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article imageOp-Ed: Photos released by ex-trainers show cost of captivity for orcas Special

By Elizabeth Batt     Feb 21, 2012 in Environment
A website created by former SeaWorld trainers is sharing photographs of what orcas endure in captivity. This aspect of orca "care" is rarely advertised they say, and often repressed. It is a side of captivity the public rarely gets to see.
Back in January, Digital Journal wrote about a newly-launched website created by former SeaWorld marine mammal trainers, Carol Ray MA, CCC-SLP, John Jett PhD, Samantha Berg M.Ac, Dipl.Ac and Jeffrey Ventre MD. After a change of heart and the mutual desire to provide a voice for those without one, the four united in a new venture called Voice of the Orcas.
Voice of the Orcas recently released a group of photos, which they say, show the true cost of caring for captive cetaceans. Jeffrey Ventre along with other members of Voice of the Orcas, kindly agreed to allow me to publish them here, with the adage, "A picture is worth a thousand words." These images they said, offer the public a rare glimpse into something often repressed by marine mammal parks – the consequences of captivity on orcas.
Take breeding for example. When hearing about the birth of a cetacean in captivity, how many of us consider the process behind it? It would be logical to assume that mating is natural and mutual. Orcas are hardly livestock after all. Still, male studs often do not choose to breed, it is chosen for them and female orcas do not often select a mate, or elect to become pregnant; the entire process is instead often conducted by artificial insemination.
How?
The Orca Project's (TOP), "How Does SeaWorld Masturbate their Stud Killer Whales?" discusses the process at great length, and Tim Zimmermann's article, “The Killer In The Pool,” which appeared in the July 2010 edition of Outside magazine, cited former SeaWorld scientist John Hall, as saying:
"Early in the morning, the animal-care crew would take hot-water-filled cow vaginas and masturbate the males in the back tanks. It was pretty interesting to walk by."
TOP also adds that newer techniques to acquire killer whale semen have now been developed. Semen is collected from adult males trained to voluntarily ejaculate. A process which a former SeaWorld trainer speaking under anonymity, called rustic:
"The animals already know how to roll over. It’s a basic requirement for accessing their tails and genital slits, and other husbandry. It’s a well rewarded behavior, and the whales are usually cooperative in rolling over [...] If a bulge, and later an erection occur, this is rewarded with food and manual stimulation."
Orcas are trained to present themselves for  the artificial insemination process. It involves extrac...
Orcas are trained to present themselves for the artificial insemination process. It involves extracting sperm from a male orca and placing it in the female.
Voice of the Orcas
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Another issue seen in captive orcas, is dorsal fin collapse. A process which may occur said the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies, because:
"In captivity, the killer whale is very limited, unable to swim the lengths and dive to the depths they do in the wild. In an aquarium they will spend up to 50 percent of their time at the surface, which is probably the reason they sometimes suffer from dorsal fin collapse. Dorsal fin collapse is the result of gravity pulling on the fin when it does not have the support of the water."
Trainers periodically measure the dorsal fin of orcas in captivity.
Trainers periodically measure the dorsal fin of orcas in captivity.
Voice of the Orcas
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Keto  Tilikum and Taku exhibit dorsal fin collapse.
Keto, Tilikum and Taku exhibit dorsal fin collapse.
Voice of the Orcas
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One of the most controversial events in recent SeaWorld history, was the death of Dawn Brancheau in 2010. Dawn was killed by a 12,000 pound orca named Tilikum, an orca with an established history of aggression, resulting in trainer injury and death. According to Voice of the Orcas, SeaWorld had declared its trainers were not in the water with Tilikum prior to him killing Dawn. The photo below they said, taken in 2008, proves otherwise.
Captured from the ocean in 1983  Tilikum s life revolves around entertaining the mass public at SeaW...
Captured from the ocean in 1983, Tilikum's life revolves around entertaining the mass public at SeaWorld.
Voice of the Orcas
image:107544:3::0
In TOP's, "The Hidden Cost Of Captivity: Oral Health of Killer Whales Exposed," the Project describes the high prevalence of fractured and broken teeth in a majority of captive orcas.
"Broken and fractured teeth," they said, "usually occurs from common threat displays known as “barking” or “jaw popping,” as they chomp down on steel gates that separate orcas in an effort to establish dominance."
As a result TOP adds, "Dental fragments have been retrieved from the bottom of the pool after such displays," something "SeaWorld, Six Flags and other marine mammal parks have managed to keep [...] cloaked in relative secrecy."
 Chronic pain associated with poor dental health can lead to destructive behaviors such as grinding ...
"Chronic pain associated with poor dental health can lead to destructive behaviors such as grinding down the jaw itself" said The Orca Project.
Voice of the Orcas
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Captive cetaceans also endure a high incidence of gastrointestinal problems. In "The Case Against Marine Mammal Captivity," the US Humane Society writes:
"Dolphinaria and aquaria routinely administer prophylactic antibiotics and ulcer medications to captive cetaceans."
In some cases the Society said, "Facility personnel [...] find an animal lacking in appetite" and it is not uncommon "for that animal to die within one or two days of this discovery—long before any treatment program can be determined, let alone administered."
But when treatment is required, or tests need conducting, how do you get a large cetacean such as a killer whale to comply? If it's an endoscopy, you entice him into an area fairly barren of water, and put a bit in his mouth.
Keto  on loan from SeaWorld  resides at Loro Parque in Tenerife. Alexis is on the far right  leaning...
Keto, on loan from SeaWorld, resides at Loro Parque in Tenerife. Alexis is on the far right, leaning on Keto.
Voice of the Orcas
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What should astonish everyone about these images, is that all of them show conditions orcas would never encounter in the wild. Issues that occur, "because" of captivity.
At SeaWorld, you can 'Dine with Shamu' and feast on Dry Rub Marinated Angus Tri Tip with Horseradish Cream/Bordelaise Sauce, Cilantro Marinated Chicken with Jalapeno Beurre Blanc/Warm Tomato Salsa or if you prefer, Crunchy Shrimps with Tomato Creole Sauce.
You can wash all this down with a select beverage of your choice, as Shamu performs astounding leaps to entertain, while you dine.
If you think this sounds somewhat Romanesque (in that gladiator type of way), then why not throw the orca a chicken bone? Shamu dines only on dead fish. Something else, he would never eat in the wild.
No pool exists that could possibly replicate the natural conditions of the ocean for captive orcas.
No pool exists that could possibly replicate the natural conditions of the ocean for captive orcas.
Voice of the Orcas
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Recently, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Vancouver, Canada, the world's biggest science conference, said dolphins should be treated as non-human "persons", with their rights to life and liberty respected.
And yes, the killer whale is one of 35 species in the oceanic dolphin family.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of DigitalJournal.com
More about Seaworld, Captive orcas, anticaptivity, Environment
 
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