#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.”

 

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:

 

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:

 

Transient Orca’s in Puget Sound Summer 2015

Whale Watching in British Columbia is one of the best places in the world to view orcas, humpback whales, gray whales and other marine species. The city of Victoria and in particular the southern tip of Vancouver Island is renowned for orca sightings and is the ultimate destination for BC whale watching. Victoria is at the centre of the world’s highest concentration of killer whales. It’s perfectly situated in the middle of the southern resident killer whales’ seasonal feeding ground.

I spent a lot of time researching whale watching and looked at several different whale watching tour companies in Victoria. I finally decided to book with Eagle Wing Tours. Eagle Wing Tours is Victoria’s first award winning whale watching company and is the #1 ranked whale watching company in Victoria on TripAdvisor.

I was unsure of what to expect for my first whale watching tour, but all I knew was that it would be amazing to see wild orcas, even better to see them spyhopping, breaching and if I got to see a baby orca too then that would just be fantastic! Well turns out my first experience would not disappoint and I managed to see all of this in one trip!

 

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If you ever have the opportunity to experience Orca’s in the wild – just do it! It is by far one of the most exhilarating experiences!

Sea World Under Scrutiny Again #endcaptivity

With the recent release of the highly anticipated documentary, Blackfish, which provides a critical look at the family orientated Sea World’s treatment of whales,  two other videos released on youtube provide further insight into Sea World’s treatment of the dolphins and whales.

Distressed Pilot Whale at Sea World: Sea World find itself under fire after trainers failed to help a distress pilot whale stuck on a slideout ledge for approximately 25 minutes. The video was caught on camera by an audience member, who has stated that his views of Sea World have been changed forever.

Peta released this statement after the release of the video: “Audiences should be horrified by every video taken inside SeaWorld,” PETA wrote in an emailed statement Monday. Whether they show a pilot whale stranded on a concrete ledge in front of a shocked crowd, an orca killing his trainer, or intelligent, sensitive whales forced to swim day in and day out in tiny circles for a reward of dead fish, these videos are a potent reminder that SeaWorld keeps marine mammals trapped in concrete tanks that bear no resemblance to their habitat in the wild, with no room in which to swim, no family groups, and no stimulation.”

Take a look at the video below and draw your own conclusions on the treatment of whales and dolphins at Sea World.

Dolphin Escapes Tank at Sea World: During a public feeding of the dolphins at Sea World, one dolphin jumped out of the tank and landed on the concrete. “I do not have children, but this is not something I would want them to see on a family vacation.” – David Kirby (deathatseaworld.com) Not only is a situation like this extrememly dangerous for the dolphin itself, as you can see in the video from the blood on the concrete, it is also an extremely dangerous situation for spectators. If a child or adult was nearby and had been injured when the dolphin jumped out of the tank, then I can assure you there would be a media storm covering this story.

If you are contmeplating or even planning a trip to Sea World in the near or distant to future, then consider this: Sea World is not a place for education on dolphins and whales. The daily shows at dolphin & whale stadium and Shamu stadium are simply that a show, designed to entertain and have absoltely no educational benefit. The dolphins and whales of Sea World and conditioned to perform tricks for your entertainment receiving dead fish as their reward and in no resemble the natural habits of a dolphin or whale in the wild.

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

 

Death at Sea World

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DEATH AT SEAWORLD “is a groundbreaking scientific examination that exposes the dark side of SeaWorld, America’s most beloved marine mammal park.  From the tragic death of trainer Dawn Brancheau in 2010, to other, less-publicized violent incidents, journalist David Kirby puts these brutal animal-on-human attacks in context and explores the controversial and even lethal ramifications of keeping killer whales in captivity. It introduces the real people taking part in this debate, from former trainers turned animal rights activists to the men and women that champion SeaWorld and the captivity of whales. Kirby follows the story of Naomi Rose Ph.D., marine mammal scientist for The Humane Society of the United States and senior scientist for The Humane Society International, whose warnings against keeping killer whales in captivity fell on deaf ears.  He also covers the media backlash, the eyewitnesses who come forward to challenge SeaWorld’s glossy image, and the groundbreaking OSHA vs. SeaWorld case. On May 30, 2012, the judge ruled on this case, stating that trainers performing with huge ocean predators need to be protected by physical barriers, or some other means providing the same level of safety.  The strict standard could effectively prevent SeaWorld from ever allowing its trainers to get back into the water during shows with the whales.” (Source)

Thoughts on Death at Sea World:

With the upcoming release of the new documentary Blackfish, I decided to finally read Death at Sea World. Simply put, it is an inspiring, heartbreaking, thriller, that provides significant insight into the lives of Killer Whales in captivity. Kirby takes you through a gripping investigation that is hard to put down. The book in the end, is an eye opener to Shamu and the Dark Side of Killer Whales in Captivity.

The chapter entitled Capture, which is told from Tilikum’s perspective, is absolutely heartbreaking. It is hard not to view the capture of Tilikum as similar to that of a child being taken away from its mother at such a young age. Especially considering that male killer whales spend most of their time by their mother’s side from infancy through old age. While they may swim off for a few hours or days to mate with females from other pods, at the end of the day they always come back to their mother.  As Kirby puts it, “in other words, male resident orcas are the planet’s ultimate mama’s boy.” Here is a little excerpt from the chapter “Suddenly you are snagged in another, smaller net. You cry out in shock and fear, calling for your mother. You feel the net being pulled through the water toward the boat. Your heart races and you surface to breathe, quickly and with difficulty. What is going on? Where is your mom? Then you hear her. You have never hear this wretched wail before: mournful, ragged, spiked with rage and terror. Now your other relative have joined the awful remonstration. You answer their panicked cries with your own chaotic vocalizations as you’re hauled from the water on a canvas sling.”

Interestingly enough, no killer whale had been reported to have killed a human in the wild, or even seriously attacked a human in the wild, and no killer whale had ever been known to be killed in a fight with another whale. All three of those things have happened in captivity

According to Kirby there are two vital questions:

1) Is captivity in an amusement park good for orcas: Is this the appropriate venue for killer whales to be held, and does it somehow benefit wild orcas and their ocean habitat, as industry claims?

2) Is orca captivity good for society: Is it safe for trainers and truly educational for a public that pays to watch the whales perform what critics say are animal tricks akin to circus acts?

Clearly my answer to these two questions is no, but what would your answer be?

After reading Death at Sea World, this what I can say with certainty: 1. I will continue my pledge to never visit Sea World or anything similar 2. I will be a voice for the voiceless by informing others of the brutal reality of captivity for Killer Whales and other cetaceans, 3. The only place I ever want to see  Killer Whales is in their natural environment and thanks to David Kirby I hope to one day travel to Johnstone Strait and Telegraph Cove to do so.

That being said, I urge each of you to pick up Death at Sea World by David Kirby and sit down and read it. I guarantee you that it will completely change your outlook on Sea World and the Killer Whale captive entertainment industry. Secondly, if you haven’t already heard about the new documentary Blackfish, then view the trailer below and check for local screening times on the website http://blackfishmovie.com/

Interested in reading and learning more:

http://deathatseaworld.com/

http://theorcaproject.wordpress.com/