#WhaleWednesday – Common Minke Whale

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Last week on #WhaleWednesday you read about the Antarctic Minke whale this week you’ll learn about the Common (or Northern) Minke Whale

Minke whales are the smallest and most abundant of the rorqual whales. They have a sharply pointed snout, straight mouth line and a long ridge along the head with two blowholes. They have hundreds of baleen plates 20 to 30cm long growing from their upper jaws and between 50 and 70 pleats running from their throat and ending just past their flippers. These pleats stretch, allowing the whale to take in huge volumes of water when feeding. Minke whales have a streamlined shape and smooth skin with no callosities or barnacles. They are black, dark brown, or grey on their upper side with a lighter belly and a dorsal fin positioned far behind the centre of their back. Minke whales in the northern hemisphere have a white band on each flipper, though many in the southern hemisphere do not. The fluke of a minke whale is rarely seen above the surface.

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You are more likely to see minke whales at close quarters than other baleen whales because they are notoriously inquisitive and often approach boats.

The minke whale is the smallest of the rorqual whales. Females reach an average length of 8.5m and males grow to about 8m. Like other baleen whales, those found in the northern hemisphere tend to be smaller than those from the southern hemisphere. Minke whales weigh between five to 10 tonnes.

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The minke is widespread and seasonally abundant in the North Atlantic Ocean. In the winter, they migrate southwards, although it is unclear where their breeding grounds are located. In summer, concentrations shift northward to Spitsbergen and the Barents Sea, the coast of Norway and the waters off Iceland, Greenland and Newfoundland. In the northern Pacific, minkes are found in the Bering and Okhotsk Seas, and Gulf of Alaska in the spring and summer.

Like other great whales, minkes migrate to temperate and tropical waters in winter and polar waters in summer. Minke whales are often solitary, although they often travel in pairs or groups of three. In higher latitudes they are sometimes found in larger groups.

Common minke whales are generally solo marine mammals and prefer to travel alone, however in some cases they may be accompanied by one or two other whales. During small gatherings groups may expand to 4-10 minke whales but these occurrences are rare.

In the eastern North Pacific and North Atlantic, breeding may occur throughout the year, but there appears to be a calving peak in winter. The gestation period is believed to be around ten months. Females give birth to a calf every 12 to 14 months. Killer whales prey on minkes, as do other natural predators. They are believed to live to 40 to 50-years-old.

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Minke whales tend to feed on the food source that is most abundant in a given area, primarily krill and small schooling fish, but occasionally larger fish such as mature arctic cod and haddock. In the North Pacific, minke whales reportedly feed on euphausiids, copepods and sand eel, and those in the Okhotsk Sea feed on krill, and sometimes fish. In the North Atlantic, minke whales feed on a wide variety of prey, including sand eel, euphausiids, copepods, salmon, capelin, mackerel, and cod.

Northern minke whales are caught in the North East Atlantic by Norway pursuant to an objection to the International Whaling Commission’s (IWC) whaling moratorium, and by Greenlanders as “aboriginal subsistence” whaling. Japan hunts 150 whales a year in the North Pacific under their “scientific” reasearch permit. Japan also hunts up to 440 southern minkes a year in the Antarctic under their “scientific” research permit.

Minke whales are know to face attacks from groups of killer whales in areas where these predators are know to hunt other marine mammals. Numerous cases of minke whale meat being found in a killer whales stomach have been confirmed along with injuries and scares being observed on minke whales that have successfully escaped being killed. There are also a number of cases where dead minke whales have been spotted eaten by groups of sharks which my indicate that they are either hunted by sharks or the sharks wait for the whale to die and then consume the carcass.

The common minke whale global population however is currently under review by the IWC whilst little information is available for the dwarf minke whale. The species is listed as of Least Concern by IUCN (2008).

Video: Bait Ball – Common Minke Whale lunge feeding

#Taiji Tuesday – Short-Finned Pilot Whale

Short-Finned Pilot Whale:

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There are currently two recognized species of pilot whale, the short-finned and long-finned. In Japan, there are two morphologically and geographically distinct populations of short-finned pilot whales, one northern and one southern. It is believed that they are in fact separate subspecies however further examination is required.

Pilot whales are large, robust animals with a bulbous head and no discernible beak. The flippers are long with a pointed tip, though in the short-finned form they are more curved, slightly shorter and the ‘elbow’ is less defined than in the long-finned form. The dorsal fin is set forward on the body and varies in shape depending on age and sex. The tail flukes also have sharply pointed tips plus a distinct notch in the middle and concave edges. The short-finned pilot whale is jet black or dark grey with a grey or white ‘saddle-patch’ over its back behind the dorsal fin. It has a grey or almost white anchor shaped patch on its chest and a grey or white stripe which goes diagonally upwards behind each eye. Male short-finned pilot whales are on average 5.5m in length & weighing up to 3,000kg, whereas female short-finned pilot whales on average are 4.3m in length & weighing up to 1,500 kg. Males are thought to live to be about 45 years of age whilst females are thought to survive into their 60’s.

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Short-finned pilot whales are highly sociable and are rarely seen alone. They are found in groups of between 15-50 animals, though some pods are as large as 60 individuals. Super-pods of hundreds of individuals are not uncommon and may swim abreast in a line several miles across with adults occasionally porpoising when swimming fast. They are sometimes seen logging and will allow boats to get quite close. They rarely breach, but may be seen lobtailing, spyhopping and surfing in the wake of large waves. Short-finned pilot whales have a preference for water about 1000m deep and are often found on continental slopes where their main prey item, squid is abundant.  The typical diet of the short-finned pilot whale appears to consist of squid and fish, as well as other cephalopds, such as octopuses. However the short-finned pilot whales have been reported to harass sperm whales and dolphins, so marine mammals may also be included in their diet. This species usually feeds at night, making deep dives in search of prey.

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Their highly social nature and strong familial bonds could explain why this species is amongst those cetaceans that most frequently mass-strand. The short-finned pilot whale live in a matri-lineal or female based society and females have been known to care for a calf that is not their own. After weaning, young male short-finned pilot whales may move to a new group, whereas the females tend to stay in the pod to which they were born. The name “pilot whale” comes from an early idea that these pods are piloted by a leader, typically known as the matriarch.

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The worldwide population of short-finned pilot whales is unknown and although they are not thought to be threatened on a global scale, several populations are hunted. Targeted in Japanese drive fisheries, in the Faroe Islands The Grind,  and other hunts elsewhere. The short-finned pilot whale is also favoured as a display species in aquariums around the world. Other threats to the species include entanglement in fishing nets and noise pollution. The IUCN lists the species as Data Deficient.

Video: Short-finned Pilot Whales Underwater

In Taiji: 2017/2018 Taiji Drive hunt quota allows for 101 Short-Finned Pilot Whales

The first drive hunt in Taiji this season was a nursery pod (mainly mothers and their calves) of short-finned pilot whales on September 3, 2017.

In some instances a drive can last for almost an entire day and for hour after hour the dolphins are relentlessly chased. In those long hours of pursuit, while the dolphins are driven towards the cove, the brutal reality of the hunts is driven home – No matter the species, the hunts are torture for dolphins. Kept in a continuous state of “fight or flight,” vast amounts of energy are mobilized as the pod attempts to evade the hunters.

And for seven hours on September 3, 2017 the first pod of pilot whales this season, fought for their lives, struggling against the deafening sounds of boat engines, of poles being banged (designed to confuse the dolphins’ sensitive navigation systems) and the sheer willpower of the hunters themselves. By early afternoon, it became clear the dolphins were losing the battle. Their swimming became noticeably slower, and several times the pod refused or were unable to move. However with the boats so close to the pod, they had no choice but to keep moving, ultimately swimming right into the cove.

Boats and skiffs quickly left the cove, leaving the pod alone for the rest of the day and night. Many juveniles were seen in the pod, huddled close to their mothers. Little heads bobbed up and down while the adults continued to circle the tightly-knit group. The scene was horrifying, for, unlike the dolphins who are unaware of their fate, we have a good idea of the atrocities that will unfold tomorrow.

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On the second day, 10 pilot whales were slaughtered and 3 juveniles were taken for captivity. The remaining pilot whales were kept for a second night. Exhausted and terrified, missing 13 pod members. Their fate would be determined the following morning. On Day 3, after slaughtering 10 more today (not including 1 that was floating in the bay all day) the hunters rushed out to attempt another drive leaving the remaining juveniles in the cove. Eventually they released the young Pilot whales and all boats returned empty handed.

A total of 21 dead Pilot whales and 3 taken for captivity, over the course of 3 days. These images below are proof of the cruel nature of the captivity industry. Trainers who claim to love and care for these animals remain under the tarps while the hunters slaughter those the trainers do not want. We can all put a stop to this by helping everyone connect dolphin shows with these horrifying slaughters.

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#WhaleWednesday – Antarctic Minke Whale

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The minke whale is the smallest rorqual whale and, as such, was the last to be targeted by whalers. Until the turn of the century, the minke was treated as one species but it is now widely accepted that there are two species: a common minke and an Antarctic minke whale. The latter overlaps in its distributional range with a small form of the common minke, sometimes called the dwarf minke whale.

The Antarctic minke whale is among the smallest of the baleen whales, with only the common minke and the pygmy right whale being smaller. Males can reach a length of 35 ft and females approximately 32 ft in length, and adult minke whales can weight up to 15 tonnes.

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The body colour is usually black or dark brown with streaks of paler colour on their lateral sides, and a distinctly paler belly. It has a notably pointed rostrum and a single ridge on its head. This species often has a yellow wash to its baleen as a result of diatom growth. Most importantly, the Antarctic minke lacks the distinctive white flipper mark that is found in the common minke whale.

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Antarctic minke whales are known from around 7º S to the ice edge (and into the ice fields) during the austral summer (November through March). There they feed mainly on krill and, in turn, are important prey items for the orca that also live in these waters. They will occasionally approach smaller boats when feeding. The Antarctic minke whale is usually found alone or in pairs, although aggregations of hundreds of whales can gather in feeding grounds.

The antarctic minke whale reaches sexual maturity at 7 to 8 years old and has a lifespan of approximately 50 ears. The species mates over the winter and the female undergoes a 10 month gestation period, usually giving birth to a single calf, although twins and triplets may sometimes occur. The calf typically suckles for 5 months before being weaned, and will remain with the female for up to 2 years.

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Distribution Map: Minke whales are the only baleen whale species which is still most common in Antarctic waters and the most ice adapted of the Antarctic baleen whales. They have been seen hundreds of kilometers into heavy pack ice in the middle of winter and some of them obviously spend winter there. In summer, their favourite habitat seems to be open pack ice, that is, pack ice where there is quite a lot of open water among ice floes.

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Minke whales (both Antarctic and common) continue to be hunted in large numbers by the Japanese whaling fleet, who claim to kill minke whales for “scientific research”, but they are simply attempting to recommence commercial whaling. The meat from this research is sold in commercial markets. Since 2005 Sea Shepherd Conservation Society has used its ships to disrupt Japan’s annual whaling expedition in Antarctic waters. (Be sure to check out the TV series Whale Wars) However this year, Sea Shepherd has announced it is suspending the campaign, since the Japanese whalers have doubled their whaling grounds and are now employing military surveillance to watch Sea Shepherd ship movements in real time by satellite. The result is that Sea Shepherd cannot compete with their military grade technology. Captain Paul Watson, founder of Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, has stated that Sea Shepherd will regroup with different strategies, tactics and an alternative way to dealing with the Japanese whalers.

Like other cetaceans, the Antarctic minke whale is also vulnerable to chemical and noise pollution. Climate change will also be a major threat to this species. With rising temperatures, a reduction of sea ice means the Antarctic minke whale may lose between 5 and 30 percent of ice associated habitat in the next 40 years. As the area of suitable habitat reduces and prey populations decrease there will be an increase in competition for space and food, ultimately decreasing the population of this whale species.

They are categorized as Data Deficient by the IUCN Red List (2008).

 

Video: Curious Antarctic Minke Whale

 

 

#TaijiTuesday – Pacific White-Sided Dolphins

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Pacific White Sided Dolphins near Telegraph Cove, BC, Canada – Photo Credit: John E. Marriott

The 2017/2018 Drive Hunt Quota allows for 134 Pacific White-Sided Dolphins

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The Pacific white-sided dolphin is energetic, active and is frequently seen leaping, belly flopping and somersaulting. They are strong fast swimmers and enthusiastic bow riders, often staying with moving vessels for extended periods.

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The Pacific white-sided dolphin has a robust body with a very short stubby beak and black lips. The dorsal fin is one of the most distinguishing characteristics of this species being tall, falcate, and bicoloured with a black leading edge fading to grey on the trailing edge. The large flippers are similarly coloured with rounded tips. Overall the Pacific white-sided dolphin is dark grey or black in colour. As its name suggests, it has a greyish thoracic patch which extends down the sides to just below the dorsal fin. Thin greyish stripes under the dorsal fin meet and broaden along the tailstock. The throat and belly are bright white. The eye is surrounded by a dark patch and there is a black stripe running from the face to the flippers and down to the anus, separating the white underside from the greyish flanks. Several colour morphs exist throughout the species range. The Pacific white-sided dolphin may be confused with the common dolphin, but the latter has a more pronounced beak and different colour pattern, whilst the former can usually be easily identified by its diagnostic dorsal fin.

Video: Mark Peters and friends encounter an unexpected surprise while albacore fishing off the coast of Santa Cruz, CA – Pacific White Sided Dolphins

Pacific white-sided dolphins are extremely agile, acrobatic and social. Generally traveling in groups of tens or hundreds of individuals, they can be seen in herds of 2,000 or more. Groups are often segregated according to sex and age. They associate with many other species including northern right-whale dolphins, Risso’s dolphins, sea lions, and seals. They are avid bow and wake riders, and are known to actively approach boats. They can be seen performing leaps, flips, spins, somersaults, and they often porpoise at high speeds. Large groups travelling at high speeds create a lot of surface disturbance that is visible from a great distance.

Video: Dolphin Superpod in Strait of Georgia

The Pacific white-sided dolphin is found in the cool temperate waters of the North Pacific and adjoining seas. It prefers deep, offshore waters around the continental shelf although they can also be found in more nearshore waters. In recent decades the major threat to this species was bycatch in drift and gill-net fisheries operated on the high seas. Many thousands of individuals were killed before the fisheries were banned in 1993. Bycatch in other fisheries however remains a threat. Pacific white-sided dolphins have also been taken in small numbers off the coast of Japan, and that country is considering starting regular hunting of this species again. Other threats include prey depletion, marine debris and the impacts of climate change.

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Distribution Map

There is no reliable global population estimate for this species and the IUCN categorises this species as of ‘Least Concern’.

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In Taiji: As already mentioned, Pacific white-sided dolphins are very fast, very active and they are also very valuable to the captive trade in Taiji  – they are worth more than Bottlenose dolphins. So valuable that they do not drive the Pacific white-sided dolphins into the cove for fear of injury and the simple fact that they are worth more captive than they are for meat.

Instead of driving the Pacific white-sided dolphins into the cove the Taiji dolphin hunters and trainers will do an off-shore capture. In the off-shore capture the dolphin hunters will try to orchestrate large nets to surround the Pacific white-sided dolphin pod. The small skiffs will then attempt to pull these nets tighter and tighter, making if more difficult for the dolphins to swim or even surface.

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These dolphins are then subjected to examination by trainers to determine probability for a life of captivity. The dolphins are then tossed into skiffs and held down by several of the Taiji fisherman netting them to the floor of the boats. They are then taken to the Taiji harbour sea pens (floating sea prison) and dumped over the side of the skiffs into the tiny sea pens, which will hold multiple dolphins.

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Pacific White Sided Dolphins at Dolphin Base in December 2013:

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#WhaleWednesday – Sei Whale

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The Sei Whale is identified by a dorsal fin, 38 to 56 ventral grooves (throat grooves that allow their throat to expand during the hug intake of water during filter feeding). Sei whales are also baleen whales, meaning that instead of the common mammal tooth form, baleen whales have plates for filtering foods in and water out, specifically sei whales have two rows of 300 to 380 baleen plates. This whale is known to be 14 to 20 m long and weighs about 20 tons – females are generally 1-2 m longer than males. The sei whale is dark gray or bluish grey on the back and sides with a greyish white area on the ventral grooves of the lower jaw and underbelly.

The sei whale is one of the fastest cetaceans, reaching speeds of up to 50 km/hour.  Sei whales have a more regular dive sequence than most others and is known to stay near the surface more consistently. The sei whale normally blows once every 40 to 60 seconds, for about 1 to 4 minutes, and then can dive for 5 to 20 minutes. During the shorter dives, the sei whale rarely descends deeper than a few feet, so its progress can be followed by “fluke prints” or swirls left by the beat of the tail just below the surface. The sei whale seldom breaches, however the dorsal fin and back remain visible for longer periods of time than with other large whales.

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Fluke Prints – the path of the unseen whale

Sei whale groups mostly consist of 2-5 individuals, however thousands may aggregate where plenty of food is available. Like the other baleen whales, sei whales feed by skimming and swallowing surface plankton, mainly copepods (tiny marine crustaceans) but also euphausiids (krill, shrimp like crustaceans).

Mating season ranges from November to February in the Northern Hemisphere and from May to July in the Southern Hemisphere. Females generally give birth to a single calf every other year in winter, after a gestation period of 10.5 to 12 months. Although little is known about their breeding habits, some data indicate that sei whale migration is loosely organized around sex, age, or reproductive function. This presumably relates to mating strategies, but at this time nothing is known of their mating habits or calving grounds.

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The sei whale species was intensively exploited worldwide after blue and fin whale stocks have been reduced. In 1980, it was estimated that the Southern Hemisphere population had been reduced to around 24,000 from an initial level of 100,000 or so. In the North Pacific there was a decline from 42,000 in 1963 to just 8,600 in 1974, while figures in the North Atlantic are the most uncertain, although some surveys have suggested a figure around 10,000. Since 1985, the International Whaling Commission has officially halted all commercial whaling of this species. However, today 50 sei whales are killed annually by the Japanese whalers in the North Pacific in Japan’s “scientific whaling” program.

Sei whales inhabit all ocean and adjoining seas except in polar regions, feeding in cold water during the summer and migrating to warm tropical and subtropical waters during the winter. In the western North Pacific, sei whales are most common in the south-west Bering Sea to the Gulf of Alaska, and offshore in a broad arc between about 40 degrees North and 55 degrees North across the Pacific.

In the North Atlantic, sei whales can be found from the coast of Labrador, and along the coasts of Greenland and Iceland. In the East Atlantic, sei whales migrate north to northern waters off Norway, Shetland, Orkney and the Faeroe Islands an occasionally, Svalbard. Sei whales are also present in the Denmark strait

Sei Whale Feeding Frenzy video:

#TaijiTuesday – Another Drive Hunt & Slaughter Season About to Begin

 

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Just a week away, on September 1, 2017 another season of the Taiji Dolphin Drive Hunt & Slaughter will begin. Each year, from September until March, pods of dolphins make their way across Hatagiri Bay which is located near the town of Taiji in Wakayama Prefecture in Japan. While this is a scenic and even serene area at times, death haunts the infamous Cove which is located directly adjacent to Taiji’s Whale Museum.

Every year during the annual government sanctioned dolphin & whale hunt, thousands of dolphins are brutally and inhumanely slaughtered. Below is the 2017/2018 Drive Hunt Quote – Taiji Fisherman’s Union is allowed to take 1,940 dolphins from nine different species over the course of six months. Over the coming weeks Voice for the Blue will do a #TaijiTuesday blog post and introduce you the nine species of Taiji Drive Hunt Quote.

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Not all dolphins driven into the cove are slaughtered. Taiji is known as “ground zero” for international trade in live dolphins. There is big money in the captive dolphin entertainment industry and there is a direct link between the captive dolphin entertainment industry and the bloody waters of the infamous Cove in Taiji. It is the dolphin entertainment industry that fuels the drive hunt and the killing of dolphins for meat unfortunately follows in its wake.

While in Taiji in December 2013, I witnessed numerous slaughters of Risso’s Dolphins, a slaughter of Striped Dolphins, one slaughter/live capture of Bottlenose Dolphins, and one live capture of Pacific White-Sided Dolphins. While each slaughter was different to experience they were in a sense all the same: The sound of dolphin taking its last breath, the sound of the Taiji killers yelling, the sound of a dolphin thrashing furiously in an attempt to escape death, then the eerie silence that tells you the slaughter is done and yet another pod of dolphins has lost its life at the hand of the Taiji fisherman. The sounds of slaughter are something that remain with you long after you left Taiji.

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Sunrise at the Cove – shortly before the slaughter of a pod of striped dolphins

Unfortunately many of us who stood witness to and documented the drive hunt and slaughter on the ground in Taiji are unable to return. Many activists have been held for questioning in immigration, then denied entry to Japan and deported back to our home countries. Japan has recently decided that simply witnessing and documenting the slaughter of dolphins is now a crime and classified as terrorism.

Being on the ground in Taiji was one of the hardest, but by far one of my proudest moments. I may not be able to return to Taiji but I will ensure that I educate as many as people as possible on the Drive Hunt & Slaughter, the direct relationship it has to the dolphin entertainment industry and why people should not participate in swim with dolphin programs or attend marine parks, such as Sea World & Marinleand Canada.

For the dolphins, Mel

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#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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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