Tag Archive | wildlife

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~

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Methodology: 

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

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

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

~Jenna~

Oil in The Water: A Report on How the Gulf Oil Spill Is Affecting Cetaceans, Sea Turtles, and Birds


It could be years before anyone knows the full impact of the Gulf Coast Oil Spill

On April 20th, 2010, The Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico. It killed about 11 oil workers and caused the entire rig to sink into the Gulf about two days later. As a result, more than 206 million gallons of oil spilled into the gulf waters which would go on to affect more than 9,436 marine animals (NOAA, 2011). The animal victims were birds, cetaceans, and sea turtles and many of these animals are either endangered, or threatened. However, while most of the animals that were recovered from the oil spill were rescued and rehabilitated, others sadly, were not so lucky. In fact, the large majority of these oil spill victims have either died or have never been found. While studies are currently being done by wildlife officials to learn about the effects the Gulf oil spill is having on wildlife, it may be more than 20 years before we would learn about the full effects on wild marine animals and their habitats. This recent oil spill in the gulf coast has been taking it’s toll on wildlife, including dolphins, turtles, and birds, on a long-term scale.

Of the nine dolphin rescues that have taken placed during the oil spill, only one dolphin, a juvenile male dolphin named Louie was successfully rehabilitated. (Photo by Zimbo.com)

During the oil spill, which lasted for six months, about 100 cetaceans were collected from oil spill inflicted areas (NWF, 2011). Cetaceans like bottlenose dolphins and sperm whales, have no fur which can be oiled and since they have blubber to help them prevent internal heat loss, they do no need fur for that purpose (NOAA, 2010); this means that cetaceans can not develop hypothermia like seals and sea otters can when in contact with oil. Still, oil could harm then in many ways. For example, when dolphins surfaced to take a breath of air, the oily waters can get into their blowholes before entering their lungs which can then, make breathing very difficult for them (New England Aquarium, 2010). To make matters worse, oil has been known to cause vision damage, since the oil can get into eyes of cetaceans. Oil can make it harder for whales and dolphins to catch and digest their food. For the large baleen whales, like the Bryde’s whale, oil can harm the baleen they depend on for filter feeding, thereby, deceasing their ability to feed, which could then, lead to starvation (NOAA, 2010). Overall, oil has been known to cause intestinal damage to cetaceans and even effect whale and dolphin health on a long term scale. As of January 2011, It has now been reported that bottlenose dolphins in the Gulf of Mexico may now be experiencing reproduction failure as a result of this spill. This is because researchers had been discovering the bodies of dead dolphin calves, many of which were stillborn, premature, or have died shortly after birth (National Geographic, 2011). The spill has seen at least nine live dolphin rescues that have occurred throughout the Gulf region (NOAA, 2011). However, of those rescues, only one dolphin, a juvenile male bottlenose dolphin named Louie, was successfully rehabilitated and was later transferred to the Dolphin Research Center in Grassy Key, FL in February 2011 (Segal, 2011). However, while the oil spill did have a lot of impact on most dolphin habitats throughout the Gulf Coast, one population of bottlenose dolphins in Orange Beach, Alabama was determined to have been not affect by the Gulf oil spill (NOAA, 2010). Currently, research is being done by NOAA (National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration) to determine the oil spill’s effect on a population of endangered sperm whales in the Gulf Coast for, many cetacean experts had pointed out in the past that the deaths of three whales would push this particular population into extinction, just like the effects of Alaska’s Exxon Valdez oil spill did with a resident killer whale population in the 1990’s and 2000’s (Than, 2010).

After being rescued, oil-covered sea turtles were bathed using dish water soap to remove the oil off their skin (photo by NEAQ).

Sea turtles have inhabited the Gulf of Mexico for more about 100 million years. Five species of sea turtle, the green, Kemp’s Ridley, loggerhead, hawks-bill and leatherback sea turtles can all be found in Gulf coast waters and they were all put at a great risk by the BP oil spill (National Wildlife Federation, 2011). Many sea turtles nest on Gulf Coast beaches that range from Mexico, to Florida. Because oil can damage turtle nests, wildlife volunteers in Alabama developed new ways to monitor turtle nests in beaches where the oil did not hit. The new methods included cleaning up any oil tar that may have washed up these beaches while conducting nighttime surveys along side clean-up crews; this criteria would start at nighttime, for, this was the time between April and October when female sea turtles came to these Alabama beaches to lay their eggs (Alabama Sea Turtles.com). However, the hatching season began to approach, there was a lot of public concern about newly hatched turtles entering the oil covered waters of the Gulf. If the hatch lings were to emerge on oiled-covered beaches, they can suffer from surface exposure, due to short-term exposure to oil tar that would cover the beaches where they hatched as they make it to the water (National Wildlife Federation, 2011). Just to make matters worse, when these turtle hatchlings do make it into water, it would be no safe haven either. Out in the ocean, young turtles rely on seaweed to serve as a shelter that both protect them from predators, and simply, to rest. However, when the seaweed that the young animals rely on as a main habitat got covered in oil, the hatchlings were to doomed to their deaths, because once seaweed is covered in oil, it suffocates and becomes deprived of sunlight. Therefore, the hatchlings, had no protection what so ever. So, in response to public concern about the oil affecting turtle hatchlings and nests, biologists throughout the country began to relocate more than 275 sea turtles nests from the Gulf coast to beaches near the Kennedy Space Center in hopes to prevent a high hatchling mortality rate (Lelis, 2010). By the end of the 2010 summer season, sea turtle biologists estimated about over 15,000 sea turtle hatchlings made it to safe waters of Florida’s Atlantic coast (National Geographic, 2011). Meanwhile, oil can also cause turtles to become both sick and injured. For example, turtles can develop fatal respiratory problems, like pneumonia and cause breathing difficulties when the animals breathe the deadly vapors (New England Aquarium, 2011). When the turtles were first rescued, they were mainly covered in oil, which can also, cause their skin to come off as a result of burning. So, to de-oil the animals, rescuers used dish washing soap to clean the oil off the animal and the process lasted for up to hour. In fact, NOAA statistics show us that about 575 sea turtles were rescued and rehabilitated by biologists and zoo professionals throughout the Gulf coast while 397 of these animals were released by into the wild (NOAA, 2011).

Not only did birds become sick and injured from being covered in oil, their habitats were affected by this disaster as well.

Of all the animals that have been victimized by the 2010 Gulf coast oil spill, birds were the most common victims of this environmental disaster. About 8,183 of the animal victims of the Gulf oil spill were aquatic birds that rely on marshlands and beaches as critical nesting and feeding grounds (NOAA, 2011). The oil causes their feathers to both, mat and separate in which, it could cause them to lose both, buoyancy and the ability to regulate their body temperature. The birds need to keep their feathers peen, then, they would be able to keep themselves warm, keep parasites off their feathers, stay dry, and ensure that the feathers remain in good shape (National Wildlife Federation, 2011). As a result the oil-covered survivors are captured and taken into wildlife rehabilitation facilities where they would be rehabilitated. The rescue efforts were very successful that, In total, about 1,246 sea birds were successfully released back into the wild throughout Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and the Florida Panhandle (International Bird Rescue). Yet, despite the successful rescue efforts, the oil spill did a large amount of damage to hundreds of seabird nesting grounds throughout the Louisiana coastline. Once the oil hit those nesting grounds, not only were the nests now contaminated with oil, the eggs got covered in the oil as well. This meant that when the birds were trying to escape the incoming oil, they were also deserting their nests and leave their now too soft, and too thin eggs behind (New England Aquarium, 2010). Experts who have studied bird colonies in Raccoon Island, Louisiana had admitted to not planning to rescue the nesting birds because they feared that they could have disrupted entire colonies like causing adults to kill their chicks and abandoning their nests (Brown, 2010). In the spring of 2011, bird experts from the National Audubon Society reported that some nesting colonies of endangered brown pelicans returned to their oil-inflicted nests; yet, they have insisted that it could be many years before the extend damage of their food supply is known (National Geographic, 2011). The most tragic sight that beach goers have been seeing lately is the sight of small shorebirds that are now feeding on oil tar along with their prey while at the same time, get their tiny feet and feathers covered with oil and bringing the tar back to their at-risk nests.

Unless efforts are made to stop offshore drilling in the Gulf Coast, The Future of the Gulf of Mexico's marine ecosystem remains uncertain. (photo by National Geographic)

While the total impact of the Gulf oil spill may not be known for many years, the effect that it had on wildlife in the past year is shocking. In the past year since the oil spill first happened, dolphins faced a huge unusual mortality rate, sea turtle eggs put at risk of never hatching because of the oil covered the nests while researchers worked to relocate the surviving nests to the Atlantic coast, and birds, victims of being oil-covered now have to live with nesting in contaminated nesting grounds and suffer a high chick mortality rate. It’s safe to conclude that the oil spill is right now having and having a lot of negative effects on animals native the Gulf coast. For example, most species of dolphins are not endangered, but counting all the dolphin deaths that have occurred since the oil spill is troubling because once a dolphin dies, it’s body sinks to the bottom of the sea; so, it’s hard to get a full count of how many more dolphins died than what the NOAA statistics report (Animal Planet, 2011). So while full surveys on post-oil spill animal moralities will take twenty years or so to complete, it’s safe to say that oil spills can be prevented. First, It has been recommended that oil engineers should always check for any leaks that might be suspicious while being cautious at the same time when both fueling and de-fueling because oil spills often happen because of employee carelessness (ask.com, 2010). As for if a person comes across a stranded animal, alive or dead, NOAA recommends for everyone to call their stranding hotline to report a sick, distressed, orphaned, dead, or injured animal. That way, the networks can respond to this stranding quickly and determine how and why the animals strand. That way, everyone would be doing their part in preventing oil spills and keeping the oceans oil free. Overall, the number one thing to do to ensure that no oil spill would ever happen is educating the public. Through education weather if it’s at a marine life facility, or on a eco-tour boat, educating the public about the effects that oil spills can have on animals is on thing that would ensure both a change in attitude towards wildlife and develop a new awareness about how oil spills can affect wildlife and the habitats they depend on.

Only education and a change in attitude towards the Gulf Coast along with long term research will eventually preserve the wildlife of the Gulf of Mexico.

Manatees by the Sea Wall: An Encounter with Manatees in Cape Canaveral


A curious juvenile manatee interacts with me behind a sea wall in Cape Canaveral, FL back in 2006.

About five years ago when I was 14, I encountered several wild manatees in Cape Canaveral,FL. My mother got us a room at a sea-side hotel that overlooked the NASA space station. We were heading our way back home from spending two months in Florida with my grandfather and his greyhound Lynne. I was told by my mother that manatees often hand around a small sea wall that was in front of back area most of the year. I wanted to check it out so, I went to the back side to see if I could get a glance of them. Indeed, it would not be long before, I encountered my first wild manatee. It was such an amazing site to see. Seconds later, I encounter a second manatee in the same spot and they just getting a good glimpse of me for over 40 minutes. They were so close to the sea wall that, I could easily touch them if I wanted to. An hour later, a third manatee came up to me from the sea wall and it felt like they were all coming up to me for some reason in I would not know about. Later that night, several other manatees were appearing all over the small lagoon while the three manatees I encountered remained by the sea wall. Most of the adult manatees that were sighted from our hotel room were mother and calf pairs. Two of the manatees that interacted with me were juveniles. Sadly, one of them had severe scars on his back and I wondered if he got hit by a boat propeller. After all, it’s very common to sight a wild manatee with scars from either boat propellers or fishing entanglements and it’s rare to see one that has no scars on it’s body. The following morning, I woke up to seeing a small colony of them swimming up to sea wall. After getting dressed for the day, I went back to back side of the hotel to interact with them and believe me, there was now two adult females and three juveniles. That interaction would last for about an hour-and-a-half hours. This encounter made me realize that manatees, like most marine mammals, are quite curious about people and may voluntary come right up to you if they want to.