Group Proposes Captive Orca Sanctuary In San Juan Islands

Group Proposes Captive Orca Sanctuary In San Juan Islands

The Whale Sanctuary Project, an organization that is working to create a sanctuary for captive orcas (Orcinus orca) and dolphins in Washington’s San Juan Islands, announced it is holding public meetings throughout the region in hopes of generating support to create a $15 million netted-off cove and care facility for captive born (and two wild-caught) killer whales. The organization says the project would start with six to eight orcas.

A killer whale where it should be, in the ocean. Photo by NOAA/Wikipedia

“We owe them this,” project Executive Director Charles Vinick, of Santa Barbara, California told the Seattle Times. “They have entertained millions of people and made millions of dollars for the people that house them and we should give them back the quality of life they so deserve.”

The organization does face a regulatory battle, according to the Times, as millions of dollars would need to be raised, approximately $15 million to build the facility and about $2 million yearly to run it, which includes a veterinary staff. It is hoped that the first orca is moved to the facility at the end of 2020/beginning of 2021.

A so-called “trainer” surfing atop a captive killer whale at Seaworld Orlando in 2008. Since the death of Seaworld employee Dawn Brancheau by killer whale Tilikum in 2010, employees of the theme park are prohibited from entering the water with these whales. The format for displaying these animals has also been changed.

Vinick is hoping that Seaworld and Seaquarium will partner with the Whale Sanctuary Project. These corporations have made millions off captive killer whales since the first one, Namu, was put on display in 1965.

An entire generation of southern resident killer whales were removed from Puget Sound during the mid 1960s to 1976, when capturing orcas in Washington’s waters was made illegal. Lolita, captured from Penn Cove in 1970, is the last surviving member of the clan taken during the capture time period. Corky, a northern resident, is the longest lived orca in captivity. He was taken from Pender Harbour in 1969 and currently lives in Seaworld San Diego. There are just three pods of these fish-eating whales in the wild, with 75 total members; J pod, with 23 members, K pod, with 18 members and L Pod, with 35 members.

The Whale Sanctuary Project is also looking into creating a sanctuary for beluga whales on the East Coast.

Public meetings are as follow:

Public Meeting Details (all events are public and open to the media)
Olympia – Tuesday, July 16, 7 p.m. (doors open at 6:30)DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel – Capitol Room 415 Capitol Way N Street parking and small adjacent lot.
Gig Harbor – Wednesday, July 17, 7 p.m. (doors open at 6:30)Ocean5 – Atlantic Ocean Meeting Room 5268 Point Fosdick Dr. Parking on site.
Seattle – Thursday, July 18, 7 p.m. (doors open at 6:30)Great Hall at Green Lake – Great Hall 7220 Woodlawn Ave NE Paid underground parking below PCC Community Market (one block from venue)
San Juan Island (Friday Harbor) – Sunday, July 21, 2 p.m. (doors open at 1:30)Brickworks Event Center150 Nichols St. Plaza parking and street parking.
Orcas Island (Eastsound) – Tuesday, July 23, 7 p.m. (doors open at 6:30)Emmanuel Episcopal Church – Parish Hall 242 Main St.Street parking.
Lopez Island – Wednesday, July 24, 7 p.m. (doors open at 6:30)Woodmen Hall4102 Fisherman Bay Rd. Parking on site.

SeaWorld Publishes 20 Years of Captive Orca Blood Data

SeaWorld Publishes 20 Years of Captive Orca Blood Data

SeaWorld, the amusement company that had showcased captive killer whales (Orcinus orca) in its theme parks for decades until 2016, announced that it is publishing 20 years of blood data on its captive whales. This is in an effort to help scientists who study wild killer whales to determine how they should proceed, if at all, in helping stranded or sick orcas. 

“For us, collecting blood from free-ranging killer whales is exceedingly difficult, so it’s something we would rarely ever do,” Deborah Fauquier, a veterinary medical officer at the National Marine Fisheries Service, told Komo News. “Having partners that are in the managed-care community that can provide us with blood values from those animals is very useful. It’s giving us a very robust baseline data set that we haven’t had previously for these whales.”

The data includes more than 2,800 blood tests from 32 whales dating from 1993 to 2013. These blood values include cholesterol, platelet count, triglycerides and others. 

This image was taken at SeaWorld in Orlando, prior to the death of employee Dawn Brancheau. Tim Ross/Wikipedia

Today, 17 of the company’s 20 whales were born in captivity. The company, which devastated the Pacific Northwest’s southern resident orcas in the 1960s and 1970s when it killed 13 orcas and took 45 for entertainment purposes, according to the Center for Whale Research on Washington’s San Juan Island, in 2016 ended the captive breeding program as well as the Shamu show in response to public outcry.  

“Our stance is to do research with our animals to try to help this population now, and that’s what we’re doing,” Todd Robeck, SeaWorld’s vice president of conservation research, said of the Pacific Northwest’s resident orcas. ”That’s why I got into what I do — to try to help animals in the wild, “ Robeck told Komo News.

The company pledged $10 million to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s Killer Whale Research and Conservation Program, in an effort to help the southern resident orcas.

Robeck, one of the lead authors of the review of SeaWorld’s orca data, said that while there will be some differences between the values for captive and wild whales due to climate, diet, and other factors, the results should provide a baseline to compare data from blow samples or fecal samples.  SeaWorld is also studying the effects of toxin build up in adult whales and how those toxins are transferred to calves. 

“It’s something that could only be done with our animals,” Robeck said. “It’s an example of how we are dedicated to participating in the wellbeing of killer whales in the Pacific Northwest and around the world, and how research with our animals is vital in answering some of these questions about how to address the needs of the animals in the wild.”