Thursday, June 23, 2011

An Open Letter to the International Whaling Commission

Dr. Simon Brockington
The International Whaling Commission
The Red House,
135 Station Road,
Cambridgeshire CB24 9NP, UK.
Tel: +44 (0) 1223 233 971
Fax: +44 (0) 1223 232 876

Dear Dr. Brockingon,

As the dates of the 63rd meeting of the International Whaling Commission approach, July 4-14, 2011, in the Channel Islands, we are writing to urge the IWC to take strong and decisive action to fully protect whales AND dolphins.

The slaughter of whales and dolphins for commercial, scientific or cultural purposes is inhumane and highly inconsistent with worldwide efforts to protect our planet’s oceans.  Numerous reports have proven that whale meat is highly toxic with mercury.  Furthermore, the March 11 tsunami and nuclear disaster in Japan resulted in radioactive water being dumped into the sea.  According to a June 15 article published by the Associated Press, two Minke whales caught off of the coast of Japan were found to have traces of radioactive cesium.  In the interest of public health, it is time to end the international consumption of whale and dolphin meat.

Following the 1986 moratorium on commercial whaling, the IWC has issued Japan, Norway and Iceland permits for scientific whaling.  We strongly question the merits of this practice.  Credible researchers around the world have managed to find ways to study whales without the use of lethal methodologies.  Additionally, the fact that the whale meat from the alleged “research” is sold commercially further underscores the need to end research whaling.  According to Darren Kindleysides of the International Fund for Animal Welfare, “Japan’s 20 years of “scientific whaling” has delivered thousands of dead whales and next to no useful knowledge of the whales they “study”. The meat is packaged and sold in the fish markets in Japan. This has more to do with sushi than science.”

Looking ahead to your upcoming meeting, we also note the questionable history of the government of Japan with regards to buying votes from international delegates to support the Japanese whaling agenda.  The June 13, 2010 Sunday Times investigative article, “Flights, girls and cash buy Japan Whaling votes” uncovered a wealth of improprieties conducted by representatives of the Japanese delegation.  We request that investigations be undertaken and that appropriate and harsh sanctions be levied against the guilty parties.  Such behavior simply should NOT be allowed within the confines of an international regulatory body.

Having observed the annual Taiji dolphin drive hunt from September 1, 2010 to the close of the season in March 2011, we furthermore call on the IWC to afford much needed protections to dolphins.  The drive fishery method employed by the Taiji Fisheries Union is among the most cruel practices known to mankind.  Like whales, dolphins are intelligent beings.  They live in pods and nurse their young.  We have witnessed pods of dolphins herded into the cove and then slowly and painfully slaughtered over the course of many hours.  Calves swim in the blood of their mothers and fathers.  This nightmare simply must end.

We call on the members of the 63rd International Whaling Commission to fully PROTECT all whales and dolphins.  The time to END whaling and dolphin hunting on planet Earth is NOW.

Monday, June 13, 2011

“Non-Releasable”: The Deadly Saga of Stranded Cetaceans in the United States

On May 5, 2011, a large pod of pilot whales stranded themselves in the Florida Keys.  Several died on the scene.  On May 7, two healthy males were released.  The five remaining animals were transported via grocery semi-trailer to the Marine Mammal Conservancy (MMC) in Key Largo.  At the time of this writing, only three of these whales are still alive in the MMC’s rehabilitation pens.  The youngest, known as “301” is about 1-1/2 years old. According to Robert Lingenfelser, MMC director of stranding operations, “If the youngest recovers, she is almost certainly headed for SeaWorld or the Miami Seaquarium because she probably lacks the skills to survive in the ocean.”

The Save Misty the Dolphin (SMTD) team wanted to learn more about what happens to stranded cetaceans in the United States. The SeaWorld Animal Rescue and Rehab website claims that between 600 and 700 bottle-nose dolphins strand in the US every year. Of these, less then 10% survive. Those who live are either released back into the wild or are placed into a marine mammal facility. If an animal is alone or young, it is always held in captivity, for fear of not being able to survive in the wild. Over the years, many marine mammals have been deemed “non-releasable” for these reasons. We wanted to take a close look into the lives of a few of these animals and see exactly how they fared in the hands of humans.  While there are almost countless stranding stories, in the interest of space, we are focusing on four dolphins who stranded as babies and who were taken into captivity.  Their names are Stormy, Lazarus, Nemo and Cayenne.  Here are their stories:


Picture from TMMSN

On September 15 1998, a baby dolphin was found on the beach in Texas. The Texas Marine Mammal Stranding Network (TMMSN) was called in and found the young dolphin bleeding from wounds received by a shark attack. It was assumed that the 18 month old calf, who was named Stormy, had been separated from his mother during Tropical Storm Frances. Stormy received around-the-clock care in Texas for several months. On March 23, 1999, after being deemed non-releasable due to age, Stormy was transferred to Mystic Aquarium in Connecticut.  He was placed into a quarantine pool for two months before being moved to the dolphin exhibit on May 12th. Stormy has a huge hit for Mystic.  They installed a “StormyCAM” for the public to watch him and there was even a book written about him, Stormy The Baby Dolphin, A Gulf Coast Rescue.  Stormy was a star!  Yet, in January 2001, less than two years after being transferred to Mystic, Stormy became ill.  He stopped eating and by January 16, 2002, he was dead.  The official cause of death was Staphylococcal Toxemia.  Two months later, one of Stormy's pool mates, Misty a 24 year old dolphin, also died from the same infection.

 "Lazarus" aka "May Day"

On July 19, 2002, an orphaned bottlenose dolphin calf stranded near Ponce Inlet on Florida's east coast. The young calf had been attacked by a shark. The Harbor Branch Marine Mammal Rescue team responded, transporting the young dolphin, who they called Lazarus, over 140 miles south to their stranding facility in Fort Pierce. Lazarus was bottle-fed around the clock for 8 months and nursed back to health.  At that time, he was deemed non-releasable due to age. On August 18, 2003, Lazarus was sent to SeaWorld of Florida, then on to Discovery Cove. He was renamed "May Day", where he performed and took part in the “Swim With Me” program. On April 12, 2005, Lazarus drowned at Discovery Cove after becoming stuck in a drain box. The official cause of death recorded on the Marine Mammal Inventory Report (MMIR) is pulmonary inhalation of water.


Picture by SMSea

On May 15, 2003, two dolphins, a mother and calf, washed ashore on Ossabaw Island, Georgia. The mother dolphin did not survive.  Her male calf was taken to Gulf World in Florida for care. The calf, named Nemo, was less then two months old, weighing in at only 45 pounds and 3-1/2 feet long.  Nemo was bottle-fed around the clock.  Medical tests reported that the calf had an infection.  He was treated with antibiotics. Admitting that the survival rates for stranded dolphins are low, facility staff gave him a 50/50 chance to live.  With the help and treatment he received, Nemo did survive. He was deemed non-releasable due to age, and on February 9, 2004, Nemo became a permanent resident of Gulf World, joining the rest of the dolphins at the facility.  A little over a month later, on March 21, 2004, Nemo died. Gulf World's MMIR was never updated, and the cause of death is still “Pathology Pending”. However, according to a March 25, 2004 news article by the Associated Press, the cause of Nemo's death could have been Red Tide. The article stated that the area had seen numerous wild dolphin deaths in the area due to red tide and two young dolphins, Ripley and Nemo, has just died from what appeared to be Red Tide.  Both were to have shown signs of neurological issues, including twitching of the body.  The article further stated that there were two other dolphins at the facility who were sick.


Picture from IMMS

On March 3, 2004, a dolphin calf was found in DuLarge, LA, where she had been separated from her mother following the construction of a levee. Residents had spotted the young calf swimming around for several days, but did not call for aid until she had beached herself. It is not known how long she had been beached when staff from the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas from New Orleans arrived.  She was taken back to their facility for treatment, and was moved to the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies (IMMS) on April 14, 2004. Deemed non-releasable due to her age, Cayenne was then moved to Marine Life Oceanarium, which was owned by IMMS Director Moby Solangi. On Aug. 28, 2005, with a category 5 hurricane heading straight towards them, Solangi ordered four of Marine Life's dolphins to be moved 6 miles inland to local hotel salt water swimming pools. Cayenne was among those dolphins moved. The next day Hurricane Katrina tore through Gulfport, destroying Marine Life. Cayenne was moved to Gulfarium in Florida, along with the other Marine Life dolphins. On Oct 9, 2005, just months after the storm, Cayenne died. According to the MMIR for Gulfarium, Cayenne died of "Presumed Pneumonia". Cayenne was about 2 years old, and lived in captivity for approximately one year and a half.

At Save Misty the Dolphin, we believe that when a decision is made to place a stranded mammal into captivity, the guidelines “first do no harm” must be observed.  Time and time again we have seen rescued dolphins survive being stranded only to die at the hands of their captives.  Placing wild animals in captivity and forcing them live in unnatural conditions is NOT acceptable.  Placing them in disease ridden or unsafe public displays is NOT acceptable.  Forcing them to entertain the public, as if they "owe" it to their human rescuers, is NOT acceptable!

The SMTD team is very concerned about the future of baby pilot whale 301. She, like so many others before her, appears to be sentenced to captivity. While we may not be able to save her, we believe that better regulations must be put into place to help save other young dolphins and whales who become stranded. The Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) regulates policies and programs associated with stranded marine mammals.  As written, the law allows for the present scenario in which "non-releasable" animals are sentenced to captivity.  

There must be alternatives! Why must the price for being saved be their freedom? Why not have ample bay or sea pens set up for these non-releasable animals? This should be a place where they do not have to perform stupid tricks, and where they can live a somewhat normal life as they are rehabilitated with the singular goal of being released.  Why not help them build new pods and then release those pods in time?  Captive facilities claim that the dolphins in their facilities are bonded like pods in the wild.  If that is the case, why would it not be the same for stranded animals? And, considering that it is okay for Lolita, the captive orca at Miami Seaqurium to be housed with dolphins, then it shouldn't matter if a pod is comprised of different types of dolphins. If a facility or government agency claims otherwise, then maybe they should look at the regulations they themselves put into place.  

Of course, releasing stranded dolphins and whales doesn’t bring revenue into captive facilities.  In 2009, SeaWorld’s combined properties hosted approximately 23.5 million guests.  Revenue reports from 2006 show a net of $144.3 million.  It seems as though there should be funds available for rescue, rehabilitation and release of these stranded dolphins, but when it comes right down to it, profits always seem to take priority over “first do no harm”.


SeaWorld Fl MMIR 2010  MayDay is listed as SWF-TT-0307, on pg 56

Friday, June 10, 2011

Swimming in Sorrow: The Story Behind the Captive Dolphin Breeding Program in the U.S.

* In loving memory of Tique's calf, who died on June 10, 2011, at the Shedd Aquarium in Illinois.  She was six days old.  Also in loving memory of Nova's calf, who died on June 23, 2011, at the Indianapolis Zoo.  He was twenty days old.

Nova and new calf 2011
Photo by: Mike Crowther

Probably the most stressful and anxiety-provoking act in human existence is the separation of a woman from her newborn infant. The response to this, which humans share with most of the animal kingdom, is an overwhelming combination of panic, rage, and distress.  (Ruskin in Horchler and Morris, 1994)

When a mother loses a child, the psychological impact can exact a toll that goes well beyond grief and into a range of mental health disorders including anxiety, clinical depression and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.   A recent study in the British Journal of Psychiatry found that these symptoms can last for years - even following the birth of a healthy child. (Blackmore, E.R., Cote-Arsenault, D., Tang, W., Glover, V., Evans, J., Golding, J., and O’Connor, T.G., 2011)
In his 2007 book, In Defense of Dolphins: The New Frontier, Thomas White proposed that dolphins be considered as “non-human persons”.  White and other researchers describe these marine mammals as highly intelligent, self-conscious, unique individuals with personalities, memories and a sense of self. They are also vulnerable to pain and suffering and experience emotions we know as fear, dread and grief.  This notion of dolphins experiencing grief is poignantly documented in a 2008 you tube video of a wild mother dolphin carrying her dead baby with her in Laguna Madre Bay, South Padre, Texas: 

Captive dolphins also exhibit grief reactions to the loss of a child.  In February  2000, the Chicago Tribune reported:
Like any desperate mom, Tapeko made every attempt to save her child.  In a tank that Brookfield Zoo officials had isolated for the mother and baby, the 17-year-old Atlantic bottlenose dolphin patiently stayed with her calf late Saturday, following it up to the surface when it needed to breathe more frequently and slowing down when the newborn fell out of her "slipstream," a formation in which the calf is kept at its mother's side by a current of water.  After 45 minutes, the calf sank to the bottom of the tank and rolled onto its side. Tapeko swam after it, lifting the baby with her snout and bringing it to the surface, where she handed it over to trainers. She then watched at the deck as they tried to revive the 12-day-old dolphin by breathing into the blowhole atop its head, in a technique similar to mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, and performing chest compressions.  But the mom's and zookeepers' best efforts failed: Brookfield Zoo's newest baby dolphin died at 12:15 a.m. Sunday. 
Since 1992, wild caught Tapeko has witnessed the deaths of four of her six children.  She lost calves in 1992, 2000, and 2001.  Daughter Kaylee died in 2009 at the age of 15 due to a tear in her stomach.
The infant mortality rate among captive dolphins is extraordinarily high, but this seems to have little impact on captive breeding practices.  If a mother loses a child, she is just impregnated once again.  A review of the website  uncovers the excessive nature of dolphin breeding programs in zoos and aquariums across the United States.  At the John G. Shedd Aquarium in Illinois, Tique, a white-sided dolphin has lost three calves since 1995.  Her most recent calf, a female born on June 3, 2011, died yesterday after struggling to nurse.  At the Indianapolis Zoo, Nova, a bottlenose dolphin who was taken from the wild in 1988, has had eight pregnancies since  1993.  Six of her calves have died.  Two are living, including Kalei and one also born on June 3, 2011.  Likewise, at SeaWorld San Antonio, bottlenose dolphin Yoyo has lost five calves since 1998 and has no living offspring.  At the Miami Seaquarium, Cathi, a wild caught bottlenose dolphin, has lost five calves since 1976.  She has three living offspring:  Samantha, Ripley and Abaco.  The list goes on and on and on.  Female dolphins in aquariums are used like brood bitches in puppy mills.  Although their surviving calves aren’t sold to pet shops in the manner that puppies are, they are in a manner of speaking, sold into slavery.  These dolphins will never know the sheer joy of swimming in the open sea as they will live out their lives in captivity.
The captive breeding program (a.k.a. stud service) at several United States aquariums literally involves transporting male studs from aquarium to aquarium to impregnate female dolphins.  The practice is described in the June 2010 issue of the National Aquarium Blog as the facility bid farewell to Chinook, a stud who had been on “breeding loan” for three years:
Chinook was loaded into a specially made transport carrier and taken by truck to the airport. He was flown to Chicago with an Aquarium vet and trainer by his side. Upon arrival at Brookfield, he looked great and began to eat fish right away.  We heard that he is already showing interest in the female dolphins at Brookfield Zoo!
As part of a dolphin breeding consortium, we work with seven other zoos/aquariums to cooperatively manage and breed our dolphins.  Male dolphins are commonly moved from place to place to breed with different female groups.
With the wonders of modern science, some dolphin moms don’t even get the luxury of courtship, but rather are artificially inseminated.  In 2005, SeaWorld San Diego proudly announced that it had successfully selected the gender of a calf via artificial insemination.  The technology allowing the gender selection was developed by a company called XY Inc.  Tom Gilligan, a representative of the company, was quoted in a Reuter’s article describing the birth as “a real breakthrough that would lessen the need for new captures to vary the gene pool of captive marine mammals.”  At Save Misty the Dolphin, we wonder if it is really a breakthrough, or if it is just bad science that completely fails to consider the mental and emotional impact of captive breeding on the mother dolphins?  It appears that captive breeding, either via natural or artificial means, is largely unregulated.  Inquiries by our team to the Association of Zoos and Aquariums pointed us to individual facilities.  Calls to the United States Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), charged with implementing the Animal Welfare Act, directed us to the National Marine Fisheries Service.  Calls to the National Marine Fisheries Service sent us back to APHIS.  That being the case, there seem to be no protections in place specific to the wellbeing of captive mother dolphins used in breeding programs.  The reproductive future of these animals relies solely on the whims of the captive facilities, the very same facilities that profit from “showing” captive dolphins.
Ric O’Barry, former dolphin trainer turned activist and star of  the Academy-Award winning documentary, The Cove refers to the range of mental health problems demonstrated by captive dolphins as “captive dolphin depression syndrome”.  They may perform for the crowd, but outside of the show arena, they hover listlessly in small concrete tanks.  In the worst cases, some appear catatonic.  We wonder how many of these dolphins with captive dolphin syndrome are mothers who have experienced the loss of one or more children?  Perhaps the “captive dolphin depression syndrome” concept needs to be expanded to cover postpartum depression and complicated grief?  Perhaps it is simply time for the captive breeding program, and all captivity for that matter, to end!

Friday, June 3, 2011

BREAKING NEWS: New Baby at the Indy Zoo

Nova with Kalei in 2000

Less than 2 weeks after Save Misty the Dolphin published our investigative blog, "Indy Zoo Host to Deadly Gene Pool," the Zoo announced on June 3, the dolphin shows are temporarily cancelled due to the birth of a new baby. The calf, believed to be a male, was born this morning to Nova. The baby makes the 8th calf that Nova has given birth to since 1993. Kalei, has been her only calf to survive. We at SMTD send our love to both Mommy and Baby, and we hope for the best.