Tag Archive | killer whales

How Pollution affects Orcas

Without further regulations that would either ban or place restrictions on the entry of pollutants in the oceans, wild orcas like Samish (J-14) would likely endure a bleak future. (Photo of Samish is by the Whale Museum's Killer Whale Adoption Program)

Around the world, killer whale populations are falling victim the effects of pollution mainly caused by man-made toxins. These toxins, which are usually made of various chemicals, are used on land often end up entering waterways through runoffs and eventually end up as pollution in the ocean. Various chemicals, such as flame retardants, industrial pollutants, oils, and pesticides have all been known to enter the oceans through waterways and they are all having a major impact on marine wildlife, including killer whales.

Because killer whales are known as the top predator of the ocean, it's very easy for pollutants to become concentrated and reach dangerous levels their bodies since these pollutants make their way through the marine food chain.

While wildlife experts agree on the fact that pollutants make their way through the marine food chain, some of them often get sorted into the body tissues of animals after they are ingested. For example, In the Pacific Northwest, the marine food chain is consisted of  zoo plankton feeding on phytoplankton, krill feeding on zoo plankton, salmon feeding on krill, and orcas (killer whales) feeding on the  salmon, which has become endangered because of pollution, over-fishing, and habitat loss. In the case of transient orcas,  dolphins, seals and sea lions feed on the salmon, while the mammal-eating transients feed on the very same marine mammals that feed on the salmon. This means that prey animals that contain toxins in their bodies pass them on to animals that are higher on the food chain and because of this, killer whales have been shown to have high and dangerous levels of concentrated pollutants in their bodies.

In the Pacific Northwest, resident killer whale populations in Washington and in British Columbia are among the most intoxicated marine mammals in that region due to not only being urban animals, but also, the salmon they depend on is also contaminated with pollutants. Research has also shown that resident orcas have 200 times more pollutants in their system in most humans do. (Photo of resident orca is public domain).

In Norway, studies on Norwegian herring-feeding killer whales have found that this population of killer whale has very high levels of PCBs. PCBs are type of industrial chemical that is used in transformers, oils, and insouciance. As a result, this makes Norwegian killer whales have the highest level of containments in high Arctic. (photo of Norwegian orca was taken by Jonathan Ball).

Studies done on the contamination levels of Pacific offshore killer whales have discovered to be very high because they are known to feed on large fish such as great white sharks, and tuna which can bio-accumulate containments over a period of a lifetime. (Photo of offshore orca is public domain).

Transient orcas, which specialize in feeding marine mammals, are more contaminated than resident orcas due to dietary differences. Their bodies are so full on toxins that when they are found dead on beaches, their remains are often treated as toxic hazardous waste when necropsies are performed on them. (Photo is public domain).

New Zealand is home to a small population of ray-feeding killer whales that have also been known to feed on certain species of sharks. In 2010, a study done by Dr.Ingrid Visser of the Orca Research Trust of New Zealand have shown that this population of about fewer than 200 animals are the most containment animals in the Southern Hemisphere. This could also be due to the fact that the mammals are mainly seen in harbors where such containments can mainly be found. (Photo of wild orca pod off the coast of New Zealand was taken by Dr. Ingrid Visser of the Orca Research Trust).

In the 1970’s, various pollutants were banned world wide because of the negative effects they posed both to humans and wildlife. Yet, many of these pollutants can still be seen in the form of containments and in various forms and it’s still to this day having a huge impact on marine wildlife, such as PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls). PCBs are a type of organic compound that has a 1 to 10 chlorine atom attached to biphenyl, which is molecule composed of two benzene rings. When PCBs are ingested, they aren’t neither metabolized nor eliminated for these fat-soluble molecules go on to accumulate in fats, such as blubber. Just to make matters worse for the killer whales, the PCBs are affecting their reproductive health too and this is because they are known to be estrogen imitators and cause low sperm count in both humans and animals alike, including killer whales. Also, out in the wild, when a killer whale calf is born, chances are, it was born with toxins that have been passed on to them by the mother through the placenta  and goes on to receive these same toxins it developed before birth by nursing on the mother’s fat-rich milk. In some cases, the calf (mainly the first-born) dies likely due to heavy exposure to toxins. However, calves the mother goes on to have after that have been known to fare better because of the mother’s toxin levels decrease over time. PCBs have also been known to cause other problems too such as cause disease and developmental problems.

What can you do to reduce pollution…..

  • Reduce, Reuse and Recycle
  • Clean garbage off a beach
  • buy organically grown food to reduce the use of pesticides
  • Use biodegradable cleaning products that are plant-based.
  • Dispose paint, thinners and motor oil to prevent them from going down the drains

If you have any questions, or comments about killer whales, please email me at Animaltrainer104@aol.com and I hope you to do your part in caring for killer whales and the oceans by reducing pollution.


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).

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,


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.

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.


Happy 6th Birthday Trua

Trua is one of the most curious killer whales at SeaWorld Orlando. He is also one of three males residing at the facility too.

Today,  November 23rd, 2011 marks Trua the killer whale’s sixth birthday. For some of you who may not know his story, Trua was born at SeaWorld in Orlando, FL on Thanksgiving in 2005 to Takara (a San Diego-born killer whale who now resides at SeaWorld Texas) and Taku*(an Orlando-born killer whale who died in 2007).   He will interact with human guests and trainers behind the glass walls and on stage as well. He can sometimes be seen playing with his half-sister Nalani, but will spend more time with his aunt Malia. Trua has been recently grouped with his grandfather Tillikum.  In the past few years, Trua has been doing various behaviors on his own and often performs in the SeaWorld killer whale show One Ocean along with the other whales.

When I went to visit SeaWorld Orlando this past summer, I was fortunate enough to catch Trua in action…..interacting with the guests at Shamu Stadium.  As the guests began to settle down at the stadium, Trua spent most of his time interacting behind the glass as if he was curious about all the crowds who were sitting down. I think he was just amusing himself over the excitement that was going on behind the glass walls and it was funny to watch too. During that time, Malia would hang out with him for a little while before swimming away from him. It’s almost like every time Trua and Malia hang out together, they remind me of two high school sweethearts.

Happy Birthday Trua, and may you continue to be the light of Shamu Stadium for years to come.


Bring Back The Waterworks at SeaWorld

Waterworks help stimulate the whales' everyday needs as well as, develop strong relationships with their trainers.

Since Dawn’s death last February, OSHA (U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration) has fined SeaWorld for “willful endangerment” of trainers who work with killer whales in SeaWorld’s animal collection by performing waterworks tasks with them. Despite being the first death in SeaWorld’s 4 decade history (though there had been similar accidents with killer whales at other marine life facilities), OSHA now wants the trainers to no longer perform waterworks with their killer whales at all. OSHA’s citations on SeaWorld is completely unfounded and reports that accompanies these citations contain numerous errors such as details and events that led up to the accident. This also includes the number of witnesses as well.  OSHA itself has failed to cite and regulate other risky professions too. I believe for OSHA, citing SeaWorld over Dawn’s death was simply a way to seek the media-grabbing political ploy by a government agency in an attempt to justify its existence. To make matters worst, OSHA staffers virtually have no experience working with captive animals.  This has been noted back with a 2006 inspection on SeaWorld San Diego following an accident that took place  there when OSHA admitted to it’s lack of expertise to properly assess the working conditions there.

Why is Waterworks important for the killer whales?

Trainers virtually know the risks of working with such large animals like killer whales. However, this is what keeps them going with what they love.

To maintain close relationships with their killer whales, SeaWorld trainers spent the majority of their work time( beside hourly observation, food prep, and regular dry-work training and husbandry sessions) being in the water with them. These in-water interactions not only helped build strong trusts between trainer and whale, but it also stimulated them. Another benefit from waterworks is that some medical examinations require both trainers and vets to have very close contact with the animals in order to take good care of them and ensure that they are healthy. Yet, upon the citation, OSHA has chosen to alter both SeaWorld operating and animal care practices in the name of “employment safety”. As a result, without close contact of any kind, the whales will suffer as indicated by the sudden death of a middle-aged killer whale named Kalina in October 2010. Many believe that this death could have been prevented if SeaWorld staff were allowed to monitor animal health based on their own animal care guidelines, which is now, under OSHA’s de-facto control. If a judge were to rule in OSHA’s favor during an up-coming hearing on the matter this month, then SeaWorld would not be the only zoological facility to suffer from this citation, other zoos and aquariums with large animals like elephants, big cats, apes, and and rhinos would suffer with SeaWorld. This would also include veterinarians, who could be prevented from properly examining domesticated animals such as cats and dogs and sick stranded marine animals such as dolphins, and sea turtles as a precedent.

Without the trainers performing in the water with the whales, attendance at SeaWorld will drop. This will not only be detrimental to the local economies, but also place financial restrictions on SeaWorld's research and rescue operations.

What do SeaWorld and other zoo and aquarium patrons, like myself want to see come out of this month’s OSHA hearing on SeaWorld….

1) Have OSHA’s citation of SeaWorld for “willful endangerment” be reversed, overturned, or overruled.

2) Pass federal legislation aimed at reforming OSHA by restricting OSHA’s ability to regulate professions that involve contact with animals.

3) Establish a waver system, in which employees whose jobs are altered by OSHA rulings could voluntarily opt-out of the ruling and continue to perform their jobs under pre-OSHA ruling conditions.

4) Launch a federal inquiry and investigation into OSHA, OSHA director David Michaels, and OSHA investigators involved in the SeaWorld citation for potential abuse of power, by singling out SeaWorld with excessive penalties.

If you want to see trainers back in the water with their killer whales:

Please sign the petition at: http://www.thepetitionsite.com/1/let-sea-world-trainers-back-in-the-water-with-killer-whales/ (Big thanks to Alberto Branado for creating this petiton)

Sample letter to write to lawmakers, ambassadors, and the president:http://www.facebook.com/note.php?note_id=10150259144778039

Learn more about benefits of waterworks with killer whales at SeaWorld through Stephanie Tracey’s interesting essay on this topic (great essay Stephanie!):  http://www.facebook.com/topic.php?uid=63617892564&topic=15980

An Orca Named Luna

Luna (L-98) was a southern resident killer whale who was known to fostering friendships with people.

Luna (L-98) was a southern resident killer whale who was born in September 1999 to mother Splash (L-67) as a member of the Southern Resident orca community. When he was first sighted by a whale watch boat, it appeared that both mother and son had some sort of disassociation from each other. Normally when killer whales give birth, other members of their pod swim by them to assist the mother in caring for newborn calves. However, in Luna’s case, there were no other whales that were nearby to help Splash care for her son. Soon afterward, Luna left his mother’s side and started following and connecting with several members of K-pod for three days. In the spring of 2000, Luna and Splash were sighted together and it appeared that they were now having a normal mother-and-calf relationship after speculation of weather of not Splash was Luna’s mother due to their multiple separations. In September of that year, Luna was sighted traveling with his birth pod for an annual migration. But in the winter of 2000/2001, Luna was not sighted with his pod and was declared “dead”. But in the fall of 2001, Luna re-appeared alone in Nootka Sound, British Colombia on the northern west coast of Vancouver Island, hundreds of kilometers away from other Southern resident orcas. At that time, members of the Mowachaht nation began to call Luna “Tsux’iit, after a deceased chief who wanted to return in the form of either an orca or a wolf after he died. To his people, Luna’s appearance, which happened four days after his death, was considered to be so symbolic that the tribe believed that the animal was his living reincarnation.

A family interacts with Luna from a small boat.

At first, Luna, like most wild orcas, avoided contact with boaters and kept his distance away from people. But, by the summer of 2002, word began to spread about a lone killer whale in Nootka Sound. At the same time, Luna was beginning to interact  boaters by nudging their boats around and spinning them around like bath-tub toys before bouncing them up-and-down by pushing on the hull. As the summer went by, Luna began to interact with people more and the interaction with boats and people were beginning serve as the companionship and physical contact he would have normally received from his mother and the rest of his pod. By September 2002, reports of boaters feeding Luna beer and potato chips. As a result,  some people who were caught in such acts were fine by the Canadian government. This was because in both the United States and Canada, it is illegal to disturb marine mammals in any shape or form. Meanwhile, Luna was beginning to show sign of minor injuries from likely collisions with small boats.  Cetaceans who lose their dear of boats are more likely to get hit by boats, which can lead to either injury or even death. Playful whales themselves, can severely damage boats and accidentally but human passengers in danger. Wildlife officials have made efforts to post signs that would educate the public to keep their boats away from Luna, but still, Luna continued to approach both boats and boaters.

There had been a huge number of efforts to relocate Luna to his Southern Resident pod, but efforts failed because of Native American opposition.

In 2004, scientists called for the beginning to start efforts to relocate him back to his birth pod. The first plan was to attempt to use a small boat and lead the animal out of Nootka Sound and into the Southern Resident pods as they were heading up to the mouth of Nootka in the early summer months. If the plan did not work out, then the second plan was to recapture Luna and have him transferred to a sea pen in Pedder Bay where he would be released back into L-pod. However, both plans were opposed by Native American tribes due to Luna’s “sacred” status. These plans were proposed by both the Canadian government and scientists at the Vancouver Aquarium. This was not the first time scientists has attempted to relocate an orphaned killer whale back to it’s pod. It has been done before and unlike Luna’s, the efforts were successful.

Springer (A-73) is currently the only known killer whale whose reintroduction into a wild pod was documented as successful.

In 2002, the Vancouver Aquarium rescued an orphan killer whale named Springer, who was left motherless after her mother died. When she was first rescued, she was in poor condition and was relocated to a sea pen for rehabilitation after months of heated debate. Like Luna, Springer had developed the habit of approaching boats and rubbing against them. Many feared that she would be at risk of getting hit by a vessel in Puget Sound, the area where she was sighted after her mother’s death. After being relocated to a sea pen, Springer was given treatment for health problems and received extra food. The following July, she was transferred to a second sea pen on Hanson Island, British Colombia. The next morning, Springer was released near her close relatives and by the following October, she was back with her birth pod. Currently, the release of Springer is currently the only known release of a killer whale to be documented as successful.

Luna's interaction with boats costed him his life.

On March 10th, 2006, Luna was hit and killed by a boat that he had grown familiar with. It’s believed that Luna went up to a tugboat to engage in playful activity before he got pulled into the blades and died. His death brought a lot of anger to people who blamed the Canadian government for not doing enough to enforce national law that would have restricted public access to him. One scientist even criticized the Canadian government for failure to take action to rescue and relocate him to his family pod. Meanwhile, Luna’s family experienced two huge losses back in the San Juan Islands. His mother Splash and younger brother Aurora (L-101) both went missing in 2008 and both animals are presumed dead. Since his death, Luna’s story has become the subject of an award winning documentary called The Whale.