Monday, May 8, 2017

Human & Non-Human Deaths at SeaWorld

On Christmas Eve 2009 the SeaWorld orca Keto killed trainer Alexis Martinez. The two were practicing "stand-on spy-hops" for a show. Keto became frustrated when two high-energy but imperfect stand-ons were not bridged & rewarded by the lead trainer on stage, a supervisor from SeaWorld of California. The frustrated Keto took it out on Alexis, crushing his ribs & driving him to the bottom of the concrete pool. 













60 days later the SeaWorld orca Tilikum brutalized Dawn Brancheau, his third victim; except on this occasion he pulled her from a shallow ledge. All three of Tilikum's victims were dragged into the the water by an arm or leg, based on witness reports, video & forensic evidence. Why waterwork was not halted corporate-wide after Alexis' death remains a mystery, but in this case SeaWorld put profits over safety. 

The human tragedies, also including Keltie Byrne & Daniel Dukes, have been described by journalists including Tim Zimmermann and Elizabeth Batt, and they've also been immortalized in the documentary Blackfish, as well as in David Kirby's book Death at SeaWorld




Note: There remains volumes of unreported material on these human tragedies, the OSHA trial, the cover ups, the 27 minute delay in calling the Orange County Florida Sheriff, the gag orders, the misinformation; enough for many more books, articles, dissertations, or films. 



Click HERE to read this article












While tragic, these stories focus on the loss of human life, with less attention given to the suffering experienced by all captive marine mammals who are forced to live and be on display until death. We advocate for seaside sanctuaries as retirement areas for currently captive cetaceans. Read about the Whale Sanctuary Project, here





So what happens to the whales when they die at SeaWorld? The industry has been effective at keeping details away from the public, mainly by lobbying lawmakers to pen or amend laws that allow them to NOT publish necropsy reports & other health or welfare data. The industry realizes that more transparency translates into public outrage & lower stock prices. Below are 5 videos and a testimonial that describe the death process at SeaWorld, but for whales, not humans.  



Video one: Ex SeaWorld trainer Samantha Berg describes the death of the false killer whale known as "Zori." 





Video two: Ex SeaWorld trainer Dean Gomersall describes the death of the orca Kanduke





Video three: Excerpt from the Blue Freedom Film, Voiceless. Please go to minute 12:00 to hear Dr John Jett describe how killer whales are "disposed of" at SeaWorld 





Video Four with journalist Elizabeth Batt: Go to 4:20 to learn how the orca "Splash" died with "Hundreds of pounds of sand in his stomach." 






Video Five: At the end of the BBC radio interview with Dr. Jeffrey Ventre, he describes what happened with blackfish Tilikum 




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More Death at SeaWorld 


Preface: Cynthia Payne is a former SeaWorld animal care handler and president of a company in North Carolina called Go Green, Inc, which she founded in 2007. She's lived in Holland & Germany and is an accomplished equestrian rider. After watching Blackfish, she reached out to us, at Voice of the Orcas, with this moving testimony, which we originally published, here.

She was employed by SeaWorld, in Orlando, from 1992 to 1994, and told us, "I truly, truly cared for the animals and admired several of the people I worked with and for, but I also recognized it was wrong." Cynthia adds her voice to ours, and to a growing number of former industry workers, and citizens, who are speaking out against companies who display intelligent, self-aware creatures for human amusement. 

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Cynthia bottle feeds a small manatee as others surround her

"Over the course of three years and as an employee of the animal care department, SeaWorld of Florida, Orlando,  I witnessed the deaths and misery of several animals including that of [orca] Nootka’s stillborn calf."

[Below is Cynthia's story - unedited] 

During this time, I participated in “whale watch” [aka "night-watch"]; extra personnel to watch for the upcoming birth of Nootka’s calf. She seemed separated from all of the whales, her only apparent communication was through the gates. Touch, feel, social interaction is a critical component to a whale's life.  I remember so many nights of sitting up with her, listening to her cry at the gates.  I was young, 18-19 years of age. What did I know, I thought? But the doubts were amassing as to my remaining [employment] at SeaWorld.   

Cynthia on Night-watch at Shamu Stadium
On the night of her calf's birth, I was present, next to her pool on whale watch.  Nootka gave birth to a stillborn calf. 

The next few hours were a horror movie.

Staff members, everywhere, were giving orders and decided they must immediately remove the stillborn calf, thus refusing Nootka any time to grieve. 

Nootka fought and fought AND FOUGHT. She carried the stillborn calf repeatedly, trying to keep it at bay from the staff. 

Mercilessly, the staff seemed intent on the calf’s immediate removal. I turned to the vet on-site, almost in tears and I asked “Can't she have a moment to grieve?”  There was no debate, there was 'no time,' he stated. They needed to take the calf immediately.


The "Animal Care" Department at SeaWorld of Florida in 1994


This night replays over and over in my head, I can still hear her screams. 

The SeaWorld staff dropped a net the depth and width of the pool.  Nootka would try to pick up the net  and then at other times push her baby over it, all in an effort to escape this onslaught of people, everywhere, screaming orders and trying to take her calf away. Certainly, any mother would need, desire, require some time to grieve?

They gave her nothing. They took the stillborn. Nootka was forced into a holding pool, hardly enough space to turn around.

I sat with her that night on whale watch. I had witnessed everything. She cried through the night.  She cried and cried. I still hear her screams and I still wish I could have helped her. 

I sat in total disbelief at the events of that night. I was horrified... feeling as a participant, of any kind. She died shortly after this night. I was hopeful she was in a better place. This night replays as a vivid movie over and over again in my head with her screams and cries sounding just as sorrowful as they did that night .  I remember feeling sickened at my participation and then relief knowing… I was leaving SeaWorld.


Saturday, March 11, 2017

Part Two: Elizabeth Shares more Damning SeaWorld Photos & Information

Ike's damaged mouth from jaw popping. Photo: Elizabeth
At our last blog, here, you met marine biology student, Elizabeth, who uses her proximity and season pass to access SeaWorld's California orca "collection." She has the goal of collecting forensic evidence and sharing truth regarding the conditions of captivity. Elizabeth is a cetacean lover who imagined becoming an orca trainer, at one point, but now advocates for captive whales and dolphins using a camera. We're honored to publish more of her photographs this week and pleased to share more information on Elizabeth's personal story via a brief Q&A session.  In her own words:
I witnessed a very aggressive attack between two orcas that changed the way I viewed them in captivity. After years of doing my own research on the captivity industry and learning how SeaWorld obtained many of its orcas I decided to take action. I’m currently in school for marine biology... Before I decided to go to school I really wanted to be a SeaWorld trainer.


Photo by Elizabeth shows extensive rake marks on Makani 

Q: Elizabeth, when did u first recognize the dental problems of captive killer whales?

A: I've noticed it since I was young. I even remember asking a trainer as a kid and getting the typical SeaWorld public relations (PR) answers. I started documenting each individual orca's teeth to show the public just how bad they are and still continue to decline.

Q: Dr John Jett and I have written several papers that discuss this issue. Have you read any of those?


A: Yes, your and JJ's paper in 2011, Keto & Tilikum Express the Stress of Orca Capvitity 

This solution was reportedly dripped into the eyes of a captive dolphin at SeaWorld, presumably for infection


Q: Have you witnessed teeth irrigations and how often do the trainers flush the broken teeth

A:  Flushing of teeth is hard to capture since trainers don't typically want the public to see this. But I have seen trainers do it. Normally teeth irrigations are performed after shows since the orcas received fish that can get impacted in the open [bore] holes. But this isn't always the case [that they do it after shows].


With mouth open, a captive orca is preparing to have her teeth flushed out. Fish gets trapped in the open bore holes


Captive orca is getting her broken left maxillary teeth flushed out by a SeaWorld trainer. Photo by Elizabeth 

Q: Have you witnessed orcas jaw popping or biting down in the steel gates?

A:  I have seen many orcas chewing on gates. I even have video of Kalia doing it. I also see Ike and a few others jaw popping. They do it a lot out of boredom.


Photo by Elizabeth shows the damaged mouth and jaw of Northern Resident killer whale Corky 


Q: Elizabeth, your research is valuable. Thank you for sharing this photographic evidence. How many hours or days of observations have you done in the past year or years?

A: Oh gosh...  I've been doing this on and off for a while. But I really cracked down on documenting it all since late 2015. I go to SeaWorld at least 2-3 times a month. Each visit lasts for about 5 hours; unless security chases me away.



Elizabeth's photo shows Shouka's damaged lower jaw with Amaya next to her. 

Q: Have you watched the whales grind their teeth on concrete?

A: Yes, I have. They often do this under the water so it's hard to capture it on film. But normally you will see paint left on their teeth


Drs Visser, Jett & Ventre could not determine what this photograph of Orkid's teeth depicts. Pigment vs tooth?

Q:  What message would you like to share with the people who will be appreciating & viewing your teeth photographs?

A:  Always speak up. The more voices we have talking about this issue the more changes we will see. People sometimes forget that SeaWorld is a for profit & publicly traded corporation, not a conservation organization. Profit and attendance means everything to them. So the more people that speak and share this information...  the more aware the public becomes & the more pressure it puts on the company to change its ways. 

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Elizabeth Shares Her SeaWorld Orca Images with the World

At Voice of the Orcas, Carol, John, Samantha and I continue our evidence based advocacy work via writings, interviews, symposiums, consultation, sponsoring legislation, journal articles & Superpod conferences. We also partner up, when we can, with young leaders. 

On 24 February 2010, and as former SeaWorld (SW) trainers, we were compelled to speak out when it became apparent SW was misinforming the public and skewing facts surrounding the death of their star trainer. The captivity giant is also famous for spreading misinformation regarding captive orca longevity, dental health, collapsed fins, social strife and more. Note the rake marks on Amaya's head below. 


Image from Elizabeth shows a fresh and fairly deep rake mark on Amaya's head




Participating in the captivity debate has taken us abroad, and it's been the young people we've met, globally, that give us hope. The younger generation gets it. It gives us great pleasure to link up with students who shifted their dream from "orca trainer" to animal advocate.




Photo by Elizabeth: Shows two collapsed dorsal fins on Keet & Ikaika "Ike" 


This blog features Elizabeth, a young marine biology student who, like us, felt the need to speak up for the orcas at SeaWorld. She does her work of taking high quality still images and videos, with a camera. After this paragraph, we turn the blog over to her, including images she wants you to see and the inspiration for her work. Note that she lives in San Diego and uses her access to the park to collect these photos, all from SeaWorld's California "collection" 





From this view, Corky has no viable mandibular teeth. You can see bore holes and evidence of teeth grinding on concrete. Photo by Elizabeth 



___________________________________

Hi, my name is Elizabeth... 

I was that kid…  Entranced by the lights, the music and the energy that was so thick you could feel it in the air. But most of all I was mesmerized by the raw power of the Killer Whales. As I got older I realized the truth that SeaWorld so desperately tries to hide. 




A fresh rake make (still red in color) is seen on the right dorsal surface of Keet's body (caudal to the dorsal fin) 


I witnessed a very aggressive attack between two orcas that changed the way I viewed them in captivity.  After years of doing my own research on the captivity industry and learning how SeaWorld obtained many of its orcas I decided to take action. I’m currently in school for marine biology to help bring change for these animals. Before I decided to go to school I really wanted to be a SeaWorld trainer. 



The skin covering Nakai's lower jaw has not healed properly since it was scraped or bitten off 



Some may call me a hypocrite... but the way I see it, I was blinded, like many, when it comes to SeaWorld. My goal is to help people wake up. Or at least give them accurate information so they can decide for themselves what they think. 



Rake marks are unusually prominent on this young orca, Makani 



My goal isn’t to have SeaWorld shut down. But to have them cycle out big animals that are not suited for captivity and urge them to do right by "their" animals.  I've collected numerous photos and videos that show the truth. These animals suffer every single day. Collapsed dorsal fins are not “normal” as most trainers would have you believe. 




Fungal infections seen here on Kasasata are caused by stress, in-discriminant antibiotic use and water quality issues, per the Merck Veterinary Manual



Broken and worn down teeth are not “normal."  It’s time we all stand together and put an end to this. Even if you don't have a degree or have any experience, you can still do something to help these animals. Speak up for them at school or online. Go to protests and help sign petitions to end their suffering. 

"We all have a choice to do right by them and we all have a voice to speak for them" Elizabeth 

____________________________________________________________ 

Another perspective on Amaya's rake marks.   Photo by Elizabeth

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Orca Medical Record Shines Negative Light On Killer Whale Captivity at SeaWorld

In a recent article published at VOTO, the process of discovery was explained regarding a lawsuit filed against SeaWorld for false advertising. We follow up here with a detailed analysis of an exhibit obtained via discovery. For perhaps the first time a SeaWorld orca medical record will be broken down and explained by a medical doctor & ex trainer. By the end of this article, you'll have a better understanding of cruel captivity in SeaWorld's own words.

Orca Katina's fractured teeth
The findings are striking & include documented attempts of inbreeding, probable food deprivation and associated malnutrition (lab findings); the use of Valium and also drill bits to bore out orca teeth after an abscess. I've included the original document, available for download, and used Photoshop to add explanations on a 2nd version of the same document. Click to enlarge them, if needed. You can also drag them to your desktop on some computers.

The plaintiffs suggest that the image of a "happy healthy 'Shamu'" misrepresents the reality for captive killer whales. They assert that SeaWorld disseminates misinformation on health issues including lifespan, collapsed dorsal fins, & separating mothers from calves; and that if they had been armed with the truth, they would not have purchased tickets and merchandise from the captivity giant. The plaintiffs are represented by attorneys from the law firm of Covington & Burling.


Art by Lee Harrison, New Zealand  http://okura.deviantart.com/    @kiwiokuraorca 

Seen below, SeaWorld vets document attempted orca inbreeding, jaw abscess, use of Valium in three different whales, teeth drilling, and ultimately the transfer of a 4 year old male orca to another country; separated from his mother and family. 





For your knowledge, the upcoming lawsuit is Anderson et al. v. SeaWorld, 4:15-cv-02172, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. It is expected to go to trial in about one year. 


--------- The Orca Medical Record for Ikaika ---------

Below is the medical record obtained 28 March 2011. You can view or download the original document. This record contains six "SOAP Notes" for Ikaika, a captive born N. Atlantic male born to Katina on 8/25/2002, at SeaWorld of Florida. SOAP is an acronym that describes each veterinary interaction with Ike. SOAP notes include the Subjective part (what was seen), the Objective Part (exam or lab findings), the Assessment and Plan. 





The first SOAP note was recorded on 8/25/2006 and the last on 11/16/2006, just a few days before "Ike" was shipped to Marineland in Canada. He was four years old at the time of these records & it was noted that he was trying to in-breed his young sibling (Katina's calf) along with his older brother Taku, who successfully impregnated their mother about 17 months earlier.



Ike & Taku are brothers. Both tried to breed Katina's calf, according to the medical record 


The authors of this note are SeaWorld veterinarian Dr. Christopher Dold & former park vet Dr. Mike Walsh. The note below has added annotations describing what various terms, phrases & acronyms mean:  





Note to readers:  These documents are densely packed with information. Please click to expand so you can view the "translations:" 




Again, with expert testimony & orca medical records, SeaWorld won't be able to wordsmith their way out of the obvious: 

Killer whales suffer at SeaWorld & live impoverished lives, in concrete tanks, eating unnatural food, & are sometimes food deprived. Drugs such as Valium and Tagamet are needed to sedate & prevent ulcers, respectively. Antibiotics are used chronically to treat infections which are often caused by drilled out and broken teeth. Collapsed dorsal fins and teeth damage are the most striking visual evidence of pathology in captive orcas. Family separations lead to suffering and transported whales must re-integrate into artificial pods which are not always accepting of newcomers. 






Author: Jeffrey Ventre MD DC is a board certified medical doctor in the specialty of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (PM&R). He treats patients with physical impairments from back pain & stroke, to spinal cord & brain injuries. Jeff is also a doctor of chiropractic & electromyographer. In 1996 Jeff joined Ken Balcomb & Dr. Astrid van Ginneken for Orca Survey, a 40+ year photo identification study of the the Southern Resident population of Killer Whales in the Pacific Northwest; a population once decimated by SeaWorld and where the original "Shamu" was taken. Along with his friends and former work colleagues at Voice of the Orcas, his sister Kimberly Ventre, & Jeff Friedman, he's helped organize 5 Superpod gatherings on San Juan Island, WA. Prior to becoming a doctor, Jeff worked at SeaWorld of Florida from Nov. 1987 until Dec. 1995. He worked with SeaWorld killer whales Katina, Tilikum, Kalina, Gudrun, Nyar, Kanduke, Kotar, Taku & favorite, Taima. JV appears in Blackfish movie, Voiceless film & Death at SeaWorld book. Regarding orca captivity, he & John Jett PhD have co-authored several scientific works & a university textbook chapter, here. JV can be contacted @jeffrey_ventre

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Class Action Lawsuit vs SeaWorld Promises Drama & Discovery

SeaWorld's captive orca Tilikum died 6 Jan 2017
from an antibiotic resistant super-infection. Listen HERE
Earlier this month U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White ruled that a class-action lawsuit filed against SeaWorld, for false advertising, can move forward; important as the company was feverishly trying to have the case thrown out so it could avoid legal discovery. Discovery is done in preparation for trial, expected late 2017, and is a nightmare for the captivity corporation; one that has a lot to hide

Discovery includes subpoenaing compelling witnesses like scientists, employees, veterinarians & former trainers; or asking for physical evidence, such as the orca medical records, here. Once inserted into the record, the data or transcripts (example from OSHA trial herebecome available to media, scientists, members of the public, and animal welfarists. 



 

How discovery works: 
Copied from "How Courts Work" - Link HERE 


The trial will feature SeaWorld's hired power lawyer Larry Iser vs attorneys from Covington & Burling. We've covered Mr. Iser once before: SeaWorld Lawyer Warned Author of ‘Beneath the Surface’


  Orca Kahana: Another victim who brutally died young at SeaWorld from skull fractures
"Remembering SeaWorld orca Kahana," who died from skull fractures in captivity. Note that in nature there are no steel bars or concrete walls to cause skull fractures like this


Discovery  is feared by SeaWorld. Damning evidence brought forth from the 2011 trial, US Sec of Labor (OSHA) vs. SeaWorld, proved to cripple the company, ended trainer-orca waterwork interactions, resulted in a serious safety violation, and provided details from behind the captivity curtain. This included several near-deaths involving trainers working with captive Orcinus orca. We also learned that whales in captivity are regularly medicated, including with benzodiazepines like Valium, but more frequently with ones to control chronic infections or prevent stress-ulcers, like Tagamet. According to the Merck Veterinary Manual, one type of lethal infection, Candidiasis, which recently killed a SeaWorld captive [emphasis mine], please click:  



This common mycotic disease in captive cetaceans occurs secondary to stress, unbalanced water disinfection with chlorines, or indiscriminate antibiotic therapy


Of note, un-medicated wild killer whales do not die of antibiotic resistant super-infections, such as the ones that killed Tilikum and Unna, SeaWorld of Florida & SeaWorld of Texas whales, respectfully. Read about Unna's story, as published by the Daily Mail

The Charges 

The plaintiffs, park guests who were given demonstrably false information, allege that SeaWorld is & has been engaging in false advertising by portraying collapsed dorsal fins as normal and captive-lifespans as equal to wild killer whales. The case is Anderson et al. v. SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment, number 4:15-cv-02172, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.




Lastly, the plaintiffs point out that SeaWorld continues to (astonishingly) claim that it does not separate mother killer whales from their calves, something that has occurred over and over again, and a claim that has been refuted with basic knowledge of where those mothers-offspring now reside and at what ages they were separated.


From an animal justice perspective, this case seems like an easy win for the plaintiffs... but it's not. SeaWorld is very good at conflating issues like "survival" [projections] with "longevity," calling orca teeth-damage & associated flushings, "superior dental care," and also using time parameters that attempt to redefine what an orca calf actually is. The company prefers to view itself as "the authority" on killer whales despite not having a single scientist on its board of directors, here. SeaWorld prefers to label actual scientists as "radical activists," a method akin to the Trump administration marginalizing journalists. 


SeaWorld orcas neurotically grind their teeth on concrete walls and break them on steel bars, similar to horses "cribbing"

This will be SeaWorld's strategy in the coming months: 
Obfuscate, object to the release of pertinent animal records, marginalize experts, and overwhelm the judge & lawyers with industry-speak & cherry picked data. 
With SeaWorld hoping to muddy the waters on these three main issues (lifespan, collapsed fins, separating mothers from calves) it's important that we, the animal welfarist community, continue to shed light on the realities of captivity. Fortunately, with good information, expert testimony, & orca medical records, SeaWorld won't be able to wordsmith their way out of the obvious: 



Killer whales suffer at SeaWorld & live impoverished lives, in concrete tanks, eating unnatural food, like smelt. Neurotic teeth damage is the most striking visual evidence of suffering at SeaWorld, leading to over medication, dental pain, chronic infections, & morbidity

Gif file compiled by Jeffrey Ventre from #Superpod4, Salish Sea, WA, USA

Author: Jeffrey Ventre MD DC is a board certified medical doctor in the specialty of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (PM&R). He treats patients with physical impairments from back pain & stroke, to spinal cord & brain injuries. Jeff is also a doctor of chiropractic & electromyographer. In 1996 Jeff joined Ken Balcomb & Dr. Astrid van Ginneken for Orca Survey, a 40+ year photo identification study of the the Southern Resident population of Killer Whales in the Pacific Northwest; a population once decimated by SeaWorld and where the original "Shamu" was taken. Along with his friends and former work colleagues at Voice of the Orcas, his sister Kimberly Ventre, & Jeff Friedman, he's helped organize 5 Superpod gatherings on San Juan Island, WA. Prior to becoming a doctor, Jeff worked at SeaWorld of Florida from Nov. 1987 until Dec. 1995. He worked with SeaWorld killer whales Katina, Tilikum, Kalina, Gudrun, Nyar, Kanduke, Kotar, Taku & favorite, Taima. JV appears in Blackfish movie, Voiceless film & Death at SeaWorld book. Regarding orca captivity, he & John Jett PhD have co-authored several scientific works & a university textbook chapter, here. JV
 can be contacted @jeffrey_ventre







Afterward 

So there is great irony that SeaWorld named it's dolphin swim-with park "Discovery Cove." Because discovery, in the legal sense, is exactly what the company fears the most. SeaWorld knows that when the curtain is pulled back, the wrath of public opinion is harsh. A taste of that is chronicled here. And, this new trial is on the horizon.



Photo on left by Jeffrey Ventre while working at SeaWorld, Photo on Right from Sara 


Regarding discovery, on August 23rd of 2010, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) cited SeaWorld Florida with a “willful” safety violation for “exposing its employees to struck-by and drowning hazards when interacting with killer whales.” Despite efforts to seal documents and sequester testimony from experts, SeaWorld's worst nightmare, discovery, proceeded via pre-trial depositions, and continued in front of a packed courtroom, in Sanford, FL, USA.

For two weeks oral & written testimonies were presented, along with forensic & other types of evidence. The transcript of the entire trial can be read or downloaded from here:

OSHA v SeaWorld Trial Transcript 

Judge Ken S Welsch's Ruling on the OSHA v SeaWorld case 

The trial, held at a courtroom in Sanford, FL, is arguably one of the biggest court spectacles of the 21st century, attended by reporters, movie directors, journalists, television crews, activists and dozens of SeaWorld administrators and employees, many of whom were asked to testify. Some coverage by Journalist Tim Zimmermann, Outside Magazine:

OSHA Goes After SeaWorld - Nov 14, 2011

OSHA Goes After SeaWorld, Part 2 - Nov 23, 2011

SeaWorld pulled all the stops to win. After losing in Sanford, FL, they hired Eugene Scalia, the son of then U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, once described as “an absolute bulldog” and Wall Street’s “secret weapon,” to argue before the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C. In a split decision, the company lost again, 2-1.