Tag Archive | orcas

A Letter to Congress Concerning the Exclusion of the the John H. Prescott Grant Program


Boomerang, a young California sea lion who resides at Mystic Aquarium, was rescued by the California-based non-profit, the Marine Mammal Center. Both Mystic and Marine Mammal Center operate Prescott grant-funded rescue and rehabilitation programs.

The following post is a letter I just wrote to my congressman Charlie Bass (R-NH) about my concern over the exclusion of the John H. Prescott Grant Program from next year’s federal budget. This grant was established by NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service 12 years ago to provide government funding to marine mammal rehabilitation facilities, such as Clearwater Marine Aquarium, Mystic Aquarium, Marine Mammal Center, SeaWorld, National Aquarium in Baltimore, and Monteray Bay Aquarium in order to continue their work to rescue, rehabilitate, and release marine mammals in trouble.  

To Congressman Bass,

I am writing on behalf of marine mammal rehabilitation facilities nationwide that could suffer from budget cuts if the John H. Prescott Grant Program continues to be excluded from the 2013 federal budget. Last summer, I did an internship at the Clearwater, FL-based Clearwater Marine Aquarium and I saw the work they have put in rescuing and rehabilitating troubled dolphins, otters, and sea turtles in all hopes that they could go back into the wild someday.

Clearwater Marine Aquarium, like all other marine life facilities that specialize in marine mammal strandings and rehabilitation, coordinate with NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service and respond to over 5,000 animals each year. In response to the public demand for funding, NOAA established the John H. Prescott Grant Program in 2000 to fund the works of all these organizations which has financially sustained them for the last 12 years. Sadly, however, the Prescott funding has not been included in the 2013 funding.

Marine mammals, such as orcas, dolphins, and seals play a huge role in the marine eco system and often serve as sentential of ocean health and are often early indicators of unhealthy ocean conditions, such as the effects of oil spills, pollution, habitat loss, and the ever growing concern of climate change which has been recognized with bottlenose dolphin populations in the Gulf Coast that have been effected by the most recent oil spill.

Organizations, such as Clearwater Marine Aquarium, and the California-based Marine Mammal Center, are all funded by the Prescott Grant and serve as America’s first responders in these cases and provide the only chance biologists will get to study and understand the how and why marine mammals strand in the first place and provide surveillance for possibly dangerous risks. Without this grant, these organization will have a hard time funding future rescues, rehabilitation and conservation efforts, and just to make matters worse, they may not be able to fund their own future projects in regards to facility upgrades nor operation costs. Because these facilities rehabilitate marine mammals, they meet certain standards of care for their patients which has been established by the US National Marine Fisheries Services and if the Prescott grant continues to remain excluded from next year’s funding, the animals that are being rehabilitated by these facilities will suffer too.

Many zoo and aquarium professionals, patrons, and marine biologists are all calling for this life-saving grant to be included in the 2013 federal budget. This is because it allows organizations to continue their work to rescue, rehabilitate and release marine mammals in trouble as well as study the unhealthy effects on the marine ecosystem and what could be done to protect marine mammals and their habitats. I myself am also calling for Congress to restore the Prescott funding because it allows these organizations to keep going on preserving and keep a pulse on marine life and the health of all marine ecosystems.

Thank you for taking the time for understanding the importance of the  John H. Prescott Grant Program and how it’s used to keep marine mammal rescues going.

Sincerely,
Jenna Costa Deedy
Student at Nashua Community College                                                                                                                                                                                               Writer for the aquarium internship blog, the Winter Dolphin Chronicles
Nashua, NH.

You too can write to your representative and tell them that we can’t afford to cut the Prescott grant program because without it, marine mammal rescue organizations will have a difficult time funding rescue and conservation efforts just go to https://writerep.house.gov/writerep/welcome.shtml and start writing.

Have a good evening everyone,

~Jenna~

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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.

~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).

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~

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~

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.

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.

~Jenna~