Tag Archive | whales

Amazing Marine Mammals: Narwhal


The narwhal has longed been linked with the mythical unicorn for centuries due to it’s long spiral tusks. (Photo is public domain).

The narwhal (Monodon monoceros) is regarded as one of most complelling animals of arctic because of the remoteness and harshness of their frozen envrionment as well as their unsual apperance. For centuries, they have long been linked with mythical unicorns because of the fact that adult males have long spiral tusks that were unlike any other animal in nature that have ever existed. In fact, during the Middle Ages, traders and chemists alike have long been said to have conspired to cover up the existence of the arctic whale in order to sell the tusks off as “unicorn horns” for profit. Today, this marine mammal is no longer linked to mythical horned horse and has no become the subject of many field studies that aim at understanding the lives of narwhals year round.

Narwhals have short rounded heads with no beaks while their melons being bluff, protuding foward of the small upturned mouth. (Artwork by Science Photo Library).

Being one of two members of the Monodontidae family which the beluga whale is also part of, narwhals looks a little bit like belugas except, they are a little bit different from them. For example, adult narwhals have strongly conevexed flukes that are similar to that of butterfly wings while their small flippers short and broad. However, what makes narawhals very unique as a species of whale is the fact that they are the only cetacean species on Earth to lack functional teeth inside their jaws. In addition, starting at three years of age, male narwhals begin to develop their tusks which can grow up to 9 feet long and weight up to 22 pounds. Females on the other hand, remain tuskless for life. Unlike beluga whales which are completely white at adulthood, adult animals are always spotted with a black and white dorsal coloration although calves are born completely grey. Anyway, males can grow up to 15 feet long and weight in at 3.500 pounds while females weight in at around 14 feet long and weight in at 2,200 pounds. The ancesctors of modern day mondotiades, which includes both the narwhal and beluga first appeared in the fossil record around 3-5 million years ago though little is known about the evolution of this species of whale.

Narwhals are only found exclusively in the Arctic.

Narwhals have a dicontinuous distribution within the high Arctic region. However, they are commonly found in deep waters that branch northward from the North Atlantic basin which includes northwestern Hudson Bay, the Hudson Strait, Foxe Basin, Davis Strait, Baffin Bay, and Lancaster Sound. However, they often found in the Greenland Sea in which a population in that area has been known to mirgrate to the northern Barents Sea. Yet, their migrations are turned to the formation and movement of sea ice because as the ice breaks apart in the spring, hundreds of narwhals follow receding edges of pack ice and use the small cracks and melt holes to penetrate deep sounds and fjords right away. There, they will reside there throughout the summer and early fall while heading to offshore areas during the winter months.

Narwhals are the only know cetacean species to have no functional teeth in the jaw area. (Photo is public domain).

Narwhals are deep divers. They feed in in entire water columns, taking pelagic fish, squid, shrimp, and bottom-dwelling fish. On average, dives can last up to 20 minutes and they have been known to reach depth of more than 3,300 feet below the surface of the ocean. Researchers believe that narwhales suck their prey into their mouths and swallow it whole. They do not use their tusk as a spear weapon.

While narwhals live close-knit groups of up to 20 animals, they are seem to be more scattered and solitary. (Photo by National Geographic).

During the summer months, narwhals form large aggregations that consist of hundreds of animals although they may consist of much smaller close-knit groups of a few animals that number around no more than twenty individuals. These pods are usually homogeneous and consit of either animals of the same gender (like pods that are made of females with calves or breeding males), or of a single age class. In the winter however, these pods get scattered and result in solitary animals, perhaps it could be because of owing to the patchiness of cracks and holes in the ice. Adult males are known to fight one another due to the strong evidence of scars and wounds in the head region. Such fighting among the males could play a role in establishing dominance and breeding opportunities. Despite the fact that narwhals have been known to cross tusks above the surface, there’s no evidence to prove that that they fence with them.

At birth, narwhal calves are grey, just like beluga whales. (Photo by superstock.com)

Narwhals sexually mature at around four to seven years of age while they mate during the winter and early spring months when they become inaccessible for observation by researchers. With a gestation period of about fifteen months, the grey calves are born being around 5.3 feet long and weighting in are no more than 176 pounds. Births occur during  the summer months and will be weaned off at around a year old. Calves will normally still with their mothers for about three years and if they survive into adulthood, they may around 25-50 years.

For centuries, the Inuits of the Canadian Arctic have been known to have hunted the narwhal for food, oil and ivory. (Photo is public domain).

Although narwhals are not endangered, they have been threatned by centuries of commercial whaling which was for their meat, oil, and tusks, all of which have been subjected to forgein trade even though hunting them was only on a casual basis. When laws were established to have such trades banned, it also stated that only the Inuit tribes can sustainably hunt them for traditonal pruposes while only using arrows instead of commerical weapons. Surveys done on narwhals estimate that there are about 50,000 animals roaming the Arctic Ocean although some populations are being threatned by climate change and interbreeding with beluga whales.

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Whale Watching in Cape Cod


A juvenile humpback whale flipper slaps off Stellwagen Bank, MA. This marine sanctuary serves as a primary feeding ground for humpback whales and other marine life that call it home.

A few weeks ago, I went whale watching with my Dad off Glouchester, MA and it was such a great day for the both of us. We saw at least twelve humpback whales including two mother and calf pairs, four minke whales, and two grey seals off Stellwagen Bank, a marine sanctuary that is two miles off the coast of Cape Cod, MA. The marine sanctuary, which was established in 1992, serves as a safe haven for many marine animals such as whales, dolphins, propoises, seals, and sharks. Yet, when you visit this area, you are more likely to see humpback whales and grey seals more than you are with other animal species though but still, the sight of seeing these large mammals in their natural habitat will make you feel like that you part of a scene from a wildlife documentary even though there are movie cameras around to film the moment.

Humpback whale “Etch-a-Sketch feeds with a flock of sea gulls off the coast of Proviencetown, MA.

During my whale watch, I got to see a varity of surface behaviors such as flipper slapping, tail striking, and even breaching. However, of all these behaviors, I saw the humpbacks whales feeding like crazy. For example, this one whale called “Etch-a-Sketch” did a tail flick right in front of the boat before he took a dive to create a bubble net and lunge feed at the surface with a flock of sea gulls joining him in the action and some of them “rode” on him as he continued to feed. It was such a sight to see and the krill and herring that the whales feed on is what drives these animals to Stellwagen during the spring and summer months while they migrate to waters off the Carribbean.

While scientists don’t know why humpback whales display surface behaviors such as breaching or tail slapping, it’s believed that it could be a sign of either playing, being agressive, or just another form of communication.

Just to make things intersting, we even saw one juvenile  do nothing but flipper slapping the whole we have been in the area. When we first got to Stellwagen for the day, we were “greeted” by the sight of this animal doing nothing but flipper slapping as if he was welcoming us to the sanctuary even though he may have been either being playful or just trying to communicate with other whales that were nearby. Still, he was just so busy flipper slapping that the nautralists on boasrd had trouble figuring out who he was even though they were able to indentify him as being a juvenile whale. He would continue this behavior for several minutes before he decided that he was going take a nice long dive just so we could find other whales in the area.

Going whale watching on Memorial Day was so much fun that I hope to go again next time when I have the chance to do so but I may have to wait until this coming fall for another round because that is when the whales start heading south for the winter.

Have a whale of a day,

~Jenna~

 

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~

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~

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Methodology: 

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

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

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

~Jenna~

Marine Mammal Husbandry


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

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

1. Exhaling

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

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

2. Hydration (cetaceans)

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

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

3. Blood Testing

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

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

4. Urine/Fecal Sample

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

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

5. Milking

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

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

6. Sunscreening

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

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

7. Semen Collection

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

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

8. Body Measuring

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

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

9. Weighting by Slide Out

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

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

10. Tooth Care

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

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

11. Eye Dropping

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

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

12. Ultrasound

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

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

No training session nor husbandry procedure is ever forced.

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

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

~Jenna~

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~