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The Grey of Mental Wellbeing - Of Orcas and Men

As orca welfare-ists, scientists and conservationists, we are encouraged to conform to certain rules to ensure our research and reports are robust and valid, with no grey areas. Even education by scientists can be frowned upon
Until a time when it is recognised life is not a box without holes and no overlap it will be increasingly difficult to reconnect people with each other, and to carry through that connection with other species we may not understand or relate to at all.
I presented at a human behaviour change for animal welfare conference two years ago and I asked my audience to raise their hands if they had ever or knew someone who had ever suffered from poor mental health. Of course, if captive orcas were present, they likely (based on scientific welfare indicators) would have all raised their fins.
But there is still a stigma attached to mental health. It still frightens people and so only reluctantly did I see hands rise around the silent auditorium.
Today I am stepping out…

The Orca Who Can Mimic: Captive-Born Wikie

In recent days, a female orca at Marineland Antibes has shot to "fame" as a result of a case study published by the entertainment park in France. Dubbed as "research", the study has recorded Wikie mimicking human sounds through her blowhole. I use the word "dubbed" (plus multiple quotation marks) as this is not something new that we have learned and it does nothing to aid the conservation of wild killer whales.

One earlier example includes the experience of former orca trainer Dr. Jeffrey Ventre. Ventre noted in an interview that whales and dolphins have been mimicking human sounds in captivity for years, including belugas making human-like whistle sounds. I can attest to this as well - many years ago, I witnessed an orca at SeaWorld, Florida in the USA being instructed by a trainer to make a "raspberry" sound through its blowhole.

Another example is of a free-ranging Southern resident orca known as Luna who was recognised for mimicking boat sou…

Dying to be Free: Captive wild-born orca Kasatka has died

A wild-born Icelandic orca who was captured for captivity, Kasatka, has died. She was one year-old when stolen from North Atlantic waters and separated from her family in 1978. She spent almost 39 years in a too-small, concrete tank on display for human profit and entertainment. 

During her decades in captivity, Kasatka had four calves by four different males, two of which were via artificial insemination. She was the first orca to be artificially inseminated in the year 2000. Three of her calves are in SeaWorld in California, where Kasatka was displayed. The other is at SeaWorld, Texas.

Kasatka's death leaves four wild-born Icelandic orcas alive in captivity. But there are also the captured Russian and Pacific Northwest orcas, as well as an Argentinian orca and Morgan, of Norwegian descent, photographed below. And, of course, the captive-borns

These individuals are smart, like you and I. They are born into families with long-lasting relationships and culture, like you and I. They

Emergency Ambulance, Is the Seal Breathing?

I have only accidentally answered the marine mammal rescue hotline once with my other job's opening phrase. When the lady at the other end of the phone had recovered from the shock of thinking she'd dialed the wrong number by mistake (namely 999 for an animal - some people do!), I quickly ascertained that she was calling for a poorly seal, which would ultimately require uplifting for a spell in rehabilitation before its eventual release back into the wild.

As distinct as arranging medical assistance for a sickly animal versus a human being might seem, there is a lot of overlap. Such as needing a precise location, something which can prove just as difficult obtaining for inner city residential spots as it can for vast stretches of unmarked coastline. We also need to know who we are treating (age, sex... species), the type of equipment that might be required, as well as personnel skill level and what scene safety issues there might be for the responders.

Emotions run high during…

Is SeaWorld and Dolphin Captivity a Symptom of a Bigger Problem?

Two days ago, we received some fantastic news: SeaWorld has made the decision to end its captive orca breeding programme. While the plan is not perfect, the entertainment company’s change of direction is a very welcome one, and could very well mark the start of other dolphinaria around the world joining in to phase out orca captivity for good.
It is only in the aftermath of our elation that we are starting to ask more questions: What about the other marine mammals, such as the bottlenose dolphins, the beluga whales… the seals? What about in the future, if an orca or other marine mammal is rescued and later deemed non-releasable? And how about the welfare conditions that SeaWorld’s current orcas and other marine mammals are continuing to experience right now?
I was pondering all of this the day after SeaWorld made its announcement, whilst driving to (non-whale-related) work. As my thoughts flowed from a (positive, but) heavy heart, filled with the rocks of these questions and something …