Orca News
Nami (1985-2011 Taiji Whale Museum / Port of Nagoya Aquarium)
December 16, 2011:

Male Bingo, pregnant female Stella and her youngest daughter Ran 2 have been transported from Kamogawa Sea World to Port of Nagoya Aquarium. Ran 2 was moved by truck on December 14th, Bingo and Stella arrived a day later by ship.

Ran 2 arriving

More pictures of the move at Guyoo's Port of Nagoya website

Sources: Chunichi Shimbun, News24 and Port of Nagoya Aquarium

December 10, 2011: Kiska pregnant?

I received the following note:

After July 2011, Kiska, a 35 year old female orca was separated from 9 year old male Ikaika, as he was dominant towards her. Today their reason of separation is publicly released. Kiska is pregnant with twins!
During September 2011, Kiska had an ultrasound. It is confirmed she is pregnant by Ikaika and is 4 months in the pregnancy. This was very exciting news for the employees of MarineLand. Coincidentally, the same day, a female beluga, Caspian gave birth to a stillborn calf. "We are happy for her. We never wanted her to move in the first place as she is one of few to have a double pregnancy. It would cause stress on her. She's been at MarineLand for already 32 years. Her welfare, along with the rest of our animals is the concern now!"
Unfortunately, Ikaika, the father of both calves was relocated to SeaWorld San Diego since a custody dispute. SeaWorld does not know their prized genetics are at the Canadian Facility. MarineLand never mentioned her pregnancy in court, as SeaWorld would take her in and make her give birth irregularly.
Kiska has given birth to 5 calves previous to this double pregnancy:
1. In 1992, at the age of 16, she gave birth to a young male in September. He passed away only 1 week away from Neocia, Kiska's niece who was born in October.
2. In 1994, at the age of 18, she gave birth to her second calf, a male named Kanuck. He passed away in 1998, just weeks away from Friendship Cove's completion.
3. In 1996, at age 20, Kiska had another male named Nova. He passed away in 2001 just weeks away from Algonquin, his half-brother's demise.
4. In 1998, at age 22, she had another male, Hudson, after Hudson Bay. He passed away in 2004, 2 months after her next calf, Athena's birth and his half- sister Neocia's demise.
5. In 2004, at the age of 28 she had her only daughter, Athena. She passed away in 2009 of unknown causes.
Kiska's birth ages, as said by veterinarian Larry Cornell, was appropriate. "SeaWorld has been breeding their females at exceptionally young ages, with the exception of Kasatka, Orkid and Kayla and our Kiska, all past the age of 12." said Mr. Cornell. He even mentioned that it is inappropriate to have Kohana, barely 10, to be pregnant again with her 16 year old uncle Keto, as her first calf Adan is barely 2 and inbreeding is high at Loro Parque, as Kohana, Tekoa and Skyla are related via Tilikum, and Keto and Skyla by their mother Kalina, and Kohana and Keto via their grandfather [Kohana] and father [Keto], Kotar.
Kiska will stay at MarineLand. She is due in October-December 2012, as the orca gestination period is 16-18 months. Her calves are both healthy and it's a female and male, as said by MarineLand vets.

I have no idea whether this information is true, some of the details sound a bit strange. I guess we'll find out at the end of next year...

December 6, 2011:
Captive orca could test Endangered Species Act

Forty years after hunters lassoed a young killer whale off Whidbey Island and sold it to a Florida theme park, whale advocates are turning to an unusual tactic to try to force the orca's release: the Endangered Species Act. In a move legal experts said could have significant implications for other zoos and aquariums, animal-rights activists recently sued the federal government, arguing that the law may require Lolita, the killer whale who still performs at the Miami Seaquarium, be reunited with pod members in the Northwest because Puget Sound's southern resident orcas were listed as endangered in 2005. They contend that keeping a highly social animal like an orca in a tank on the far side of the country should be viewed as harassment, and the Endangered Species Act (ESA) makes it illegal to "harass, harm, pursue, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect" an animal under its protection. The suit is part of an emerging trend as experts and lawyers debate the conditions under which animals in captivity should be subject to the ESA. In October, after a 10-year legal battle, activists lost an appeal of a high-profile federal court case against Ringling Bros. circus over whether its treatment of elephants — prodding them with bullhooks and shackling them between shows — violated the law. The court never ruled on the central question, deciding instead that the plaintiff, a former circus employee, didn't have proper legal standing to bring the suit. Meanwhile, this fall, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is formally considering reclassifying chimpanzees held in captivity in the United States as endangered, which could severely limit their use in medical research. "It's an interesting idea and poses some very interesting questions," said Dan Rohlf, a professor of environmental law at Lewis & Clark in Portland. "The question in this case may end up being whether or not anything the aquarium is doing could constitute harassment or harm of that whale. It would be important to look at what sort of minimum federal standards would apply to those sorts of aquariums, and whether or not this aquarium meets those standards." The Miami Seaquarium declined to answer questions about the lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Seattle, but maintained in a statement that Lolita is active, healthy and well-cared for, and that her tank and other conditions far exceed the minimum requirements of federal law. Whale activists, including Karen Munro, of Olympia, a plaintiff in the suit who said an orca capture she witnessed while sailing in Puget Sound in 1976 changed her life, have long been skeptical of that claim because the marine park won't share Lolita's medical records. "I think people are starting to realize some animals don't belong in captivity," Munro said. The lawsuit over Lolita is just the latest front in a battle that dates to her capture in 1970. On a hot August week that year, entrepreneurs herded more than 60 southern resident killer whales from Puget Sound's J, K and L pods into a three-acre net pen in Penn Cove off Whidbey Island. Their squeals and fluke slaps could be heard across the inlet as seven were towed to a dock and hoisted onto flatbed trucks for sale to exhibition outfits. A one-ton, 6-year-old female from L pod, later nicknamed Lolita, eventually wound up in Florida. Cetacean lovers for decades campaigned for her release, and often protested outside the Miami Seaquarium. In the 1990s, Washington Gov. Mike Lowry demanded that the marine park return the whale to Puget Sound. The Seattle Times' Erik Lacitis and the Miami Herald's Carl Hiaasen wrote dueling columns. The marine park wasn't interested, and maintained that Lolita — like Keiko, the killer whale made famous by the film "Free Willy" who died in 2003 after being returned to sea — wasn't equipped to survive in the wild. Then, in 2005, Puget Sound orcas were listed under the ESA. The National Marine Fisheries Service determined that whale-capture operations in the 1970s had contributed to their decline. But the agency exempted whales currently in captivity from the listing. Lolita, now about 47 years old, is the only whale still alive in a U.S. marine park from the August 1970 capture in Puget Sound. Orcas in the wild can live 80 years or more. Carter Dillard, chief counsel for the Animal Legal Defense Fund, also a plaintiff in the suit, said the law didn't allow the use of exemptions for wildlife held for a "commercial activity." But Ted Turner, who has spent 32 years working at or with marine parks, including as president of the International Marine Mammal Trainers Association, said the ESA expressly provides for zoos and aquariums. He also said his industry didn't get enough credit for its contribution to research, animal rescues and helping ward off extinctions. "When judges and lawyers get past the romantic vision that animals should be free they'll realize that Mother Nature is cruel," Turner said. Sometimes human intervention is necessary, and zoos and aquariums offer public education that "can turn apathy into empathy." Legal experts are split on the case's merits. David Favre, animal-law professor at Michigan State University, like Rohlf at Lewis & Clark, called the suit "very credible" and said he thought the plaintiffs had a "fair argument." Patrick Parenteau, a University of Vermont law professor, however, called it "a real reach." He's skeptical that an animal captured before the ESA was adopted in 1973 could be subjected to its provisions. But all three said suing the federal government rather than the theme park made legal standing a far less significant hurdle. And no one disputed that the potential reach of the case was vast. "The implications are huge," Parenteau said. "There are all kinds of animals held in captivity that could be covered by the ESA." Dillard, with the animal-defense group, said Lolita ultimately should be transferred to a larger holding system in Puget Sound where she could swim longer distances and communicate with other killer whales. "The ultimate goal would be to have the same protections that apply to wild populations apply to Lolita," Dillard said. "It could range from a vast improvement of the conditions of her captivity to something approximating a sea pen (located in the Northwest) where she could interact with her pod." The Miami Seaquarium, on the other hand, argued that the very conditions that led orcas to need the ESA would prove perilous to Lolita in Puget Sound. She "has learned to trust humans completely, and this longstanding behavioral trust would be dangerous for her if she were returned to Puget Sound, where commercial boat traffic and human activity are heavy, pollution is a serious issue and the killer whale population has been listed as an endangered species," the park wrote in a statement.

Source: Seattle Times

November 29, 2011:
Dutch transfer killer whale Morgan to Spain

A Dutch dolphin park hoisted a young killer whale onto a truck early Tuesday, preparing to transfer her to a Spanish amusement park after conservationists lost a legal battle to have her released into the open sea. Early in the morning, the 1,400 kilogram (3,085 pound) female orca named Morgan was lifted by crane, where she was resting in a hammock that restrains her movement and protects her fins. Trainers kept her wet during the transfer into a tank on the truck. Her container was to be put in a plane and flown to the Spanish island of Tenerife, where she will be transferred again to her new home in Loro Parque, said spokesman Bert van Plateringen. The city of Harderwijk issued an emergency ban blocking "Free Morgan" demonstrations during the transfer, though a coalition of conservationists who sought to have her released said they have no plans to interfere in the operation. "We would never do anything that could endanger Morgan," said coalition spokeswoman Nancy Slot. Morgan, who is estimated to be about 3 years old, weighed only 400 kilograms (880 pounds) when she was rescued in shallow waters off the Dutch North Sea coast in June 2010. The Dutch government permit that originally approved her capture said the dolphinarium could hold her and restore her health so she could be released. But after the park assembled a team of experts for advice on what to do next, it found she had little chance of survival in the wild unless her natal pod, or family, could be identified. Analysis of her vocal patterns showed only that she was from Norwegian waters. Opposing experts for the "Free Morgan" group said the dolphinarium was guided by financial interests, rather than concern for the animal's well-being. International treaties prohibit the trade of killer whales -- which are actually classified as oceangoing dolphins -- without difficult-to-obtain exemption permits. Fewer than 50 orcas are held in captivity worldwide and the bulk of them are owned by SeaWorld, a subsidiary of U.S. private equity giant Blackstone. A female capable of breeding and introducing new genes into the pool of captive orcas is worth millions of euros (dollars). The Dutch Dolphinarium is owned by France's Compagnie des Alpes. Loro Parque, owned by a German businessman, received its four orcas on loan from SeaWorld. Though Morgan cannot be transferred to the United States, any offspring she may have can be. The Harderwijk Dolphinarium, which put Morgan on display after her rescue, has not disclosed financial details of her shipment to Loro Parque, though Van Plateringen said it is not profiting from the deal. Orcas are thought to be among the most intelligent and social of mammals, and the idea of reintroducing captive whales into the wild garnered widespread public sympathy after the 1993 film "Free Willy." Real life releases have a mixed record at best, however. Keiko, the animal that starred in "Free Willy" was released in Icelandic waters after 20 years in captivity. He died, apparently of pneumonia, after surviving two months on his own and swimming about 870 miles (1,400 kilometers) to Norway. Though the "Free Morgan Coalition" says it will continue to seek Morgan's release, they concede her transfer to Spain is a major blow to their hopes. Experts agree that the less time the animals are exposed to humans the better their chances of survival in the wild.

Source: Boston Globe

November 22, 2011:
Judge decided against Morgan's freedom

An orca rescued in the Wadden Sea in summer 2010 is to move to an amusement park in Tenerife within the next few days, following a court ruling on Monday. The Dolfinarium in Hardewijk which had been looking after the animal is said to be ‘very pleased’ that Morgan will be once again among her kind at Loro Parque on the Spanish island of Tenerife, the Volkskrant writes. The Orca Coalition had been hoping to persuade the judge to put Morgan back with her family which it thinks is located off the coast of Norway. The organisation thinks sea parks like Loro exploit animals and disputes the contention that Morgan would be unable to survive in the wild. It is not known when the animal will be transported to Spain. It will have to be flown there but weighs 1,200 kilos and the logistics of the operation are likely to be complicated. Two weeks ago, it emerged the Dolfinarium is swapping Morgan for a number of dolphins. The park has also agreed to pay €100,000 to the Spanish centre because the cost of taking care of her will not pay for itself, news agency ANP said. Junior environment minister Henk Bleker approved the move to Tenerife, saying a release into the wild would be too risky.

Source: Dutch News

Comment: This is a cruel sentence for poor Morgan. Basically all scientists studying killer whales in the wild supported the rehabilitation option. Even four of the scientists that the Dolfinarium Harderwijk provided in the beginning of the process changed their mind and now spoke out for the rehabilitation plan. Norway was ready to welcome her with open arms. But, sadly enough, I'm not surprised by this verdict. The Dolfinarium Harderwijk will profit by receiving new animals from Loro Parque. Harderwijk's deal has also strengthened their business relationship with SeaWorld, which has a particular interest in Morgan's breeding potential (frankly, I'd be positively surprised if she reaches productive age). The Dutch government caved in to financial interests and was too afraid to stand up for Morgan. It failed miserably, like the Canadian government failed to support Luna (L98) a couple years ago. One can only wonder what it takes for a government to make the right decision instead of the cheap one...

November 17, 2011:
PETA lawsuit seeks to free Lolita

A federal court is being asked to grant Animal rights activists are expanding a novel legal campaign to free killer whales at Florida's marine attractions. Two groups on Thursday sued the National Marine Fisheries Service, accusing the agency of illegally carving out an exemption in 2005 that denied Lolita, an orca that has lived and performed at the Miami Seaquarium for 40 years, protection under endangered species laws. "This regulatory 'gift' to an industry notorious for making orcas' lives miserable is not only incredibly cruel but blatantly illegal," said Jeffrey Kerr, general counsel for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which filed the federal lawsuit in the state of Washington with the Animal Legal Defense Fund. Last month, PETA also sued SeaWorld Orlando, contending the attraction is keeping its five killer whales in conditions that violate the 13th Amendment ban on slavery - allegations SeaWorld dismissed as baseless. Fisheries service spokeswoman Christine Patrick said the agency does not discuss lawsuits. The Seaquarium also does not comment on legal matters but general manager Andrew Hertz issued a broad statement defending Lolita's care and living conditions and criticizing the tactics and goals of activists. He said scientists have agreed Lolita's life would be in jeopardy in the wild. "It would be irresponsible to treat her life as an experiment and jeopardize her health and safety to follow the whims of a small group of individuals who have no first-hand experience working with a killer whale - a group that has been infiltrated now by a domestic terrorist organization that encourages vandalism and park disruptions," Hertz said in a statement. The Lolita lawsuit focuses on a decision the fisheries service made in 2005 to declare the "southern resident" population of killer whales endangered because it had been reduced to three small groups called the J, K and L pods. But the agency, without explanation, also exempted whales previously placed in captivity - a group, activists allege, that covered only Lolita, a young member of the L pod when she was captured in 1970 and brought to Miami. Over the years, activists have pushed a number of "Free Lolita" campaigns with the goal of returning the killer whale to its home waters in the Northwestern Pacific. They've also fought to expand Lolita's tank but the United States Department of Agriculture, which oversees captive wild animal care, has rebuffed those efforts. Seaquarium was eventually forced to spend about $4 million on renovations. Delcianna Winders, a PETA attorney, said the goal of the suit is to find a new home for Lolita, "at minimum a seaside sanctuary," where the animal would not be asked to perform and could swim in ocean waters.

Source: Miami Herald

Miami Seaquarium's stand isn't made easier considering its ridiculous decision to hold a noisy party next to Lolita's tank. Check this out: Seattle P-I Blog

November 13, 2011: Ikaika goes back to SeaWorld

It looks like "Ikaika" the killer whale is headed home. A killer whale, believed to be the sea creature at the heart of a custody battle between Marineland and Florida's SeaWorld, was removed from the Niagara Falls amusement park Saturday night by a fleet of transport trucks, a crane and more than a dozen Niagara Regional Police escorts cars. As the slow-moving convoy crept along the Queen Elizabeth Way around 9 p.m., it puzzled a provincial police officer in the area. "They're taking this whale to the airport from Marineland," a police radio dispatcher broadcast to an officer who was wondering about the "14 cruisers all with their lights on" driving slowly and backing up traffic near Grimsby, Ont. "I have no idea what is going on," the officer radioed in. "I had my window down. One guy yelled at me, 'We're going to the airport.'" Police spokesman Nilan Dave described the unusual police activity as "transportation detail regarding an animal." Staff Sgt. Pat McCauley confirmed the Niagara police were hired on special duty to assist with the transfer of the whale. SeaWord loaned Ikaika, an 1,815-kilogram orca, to Marineland in 2006 in exchange for four beluga whales. But last year, the Florida company started legal action to scrap the deal and have Ikaika returned. In September, an Ontario Court of Appeal panel rejected Marineland's claim that the whale should stay in Niagara Falls. The appeal court upheld a lower court decision that Ikaika belonged to SeaWorld. The Florida park had a termination clause built into its loan agreement with Marineland. "This was not a guaranteed, long-term relationship," Justice Stephen Goudge wrote then in a nine-page ruling. "The termination provision is clear and not commercially unreasonable." A convoy of transport trucks and the fleet of Niagara Regional Police cars arrived at Marineland around 6 p.m., Saturday, said John (Ringo) Beam, a Niagara Falls businessman whose ice-making company sold about 520 pounds of ice to some truck drivers from Empire Transportation, a Grimsby specialty trucking company. Beam said he sold 20, 26-pound bags to the truckers around 5 p.m. When they wanted to meet at the McLeod Rd., Canadian Tire parking lot, showed up in a transport and said they needed the ice to cool something. Marineland has one other killer whale, Kiska. SeaWorld has 19 whales in the United States, which is the world's largest collection of captive killer whales.

Source: London Free Press

Meanwhile it has been confirmed that Ikaika went to SeaWorld California at San Diego (video). I would have prefered to see Ikaika reunited with his mother Katina at Orlando but SeaWorld apparently wanted a replacement male at San Diego after Sumar died last year. Without Sumar's death Ikaika would probably still be at Marineland Ontario.

November 7, 2011:
Judge will decide on Morgan's fate in a couple weeks

The orca Morgan must remain in the Netherlands for at least another two weeks pending another court ruling on her future, a judge in Amsterdam said on Monday. The orca, found in a weakened state in the Wadden Sea in June 2010, has been at the Harderwijk Dolfinarium ever since. Earlier this year, the centre reached a deal to transfer Morgan to an amusement part on the Spanish island of Tenerife. Animal rights groups are opposed to the move and are taking legal action against it. They argue the orca should be released into the wild and say there is a good chance members of her family have been identified. On Monday, the Dolfinarium went to court to speed up the animal's transfer to the amusement park. During the hearing, it emerged the Dolfinarium is swapping Morgan for a number of dolphins. The park has also agreed to pay 100,000 Euro to the Spanish centre because the cost of taking care of her will not pay for itself, news agency ANP said. The judge hearing the case criticised the agreement between the Dolfinarium in Harderwijk and Loro Parque, saying is not sufficiently transparent and is 'hanging over the case like a cloud'.

Source: Dutch News

Meanwhile, Norway would welcome Morgan with open arms: NRK

October 31, 2011:
Orca Morgan to be moved to Loro Parque

Orca Morgan at the Dolfinarium in Harderwijk, rescued from from the Wadden Sea in July 2010, starving and weak, may be moved to Loro Parque Zoo on Tenerife. Henk Bleker, Minister for Agriculture and Foreign Trade does not believe the animal can be released into the wild as its chances of survival would be very slim. In his view the orca’s move to Tenerife would be ‘the least bad solution’.
The decision to move the orca to Loro Parque had already been made in July. At the instigation of the orca coalition, a partnership of welfare organisations, the court had asked Mr Bleker to give his position a more solid basis. The orca coalition would rather see the orca released using a planned approach. The minister regrets he cannot agree to this solution: "This decision is in my view a kind of defeat because I believe these animals should be in the sea and not in a zoo, but there is no other choice."
The Orca Coalition objected to having the animal stay in the Dolfinarium after its recovery and wanted Morgan to be returned to the sea. The Orca Coalition believes the zoo in Tenerife lacks the relevant expertise and is therefore not a suitable sanctuary. In September the Ministry of Agriculture held a hearing to allow the Orca Coalition and the Dolfinarium to explain their views on the best solution to ensure the orca’s survival. Mr Bleker made up his mind only after having discussed the matter with both parties and studied the information given to him.
Mr Bleker believes the Dolfinarium has shown great care and acted in compliance with the Flora and Fauna Act. Scientists have studied the options carefully. "An animal like Morgan belongs in its natural surroundings, but not if this is at the expense of the animal’s welfare. Her family has not been traced, not even with the new sonar system. Also, Morgan is a juvenile and we are not sure if she is able to catch her own food. That is why returning her to the wild, an option I would prefer too, sadly would not be very promising."
Once it became clear that the animal could not be released into the wild, a sanctuary had to be found. In the view of the Dolfinarium too, the tank in the Harderwijk was no longer big enough. There are just a few locations in the world where orcas are held in groups. Loro Parque in Tenerife is one of them as it has one of the largest pools and is located in Europe, which is an advantage, as the journey time will be shorter.
Loro Parque is an EU approved park, which means it has educational and scientific research facilities alongside the commercial activities taking place. "Of course I would prefer an animal to be rescued with the intention of releasing it into its natural surroundings again, not to be placed in a sanctuary. But if its release into the wild is no longer an option, I believe this sanctuary would be the next best thing. The more so as the orca would have the opportunity to quickly come into contact with other orcas."
The decision to move the orca was announced today and Harderwijk Dolfinarium and the Orca Coalition were notified. A letter was sent to the House of Representatives explaining Mr Bleker’s decision.

Source: Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs, Agriculture and Innovation

Update: The Orca Coalition has appealed the Ministry decision and asked for the injunction of not moving Morgan until the end of the proceedings. The Dolfinarium Harderwijk requested the court to shorten the 6 weeks holding time to be able to move Morgan as soon as possible. The court hearing is set for November 7th.

Here's some background information on why Loro Parque provides a rather bleak option for Morgan.

October 31, 2011:
PETA lawsuit seeks to expand animal rights to orcas

A federal court is being asked to grant constitutional rights to five killer whales who perform at marine parks — an unprecedented and perhaps quixotic legal action that is nonetheless likely to stoke an ongoing, intense debate at America's law schools over expansion of animal rights. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals is accusing the SeaWorld parks of keeping five star-performer whales in conditions that violate the 13th Amendment ban on slavery. SeaWorld depicted the suit as baseless. The chances of the suit succeeding are slim, according to legal experts not involved in the case; any judge who hews to the original intent of the authors of the amendment is unlikely to find that they wanted to protect animals. But PETA relishes engaging in the court of public opinion, as evidenced by its provocative anti-fur and pro-vegan campaigns. The suit, which PETA says it will file Wednesday in U.S. District Court in San Diego, hinges on the fact that the 13th Amendment, while prohibiting slavery and involuntary servitude, does not specify that only humans can be victims. Jeff Kerr, PETA's general counsel, says his five-member legal team — which spent 18 months preparing the case — believes it's the first federal court suit seeking constitutional rights for members of an animal species. The plaintiffs are the five orcas, Tilikum and Katina based at SeaWorld in Orlando, Fla., and Corky 2, Kasatka and Ulises at SeaWorld San Diego. Tilikum, a six-ton male, made national news in February 2010 when he grabbed a trainer at the close of a performance and dragged her underwater until she drowned. Captured nearly 30 years ago off Iceland, Tilikum has enormous value as a stud and has fathered many of the calves born at SeaWorld parks. The lawsuit asks the court to order the orcas released to the custody of a legal guardian who would find a "suitable habitat" for them. "By any definition, these orcas are slaves — kidnapped from their homes, kept confined, denied everything that's natural to them and forced to perform tricks for SeaWorld's profit," said Kerr. "The males have their sperm collected, the females are artificially inseminated and forced to bear young which are sometimes shipped away." SeaWorld said any effort to extend the 13th Amendment's protections beyond humans "is baseless and in many ways offensive." "SeaWorld is among the world's most respected zoological institutions," the company said. "There is no higher priority than the welfare of the animals entrusted to our care and no facility sets higher standards in husbandry, veterinary care and enrichment." The statement outlined the many laws and regulations SeaWorld is obliged to follow, touted the company's global efforts to promote conservation of marine mammals, and said the orcas' performances help give the public a better appreciation and understanding of these animals. SeaWorld and other U.S. marine parks are governed by the Marine Mammals Protection Act, which allows public displays of the creatures if permits are obtained and the facility offers and education/conservation programs for the public. Overall, under prevailing U.S. legal doctrine, animals under human control are considered property, not entities with legal standing of their own. They are afforded some protections through animal-cruelty laws, endangered-species regulations and the federal Animal Welfare Act, but are not endowed with a distinct set of rights. However, the field of animal law has evolved steadily, with courses taught at scores of law schools. Many prominent lawyers and academics have joined in serious discussion about expanding animal rights. Rutgers University law professor Gary Francione, for example, contends that animals deserve the fundamental right to not be treated as property. Law professor David Favre of Michigan State University has proposed a new legal category called "living property" as a step toward providing rights for some animals. Favre was skeptical that litigation seeking to apply the 13th Amendment to animals would prevail. "The court will most likely not even get to the merits of the case, and find that the plaintiffs do not have standing to file the lawsuit at all," he said by email. "I also think a court would not be predisposed to open up that box with fully unknown consequences." Harvard law professor Laurence Tribe, who in past writings has proposed extending legal standing to chimpanzees, also expressed doubt that the courts were ready to apply the 13th Amendment to animals. But he welcomed the PETA lawsuit as a potentially valuable catalyst for "national reflection and deliberation" about humans' treatment of animals. "People may well look back at this lawsuit and see in it a perceptive glimpse into a future of greater compassion for species other than our own," Tribe wrote in an email. Tribe noted that some Americans might find it bizarre or insulting to equate any treatment of animals to the sufferings of human slavery. But he argued that the 13th Amendment was written broadly, to address unforeseen circumstances, and could legitimately be applied to animals. An African-American constitutional expert, Nicholas Johnson of Fordham University School of Law, said he could understand why some blacks might be insulted by the lawsuit, but didn't share that reaction: "I'm more entertained by it in the legal context than I am offended by it." PETA addressed this issue in the suit, noting that repeated Supreme Court rulings have applied the 13th Amendment to many forms of involuntary servitude beyond the type of slavery that existed during the Civil War. "The historical context is undeniable," said Jeff Kerr, the PETA lawyer. "But that's not what this case is about. It's about the orcas in their own right, not whether they are or aren't similar to humans." The five orcas are represented in the case by PETA and four individuals: Ric O'Barry, a longtime orca and dolphin trainer; Ingrid Visser, a New Zealand marine biologist who has studied orcas extensively; Howard Garrett, founder of the Orca Network, an advocacy group in Washington State; and Samantha Berg, a former orca trainer at SeaWorld Orlando. The lawsuit details the distinctive traits of orcas, the largest species within the dolphin family, including their sophisticated problem-solving and communicative abilities and their formation of complex communities. The suit alleges that captivity in the "barren tanks" of a marine park suppresses the orcas' abilities and relationships, and subjects them to stress. This sometimes leads to instances where the orcas injure themselves, other orcas or humans that interact with them, according to the suit. Naomi Rose, the Humane Society's marine mammal biologist, said there's a growing body of research suggesting that whales, dolphins and porpoises have the cognitive sophistication of 3-to-4-year-old human children. As for the orcas at SeaWorld, she said, "They don't seem to adapt to captivity. I would say they're miserable." At SeaWorld San Diego, visitors are shown a film touting the park's rescue efforts that have saved thousands of sea creatures. During the main performance, trainers point out how much the orcas are similar to humans: The babies cry before moving on to babbling and finally imitating the crackling sounds of the adults' voices.

Source: David Crary, Associated Press

October 31, 2011:
Humane Society releases report on killer whales in captivity

The Humane Society of the United States and Humane Society International have released a report outlining the arguments and scientific evidence against the public display of killer whales, or orcas, on animal welfare grounds. “The debate on captive orca welfare has been going on for more than 30 years and that’s far too long,” said Naomi Rose, Ph.D., senior scientist for Humane Society International and the author of the report. “The science is in and we should realize that nothing – not profit, not education, not conservation – can justify keeping this large, social, intelligent predator in a small box.” Keeping orcas in captivity is not just detrimental for the animals. Since 1964 — the first year an orca was displayed to the public — four people have been killed and dozens more injured by captive orcas. The most recent death occurred in February 2010, when trainer Dawn Brancheau was killed just after a show at SeaWorld featuring Tilikum, an approximately 30-year-old male orca. In August 2010, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration cited SeaWorld with a “willful” violation of safety regulations, meaning the company showed plain indifference to or intentional disregard for statutory requirements for employee safety and health, in the matter of Brancheau's death. Rose will be attending the hearing scheduled to begin today as the theme park challenges the agency’s findings. The report, “Killer Controversy: Why Orcas Should No Longer Be Kept in Captivity,” presents the growing body of scientific evidence showing that orcas do not adapt to captivity, including:

  • Previous analyses using data through 1992 showed that captive orcas have higher mortality rates than wild orcas; new analyses examining data through 2010 confirm that the situation has not improved in the past 18 years, and in fact has worsened. Captivity is, in essence, poor habitat for orcas, causing early death.
  • Captive female orcas give birth too young and too often, leading to both high adult and high infant mortality.
  • The most common cause of death for captive orcas is infection. Chronic stress may be an important factor in weakening the animals’ immune response.
  • Captive orcas have poor dental health compared to wild whales, which may be another factor in their susceptibility to fatal infections.
  • Orcas in captivity are more aggressive toward each other than in the wild. Females also behave abnormally toward their calves more often than in the wild.
  • Since captive orcas have been publicly displayed, they have seriously threatened the lives and safety of dozens of people, and four people have been killed. However, wild orcas have injured only a handful of people — none seriously — and there are no records, at any time in history, of them killing anyone.

The report recommends a phasing out of the practice of maintaining orcas in captivity. It also provides rebuttals to several specific claims and statements made by SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment, which owns the largest number of captive orcas in the world.

Here's the report: Killer Controversy

October 31, 2011:
Sea World's safety hearing to continue in November

Lawyers for SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment sought Friday to undermine the credibility of a killer-whale expert who had testified on Thursday that the animals are inherently unpredictable and aggressive. SeaWorld lawyer Carla Gunnin repeatedly questioned the credibility of Dave Duffus, a professor at the University of Victoria in British Columbia, because his research involves wild killer whales rather than captive ones. Gunnin seized on comments Duffus had made earlier that killer whales are naturally aggressive because they are driven by an instinctual need to find food. She noted that killer whales at SeaWorld are fed and kept "satiated." "You don't know if a killer whale is fed if, in fact, it would engage in predatory, aggressive behavior?" she asked. Duffus acknowledged he did not, but he added, "Instincts run deep." Gunnin also suggested that human contact — such as interactions between SeaWorld trainers and whales — could also alter behavior. "Have you ever seen humans touching killer whales in the wild?" she asked Duffus. "Directly touching? No." "So you don't know what influence that might have on a killer whale, in the wild or in captivity?" "No, I do not." Duffus served on a panel that investigated the 1991 death of a trainer at Sealand of the Pacific in Victoria. Tilikum, the whale that killed Brancheau, was involved in that death as well. In response to questioning by lawyers from the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Duffus said he was "struck by the similarities" of the two tragedies. Duffus also said he was alarmed by how close Brancheau was to Tilikum when he grabbed her. "I don't want to second-guess an experienced trainer, but I would not, given my experience with killer whales, ... be that close to Tilikum. No way on Earth," Duffus said. "What about if it was a killer whale other than Tilikum, would your opinion change?" asked OSHA attorney Tremelle Howard-Fishburne. "Maybe I'm inexperienced, maybe I'm overly cautious. ... I would not do it, personally, no." "And why wouldn't you do it?" "I have a great deal of respect for the fundamental nature of large predators," Duffus said. Upom questioning from Judge Ken Welsch, the administrative law judge overseeing the proceedings, Duffus said he didn't think people should be allowed within five to eight feet of Tilikum without an elevated barrier. Duffus conceded that SeaWorld's training regimen reduces the likelihood of dangerous incidents with the whales. But he said the risk cannot be totally eliminated as long as trainers remain in close contact with the animals. "The training program SeaWorld uses is influential. It does work," he said. "My point is it does not work all the time." SeaWorld is challenging the findings of an OSHA investigation prompted by Brancheau's death on Feb. 24, 2010, at SeaWorld Orlando. Welsch said Friday that the hearing, which began Monday, would reconvene Nov. 15 in the same Seminole County courthouse where it has taken place all this week. The final witness called Friday was Les Grove, the area director for OSHA's Tampa office, who oversaw the agency's SeaWorld investigation. Grove said OSHA cited SeaWorld with a "willful" violation — its most severe category — in part because documents and interviews showed the company was clearly aware of the danger of allowing trainers to work in close contact with killer whales yet still allowed the interactions to continue. OSHA has recommended that trainers never again be allowed to work in close contact with any of SeaWorld's whales unless they are protected by a physical barrier or some other means that provides the same level of protection — a standard that would effectively prevent trainers from ever getting in the water with the animals again. Grove was asked what else he thought could provide the same protection as a barrier. "Distance," he replied. When they got their chance to question Grove, SeaWorld's attorneys grilled him over OSHA's position that its citation applies only to interactions trainers have during public shows — but not to any other interactions with the whales that occur at other times. "You're not saying, as long as it's not a show, they can do water work, are you?" Gunnin asked him. "What's the difference between any type of close contact." Grove insisted the citation applies only to SeaWorld's shows. But he added, "As a responsible employer, if you're aware of other interactions where they [employees] are exposed to the hazard, you should take action." After the weeklong hearing ended Friday, SeaWorld issued a written statement in which it addressed the risks inherent in the trainers' jobs: "[W]hile maintaining a safe environment for our trainers, the demands of humane care require our zoological team to work in close physical proximity to these animals," the company said. "Our trainers are among the most skilled, trained and committed zoological professionals in the world today. The fact that there have been so few incidents over millions of interactions with killer whales is evidence not just of SeaWorld's commitment to safety, but to the success of that training and the skill and professionalism of our staff."

Source: Jason Garcia, Orlando Sentinel

October 31, 2011:
Bingo, Stella and Ran 2 to be moved to Port of Nagoya Aquarium

The Chunichi Shimbun reports that three whales are to be transferred from Kamogawa Sea World to Port of Nagoya Aquarium: adult male Bingo, adult female Stella and her daughter Ran 2. It states that Stella is three months pregnant and due in December 2012. The newspaper also cites Kamogawa management officals that another female at Kamogawa is pregnant (Lovey or Lara) and that Kamogawa is not facilitated to support two killer whale births at the same time. Hence Kamogawa offered the three whales to Port of Nagoya Aquarium. Nagoya accepted them under the condition that Kamogawa supports the move financially and provides experienced staff members. The transfer is supposed to take place early 2012.

Source: Chunichi Shimbun (cudos to Kozy for the find)

October 31, 2011: Marineland Canada has sued SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment in U.S. court, in the latest chapter of an international custody battle over a killer whale.

In its lawsuit, filed last week in Orlando, Marineland asks a federal court judge to issue an injunction that would prevent SeaWorld from retaking possession of an 8-year-old killer whale that SeaWorld loaned to Marineland five years ago. Marineland says SeaWorld executives repeatedly assured it that the loan would extend for so long as Marineland was able to care for the whale, which is named "Ikaika" but nicknamed "Ike." The park, located in Niagara Falls, Ontario, also says the purpose of the loan was to allow Ikaika to breed with Marineland's only other killer whale, a female named Kiska, and that Ikaika became capable of mating only late last year. Marineland suggests that SeaWorld wants to end the agreement now because one of its few other breeding-age males — a 12-year-old killer whale named Sumar — died last year at SeaWorld San Diego. "It is no coincidence that this whale died three months before SeaWorld started this custody battle," lawyers for Marineland alleged in a legal brief.
Marineland sued less than a month after an Ontario appellate court ruled that SeaWorld was within its rights to terminate its loan agreement with Marineland. The two parks entered into the pact in November 2006, with SeaWorld sending Ikaika to Marineland in exchange for four beluga whales. "Marineland's claims are entirely without merit and are the same claims that were rejected by the Canadian courts," SeaWorld said in a written statement Wednesday. "We will defend this action and are doing so in the best interest of Ikaika. Because we are again in court, it is inappropriate for us to comment further." SeaWorld has said in earlier legal filings that it has become concerned about Ikaika's health in Marineland's care. Marineland says Ikaika is doing well and that removing the animal could threaten the health of both Ikaika and Kiska, who would be left alone at Marineland. The increasingly vitriolic dispute between two facilities that have long collaborated on projects underscores the value of captive killer whales. The giant ocean predators are the biggest draws in the marine-park industry, but obtaining new ones is difficult because negative publicity makes capturing them in the wild impractical. "Marineland will be irreparably harmed if SeaWorld takes custody of Ike. Ike is a major attraction at Marineland and he simply cannot be replaced," Marineland's lawyers wrote. "SeaWorld has the largest population of killer whales in the world, and Marineland has only Ike and Kiska."

Source: Jason Garcia, Orlando Sentinel

Zoocheck Canada has unearthed some interesting court information:
There were some interesting things in the documentation including allegations by Seaworld that Ikaika was not being cared for properly at Marineland. They note in particular that Ikaika had not grown since his arrival at Marineland and has elevated blood cell levels consistent with stress. They also highlight some beharviour issues that lead to Ikaika and Kiska being separated and the impact to Ikaika's psychological wellbeing as a result. No one seemed to care at all about Kiska's wellbeing.
Marineland claims that Ikaika suffers from a chronic dental problem that was documented to be a problem well before he was moved to Marineland and that while the condition is chronic, they are treating it in the fashion that they were advised by SeaWorld (flushing the area of the mouth, antibiotics and pain killers). They say this is the reason for the elevated blood levels, they do not admit to the stress aspect outside of whatever stress is caused by the chronic tooth problem. Outside of that Lanny Cornell claims that Ikaika is perfectly healthy and that now Kiska and Ikaika are housed together again Ikaika is attempting to breed with Kiska, as though it is a happy love affair.
Some interesting things that turned up in reading the affidavits, cross examinations and exhibits are as follows:

  • Seaworld has been sending sperm to another facility as part of their experiments with artificial insemination. No doubt flying orcas from place to place is expensive and they want to find a cheaper way to do business.
  • Seaworld owns 24 orcas, 18 which are at US SeaWorld facilities and another 6 currently out on loan to other facilities
  • Seaworld claims to be an expert in transporting orcas citing that they have on average transferred 1 orca every 18 months over the past 25 years
  • Mike Bunn was fired by Marineland in December 2010 and is now working for Seaworld
  • John Holer refuses to use enrichment toys at Marineland because he does not like how they look in the pools
  • Marineland trainers are not allowed to attend IMATA meetings and as a result are not using the most current training methods putting people in danger
  • Ikaika has grabbed trainers boots, targets and one person's arm. Seaworld notes this as proof that the situation is becoming dangerous now that Ikaika is becoming sexually mature. They also note that the public interacts with the animals and this could be dangerous. They never mention the incidents at their own parks and strangely Holer never raises the issue either - maybe he just wants to avoid any discussion that these animals can be dangerous to trainers or the public.
  • Holer notes in his affidavit that Brad Andrews told him that sand blowing into the tanks at the Canary Islands facility is causing breathing problems for the orcas, but SeaWorld denies this
  • They put an estimated value on belugas at $25,000 each and the same value for a trained sea lion. Although these were clearly arbitrary numbers they were using to avoid any money transfer or a deemed disposition that could result in a tax liability.
  • Marineland's whales are in Seaworld's opinion being under fed because they are regurgitating food consistently after eating and Marineland is not compensating for this behaviour by feeding more. Marineland apparently does not have a scale to weigh the whales but claim to be looking into getting one. Seaworld feels that this inappropriate amount of food has lead to Ikaika's growth being stunted.
  • Brad Andrews notes in his cross examination that August Busch said that Lanny Cornell should not be allowed anywhere near his whale. It sounded like August hates Lanny for some reason.
  • August Busch himself negotiated many of these deals up front and then left them in the hands of his employees to complete. He flew Holer and his son to his private estate by helicopter after a tour of one of his amusement parks to wine and dine him when first negotiating this deal.
  • Seaworld acknowledges that wild caught whales are hard to get into the US but say it is possible.

Here's another news article on the case: Courthouse News Service

August 11, 2011:
Details about a new park in Romania

There's a blog post about the planned new marine park that apparently wants to showcase orcas (thanks to Kimmy Vengeance for the info). We'll see whether that really will happen, I still have my doubts.

August 7, 2011:
A Dutch court on Wednesday blocked the export of a young orca whale that had been rescued sick and emaciated a year ago off the Netherlands' northern coast. The Amsterdam District Court ruled that Morgan, a killer whale 3 or 4 years old who was due to be shipped to a Spanish amusement park, would remain in the Harderwijk Dolphinarium for now, but would be moved from her small cement tank to a larger enclosure with other animals. The court ruled that more research be conducted to find a solution for Morgan, and ordered the dolphinarium, the government and the animal rights activists who filed the case to work together. The activists, who had filed the suit to block a government-issued export permit, hailed the ruling as an unprecedented victory, even though they failed to win immediate approval for their plan to gradually reintroduce Morgan back into the ocean. A Free Morgan Group, reminiscent of the popular 1993 film "Free Willy," began gathering an international following soon after the black-and-white whale was caught in the Wadden Sea in June 2010. Scientists disagreed about Morgan's survival chances if she returned to the wild. Orcas are highly sociable animals, and scientists arguing on behalf of the dolphinarium said she would soon die unless she found her original pod, or family. Experts of the Free Morgan Group said Morgan would face the same prospects of rejection if she were to be sent as planned to the Loro Parque on Tenerife in the Canary Islands, which has four other orcas. "This is a massive victory," said Wietse van der Werf of the Orca Coalition of Holland, an ad hoc advocacy group. "This is the first time in history that the export of an orca has been blocked by a judge. It exposes the international trade among dolphinariums as a very lucrative industry," he told The Associated Press from outside the courtroom. About a dozen experts and scientists from both sides argued for more than three hours in judge H. Kijlstra's crowded courtroom, all claiming to represent the best interests of the whale. Highly endangered, orcas live between 50 and 90 years in the wild and bear only up to four calves. In captivity they frequently die before they reach age 10. Van der Werf said the decision was a "good first step" that would remove Morgan to a tank five or six times larger than the enclosure where she has been on public display since last March. She would join a group of dolphins with whom she has been communicating but has been unable to see, the activist said. The Free Morgan scientists outlined their plan in court to move the whale to an artificial bay near Rotterdam, where she could be "rehabilitated" and get used to being in the open sea again. She would be electronically tagged and trained to follow a boat and return to the boat when called. If the researchers find that she has linked up with a pod of orcas, they would leave her but continue to monitor her movements. Orcas have rarely been returned from the wild after being in captivity. The most famous example was Keiko, the star of the "Free Willy" film who was caught at age 2 and released under lengthy supervision after 20 years in various marine parks. Although he died in 2003 at age 26 - apparently of pneumonia - he had swum about 870 miles (1,400 kilometers) and had lived for months in freedom by then. "Morgan is a prime candidate" for release into the wild, said Ute Margreff, of Marine Connection, a British-based charity. "She comes from the wild ocean. She has only been in captivity one year. She knows her way. And the world's best researchers are there for her."
Source: Arthur Max, AP and Seattle P-I

Note: Apparently the Dolfinarium Harderwijk had made arrangements to send Morgan to Loro Parque this week. The government officials at court seemed quite unprepared for the judge's questions and admitted that they hadn't really studied all the documents that Ingrid Visser and other killer whale researchers had provided. If you want to help Morgan please consider donating to the Orka Coalitie. Covering the legal costs of this court battle is at the moment the most urgent obstacle in the continuing fight for Morgan's freedom. The ultimate goal is to reunite Morgan with her extensive North Atlantic family.

July 24, 2011:
The feature-length documentary "A Fall From Freedom", that tells the story behind the captive whale and dolphin industry, can now be watched in its entirety on this website.
July 18, 2011:
If you really care about orcas and their trainers you need to read this amazing investigative report on Loro Parque and the death of Alexis Martinez: Outside Magazine.
July 14, 2011:
Apparently the Dolfinarium Harderwijk has applied for a permit to fly young female Morgan out to Loro Parque in Tenerife, Spain. This rumour has been around for a while but it seems to be substantiating. Personally I don't think that this is a wise transfer considering the park and the composition of the whales there (a bunch of kids with no experienced adult female). But Loro Parque is basically a holding facility for SeaWorld whales. Obviously SeaWorld would love to include Morgan and her fresh genes in their breeding program which is currently heading for increased inbreeding. Anyway, any possible transfer will have to wait until the legal issues are resolved.
July 8, 2011:
Theme parks battle over killer whale custody

A whale of an international custody case has surfaced, with a Niagara Falls theme park refusing to surrender an orca to its U.S. owners. In a court decision that would terrify any repo man, Ontario Superior Court Justice Richard A. Lococo has this week ordered Marineland Canada Inc. to return Ikaika, an eight-year-old male orca, to SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment LLC as soon as the 1,815-kilogram youngster is ready to go south. But Marineland isn't budging. It announced Thursday it will appeal to the Ontario Court of Appeal. "The present dispute with SeaWorld over Ikaika is unfortunate," the company said in a statement. "Marineland believes that Ikaika should be allowed to stay at Marineland. That was the original understanding between SeaWorld and Marineland."
SeaWorld in Orlando, Florida loaned "Ike" to Marineland for breeding in 2006, according to the decision. In December, it gave notice it was terminating the "breeding loan agreement" and asked for the killer whale back. Marineland said no. A legal tug-of-war over the 5.2-metre long mammal ensued, with SeaWorld going to court to free Ike from Canada. Though the company argued its case strictly on contractual grounds, evidence put before the court by SeaWorld indicated that by 2009, "it had become concerned about Ikaika's physical and psychological health if it remained at Marineland," according to the reasons for the decision. Marineland, meanwhile, unsuccessfully requested a full-blown trial to argue that the termination provision of the breeding loan agreement was ambiguous. It says the two companies had a previous written understanding that the agreement could only be terminated by the SeaWorld if Marineland was no longer able to properly maintain Ike. Otherwise, it could keep him for life.
Lococo sided with SeaWorld. "In my view, SeaWorld has properly terminated the breeding loan agreement and is entitled to possession of Ikaika," he wrote in a decision released this week. "Accordingly, an order will issue granting SeaWorld recovery of possession of Ikaika, and ordering Marineland to co-operate in any way reasonably necessary to allow the safe and expeditious transport of Ikaika from Canada to the United States." In a statement Thursday, SeaWorld said: "the court has found that the breeding loan with Marineland was properly terminated so plans are being made to co-ordinate Ikaika's move in the not-too-distant future." It also suggested its concerns remain over the animal's welfare. "We maintain an abiding interest in the welfare of our animals and do not hesitate to act in their best interest if we feel that a partner institution is not meeting its obligations in veterinary care, husbandry or training."
Ike remains in his tank at Marineland's Friendship Cove with the park's only other orca, Kiska. They have so far failed to produce offspring. Ikaika - Hawaiian for "strong" - was sired by Tilikum and born at SeaWorld in 2002. In February 2010, a SeaWorld trainer was killed when Tilikum dragged her under the water, one of three human deaths linked to him. As of last fall, SeaWorld had a reported 23 killer whales in its corporate collection, including Ike.

Source: Ian Macleod, Postmedia News, Canada.com

July 6, 2011:
Moana is a little male

Turns out that Wikie's calf Moana is a male and not, as first reported, a female. Check out at about 2m into this video by Marineland Antibes.

May 9, 2011:
Rumours about a new park in Romania

A tv network from Romania published an article about a proposed new marine park that allegedly will showcase orcas. Considering the poor economic situation in Romania, I find that hard to believe. And considering the awful state of animal welfare in Romina, I hope will all my heart that this plan will never substantiate.

March 20, 2011:
Wikie gave birth

Last Wednesday 10-year-old female Wikie gave birth at Marineland Antibes. The calf is a female and Wikie appears to be very protective of her firstborn. Wikie had been artificially inseminated using semen of SeaWorld male Ulises. Here's a video by Marineland Antibes.

March 7, 2011:
Worrying news about Lolita

The last surviving captive from the endangered Southern Residents killer whale community, 45-year-old female Lolita, is fighting an infection. Dental infections are very serious because bacteria can spread through open root canals into the main blood system (see study below).

News report at NBC Miami, editorial at West Palm Beach Examiner.

May 2011: I'm glad to report that Lolita appears to have recovered from this illness.

March 7, 2011:
SeaWorld still in legal and moral troubles

One year after the tragic death of trainer Dawn Brancheau the management of SeaWorld announced that it will return to previous practices. At the same time SeaWorld is trying to keep its upcoming Occupational Safety and Health Administration hearings behind closed doors.

More info on these issues at The Orca Project (incl. interviews with former orca trainers Samantha Berg, John Jett and Jeff Ventre).

March 7, 2011:
Last news was that young female Morgan, who was discovered all by herself in Dutch waters in June 2010 and brought to Dolfinarium Harderwijk for rehabilitation, was not going to be released back to the wild.

But a group called The Orca Coalition is still fighting that decision and hopes to get Morgan back to the wild seas:

"The Orca Coalition has engaged a lawyer to move the Ministry to accept a “second opinion” about the future of orca Morgan. After more than seven months she is still being held in a small tank in the Dolphinarium Harderwijk. The Orca Coalition’s first demand is to transfer Morgan to a specially designed enclosure in Deltapark Neeltje Jans in The Netherlands as soon as possible. This is a more natural environment and she will have more space. She will be permanently under expert supervision to begin the first steps to rehabilitation.

More than 40 independent international orca experts united in the Free Morgan Group, and presented a rehabilitation plan to the Ministry of Economic Affairs, Agriculture and Innovation in the Netherlands last year. However, this plan was ignored while a report presented by the Dolphinarium recommending Morgan to remain in captivity, was adopted by the Ministry without any review. In the Dolphinarium’s report, seven “independent” experts advised against the release of Morgan. The Orca Coalition challenges both the independence and expertise of these individuals. Doubts cast on their independence and expertise are based on advice being solicited from an orca trainer, a SeaWorld veterinarian, a seabird expert, and someone who has been working closely with the Dolphinarium for years.

The lawyer engaged by the Orca Coalition, Mr. Wijngaarden from the law firm Böhler in Amsterdam, has started legal proceedings on behalf of the Orca Coalition. Relevant information about the orca must not be withheld by the Dolphinarium any longer and must be released. Furthermore, a second opinion in the form of the Coalition’s plan must be accepted by the Ministry for consideration. The Orca Coalition is of the opinion that adherence to international laws and regulations governing cetacean species will result in the eventual release of Morgan.

“The orca is entitled to a fair chance to regain her freedom. The Ministry should not accept the advice from the Dolphinarium without an independent review”, states Mr. M.F. Wijngaarden, lawyer for the Orca Coalition.

The Orca Coalition has received many pledges of support from various sources. Members of the public who wish to help fund this legal action may do so through the website Orka Coalitie.

The Orca Coalition is a collaboration between a number of Dutch animal and conservation organisations: Sea First Foundation, PINK!, Dolphinmotion, Een Dier Een Vriend (EDEV – an animal a friend), Bite Back, The Black Fish and Four Paws."

February 6, 2011:
Capture plans in Russia and Japan

Russia has extended the permit for allowing up to 10 killer whales to be captured from the wild, reports the Russian Orca Project.

And there rumours that Taiji has applied for permits to capture 5 orcas, one to replace Nami who was sold from Taiji to Nagoya and died on 14 January this year (see below for update on her), one for Taiji and the others are probably destined for new projects in China.

Please write to the embassies of Japan and Russia in your country and let them that future captures from the wild are unacceptable. Both the orca populations in Japan and Russia are endangered, as far as one can tell from the few studies out there.

February 6, 2011:
Study about stress of orca captivity

Two former SeaWorld trainers have published an interesting and thought-provoking paper about the Stress of Orca Captivity. They basically confirm my very own mantra that killer whales (and cetaceans in general) don't belong in captivity.

Spanish version here.

January 14, 2011:
Nami died at Port of Nagoya

28-year-old female Nami has passed away at Port of Nagoya Public Aquarium. She had been sick since mid December and unfortunately lost her fight with the illness. Nami was captured off Taiji in October 1985 together with male Goro, who died at Nanki Shirahama Adventure World almost exactly six years ago. Nami spent most of her life at Taiji Whale Museum and had only been moved to Nagoya last June. She had been the last surviving captive orca caught in Japanese waters. It had been announced early December that Nagoya would get two whales from Kamogawa Sea World, 28-year-old male Bingo and 24-year-old female Stella. No news on that front so far.

Update February 6, 2011: Apparently Nami had swallowed a huge amount of rocks while at Taiji. Here are the reports by The Mainichi Daily News and The Orca Project.

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