Tag Archive | SeaWorld

My favorite Whale Keet has moved to San Diego


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

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

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

 

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

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

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How to Feed and Enrich an Otter


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

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

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

More Orca FAQs


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

Hello everyone,

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

1. How are new pods formed?

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

2. How large can pods get?

Orca pod sizes can range from two to forty animals.

3. What’s a transient pod?

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

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

4. What are the intervals between births?

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

 

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

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

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

6. Why do dorsal fins bend? 

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

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

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

Hope you all have a great weekend everyone,

~Jenna~

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.

Why is the Florida Manatee Endangered?


the Florida manatee, which is the closest relative to the elephant, first appeared in the fossil record around 50 million years ago. (photo by yours truly Jenna)

 

The Florida manatee is considered to be one of Florida’s most symbolic marine mammals in the state of Florida. As the sub-species of the West Indian Manatee, this species can be found in both saltwater and freshwater habitats throughout Florida and other coastal regions of the Gulf of Mexico (Reeves). First appearing in the fossil record about 50 million years ago, manatees first appeared in the shallow bays and rivers of Florida around 15 million years ago (FWCC). They are also an instead favorite of scuba divers and kayakers who enjoy touring Florida’s wildlife parks for, they have been known to be very curious about the approaching people. Despite their popularity, manatees are one of the most endangered marine mammals in North America due to fishery conflict (better known as fishing entanglement), habitat loss and boat collisions. Of all These three causes, habitat loss in coastal areas has done a huge impact on manatees, because it has done a lot of damage to the the marine vegetation, and sea grass beds that they depend on. As a tragic result, chemical pollution that is produced from these newly developed coastal areas that travel into manatee habitats has now impaired their immune system; thus, putting them at risk for life threating infections (Bagheera). In fact, there are believe to be no more than 3,000
manatees remaining in US water. As a marine mammal species, they are legally protected by US national law under the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972, which prohibits any killing, capture, or inhumane harassment of these gentle giants for any purpose (SeaWorld).

Many manatees often fall victim to boat collisions.The first situation behind why manatees are endangered is due to boat collisions.

In 2010, a total of 83 manatees were killed by boat collisions throughout the state of Florida (FFWCC). This is because manatees have to go up to the surface in order to breathe air once every 10-15 minutes or else, they may drown. Another reason why boat collisions kill manatees is because they are slow moving animals. When a boat approaches, a manatee may have very little, or no time to escape the passing watercraft; thus, making it very vulnerable to the boat’s hull or propeller as it moves through shallow water (Rao, and Kimerly). In many cases, most manatees die from their injuries associated with these brutal collisions. For the very few animals who do survive these incidents, the scar patterns end up becoming the main method off identifying individual manatees when conducting a survey on them. In a 12-year-old study, researchers concluded that manatees continued to travel to the same feeding or breeding areas regardless, of the number of boats that were present in these areas. However, the use of sanctuaries by the animals did increase for, these areas provide a safe haven for them when it comes to feeding and reproduction purposes (Rao, and Kimerly).

Entanglement can cause permanent injury to manatees and other wildlife.

The second situation behind the endangerment of the Florida manatee is entanglement in fishing gear. Just like dolphins and sea turtles, manatees can easily get themselves entangled in fishing line while feeding. This is because manatees feed by grasping their upper lips and flippers on to aquatic vegetation. There hooks and fishing line get discarded after getting entangled in aquatic plants that the manatees feed on. As a result, the manatees, consequently, either swallow or get themselves entangled in fishing gear around the flippers or tail (Save the Manatee Club). Sometimes, the hooks can end up in the lips, mouth and internal organs of the animals too. Entanglement can lead to infections, long-term injuries, and even death. Manatees can also get themselves entangled by crab traps, thus, causing a huge problem for the marine mammals. The manatees find themselves entangled in ropes that connect traps to small buoys at the surface. Despite their small size, these traps contain heavier weight than hooks and fishing line, that, they can cause more server injuries. In many cases, the manatees end up drowning in the process. But for those who do survive, they have been sighted dragging the heavy dragging these traps for several miles before dying from an injury-induces infection.

During the Winter months, manatees are often seen residing near power plants and springs.

Finally, the reason why Florida manatees are considered to be endangered is because of habitat loss. As a tropical sea animal, manatees spend their entire lives in warm water that is no colder than 65 degrees (Fox). While they may spend most of their time around Florida waters, some manatees may migrate to waters off the coasts of Virginia and the Carolinas. However, development
along coastal regions of the Southeastern United States has resulted in loss of habitat area for the manatees (Fox). In one year alone, the population of coastal side towns in Florida and other Southeastern states grew to more than 1,000 people per day. To make matters worst, surveys done on manatee have shown a twenty-year increase in manatees migrating to artificial water refuges in the
winter time since there are a very few natural refuges that still exist within the state of Florida. These artificial refuges, which are located near seaside power plants, are small in comparison to natural refuges (DRC). As a result, manatee colonies overcrowd these tiny refuges that, it has been known to increase the spread of disease among the animals, and effect red tide locations. Because artificial refuges are run by power plants, these businesses are at risk of shutting down permanently. If these power plants were to shut down, then, the refuges they run would be to cold for the manatees to stay during the winter months, because power plants keep them warm throughout the winter months. This can result in a phenomenon called “cold-stunning”, which is a form a hypothermic reaction when manatees are exposed to cold water temperatures for a long period of time.

Zoological facilities like SeaWorld and the Lowry Park Zoo continue to rescue and rehabilitate sick, orphaned, and injured manatees in trouble each year.

  Despite the threats that have caused Florida manatees to remain on the endangered species list, there has been a number of efforts to protect manatees and their habitats. In the case of the boat collision issue, the establishment of manatee sanctuaries has made it possible to reduce boat activity on manatee populations by allowing a small number of boats and tourists in critical manatee habitats, especially during holiday weekends and vacationing seasons (Rao, and Kimerly) . At the same time, observation by biologists has increased to monitor all manatee/boat interactions in hopes to prevent future collisions. To prevent entanglement in manatees, fishermen should avoid fishing in areas were manatees and other marine mammals are known to feed, breed, and raise their young. They should also not dispose any fishing gear in the water, because then, manatees, and other marine animals can easily get entangled in them (NOAA). Even a small amount of gear can lead to injury or death in a manatee. Finally, in the case of habitat destruction, there has been some effort to establish manatees sanctuaries and prevent further development in newly declared wild places. This does include some coastal areas that are declared as a sanctuary (Save the Manatee Club). In response to the high mortality rate in manatees, zoological parks in Florida that are authorized by the US Fish and Wildlife Service to rescue troubled wildlife have put in a series of efforts to rescue and rehabilitate sick, orphaned,and injured manatees. In one year alone, one marine life facility rescued a total of 13 manatees, while six were released back into the wild (SeaWorld). With conservation efforts continuing, there is hope that the Florida manatee will be saved from extinction.

How to Save a Cold-Stunned Sea Turtle


Thanks to the rescue and rehabilitation efforts of the New England Aquarium, cold-stunned sea turtles like Rorschach (#10) (photo by the NEAQ sea turtle rescue team)

Each year, around 50 to 200 sea turtles will beach themselves on the shores of the Massachusetts coastline from late October through December as a result of cold stunning. For those who may not be familiar with this term, “cold stunning” is when a sea turtle is exposed to cold water temperatures that are less than 65 degrees followed by a sudden hypothermic reaction. The symptoms include decrease in heart rate, a decrease in circulation, lethargy, shock, dehydration, pneumonia, and even death.  But the question that many people have in mind is why do these turtles come to Massachusetts waters in the first place? Well, this is because every summer when the water temperature gets to be about 70 degrees, the sea turtles (many of which are Kemp’s Ridleys) will feed on crabs in Cape Cod Bay after swimming through the Gulf Stream Current. The waters of Cape Cod Bay serve as a rich and hospitable seasonal habitat for the migrating animals who could often be seen in bays, inlets, and sheltering harbors. However, by late-October, the turtles will begin to migrate south to the warm waters of Florida, and the Caribbean while those who get trapped in the arm of the Cape, especially those feeding in shallow and inlet waters, will eventually become victims of cold stunning and before being pulled by the wind to the beaches of Cape Cod.  Once these turtles strand on the beach thanks to the unforgiving winds, they are now at the mercy of the icy cold waves and tides. There, the clock begins to tick when it comes to matter of life and death.

This is where organizations like the Massachusetts Audubon Sanctuary of Wellfleet Bay and the New England Aquarium come in. During the cold stunning season, volunteers will patrol the beaches after high tide in search of sea turtles in need of rescuing from the icy cold waters. Once a turtle is found, sometimes, volunteers will gently touch it to check for a reaction to see if it’s either a live or dead and sometimes, it’s hard to determine that because some animals could be found, show no reaction, be presumed dead before finally showing a reaction. Turtle experts call this “Lazarus turtles” because of this coma-like reaction that some of the turtles present. Meanwhile, once the turtles are rescued, they are transported to Massachusetts Audubon’s Wellfleet Bay Sanctuary where they are held for a short period of time before being transported to the New England Aquarium’s Marine Animal Rescue Facility in Quincy where they could receive treatment for up to two years depending on their condition on a long-term basis. Sometimes, some of these turtle patients will be transferred to other facilities like SeaWorld, or the National Aquarium in Baltimore  where they will continue their rehabilitation before being released in the spring and early summer months in the waters off Florida’s Atlantic coast.

After nearly six to eight months of rehabilitation, the remaining sea turtles (the ones who were never transported to other facilities) are released into either the Atlantic Coasts of Florida, Virginia, and southern Cape Cod where some of the animals are satellite tagged so that biologists can continue to keep track on the progress of the released animals in all hopes they do get themselves stuck in Cape Cod Bay again and return to their tropical habitats.

Kemp's Ridley sea turtles released off the coast of Florida in April 2011 (photo by NEAQ)

What can you do if you see a cold-stunned sea turtle:

1. Do not put it back in the water. Do not remove it from the beach.
Move it above the high tide line.
2. Cover it with seaweed and mark its location with a stick, buoy or other beach debris.
3. Call the Massachusetts Wellfleet Audubon Society at 508-349-2615 or the New England Aquarium’s rescue hotline at 617-973-5247and leave a message as to its location. Please be as specific as possible in giving directions from the nearest beach access so rescuers and volunteers can recover the turtle quickly.

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~