December 9, 2007: 
Japan intends to capture wild orcas

Ten years after the last captures, there is credible information that orcas are expected to be captured again in Taiji, Japan, under the pretext of scientific research. NGO’s are now preparing to send a formal letter to the Japanese authorities, asking them to deny the capture permit and to conduct a proper scientific population study of orcas in Japanese waters. According to the Japanese Fisheries Agency, 1200 orcas have been slaughtered in Japan since 1954. 20 were sold to dolphinariums and all but two of them died there, Nami and Ku being the lone survivors.

October 19, 2007: 
Taku passed away at SeaWorld San Antonio, Texas

Taku, a male killer whale at Sea World died unexpectedly Wednesday. Taku was one of Sea World San Antonio’s six killer whales. He was 14 years old, measuring about 22 ft and weighing about 7,250 pounds. 

Taku


According to a Sea World spokesperson the team was alerted that something was wrong with Taku late Wednesday night and he died shortly thereafter. The Zoological Operations team have not yet determined a cause of death. A full report should be available in about six weeks. 

In a statement, a SeaWorld spokesperson said, “While we recognize that death is part of the life cycle, we are saddened over the unexpected loss of this animal.”

Source: WOAI (NBC affiliate)

October 8, 2007: 
Trainer rammed by orca at Loro Parque

A trainer at the Loro Parque theme park on Tenerife is in hospital after she was injured this weekend during a training session with one of the killer whales at the centre in Puerto de la Cruz. The Canarias 7 newspaper says the incident happened at the pre-show warm up on Saturday, when the orca crashed into the trainer, injuring her right lung and breaking her forearm in two places. She was rescued by two colleagues after the marine mammal dragged her down to the bottom of the pool. The trainer is now said to be stable after surgery on Saturday. 

Source: Typically Spanish

Note: The injured trainer is 29 years old biologist Claudia Vollhardt from Germany, who has worked at the park since 2003. Some news write that it was a male orca that hit the trainer and dragged her down after the impact. Then that same animal grabbed the trainer by the arm and brought her back up to the surface. Claudia trained mostly with young male Tekoa and some news refer to him as the orca involved in this incident.

September 20, 2007: 
On September 19, 2007, the female orca Asuka at Izu-Mito Sea Paradise died. She had been all by herself since October 2000, when Yamato (aka Tanouk), a male orca from Iceland, died. She was a little feverish and had a poor appetite on September 13. The cause of her death is not certain. Asuka was about 7 years old when captured. She measured about 20 feet and weighed in at 6,834 pounds (2005). Now four orcas out of the five captured 1997 in Taiji have died. Only one orca, Ku, survives at Port of Nagoya Public Aquarium.

Asuka

(Announcement on a Izu-Mito’s trainer blog) 
Translation of the blog entry courtesy of Tamaki Bowman: 
Asuka, our killer whale, died at 7:14am on Sep 19th. We feel very sorry for the sad ending. I have spent the last 10 years with Asuka. I saw her everyday at work and that had become a regular part of my life, and I never would have imagined that she would be gone so suddenly. Right now I feel lost as if I have a big hole in my heart, and cannot even think straight. 

The only hope is that there are still lots of animals around me. The last thing I want to do is to waste Asuka’s death, so I am determined to make my best efforts to take care of the animals at Sea Paradise. I hope you will understand. There is a section by Asuka’s pool where you can come and put flowers so feel free to do so, and please send her your love.

July 9, 2007: 
SeaWorld Orlando has named Taima’s calf of 2007. The little girl is called Malia, which is the Hawaiian word for “calm”.

June 20, 2007:
Mexican baby killer whale Pascuala died on June 10

Pascuala

MEXICO CITY – A baby killer whale at the centre of an international animal trafficking controversy has died at an aquarium in Mexico because it lacked its mother’s milk after becoming stranded on a Pacific beach. Owners of the aquarium had warned that the whale, who they named Pascuala, would die if she were not sent abroad because there was no tank in Mexico big enough to hold her and she could not fend for herself at sea. But the government and environmentalists opposed a move from the aquarium in Nueva Vallarta because they feared it would set a precedent of animal trafficking from Mexico. Mexico’s environment agency said on Monday that the whale, also known as an orca, died on Sunday, two months after becoming stranded on the beach, because her immune system failed to develop due to a lack of milk and she was attacked by infection. The aquarium owners had wanted to send the whale to SeaWorld, an aquatic theme park in San Diego, California, which is home to seven other killer whales that live in a 26.5 million litre tank.

May 20, 2007:
Mexican baby killer whale in tug of love

By Oliver Ellrodt, Reuters

“A newborn killer whale found bleeding on a Mexican beach has become the centre of an international controversy over whether she should stay in Mexico or be sent to a U.S. marine theme park. Mexican aquarium workers have been feeding the baby named Pascuala around the clock with milk from a tube inserted in her mouth since she was found beached in a Pacific fishing village in April. Pascuala, just over a month old and weighing 403 pounds (183 kg), is still recovering, but if she survives, the aquarium’s owners want to send her to the Sea World park in San Diego, California. Her caretakers say there is no tank in Mexico big enough to keep her when she grows and she will die if put back in the sea or kept in an aquarium that is too small for her. 

Some environmentalists oppose transferring Pascuala to Sea World, however, because it could set a precedent that might enable animal traffickers to export more killer whales, also known as orcas. “It hurts us that this animal might die, but we cannot set a negative precedent,” said Alejandro Olivera, head of ocean campaigns for Greenpeace in Mexico. The Mexican government’s environmental protection agency has so far blocked a transfer to San Diego, saying Mexico’s wildlife should not leave the country. Sea World said it would be happy to accept Pascuala, where she could learn from the park’s seven existing orcas. Those killer whales live in a 7 million gallon (26.5 million litre) tank and perform tricks for legions of visitors. 

Unaware of the controversy surrounding her, the baby orca spends her days swimming and playing with her trainers, who have grown attached to her while acting as surrogate mothers. “It is more than a job or a work experience. This will be one of the most important parts of my career,” said Fernando Miranda, who has worked at the Dolphin Adventure park in the Nuevo Vallarta resort city for 10 years. 

Visitors have flocked to see the baby and hundreds check a blog set up in her name, where videos, photos and testimonials detail her meals, swimming lessons and attempts to play with nearby dolphins. If Mexico refuses the transfer to Sea World, Pascuala could be released into the ocean. But experts say a successful reintroduction would be difficult for an animal raised with human contact and being fed by hand. 

Killer whales, the largest and most intelligent members of the dolphin family, live in tight-knit pods that can travel 75 miles (120 km) a day in search of prey. Scientists would have to find Pascuala’s family and hope it would accept her. This is not Mexico’s first killer whale controversy. ‘Free Willy,’ the 1993 Warner Brothers blockbuster about an orca whose life is in danger, starred the real-life killer whale Keiko, whose home was a Mexico City amusement park. Following the film’s success, fans forced Keiko’s move to a larger tank in Oregon and his 2002 release into the ocean. But Keiko continued to seek human contact and after a year died of pneumonia.”

Updates on the condition of Pascuala and new photos can be found here:

  • Save Pascuala – the official blog by Dolphin Adventure
  • Jessica’s blog – by one of the volunteers who put their time and effort in for Pascuala’s survival.

April 13, 2007:
Young killer whale calf stranded in Mexico

Last Tuesday a very young killer whale calf, probably just a couple weeks old, stranded in the Bay of Matanchén, Mexico. Luckily a stranding response exercise was being conducted not far away, so marine biologists were quickly alarmed to help the calf. Villagers named the calf Pascuala because it was discovered at the time of Passover. Authorities don’t know how or why the small female calf got separated from its mother, although there were strong currents at the time. Unfortunately the mother could not be located. For now the calf has been transported to a dolphinarium in nearby Nuevo Vallerta. 

Whether the calf survives or where it might end up has to be seen. Apparently two experts from SeaWorld San Diego have already arrived and evaluate a possible transfer to San Diego. Authorities might approve this move despite legal problems to increase the short-term survival chance.

Update April 20, 2007: While volunteers are fighting to improve Pascuala’s health, legal battles have begun regarding a possible export to the USA. It might be better to put Pascuala into a more experienced care, with the prospect of future mates. On the other hand such an export in violation of the law might set a precedent for further such exports of stranded animals, which could open a loophole for forced strandings or captures. So it’s a tricky situation, but for now Pascuala is not in the condition to be moved anyhow.

April 11, 2007:
Killer Whale Injures Trainer At SeaWorld

“A killer whale at SeaWorld Adventure Park was getting a sonogram to prepare for possible artificial insemination when she knocked her trainer off a low wall Tuesday. 
The 35-year-old trainer was taken to a hospital for examination and was found to have suffered minor injuries after the bump from the 5,900-pound whale, said SeaWorld spokeswoman Darla Davis. “She just lost her balance,” Davis said. 

The 18-year-old whale named Orkid was getting her weekly ultrasound when she knocked the trainer off the wall next to the whale’s tank, said Dave Koontz, another park spokesman. He said it was unclear if the whale intended to head-butt the trainer or accidentally bumped into her. SeaWorld monitors all of its female orcas for potential insemination. The park is reviewing the mishap. 

All but three of the 25 calves born in SeaWorld parks were conceived naturally, but the park hopes to use artificial insemination to bring genetic diversity to its whale population, said Dr. Todd Robeck, corporate director of animal reproduction for Anheuser-Busch Entertainment Corp., which owns SeaWorld. “It’s a lot easier to fly semen around the world than to fly a whale,” Robeck said. 

Whales are trained to roll on their sides so that veterinarians can put ultrasound probes against their flanks and monitor their ovaries. Last November, Orkid grabbed a trainer and pushed him under water during a show at Shamu Stadium, tearing a ligament in the trainer’s left ankle. Koontz said trainers do not believe Orkid’s behavior was aggressive.”

Source: KFMB-CBS, San Diego

March 12th, 2007:
Orca calf born at SeaWorld Orlando

“Spring has sprung early at SeaWorld Orlando as the marine park welcomes its newest “pea” to the park’s “pod” of killer whales.

The newest addition to the family was born on March 12th, 4:48pm. The baby was six feet long and weighed 350-pounds at birth. Taima gave birth to the baby in Shamu Stadium, following a one-hour labor. Moments later, the baby whale instinctively swam to the surface of the water for its first breath of air. The calf began nursing within hours. 

Taima is also the mother of two other killer whales. Editor’s note: both Sumar and Tekoa are no longer with their mother. Taima was also born at SeaWorld Orlando during a 1989 thunderstorm, which is where she get’s her name; “Taima” is Icelandic for “crash of thunder.” 

SeaWorld animal care specialists remain cautiously optimistic about the progress of the baby and its mother.”

Source: CBS4 ORLANDO

March 4, 2007:
Marine park cited after whale attack

By Terry Rodgers, San Diego Union-Tribune

“State officials retracted a report yesterday that said it’s only a matter of time before one of SeaWorld’s killer whales takes a trainer’s life and that lethal force should be an option to stop a future attack. Kasatka, a female orca, held SeaWorld trainer Ken Peters under water for 69 seconds during a performance in November. In a statement, the state Division of Occupational Safety and Health (or Cal/OSHA) admitted that some of its conclusions about a killer whale attacking a veteran SeaWorld trainer were wrong and in violation of its policies. 

“Many of the statements made in (the report) require expertise in animal behavior, which Cal/OSHA does not have,” the agency said. “Also, some of the expressions of opinion . . . stray from describing the evidence and are clearly inappropriate.” Despite their admission that the report is seriously flawed, Cal/OSHA officials yesterday issued SeaWorld a citation alleging “two non-serious violations” of workplace safety standards. SeaWorld representatives said the withdrawn report vindicates their assertion that Cal/OSHA mischaracterized the health and welfare of captive killer whales, also called orcas. 

SeaWorld and Cal/OSHA officials discussed the document during a meeting Thursday in San Diego, said Mike Scarpuzzi, the marine theme park’s vice president of zoological operations. The state agreed to revise the report during a follow-up teleconference call yesterday involving Cal/OSHA officials in Sacramento. “Much of the information in the report reflects a complete lack of understanding of the complexities of marine mammal biology, behavior and husbandry,” Scarpuzzi said. However, he acknowledged that SeaWorld is reviewing its safety procedures and has already carried out three of the eight recommendations offered by state workplace investigators. 

Even though it has been withdrawn, the 18-page Cal/OSHA report is certain to add fodder to the long-running debate over the propriety of keeping marine mammals in captivity. In contrast to wild orcas, which have no history of attacking people, killer whales in captivity have displayed aggressive behavior toward humans many times. The report implies that SeaWorld’s orcas have a history of mishaps and misbehavior caused largely by boredom and stress. State officials launched their investigation after a potentially fatal attack Nov. 29 in which a 7,000-pound, 17-foot-long orca named Kasatka ambushed trainer Ken Peters during a performance. With the audience looking on, Kasatka clamped her teeth onto Peters’ foot and held him under water for 69 seconds. Other trainers were able to stop the attack by dropping a large safety net into the pool that caused the whale to surface. Peters escaped with a broken foot and was hospitalized for three days. He has returned to work and “remains close to Kasatka,” but has not joined her in the water, said SeaWorld spokesman David Koontz. 

Kasatka resumed performing Nov. 30, but no trainer is allowed to be in the water with her, Koontz said. SeaWorld officials said they’re pleased that safety procedures, which were practiced only during drills, proved effective when a person’s life was at stake. But the Cal/OSHA report faults SeaWorld for not having a rescue pole known as a shepherd’s hook available at the performing pool. Yesterday, SeaWorld representatives said their stadium now has a rescue pole. They also have acted on two other recommendations: installing an emergency intercom system and exploring the purchase of emergency air supplies that can be worn on a trainer’s arm. Scarpuzzi said using lethal force against a killer whale, one of the report’s recommendations, is simply not an option for SeaWorld. “That would be turning a potential bad situation into a disaster,” he said. SeaWorld officials also disagreed with the report’s conclusion that seven orcas aren’t enough to meet the demands of the park’s performance schedule. “Having more orcas within the population to chose from . . . would reduce the stress on the animals and help to keep the trainers from having to rely on one or two animals for the majority of their performances,” the report states. 

The document also noted that two weeks before the attack involving Kasatka and Peters, a different SeaWorld trainer was injured in a similar incident involving another female orca. SeaWorld officials had never disclosed the earlier attack to the media. During the Nov. 15 incident, a 19-foot-long, 5,900-pound orca name Orkid grabbed senior trainer Brian Rokeach by the leg, pulled him to the bottom of the pool and held him under water for about 26 seconds. Orkid released Rokeach after Peters repeatedly slapped the water, the signal for the animals to return to the front of the Shamu Stadium stage. Rokeach suffered a torn ankle ligament but was not hospitalized. In response to the incident, SeaWorld increased to five the number of trainers who must be available during live performances and other times when trainers are in the water with the whales.”

January 14, 2007: 
SeaWorld Orlando has named Katina’s calf of 2006. The little girl is called Nalani, which is the Hawaiian word for “heaven”.

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