I would love to visit again.

In the end, when I think of that day, I begin to think about how and why working with marine mammals in captivity is very important. First and foremost, one of the main goals of marine mammal training is to promote animal husbandry. This concept focuses on medical methods and practices that are used to monitor the health of captive animals. Trainers have structured routines that would allowthem to maintain animal health through observation and medical examination. Secondly, another purpose for marine mammal training is to promote physical and mental stimulation. When animals do physical training sessions for at lest three times a day, they are getting exercise out of these sessions and it keeps them both in fit and healthy throughout their lives. Finally, one of the main reasons why marine mammal training is important is because researchers are just beginning to understand both the needs and capabilities of marine mammals and other marine life we all share this planet with. By observing and communicating with them, both researchers and trainers alike are understanding the secret lives of these amazing animals by understanding how they think and adapt in this ever changing world. Marine mammal training has it’s benefits for the animals and the people who learn and care about them each day that may help those who study them find a way to one day protect their wild counterparts for generations to come.

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Making More than Just a Memory: An Article by the AMMPA (Alliance for Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums)


Each year, millions of children, such as Katrina Simpkins of Indiana, patronize zoos and aquariums like Clearwater Marine Aquarium. (Photo by Katrina Simpkins).

National Poll Finds Accredited Marine Parks, Aquariums and Zoos Best Places for Children to Learn About, Connect with Marine Mammals. Children have a natural curiosity about dolphins, whales and other marine mammals. The best way for parents to encourage this interest – and to inspire a lifelong passion for wildlife conservation – is to log kids off the computer and visit an accredited marine park, aquarium or zoo, where learning best happens. That’s according to a new national public opinion poll that says the public strongly believes seeing and experiencing live animals is the best way for children to learn about marine mammals. Released today by the Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums, the survey of more than 1,000 adults found that97 percent of people agree that marine life parks, aquariums and zoos are important because they educate children about marine mammals–animals that children might not have the opportunity to see in the wild.

Ninety-four percent of those polled agree that children are more likely to be concerned about animals if they learn about them at marine life parks, aquariums and zoos, and that visiting these facilities can inspire conservation action that can help marine mammals and their ocean environments. The poll, conducted by Harris Interactive®, also found that 94 percent of people agree that zoological parks and aquariums offer valuable information about the importance of oceans, bodies of water and the animals that live there. Parks provide important interactions that are a critical first step in promoting kids to take action to help animals and their habitats,”said Marilee Menard, executive director of the Alliance.

Additionally, the poll found that 89 percent agree that children learn more about marine mammals at an aquarium or zoo than in a school classroom, and 88 percent agree that you can learn about animals at marine parks in a way that can’t be replicated by watching film or TV programs. Some 91 percent agree that seeing a marine mammal at these facilities fosters a connection to the animal. When children – and adults – see and experience the excitement of being close to marine mammals such as whales, dolphins, and sea lions, it resonates in ways that even the most vividly illustrated book or video cannot. It is an emotionally enriching experience that fosters a sense of caring for these animals and their ocean environments,” said Menard, whose Alliance membership represents 48 accredited facilities that account for the greatest body of experience and knowledge about marine mammal care and husbandry in the world.
Other findings from the new public attitude survey include:

• 40 percent of Americans (about 125 million people) have visited a marine park, aquarium or zoo in the last 12 months, including 56 percent of households with children (about 20 million households).

• 94 percent believe the people who care for the animals at marine life parks,aquariums and zoos are committed to the welfare of the animals.

• 7 percent (ages 18-24) would be interested in swimming with dolphins.

• 93 percent believe that many of the successes to save endangered or declining species are at least in part a result of work done in marine life parks, aquariums and zoos.
90 percent agree that species in the wild benefit when their biology and physiology is studied in marine life parks, aquariums and zoos.

•90 percent believe that interacting with dolphins in a marine life park, aquarium or zoo offers people a deeper understanding and appreciation of this mammal.

We pride ourselves on providing an educational and enjoyable experience for families,” Menard said. “Professionals at Alliance member institutions work every day to inspire guests of all ages to share their commitment to marine mammals, the need to protect them in the wild and to conserve ocean habitats.”

Methodology: 

Harris Interactive® conducted the study online on behalf of the Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums between Aug. 29 and Sept. 6, 2011 among a nationally representative quantitative survey of 1,011 U.S. adults ages 18 and over. The data were weighted where necessary to be representative of the total U.S. adult population on the basis of age, sex, race/ethnicity, education,region and household income. The propensity score weighting was also used to adjust for respondents’ propensity to be online.

The Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums is an international association of marine life parks, aquariums, zoos, research facilities, and professional organizations dedicated to the highest standards of care for marine mammals and to their conservation in the wild through public education, scientific study, and wildlife presentations.

A very special thanks to Lindsey Lucenta for providing this article which was written by the Alliance for Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums. Thanks again Lindsey.

~Jenna~

Marine Mammal Husbandry


The purpose of animal husbandry on marine mammals including cetaceans, like Panama is to monitor their health and ensure that they are healthy.

Animal husbandry incorporates all methods and practices used to monitor the health of all marine mammals in human care. Trainers, animal care staff, and veterinarians employ structured routines to monitor and maintain the health of all animals in their care through daily medical examinations and constant observation. All work with the animals is then recorded on computers and charts for both easy reference and long-term tracking. Husbandry procedures include exhaling, obtaining fecal and urine samples, blood testing, and ultrasound and the goal of these procedures is to ensure the animal remains healthy in a zoological setting.

1. Exhaling

Naku shows us how exhaling can help monitor a whale or dolphin's respiratory health.

An exhale is when a trainer asks a whale or dolphin to give them a strong blow from their blowhole in order to obtain blow samples that will later be tested by veterinarians to determine their respiratory health.

2. Hydration (cetaceans)

Hydration helps prevents cetaceans from developing kidney problems. (photo by the Kohala Center of Hawaii)

Hydration is a procedure done to keep a whale or dolphin hydrated by carefully inserting a clean tube down the animal’s throat. This is because unlike humans, dolphins do not have a gag reflex which can make the procedure pretty easy for the trainers. A funnel that contains fresh water is connected to the tube.

3. Blood Testing

Many captive marine mammals are trained to voluntary present their tail flukes (cetaceans and manatees) and flippers (seals, walruses, and sea lions) for blood sampling. (Photo by SeaWorld)

One of the best ways to determine animal health is by taking a blood sample from animals in human care. When blood is taken, a marine mammal is asked to voluntary present either it’s tail fluke, or flipper. In cetaceans, the animal lays in a vertical position with pressure being applied to the tail flukes. When the blood is being drawn, it’s drawn the from the major vessel running along the underside of the fluke. In most seals, and sea lions, the blood is drawn from their flippers while remaining still. The blood sample is then taken to a lab where it would be tested to determine illness.

4. Urine/Fecal Sample

Urine and fecal samples are used to determine eating pattern and hormone levels.(photo is public domain).

In order to collect urine or fecal samples, the trainer must first clean the animal’s urogenital opening with an antiseptic gauze pad before placing the cup into a position that would be easy to catch either urine or fecal and apply pressure on the bladder or anus carefully with the palm of the trainer’s hand. The animal then fills the cub.  The samples are then used to determine an animals’s eating pattern (feces), or to determine if an animal is either pregnant or ready to breed.

5. Milking

Milk samples from nursing animal mothers can help veterinarians check for hormone changes and study ratios of protein, fat, and carbohydrates. (Photo by Zooborns.com).

Milking is when the mammary glands of a marine mammal is attached to a breast pump by having the animal voluntary lay in a haul-out position. Although the samples are mainly used for research purposes, they are also used to hand-rear baby animals that have been either rejected by their mothers or their mothers had died shortly after birth.

6. Sunscreening

During her rehabilitation, Winter was given sunscreen lotion to prevent her from getting sunburn as a result of the hot Florida sun. (Screenshot from 'Winter: The Dolphin That Could" DVD).

In the wild, dolphins that spend most of their time resting on the surface of the water would be more likely to develop serious skin problems from years of exposure to the sun. In zoological facilities however, cetaceans receive sunscreen that can be applied to their melon and other external parts of the body to prevent sunburns. At some facilities like SeaWorld, a sprinkler is provided to keep the skins of marine mammals cool damped during the hottest days of the year.

7. Semen Collection

It takes months of training to successfully train cetaceans such as Ulises the killer whale for semen collection. (Photo is public domain).

Semen collecting is the method of obtaining semen from a breeding male for the purposes of research and to one day artificially inseminate breeding females without ever having to transfer the males to other facilities for breeding loans. During this procedure, when the male sees a small plastic bag, he will voluntary roll over and present his penis before admitting semen samples to the trainer.

8. Body Measuring

Every two to four weeks, marine mammals such as manatees, are always measured to determine their body length and height. (Photo by ABC Animal Training.)

The most common husbandry practice at marine zoological facilities, body measuring is a procedure that measures the physical growth of an animal. The animal may lay either vertical or dorsal-up while trainers or keepers use a measuring tape to measure their length and girth. In cetaceans, some of these measurements may include the dorsal fin, tail flukes, and pectoral fins while sea lions and seals may only have to include the flippers.

9. Weighting by Slide Out

Slide outs are very helpful when it comes to recording an animal's weight. (Photo is public domain).

Slide outs are used to weight an animal using a flat, low-laying electronic scale. This procedure requires the animal to slide on top of the scale and lay still for just a few seconds while it’s being weighted. The scale shows how much an animal weights and can determine if that weight is healthy or not.

10. Tooth Care

A harbor seal is getting it's teeth cleaned by it's trainer during a husbandry session. (Photo is public domain).

Dental procedures are very important when it comes to caring for marine mammals in captivity. About several times a day, trainers swap, and brush the teeth of marine mammals to prevent possible tooth infections that would otherwise cause life-threatening illnesses to the animals. The teeth are then flushed with water after the teeth are bushed. However, if a tooth is infected, then a veterinarian will be required to perform an x-ray exam to determine how bad the infection is before deciding on where to go from there (a tooth cannot be surgically amputated unless it’s proven to be seriously infected and it’s at all means to save an animal’s life).

11. Eye Dropping

eye drops are used to treat and prevent eye problems in pinnipeds. (Photo by SeaWorld).

In pinnipeds such as sea lions and seals, eye problems are very common. While their eyes have evolved for seeing well underwater, it’s not known why they develop eye problem such as blindness, and cataract. In human care however, such problems can either be treated or prevented with the use of eye drops. A small drop of this medicine is carefully inserted into the pupil and allow it to sit and the medicine will absorb into the entire eye after several minutes.

12. Ultrasound

Many animals such as killer whales and dolphins are trained to hold still and relax during ultrasound exams. (Photo by SeaWorld).

Another valuable tool in animal husbandry is the use of an ultrasound. This procedure allows veterinarians to scan the animals for internal anatomy images. It’s also very useful to establish norms for individual animals  so that if some sort of change does occur, such as possible illness, treatment can occur instantly. Ultrasound is also used to detect pregnancy and monitor fetal health as well as determine the optimum time for mating females.

No training session nor husbandry procedure is ever forced.

It must be reminded that none of these husbandry procedures are forced and are all voluntary by the animals themselves. Each and everyone of the animals that are in human care are trained with the same tools along with other behaviors.

I hope you all find this list of husbandry procedures to be a helpful resource.

~Jenna~

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).

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.

Of Whales and Man: The Story of Whale Trainer John J.Hargrove


I got to meet John for the first time in August 2010 during a camp session at SeaWorld San Antonio.

John. J Hargrove is a killer whale trainer at SeaWorld San Antonio who I first met in August 2010 during a camp that I attended at the time. There, John shared with us his story of how he got started in working with killer whales before going on to share some stories about his experience working with these large marine mammals. He has been working with killer whales at SeaWorld parks in California and Texas, and Marine Land in France for the past eighteen years. His intellect and life story is a very interesting case of how one person’s passion for animals and the sea can sometimes result into a life-long career of working with them over a long period of time. John’s story is very unique because not only does it focuses on the life story of a boy from Orange, Texas who grew up to be one of the world’s most influential whale trainers, but also, a story about how he has grown to love and appreciate the animals he works with everyday.

John interacts with Corky in this undated photo taken at SeaWorld San Diego (photo by John Hargrove)

Growing up in Orange, Texas, John has always loved animals since childhood. At the age of six, he was captivated by a killer whale show at SeaWorld and it was then, he decided that he wanted to one day work with these animals as a trainer. John now had his heart set on wanting to become a marine mammal trainer, that at the tender age of twelve, he wrote a letter to SeaWorld for the first time and it later answered by Don Blasko, a SeaWorld trainer at the time. While John has loved animals all his life, it was mother who inspired him. She would show him how to love and respect animals by taking in homeless animals and making them part of their family. Just to make matters a little more interesting, John developed a strong fascination with water after his mother almost drowned in a boating accident when he was still young which was very strange for someone who nearly lost a parent in a traumatic accident. After graduating from high school and college several years later, John began to work at SeaWorld San Diego in 1993. He began his SeaWorld career as an apprentice and made his way up in positions over time in the years he had been in California.

For John, working with killer whales is day that changes everyday because he, like many of the other animal trainers at marine mammal facilities get to see new things with the animals while they vary their days with their animals in order to keep them from being bored and ensuring that they would be stimulated throughout the day. He also values the relationships he has developed over the years with the whales because not only is it all built on years of love and trust, but it’s also beneficiary for the animals too. One such activity that John enjoys building these relationships in the water by performing waterworks with the killer whales. While many people would find such a practice to be risky, John on the other hand, sees waterworks as both fun and and relaxing. It also strengthens his bond with his whales and it also helps communicate how much he loves them….For him, this is known as the power of touch. In fact, it was doing waterworks for the first time is John’s proudest moment of his whale training career. His first experience doing waterworks was with a killer whale named Corky after working hard during his first few years with the large marine mammals even though he had so much yet to learn about working with killer whales in the years that would follow. As a killer whale trainer, John knows the risks of working with these large 5,000 pound animals who cannot be forced to anything and can only do behaviors voluntary. He’s also never afraid to work with these animals either because it’s truly a commitment to trust the animal and get that level of trust by knowing what he has invested the time he needed to nurture the relationship he has with his whale. Over all, it just takes time.

John, like all SeaWorld trainers know both the risks and benefits of working with killer whales like Takara (photo by John Hargrove)

Of all the whales John has worked with over the eighteen years he has worked at SeaWorld, Takara, a twenty-year-old female happens to be one of his favorite whales. He has worked with her ever since she was a calf in her native San Diego back in the 90’s. While working with all the whales has given him a higher level of understanding how whales are intelligent and display they would freely interact with both people and each other, John says that watching Takara and her mother Kasatka have, raise, and teach their calves how to understand the killer whale way of life has been a truly inspiring and educational site to watch because watching mothers raise and teach their calves in human care is show many people are able to observe killer whale behavior in ways that would be almost impossible to gain out in the wild during a field survey. To this day, John still works with Takara at her current home at SeaWorld San Antonio and will often work with her young daughter Sakari too, who often mimics her mother’s behaviors during training sessions and shows. Over the years that John has worked at SeaWorld, he has realized how not so many people think of seeing various waterworks-related stunts can be a very cool site to see. However, he does know that others who visit the park often see the practice of waterworks as being more than just an act for the killer whale shows, but a sign of an inspirational connection between man and animal and they, like John himself, can clearly see the mutual love and respect that he and his whales all have for each other. He has seen many people who watch him and his whales perform show become either unemotional or emotional when they glimpse at the site of a trainer bonding with the animal he loves and he believes that it’s because killer whales are among the most magnificent animals in the world and they do provoke a very strong emotional response from people.

Throughout his thirty-eight years of life, John has been lucky enough to have many friends and loved ones to have supported him on his journey to become a killer whale trainer and as a forever career. However, he has admitted that there were many who were a little negative and discouraging because it’s likely because in the past, there had been incidents involving killer whales accidentally hurting their trainers. Despite all of this, John has landed a successful career that has brought him to two SeaWorld parks and a marine park in France. However, the lesson he has learned is the fact that you should never be afraid at all if you are alone when it comes to following your dreams and goals and always allow your heart to lead the way.

Note: This entry is from an essay I wrote for my Human Growth and Development class on December 8th, 2011. I was very proud of this essay and how interesting it was, that I decided to share it on my blog.

Lolita The Killer Whale: Why She Can’t Be Released


Lolita spyhops out of curiosity at the Miami Seaquarium in June 2009. I will NOT talk about Lolita's tank for we all agree that it's so old and outdated, that the Seaquarium should consider building her a larger tank that's big enough for both her, her dolphin companions, and even a couple orca companions too.

In recent years, there has been a lot of argument over whether or not Lolita, a 45-year-old Killer Whale at the Miami Seaquarium, should be released back into the wild because the community of orcas where she came from has been well known to researchers since the 1970′s.   This article will talk about why Lolita is not a great candidate for release and why she would have to remain in human care for the remainder of her life even if it involves moving her to either another facility or building her a new tank.

1. Lolita has lived in captivity for 41 years and has fully trusted people.

Since 1970, Lolita has been cared for by trainers and vets at the Miami Seaquarium. Over the years, Lolita has learned to trust her trainers thanks to her possible brother/cousin Hugo, who taught her how to trust and deal with trainers as well as enjoy daily routines.  Lolita’s trainers spend their time interacting with her, especially if there’s no show going on. Trainers will spend time playing with her and the Pacific White Sided Dolphins who share her pool.  Playtime for any animal is important as it strengthens relationships and gives Lolita exercise.  She is also curious about people too. Before shows starts, Lolita will sometimes come up out of curiosity and check them out.  The only two things I do believe that Lolita really needs are a bigger and better tank and a few orca companions although she does get along with her dolphin tank mates. She has her own schedule like any SeaWorld orca too and does not find change to be reinforcing. She’s fed at 9:45 in the morning and gets a good two hours of rest and receives daily play sessions along with her dolphin companions. She is not forced to perform in any shape or form and can refuse to perform anytime. She is fed regardless of what behavior she exhibits.

2. Although Lolita’s pod is known to researchers, there is no guarantee that they would accept her a pod mate.

One anti-captivity argument is the fact that Lolita’s pod is well known to researcher.. While it is true that her birth pod, the L-25 pod has been studied by researchers for over three decades now, there is little to no guarantee that they would accept her as a legitimate member of their pod. You see, killer whales are social animals and most pods will only affiliate with whoever their parents have introduced them too such as other pods they normally travel with. When you think back with Keiko, all interactions with wild pods ended with Keiko returning to the boat were his care takers were aboard because the majority of interactions he had with them were aggressive. For the living members of the L-25 pod, Lolita would considered a stranger to them rather than another pod mate. Also, in the case of rescued juvenile orca Springer, interactions with her pod were aggressive until one of her aunts stepped in to raised her.  Most of the members of the L-25 sub pod who were alive at the time of her 1970 capture have died over the years and only two pod mates who were alive during that time are still alive. They are L-25 (Ocean Sun who was believed to have been born in 1928) and her supposed sister L-12 (Alexis who is believed to have been born in 1933) and both animals have been argued to have possibly be Lolita’s birth mother. While long-time whale researcher Ken Balcomb argued in a 2003 documentary that L-12, Alexis was her mother, other activists suggests her possible sister Ocean Sun. Yet, unlike Corky, there are no known photographs of Lolita with either one of these animals that were taken prior to the 1970 Penn Cove capture. So, only DNA testing would tells us the truth.

3. Even if Lolita was moved to a sea pen, she would still be a captive animal that requires human care. 

Most activists who want to see Lolita moved to a sea pen don’t realize that by having Lolita reside at a sea pen, she would still be in captivity, except, she would reside in an enclosed area that would be surrounded by the ocean. While the pen itself would take months to build, Lolita herself would still require long-term care by zoo professionals that she currently receives at Miami Seaquarium, except, this care would be possible through public support and public funding which can only be made possible by the sea pen being opened to the public, this will help with funds needed for her care. Lolita should not be kept alone in the pen, and whoever  is operating the sea pen would be required to find a suitable companion for her because again, there’s no guarantee that her wild pod would ever recognize her a legitimate family member.

4. The Salish Sea is still under threat as a marine habitat thanks to habitat destruction, increase tourism, and pollution.

While various pollutants have been banned in the United States in the 1970′s, pollution is still threatening the Salish Sea’s marine ecosystem. For example, toxic substances accumulate in higher concentrations as they move up the food chain. As the top predator in the Pacific Northwest, Killer Whales are considered to be the most polluted marine mammals in the oceans. The toxic build up of pollution starts before birth when the mother passes these pollutants on to her offspring and later through nursing. In the Pacific Northwest, the Chinook salmon, the primary food source for Southern Resident Killer Whales is endangered due to stream-side logging, increase in agricultural development, spread of disease and competition by salmon hatcheries, and over-fishing worldwide. The lack of wild salmon has caused orcas to not have enough fat reserves that would ensure their survival during the long winter months. It has been observed that the orcas of Salish Sea are not fat and healthy as they should be, due to summer gorging; it causes a lot of concerns about their survival and their well-being in the coming months. The Salish Sea commonly crowded with a variety of boats coming in and out of their habitats for various reasons. During the summer months, much of the Salish Sea is busy with boat traffic and that is noise pollution. Of all the known senses of cetaceans, sound is the sense they rely on the most. With shipping, marine tourism and navy activity every increasing in the ocean, so much noise is being introduced into cetacean habitats, thus, interrupting their normal behavior, and even driving them away from feeding and breeding areas they rely on for survival. Recent studies have shown that noise pollution, especially navy sonar, has been linked to mass standings, and severe hearing damage in cetaceans. Cetaceans rely on sound to navigate, communicate with other animals, find and catch food.

5. If Lolita was released and is not accepted into a wild pod, there could be a chance that she could become a “wild-friendly cetacean”. While we may be able to teach Lolita how to hunt, we can’t teach her the ways of wild orcas, like how to avoid boats, and use sonar to navigate through murky waters. If Lolita was released and not accepted by her wild pod, her story could end like Keiko’s did; he traveled across the Atlantic Ocean alone where ended up in Norway and began interacting with boaters, and ultimately The Salish Sea is known for its summer boat traffic, a friendly Killer Whale would not be a safe Killer Whale. L98 Luna was a good example of this.  He was boat friendly and was eventually killed by the propellers of a tug boat.   If Lolita approaches boats she puts herself in danger and puts the boaters in danger. This could create a very damaging situation.  The chances of Lolita being re-captured before she is killed would be very low.

I have made my case regarding Lolita and  it’s concluded that Lolita cannot be released back into the wild but, remain in human care for the rest of her life. There’s no guarantee that releasing her would be successful and she is not an experiment, nor should be treated like one. I would suggests that she should be given either a bigger tank that would be large enough to house her and her dolphin companions with the possibility of one day acquiring another Killer Whale companion or be moved to a SeaWorld park where she could at least be around other orcas. However, there is little chance to no chance of her ever being moved to another facility because Lolita does not like change.

Big thanks to Nicole Perkins for editing this blog entry in hopes convince activists that Lolita is not a great candidate for release. Thanks again Nicole, your help was great one.

~Jenna~