#WhaleWednesday – Corky the Orca

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Corky, a female orca, is the longest held captive orca in history. On December 11 of this year it will be 48 years since she was forcibly removed from her family and the ocean environment and then taken to the harsh reality of a life imprisoned in a concrete tank. When Corky was captured in 1969 at the age of approximately 4 years very little was known about orcas. Not even the fact that they form closely bonded family groups within which member remain for their entire lives.

Corky’s family in the wild is known at the A5 pod (northern resident population) of British Columbia, Canada and she still has close and distant relatives living free who she knew as young orca, as well as siblings she has never known. Her mom, A23 known as Stripe, died in 2000 at 53 years of age. Corky had a brother A27 Okisollo also deceased, her living family currently consists of a younger sister, A43 Ripple, a niece A69 Midsummer and a young brother A60 Fife, all of whom she has never met.

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A60 Fife – Corky’s Brother – ©Rob Lott/WDC

Corky was captured on December 11, 1969, on that evening her pod chose to enter Pender Harbour on the Sunshine Coast of north of Vancouver, British Columbia. Word had reached a group of local fisherman that there was a group of whales nearby and they were aware that the whales meant a big pay day (since there was a capture the previous year in the same area). The fisherman located the whales, encircled part of the pod with fishing nets and battled to keep the nets in place and afloat overnight. The following morning, half of Corky’s pod was trapped inside the net, with remaining pod still on the outside, who were then surrounded as well. Six whales from Corky’s pod were selected by buyers and the remaining six were released but did not immediately leave the area. This would be the first time Corky was separated from her mom and the last time she would see her.

After being selected for captivity Corky was moved into shallow waters, where divers got into the water and positioned a sling around her body, with  holes for her pectoral fins. A crane then slowly lifted Corky’s sling out of the water and hoisted her into a truck. Removed from the weightless experience of the ocean, Corky’s own weight would have been crushing down on her. She made the long journey from British Columbia by truck, plane, and another truck before her final lift into a circular tank at Marineland of the Pacific, near Los Angeles, California.

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Corky at Marineland of the Pacific

The moment Corky’s freed was stolen her world was suddenly and drastically changed. Now, movement was restricted by never changing dimensions; concrete walls replaced the cliffs, rocks, caves and kelp forests of the vast and limitless ocean. There was no longer anywhere for her to explore and her choices were limited. Gone now were the familiar sounds of the sea; instead, there was the constant drone of filtration systems, and anytime one of the whales in the tank called, their sounds reverberated off the barren walls. There would be no more waves, no currents, no fish to chase and hunt, no dolphins or porpoises to play with – Corky’s entire life was forever changed.

The sameness was relieved marginally by the companionship of 4 other member of Corky’s family, 2 were captured with her and 2 the year before. Unfortunately that soon ended, after 1 year Corky I died and Corky was given her name, and Patches dies in 1971. A male orca who was never named died in 1972 and from then on Corky and a male cousin named Orky, who was captured in 1968, were by themselves. Corky is now the sole survivor of all the orcas captured from the northern resident community of British Columbia orcas.

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Corky & Orky 1985 Marineland of the Pacific

Around the age of 11, Corky began to sexually mature and on February 28, 1977 she delivered her first calf, a male. This was the first live orca to be born in captivity. Orky (Corky’s cousin) & also the father of all her calves, helped the calf to the surface after a difficult birth. The situation grew tense when the calf failed to nurse and the staff of Marineland had to intervene and force feed the calf several times a day. Despite these efforts, the calf lost weight and eventually died of pneumonia, after living for just 16 days. Corky was pregnant a total of 7 times and the longest any of her calves live was 46 days. All of Corky’s calves failed to nurse properly, even though Marineland staff made a dummy calf in an attempt to teach Corky to position herself appropriately. In the wild Corky would have been taught this fro her mother and other females pod members. Corky gave birth to one stillborn calf and her last pregnancy ended when an aborted fetus was found at the bottom of her tank. Finally at the age of 21, Corky stopped ovulating. In the wild, Corky would probably have had several calves and most likely be a grandmother by now.  A female orca in the wild will typically have 25 productive years during which she may give birth to 4-6 offspring.

In December, 1986, 17 years after Corky’s arrival, Marineland and its surrounding lands were purchased by Sea World’s corporate owner, the U.S. publisher Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, for a rumoured $23 million. Corky was then transferred to Sea World in San Diego where she became Sea World’s main performer, “Shamu”.

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Corky at Sea World San Diego

Shamu is the SeaWorld trade name for its orcas. The name has been passed from performer to performer. Corky’s physical condition has fluctuated over the years. At one point, Sea World listed her condition as “poor”, perhaps because her kidneys were not functioning well. Her lower teeth are worn and she is almost blind in one eye. Sea World considers Corky as an “old” animal and tells visitors that orcas only live to about 35 years. They used to say 30 years. For a while, Sea World even decreased the number of shows Corky did, but now she is back doing a full schedule. When she is not performing, Corky is held in one of the back pools with the other orcas. She spends most of her time simply circling her tank.

During her time in captivity, Corky has experienced some social difficulties, most notably with an Icelandic orca named Kandu V who appeared to be jealous of Corky. Over the years, there had been a lot of tension between the two females. Then, in August 1989, just as their public show was beginning, Kandu rushed out from the back pool and charged at Corky. In the attack, Kandu fractured her jaw, a bone fragment severed an artery and she bled to death. No one had ever seen or heard of an orca attacking another orca before. Kandu’s daughter, Orkid, was just one year old at the time and, in an odd twist of fate, Corky became her surrogate mother.

Back in the wild, Corky’s family carries on. The A5 pod originally had 18 members but the 7 who were removed in the 1968 capture all died and one entire matriline was lost. Of the six taken in 1969 only Corky survives. Slowly over the years, as their fortunes waxed and waned, the complexion of the wild pod has changed. Despite the losses, the pod appears strong, and its members still love to hunt big Spring salmon when they travel the waters of Johnstone Strait, Blackfish Sound and the rest of the Inside Passage. But they have never been seen near Pender Harbour again.

It seems that orcas, like elephants, have lon  g memories. Corky still remembers her family. She visibly shook and vocalized poignantly when a tape recording of her family’s calls were played to her in 1993. Corky still ‘speaks’ the same dialect as her family,

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The time left for Corky to reconnect with her family is disappearing. She has already survived longer than any other captive orca. This tells us that Corky is an incredibly strong individual… but no one, no matter how strong, can last forever.

Free Corky: (Via OrcaLab) “The campaign to free Corky originally aimed at returning her to a full life with her family in the wild. In recent years, acknowledging the difficulties involved in accomplishing this (“owner” intransigence, Corky’s age and condition) we have modified our goal by proposing that Corky be “retired” to a facility in the ocean, where she would feel the ocean around her, and be able to reconnect with her family and community. Corky would hear familiar voices from long ago, and have opportunities to interact with her kin. We can’t know precisely what would happen following her return, as this would be determined by Corky and the other orcas. She would continue to receive human care, including from Sea World staff who know her well. There are many compelling reasons for doing this. In fairness, we owe it to Corky, and to her family to make the attempt to reunite them. Corky’s return to the ocean will also give us an opportunity to learn details about orca society that we will never know otherwise. But beyond these humanitarian and scientific reasons, Corky’s story and the complex project needed to bring it to a successful conclusion has the potential for focusing public attention on a wide range of critical ocean issues besides captivity… the health of vital habitats, fisheries and food supply, impacts of human activity and industry, even global warming.”

 

#WhaleWednesday – #RIPKasatka

#WhaleWednesday this week will be dedicated to Kasatka

Six weeks after being rumored to be near death, orca matriarch Kasatka has died.

SeaWorld San Diego announced today that Kasatka was euthanized on the evening of Tuesday August 15, after a long bout with bacterial respiratory infection, or lung disease.

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Capture

Kasatka’s passing comes just three weeks after the death of 3 month old orca calf Kyara at SeaWorld Antonio (Kasatka’s granddaughter and San Diego born Takara’s daughter).

Kasatka was captured off the coast of Iceland on October 26, 1978, at the age of less than 2 years (she was estimated to be born around 1976). She was captured alongside her pod mate Katina, also approximately 2 years old, and then sold to SeaWorld that same month. For 4 years, Kasatka and Katina lived together, but the two were separated in 1984 when Katina was shipped to SeaWorld Orlando, where she remains imprisoned for the remainder of her life.

Kasatka, since then has been held captive and imprisoned at various SeaWorld parks for the last 39 years. Her crime? She was born an orca (killer whale)! A marine mammal species so intelligent, beautiful and intriguing to people that the owners of SeaWorld knew they could put her on display and people would pay to watch her swim circles in a tank.

Kasatka’s body, while in the end was ravaged by illness, had been abused for her entire time in captivity. She had been forced to perform multiple times daily for 39 years by food deprivation (meaning SeaWorld would reduce the number of calories a whale gets over a period of time so the animal becomes increasingly food motivated – orcas are more likely to cooperate with a trainer when they are hungry).

Kasatka was also forced to bear children that were then removed from her side and relocated to other SeaWorld owned prisons. Given what is known about the bonds between mother and calves (in the wild males remain with their mother for their entire lives) this is an even greater violation that food deprivation and is simply extreme emotional abuse.

Kasatka was one of SeaWorld’s most successful breeders and has given SeaWorld 4 orcas: Takara in 1991, Nakai in 2001, Kalia in 2004 and Makani in 2013. She also had six grandchildren ( Kohaana, Trua, Sakari, Kamea, Amya and Kyara) and two great grandchildren (Adan and Victoria)

Kasatka was one of only 4 remaining wild captured orcas still in SeaWorld parks, with her passing there will now only be 3 – Ulyssess and Corky in San Diego and Katina in Orlando.

At least in death, Kasatka’s lifetime of suffering has finally come to an end – as heartbreaking as her death is, the truth of the matter is that it is Kasatka’s life that was the real tragedy. At least now Kasatka can finally swim free!

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Will the recent death of 3 month old calf Kyara and now the death of Kasatka just 3 weeks later, finally wake people up enough to address these issues of cetaceans in captivity?

In all honestly likely not, but I sure hope so!

There are so many people that think the only way to view orcas (dolphins, belugas, whales, etc) is at Sea World (or similar marine parks) and that this is an educational experience for children.  This is by no means an educational experience, it’s an excuse people use as to why we still hold these intelligent social beings in captivity.

Choose to view wildlife in the wild and do not support SeaWorld or any other similar marine park. Change begins with each and every one of us – teach your children kindness to animals and that is wrong to keep animals in captivity.

“There is as much educational benefit in studying dolphins in captivity as there would be in studying humans beings by only observing prisoners in solitary confinement” Jacques Cousteau

While it is too late for Kasatka, it is not too late for SeaWorld to start building sea sanctuaries for the other orcas imprisoned in their parks, including Kasatka’s children and grandchildren.

Check out the The Whale Sanctuary Project to learn more about the mission to establish a model seaside sanctuary where cetaceans (whales and dolphins) can live in an environment that maximizes well-being and autonomy and is as close to possible to their natural habitat.

“Be the change you wish to see in the world” Mahatama Gandhi

 

 

 

 

#WhaleWednesday – Gray Whale

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Gray whales have a hump and a ridge of sharp bumps along their back, instead of a dorsal fin, and can be between 40 and 50 feet long. They are a type of baleen whale, meaning they filter food from the water through special bristly structures in their mouths. Gray whales stay close to shore and feed in shallow water. Their migrations take them between feeding and breeding areas, swimming as much as 12, 000 miles per trip.

Critically endangered western gray whales migrate into their summer feeding grounds near Sahkalin Island, Russia in May or early June and then return to their winter feeding grounds in the the South China Sea in late Autumn.

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The eastern population of the gray whale can be found in the Bering and Chukchi Seas between Alaska and Russia during the summer feeding. In the winter, the eastern gray whale migrates south along the west coast of the US to Mexico to breed and have their calves.

The Gulf of California’s San Ignacio Lagoon is one the best places in the world to see gray whales with their calves. The calm, warm waters of the lagoon are a safe place for young whales, free from predators like killer whales. Locals in the area, call gray whales “friendly ones” as they have an unusual tendency to approach whale watching boats and check out the occupants.

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Threats: Oil and gas development, entanglement in fishing gear, and collisions with ships threaten gray whales. The western North Pacific gray whale is on the verge of extinction because of such threats. The waters off Russia’s Sakhalin Island, a main feeding habitat for them in the summer, are being targeted for oil and gas development. In the eastern Pacific Ocean, the potential for oil and gas exploration in the Bering and Chukchi Seas also exists. Whales are very sensitive to noise and such industrial activities generate massive underwater booms. The gray whale must get an entire year’s worth of food during those summer months and any disruption could have significant impact on this process.

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Friendly Gray Whales in San Ignacio Lagoon

Inside the Tanks Documentary

The wait it almost over! Inside The Tanks Documentary will be available to watch online TOMORROW: bit.ly/insidethetanks

This documentary is unique in its approach. Presenter and Producer Jonny Meah blasts the marine captivity debate wide open, giving all sides of the debate a chance to have their say, with in depth interviews from The Born Free Foundation, Dr Ingrid Visser, John Hargrove, and in a world exclusive on the topic, an interview with The Zoological Director of Marineland Antibes, Jon Kershaw.

Take a look at the trailer now:

 

#WhaleWednesday – Orcas

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Transient Orca in Puget Sound – Photo Credit: Mel Komus Photography

Orcas (Orcinus orca) often referred to as, Killer whales, get their name from their reputation of being ferocious predators, exhibiting almost hateful behaviors when toying with their prey.  Interestingly, however, killer whales are not true whales.  They are very large dolphins, reaching lengths of 33 feet (10 m) and weights of at least 10 metric tones (22,000 pounds).  Killer whales and other dolphins are thought to be some of the smartest animals on the planet, challenging the great apes (chimps and gorillas) for the top spot.  They are also extremely curious and often approach people to investigate.  Their intelligence is likely both a result of and a driver of their complex social structures.  They are intelligent, playful, powerful animals – a worrisome combination if you happen to be their preferred prey.  Different killer whale populations specialize on different prey types, including large bony fishes; seals, sea lions, and other large marine mammals; and penguins; among other things.

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J52 Sonic of the Southern Resident Killer Whale Population takes to the air – Photo Credit: Clint Rivers Showtime Photography

Though all killer whales, worldwide, are considered to be members of the same species, there are several known populations that have slightly different appearances, sizes, and behaviors.  These include populations that are somewhat territorial and do not migrate long distances (the so called resident populations) and those that are more migratory in nature (the so called transient populations).  Furthermore, some transient populations stay near the coast and overlap with resident populations, while others are oceanic.  Some killer whale scientists believe that these populations may represent different species, and recent research suggests that there may be as many as 16 different species of Killer Whale.  To date, the new species have yet to be described, and the cosmopolitan species Orcinus orca is considered to cover all individuals around the world, regardless of behavior or appearance.

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T036A’s and T075B’s playing with their food – a tail flick sent the Harbour Seal skipping off the water. Photo credit: Clint Rivers Showtime Photography

Though they are powerful hunters and are known to exhibit somewhat tortuous behavior towards large sharks and other marine mammals, killer whales have never been known to attack humans in the wild.  This is a somewhat puzzling lack of aggressive behavior, as people would be extremely easy prey for this species.  In captivity, however, male killer whales have killed several trainers in the last few decades.  These large, marine predators are not meant to be kept in small tanks in captivity, and they seem to eventually snap and exhibit aggressive behaviors toward their handlers.  In addition to their capture for display in public aquariums, low numbers of killer whales have been regularly hunted for food in some regions around the world.

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Transient Orca in Puget Sound – Photo Credit: Mel Komus Photography

Racing Extinction – Southern Resident Killer Whale Population

When it comes to the Southern Resident Killer Whales (SRKW) a year has made all the difference in the world. Last year at this time, we were all celebrating a remarkable baby boom, with 8 new orca calves over the previous 12 months & another new baby was added in January 2016, for a total of 9.

However, if 2015 was considered the baby boom year, then 2016 was the exact opposite with a total of 6 orca deaths recorded during the calendar year. Then the announcement on January 2, 2017 of J2 Granny’s presumed death  as of December 31, 2016. J2 Granny was last seen by the Center for Whale Research on October 12, 2016.

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J2 Granny

In 2016 we saw the loss of L95, J55, J14, J28, J54, & J34

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L95 Nigel

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J14 Samish – left with daughters J37 & J40

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J28 Polaris and then her baby son J54 Dipper.

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J34 Doublestuf with mom J22

“The SRKW population is now estimated to be 78 as of 31 December 2016, and J pod contains only 24 individuals plus the wandering L87. To whom will he attach now? Who will lead the pod into the future? Is there a future without food? What will the human leaders do?” Ken Balcomb – Center for Whale Research

We are now racing the extinction of the SRKW’s – What it is going to take…

  • Heightened awareness and continued education
  • Sustainable fisheries and healthy wild Pacific Salmon stocks
  • Continued research into understanding where the whales go in the winter & what they do
  • Improved technologies for boating
  • Continued education for younger generations-the next group of Salish Sea ambassadors!!
  • Ongoing efforts to foster & promote ethical boating etiquette amongst all user groups: fishing – both private and commercial, kayaking, sailing, seaplanes, cruise ships, freighters, ferries, etc.

What can you DO to help:

  • Let Prime Minister Justin Trudeau know what his approval of the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline expansion means for the endangered SRKW’s – say no to the Kinder Morgan pipeline and say yes to saving Orca’s
  • Please visit the David Suzuki Foundation – find your MP and send a message to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Catherine McKenna (Minister of Environment and Climate Change) & Jim Carr (Minister of Natural Resources)

Eat Sustainable

Become a Member of the Center for Whale Research – follow them on Facebook & Twitter

Adopt a Whale – check out The Whale Museum for more information

Follow Dam Sense on Facebook and check out their website damsense.org

Tweet to help save the SRKW’s and tear down those dams

Read the following articles to learn more:

The Orcas are Starving by David Niewert Breach dams, or its game over for salmon by Jim Waddell

No Fish No Blackfish – RIP J28 Polaris

RIP J28 Polaris

Her loss is made even more tragic by the additional loss of her most recent calf J54. At less than a year old and still nursing, his survival is unlikely without his mother to feed him. He was last seen on October 23 and is now presumed deceased. This brings the year’s losses up to 4 (L95, J14, J28 and J54) and the population back down to 80.

More then ever, we need to look toward more fish as the primary solution in saving the endangered Southern Resident Killer Whale Population.

It is fairly simple … No Fish No Blackfish

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What can you DO to help:

Get Involved – volunteer for a shoreline cleanup in your area – tell organization why support or why you do not – write to your local government representative (send letters and emails)

Sign petitions:

Eat Sustainable

Become a Member of the Center for Whale Research – follow them on Facebook & Twitter

Adopt a Whale – check out The Whale Museum for more information

Follow Dam Sense on Facebook and check out their website damsense.org

Tweet to help save the SRKW’s

Read the following articles to learn more: