Monday, March 5, 2018

Superpod Six Primer with Schedule Outline

Superpod is a biennial gathering on San Juan Island, Washington, USA, hosted by Voice of the Orcas

#Superpod6 is the sixth incarnation of an event that began in July 2011, organically. It is organized through volunteerism & minimal fund raising. It's an event for learning, sharing, & inspiration. It's open & free to the public and brings together scientists, authors, journalists, former trainers, naturalists, orca advocates and people who want to see killer whales swimming, playing & chasing prey in the ocean. It's fun & the San Juan Islands are stunningly beautiful. 

Recent years have seen an increase in the number of transient orcas in the Salish Sea. Whale watch patrons are just as likely to see transient families as they are to see the fish-eating Southern Residents. Humpbacks are increasing in number & frequently seen via boat. Bald eagles, dolphins & stellar sea lions are plentiful. 


Whale watching is land-based or via several whale watch companies. Here's a Southern Resident bull orca swimming in front of #Superpod5 attendees at Lime Kiln State Park, with voice over by attendee Brian Goodwin, who traveled from Florida: 

#Superpod6 happens Mon-Fri July 16th - 20th, 2018 

July 19th will mark the five-year-anniversary of #Blackfish opening at theaters in New York, Los Angeles and Hollywood. Appropriately, this year's theme is The Blackfish Effect. That said, topics will be far-ranging, including on current events, state of the Southern Resident orcas, shake-ups at SeaWorld, wild and captive orca research, the Russia-China-SeaWorld connection, Morgan, Lolita, Corky updates, salmon restoration, the lower Snake River dams, scholar advocacy, short films and more. Our venue is the San Juan Community theater, seen in the drone video here: 

At the theater, over two dozen experts & advocates will take the stage for Ted Talks Style presentations including short films on Granny & Moby Doll. The theater will also house booths and interactive information tables. Meet folks from the Center for Whale Research and conservation groups that will be on island for the event. The official #Superpod6 T-Shirt, designed by artist Kaarina Makowski, is below with her comments. Guess who the whales are on the official logo?  


16 July Monday: FLEX time. Arrival day. Explore the island, social events 

17 July Block ONE: Tues 1:30 pm to 4:00 pm: Meet & Greet at Friday's Crab House 

17 July Block TWO: Tues 6:00 pm to 8:00 pm or later - Welcoming at the San Juan Theater

18 July Block THREE: Wed 8:30 to 12:30 pm - presentations / films 

18 July Block FOUR: Wed 2:pm to 6:00 pm - presentations / films 

19 July Block FIVE: Thurs 8:30 pm to 12:30 pm - presentations / films 

19 July Block SIX: Thurs 2:00 pm until 6:00 pm or as late as needed / films 

20 July Friday: FLEX time. Whale Watching, social events, island exploration


NOTE: This list is a working list in no particular order. Most on this list will be presenting or involved in scholar advocacy. We will update the list with more details, add-ons or cancellations

Phil Demers - The Walrus Whisperer 
Charles Vinick - Lessons from Keiko Project 
Christine Caruso - Introduce her documentary on Corky with film clips 
Colleen Weiler, WDC Fellow, Rekos Fellowship for Orca Conservation
Margaux Dodds - Marine Connection (UK) - Introduce Whale Bowl Documentary
Carly Ferguson, Ontario Captive Animal Watch - Update on Kiska / status of Bill S-203
David Neiwert - Journalist, Author Of Orcas & Men 
Kim Ventre - Mistress of Ceremonies 
Dr Kathryn Comer - Portland State University, Blackfish impacts 
Dr Lori Marino - Neuroscientist, Scholar advocacy & Whale Sanctuary Project 
Dr Ingrid Visser - New Zealand orca researcher, multiple topics 
Dean Gomersall - Blackfish cast member
Murial Arnal - French Decree banning breeding of cetaceans 
Pedro Bicchieri - Book Author, The Blackfish Effect 
Dr Naomi Rose - Blackfish Effect, policy expert 
Rachel Carbury - Empty the Tanks Worldwide organizer 
Mark Leiren-Young / Rayne Benu -  Films: Moby Doll & The Hundred Year Old Whale
Suzanne Mager - Sound Action Org - protecting juvenile salmon
Jim Waddell - Dewatering the 4 Lower Snake Dams 
Caitlny Blair - Western WA University "Students for Salish Sea" 
Meegan Corcoran - US Navy Sonar - legal update 
Ella Van Cleave - Scholar Advocate 
Mariah Kirby - Scholar Advocate 
Skye Schwartz - Scholar Advocate
Carol Ray - VOTO 
Howard Garrett - Orca Network 
Captain Jeff Friedman - Northwest orca -salmon connection
Simon Hunt - His work with the UK Parliament on animal justice issues
Michael Mountain - Whale Sanctuary Project 

John Hargrove - Author of Beneath the Surface

Haze Sommer - social media guru 

Ken Balcomb - PI for Center for Whale Research 
Dr Deborah Giles - Orca scat study
Dr John Jett - VOTO - Tooth Damage in Captive O Orca 
Kaarina Mackowski - official SP6 artist / videographer 
Dr Jeffrey Ventre - VOTO
More to come...

NOTE to presenters. Contact one of us at VOTO if you don't see your name here! 

#Superpod1: On Legacy with David Kirby, Samantha Berg, Jeffrey Ventre, Michelle Duncan, Todd Bricker

Monday, January 29, 2018

Phototoxicity and is the Hybrid SeaWorld Orca Malia Dying?

Malia is a female hybrid killer whale born at SeaWorld of Florida on 12 March 2007. Her mother was Taima, a half-transient & half N. Atlantic mix & her father was Tilikum, a wild-captured Icelandic male. 

Aside: Contrary to conservation claims by the industry, hybrid orcas, bred exclusively for shows, have no conservation value. They could, however, live more meaningful lives if given access to wild fish & kelp, the tides, ocean sounds, a lot more space, & medical care in an open ocean sea pen. More on that, here

As posted on Instagram: 

Recent photographs show that Malia's skin appears diseased, likely a phototoxic reaction, at least in part, due to medication. One image, not available to publish, shows a large area of sloughed off skin encompassing most of her (white) ventral surface. Note that phototoxic reactions are typically "dose dependent." This suggests that whatever Malia is being treated for has developed some resistance & thus the medication dosage has been sufficiently increased to produce visible skin lesions.

Here's a peer-reviewed article from "Pediatric Dermatology" on dose dependent skin reactions in humans.

The "Heart Sign": An Early Indicator of Dose-Dependent Doxycycline-Induced Phototoxicity.

Phototoxicity tends to attack areas that lack pigmentation, the "white skin" of a killer whale, or areas without hair in other mammals like humans. For more on that see the Merck Veterinary Manual piece at the end of this. 

A drug induced photosensitivity reaction 
From our direct experiences & morning med sessions with Malia's parents & grandparents, Taima, Tilikum, Gudrun, & Kanduke, all deceased, we confirm that captive killer whales are medicated regularly, usually for stubborn infections including from broken & bored out teeth, and also for stress ulcers. Antibiotics & Tagamet were the main drugs we dished out regularly at SeaWorld of Orlando. Sometimes medications like Valium are used to calm the whales. And corticosteroids are used to treat breathing problems, inflammatory conditions & to increase a whale's appetite after they've "slowed down" or stopped eating. 

In a recent conversation with John Hargrove, former SW trainer at the Texas & California parks, he recalled administering Dexamethasone to whales. Indications for it and side effects can be found here. Like antibiotics, corticosteroids can suppress the immune system in mammals. That is why they are used in human recipients of organ transplants, so the body is less likely to reject a donor organ (i.e. the immune response is lowered). 

Malia's teeth, seen in the image below, are worn & drilled out with bore holes. There's a high probability she is on antibiotics, chronically, because of  poor oral health & complications from it. Open bore holes, a pathway for bacteria to enter the bloodstream, can lead to pulmonary infections, endocarditis and kidney disease. While SeaWorld typically reports that their whales die from pneumonia, we suspect most of these pulmonary infections are secondary infections from poor dentition including broken teeth & weak immunity. 

Click the image to expand 

Of most concern is that Malia's skin lesions resemble ones that appeared on Kasatka who recently died. This suggests Malia is being given  similar medications as Kasatka was and at sufficient dosage to trigger photosensitivity. 

The matriarch was euthanized at SeaWorld of California on 15 August 2017 after a long battle with "pneumonia."  A lawsuit seeks to discover more medical details surrounding her condition & the circumstances leading to her death. Unlike children who can stay inside or wear a hat after being prescribed Tetracycline, for example, the whales at SeaWorld have nowhere to run from UV exposure, especially in Orlando & San Diego. 

Photo of Kasatka from Elizabeth, months prior to her death (SeaWorld of California) 

Kasatka, seen with skin lesions above & below, is famously known for thrashing SeaWorld trainer Ken Peters in 2006 as well as her role in the #Blackfish documentary.

Left, note the more advanced cutaneous lesions as she neared death, appearing similar to an end-stage AIDs patient. One unconfirmed report is that SeaWorld stopped the phototoxic drug in Kasatka's case and her skin began to improve, but without the medication, she crashed. 

In memoriam, the unedited uncut version of Kasatka with trainer Ken Peters during a live public performance, courtesy of "Death at SeaWorld" author David Kirby: 


So, is Malia dying? 

The lesions tell us only that she is medicated and make it difficult to answer that question. We don't know what she is being treated for nor the current state of her immune system. For SeaWorld to use a drug that causes striking visual changes (i.e. "bad PR") one can presume that Malia is being treated for something fairly serious. Regarding immunity, she is younger than Kasatka was and stronger. We also know that degraded skin, like broken teeth, offers pathways for more aggressive pathogens to enter her body. Thus a phototoxic lesion can become a host for a secondary bacterial or fungal infection, and the cycle continues leading to more or different meds. 

What could SeaWorld do? 

An open "science-based" company, as SeaWorld likes to imagine & portray itself would share data, talk to outside researchers & discuss what Malia is being treated for and what drugs the animal care staff are using to combat her illness. They would publish research on it; perhaps a peer-reviewed journal article regarding phototoxicty in captive killer whales
I suspect we'll never get that information, related:  

SeaWorld is actively battling attempts from attorneys to see its orca medical records in the context of a current class action lawsuit & Federal investigation. For more on the teeth damage captive orcas sustain, John Jett, Ingrid Visser, et al: 

So, what can we deduce from the limited information we have?

Malia is being treated with a medication that is causing phototoxic skin lesions which expose her to more dangerous pathogens. The photosensitivity is amplified by a shallow water column, treated-water that doesn't block UV-radiation, and general exposure. In contrast, wild orcas spend 80-90% of their lives submerged and in darker water & with healthier teeth & stronger immunity. Darker, particulate-filled ocean water protects their skin and eyes, unlike captives who have both skin & eye issues. 

We also know that over time chronic antibiotic & steroid use & the stress of captivity leads to weakened immunity and sometimes immune systems collapse, as seen with Kasatka & Tilikum. 

An AV presentation of Keto & Tilikum express the stress of orca captivity is here: 

Historically, at SeaWorld, weakened immunity has been observed & described in several orcas like Kanduke (1990, cause of death St Louis Virus Encephalitis) and Taku (2007, cause of death West Nile virus) who both died from infections that are not typically fatal (in healthy subjects). 

Over half of SeaWorld's orcas end up dying from infections. This is likely due to compromised immune systems being unable to fight off various pathogens that enter the body via damaged teeth or skin.  

The bottom line is that Malia will live a shortened impoverished life with broken teeth at SeaWorld, being chronically medicated and with no where to run from aggression & small concrete pools that limit exercise & play. 

Based on the longevity & survival data we already have, Malia will likely die before the age of 20, or sooner if she loses the battle she is currently fighting. Lastly, if she lives, she stands the chance of being shipped from Orlando to China. SeaWorld's primary stock holder is the Zhonghong Group which has control of the company's board of directors, now. Yoshikazu Maruyama, of Zhonghong is SeaWorld's Chairperson of the Board of the Directors. Yongli Wang, also from Zhonghong, is a "director" on the board.

Some of us suspect that is why SeaWorld is fighting the Florida Orca Protection Act (HB 1305) with such vigor. They may be planning to ship orcas to China.

For more information on phototoxicity and photosensitivity the Merck Veterinary Manual has been copied below. 


Video attributable to the Center for Whale Research 
Jeffrey Ventre MD is a board certified medical doctor practicing in Washington state. He is a former SeaWorld trainer, 1987-1995, working at all three animal show areas including two stints at Shamu Stadium. His favorite orca was Taima. In 1995 JV was invited by Dr Astrid Van Ginneken to participate in "Orca Survey," an ongoing photo-identification study of the Southern Resident killer whales. His first encounters with wild whales, June 1996, can be seen here, and combined with captive observations radically altered his perspective on places like SeaWorld, Loro Parque, Marineland & Miami SeaQuarium. Along with John Jett Phd, Carol Ray MA CCC SLP, & Samantha Berg,M.Ac., Dipl.Ac. he is a part of "Voice of the Orcas," a group of former SeaWorld trainers who aim to pull back the curtain on captivity, also along with John Hargrove, author of Beneath the Surface, Dean Gomersall & many other pod members. VOTO hosts regular Superpod Events on San Juan Island that are open to the public. In 2018 the dates are 16-20 July 


Overview of Photosensitization from the Merck Veterinary Manual 

By George M. Barrington, DVM, PhD, DACVIM, Professor, College of Veterinary Medicine, Washington State University

Photosensitization occurs when skin (especially areas exposed to light and lacking significant protective hair, wool, or pigmentation (note that it impacts mostly the white areas of the captive orcas) becomes more susceptible to ultraviolet light because of the presence of photodynamic agents. Photosensitization differs from sunburn and photodermatitis, because both of these conditions result in pathologic skin changes without the presence of a photodynamic agent

In photosensitization, unstable, high-energy molecules are formed when photons react with a photodynamic agent. These high-energy molecules initiate reactions with substrate molecules of the skin, causing the release of free radicals that in turn result in increased permeability of outer cell and lysosomal membranes. Damage to outer cell membranes allows for leakage of cellular potassium and cytoplasmic extrusion. Lysosomal membrane damage releases lytic enzymes into the cell. This can lead to skin ulceration, necrosis, and edema. The time interval between exposure to the photodynamic agent and the onset of clinical signs depends on the type of agent, its dose, and the exposure to sunlight.

Photosensitization is typically classified according to the source of the photodynamic agent. These categories include primary (type I) photosensitivity, aberrant endogenous pigment synthesis (type II) photosensitivity, and hepatogenous (secondary, type III) photosensitivity. A fourth category termed idiopathic (type IV) photosensitivity has been described.

A wide range of chemicals, including some that are fungal and bacterial in origin, may act as photosensitizing agents. However, most compounds that are important causes of photosensitivity in veterinary medicine are plant-derived. Photosensitization occurs worldwide and can affect any species but is most commonly seen in cattle, sheep, goats, and horses.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Killer Tooth Ache


Statements compiled & composed by Dr Ingrid Visser 

Anyone with a tooth ache knows how painful and distracting that can be. For an orca (killer whale), which has around 48 large teeth, a sore tooth is likely no less painful or debilitating than for a person. A new study, investigating teeth of captive orca, found that every individual studied had damaged teeth.

Dr John Jett, an ex-orca trainer, now professor and first author on the paper says, “We investigated 29 orca owned by one company and held in the USA and Spain. Every whale had some form of damage to its teeth. We found that more than 65% possessed moderate to extreme tooth wear in their lower jaws, mostly as a result of chewing concrete and steel tank surfaces.” 

Drs John Jett & Ingrid Visser 
Additionally, the researchers found that more than 61% of the orca have ‘been to the dentist’ to have their teeth drilled. Officially termed a ‘modified pulpotomy’, a hole is drilled into the tooth to extract the soft pulpy tissue inside. But unlike us, the resultant hole is not filled or capped, but rather is left open for the rest of the animal’s life, requiring daily flushing with chemicals to keep the teeth empty of food and bacteria in an attempt to manage ensuing infection. 

Dr Loch At the Musรฉum national d'Histoire naturelle
Dr Carolina Loch, a scientist who specializes in the dentition of whales and dolphins and a co-author, explained that once the tooth gets worn to the point where the pulp is exposed, “this opens up a channel for disease and infection, so the staff then drill the teeth.” 

Dr Jeffrey Ventre another of the authors, who is also an ex-orca trainer and now a medical doctor stated that he had drilled orca teeth and that "teeth damage is the most tragic consequence of captivity, as it not only causes morbidity and mortality in captive orcas, but often leads to chronic antibiotic therapy compromising the whale's immune system, as we saw recently with the orca known as Kasatka.”

Loch added that “A drilled tooth is severely weakened and if any other trauma occurs, fractures will happen. We have documented more than 60% of the second and third teeth of the lower jaws were broken and this high number is likely linked to the drilling.” During his time as a trainer, Ventre said that he had witnessed "whales breaking their teeth on steel gates while jaw popping. Small tooth fragments were then collected below the gate while diving the pool."

Heather Murphy, Jordan Waltz, Kyra Laughlin & Ken Balcomb at Superpod 3
Jordan Waltz, an investigative researcher and co-author noted that “the damage to the teeth of these animals is so severe that most individuals can be identified by the specific fractures and tooth wear alone, much like forensic pathologists use for identification of
humans post-mortem.”

Ventre noted that “The obligatory daily teeth irrigations render the compromised orcas poor candidates for full release”, should companies ever make the transition to look at rehabilitation for their captives.

Dr Ingrid Visser with Samantha Berg at Superpod 2 
Dr Ingrid Visser, a scientist who has studied orca in the wild for more than three decades and has long been advocating for an end to orca captivity, stated that “We know that confining them in tanks is bad for the animals and this research now gives us some hard numbers to illustrate just how their health and welfare is compromised. Given how big the root of an orca’s tooth is and that orca have a nervous system similar to ours, these injuries must be extremely painful.” 

She is a co-author for this study and noted that compared to free-ranging orca, “the teeth of captive orca are incredibly compromised and you just don’t see this type or level of damage in the wild.”

Drs Ventre & Jett August 2017, Image Mariah Kirby 
Loch pointed out that “dentists have long said that oral health is a measure of general health as our mouths are the gateway to our body”, and she believes that this is likely the same for orca. Jett concluded “We have documented that tooth damage starts at a very early age in captivity and that all the orca in the study have issues with their teeth. Teeth are incredibly important to the overall health of an animal, and the results of our study should raise serious concerns for the health and welfare of captive orca.”

Author contact details, Study Highlights and Citation details are given below. 


The authors can be contacted on: (J. Jett); (J. Ventre); (C. Loch), (I. Visser);

Study Highlights:

1)  Using high-resolution photographs, individual teeth in the mandible and maxilla of captive orca were scored for coronal wear, wear at or below the gum line, fractures, bore holes and missing.

2)  Dental damage was commonly observed across all captive whale cohorts, with damage beginning early in a whale’s captive life.

3)  Forty five percent of whales exhibited “moderate” mean mandibular coronal wear, and an additional 24% exhibited “major” to “extreme” wear.

4)  More than 61% of mandibular teeth 2 and 3, and 47% of mandibular tooth 4, exhibited evidence of having undergone the ‘modified pulpotomy’ procedure.

5)  Conspecific aggression and oral stereotypies such as biting on hard tank surfaces likely contributed to the tooth pathology observed.

Study Citation details:

John Jett, Ingrid N. Visser, Jeffrey Ventre, Jordan Waltz, Carolina Loch, Tooth Damage in Captive Orcas (Orcinus orca), Archives of Oral Biology, Available online 29 September 2017, ISSN 0003-9969,

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Hurricane Irma and the Tragedy of Lolita

Dear APHIS & the City of Miami: 

You have warned Floridians not to abandon pets in the wake of Irma. The city has mentioned felony penalties for animal cruelty. The governor issued mandatory evacuation orders for South Florida. The mayor of Miami Beach told residents to leave early. Irma was described as "catastrophic" and "nuclear." 

Why does the Miami Seaquarium get a free pass? 

Executives at the company elected to roll the dice with Lolita's life. Captive orca transports are routine. And while not completely risk free, leaving her to perish in a flimsy facility on Virginia Key is unconscionable. Does the Seaquarium get infinite passes regarding clear cases of animal cruelty? 

They left Lolita, aka Tokitae, in the cross hairs of a major hurricane. What gives? You preach animal safety, but your record in policing the Miami Seaquarium calls into question your ability to enforce the law fairly, especially versus institutions like captivity companies. Lolita's tank is undersized, cruel and illegal. When, if ever, will the city or APHIS take action? Lolita is an endangered Southern Resident killer whale with a known home, living family and obvious potential happy ending. 

Commentary below is from Jeffrey Ventre & Samantha Berg of Voice of the Orcas 

JV:   In 1995 I rode out a hurricane with SeaWorld's killer whales including Tilikum, Katina, Gudrun, Taima, Nyar and others. That storm, much less powerful than Irma, passed over Orlando in August of that year. 

Shamu Stadium 1995 showing concrete pillars & reinforced roof 
Unlike the flimsy undersized-illegal facility where Lolita is held captive, Shamu Stadium in Orlando is generally stout; basically reinforced concrete, steel, cement pillars & reinforced roof

"The hurricane threats to captive killer whales include missile injuries, blunt force trauma, stress, contaminated water and foreign objects in the pool"

In nature whales can ride out storms spending their time predominantly below the surface and at greater depths. The shallow water columns of captivity force the animals to be exposed. In 1995 the whales were extremely agitated when Hurricane Erin passed over, mostly swimming together. Nyar was a sick calf that required tube feedings and we accomplished that in the medical pool under high winds.

In the case of Lolita, her stadium could literally collapse, and she's alone. The Seaquarium was cited in 2003 for a "rusty roof beyond repair" as well as other issues. Unlike the "bunker" of Shamu Stadium in Orlando there's a fair chance that the roof over Lolita could blow off due to high wind velocities from Irma or a future storm. If she was lucky enough not to get hit by collapsing stadium parts, she stands the chance of being sliced by metal from the roof. A second concern is that the storm surge could or could have (we still don't know) undermined the structural elements of her tank including the perimeter glass that holds back the water.

If that were to happen, she'd be in dirty foreign-object-filled water trapped in her rusty whale prison with no way to swim to the sea, which is meters away. Electrical pumps may be out of commission due to power outages and Lolita may be forced to live in contaminated water until power is restored.  

In the context of the original storm forecast, which predicted a CAT 4 or 5 direct strike on Miami, the Seaquarium's decision to roll the dice with her life is callous, immoral, and unjust. If she's still alive, Lolita must have been terrified. While there may have been a skeleton crew on hand, for the most part her trainers were gone. The park is now dark and closed. 

She has no peers like the Orlando captives do. The company executives decided that leaving her exposed to a "catastrophic" hurricane, alone, was better then moving her out of the way. It's unconscionable, especially after the wealth she's created for them. If she survived, more likely since the storm turned West, the public may become physically ill if and when executives return from their silence and say "they had it covered." We haven't heard anything in days... 

The truth, as seen in their actions, or lack of, is that they left her to possibly die, rolling the dice, saving the expense (she's insured), and also likely not wanting to prove that she could survive a transport. Surviving a transport, which she would, undermines the company's prior claims. Spokespeople for the park tell the public that Lolita can't survive a transport as their justification to reject the idea of a sea sanctuary. 

In my  opinion, of all the whales in captivity, worldwide, Lolita is the best suited for release. Her teeth are good. Her mother is still alive, as are her family members. 

After swimming circles in her illegal tank for over 45 years, retire the girl. Learn from Irma. With any luck she could have another 20 years of life, in the ocean, and with or near her pod in a seaside sanctuary.

Jeffrey Ventre MD DC
Former SeaWorld trainer
Blackfish movie cast member 

------------ Below is From Samantha Berg ----------

My biggest fear for Lolita was always that she would die in her tiny illegal sized tank mere yards from the ocean, never having had a chance to be reunited with her mom, Ocean Sun, and the rest of her Pacific Northwest Southern Resident Orca family.

WATCH this powerful short video: 

Sadly, it appears that in the hours during and after Hurricane Irma, Lolita stands a chance of not only being injured but possibly dying in that woefully inadequate kiddie pool of a tank. Her pain and suffering will be made worse by the fact that she has been utterly abandoned by her owners.

Even in the best case scenario where Lolita is mostly unharmed, she will likely spend a harrowing amount of time being tossed around in a pool with flying projectiles and possible storm surge pouring into her enclosure and she will have absolutely no where to go.

Her tank is not deep enough for her to submerge and find refuge from flying debris. And, in an ironic turn of events, she even faces the potential of drowning if the surface of her tank becomes sufficiently blocked by falling detritus. Or maybe the filtration system will fail and she'll have to spend days or weeks floating around in her own excrement. Her tank may over-heat if the power goes out and this could easily lead to a slower death from disease and injury.

None of the options are good.

As bad as I imagined the end of Lolita's life on earth, this is a significantly worse fate - and it would be the final injustice in a long-line of injustices perpetrated against this magnificent animal and her family members.

Even more heart-wrenching is the fact that this could have been avoided. Killer whales can be moved to safety in the event of a natural disaster - and Irma's likely path has been more or less obvious over the past 7-10 days.

Why didn't the Miami SeaQuarium prepare for a hurricane? 

Although there are no Seaside Sanctuaries for killer whales yet the Whale Sanctuary project is working on it as is The Orca Network

MSQ could have easily established a training program for Lolita that involved regularly lifting her up on a stretcher to get used to the procedure. 

A transport box could be standing by AND if no suitable inland temporary tank could be established, even Seaworld would be a better option for a short-term holding facility to ride out the storm.

Although Shamu stadium in Orlando was built in the mid 1980's - it's still a bunker compared to the death trap where Lolita currently resides.

And, yes, I'm calling out Seaworld. SeaWorld management should have stepped up to take her once the dire nature of Lolita'a situation became obvious. SeaWorld prides themselves on being a "rescue, rehab and release facility" - I think this situation more than qualifies as a rescue - and they could sort out the logistical and financial issues after the emergency has passed.

After all, Lolita has earned millions of dollars for her captors and owners. She deserves better than to be left alone to fend for herself just because there are some details to sort out.

Lolita's plight couldn't be a better example of why large, social complex, intelligent animals like killer whales don't belong in captivity.

But, honestly, at the moment, I don't care about how Lolita ended up where she is - I just want the Seaquarium to do the right thing - which would be to mobilize every resource at their disposal to relocate Lolita to a safe place.

And if by some miracle Lolita survives the latest undeserved ordeal being thrown her way, I will make it my life's mission to see that she is at least given the chance to return to her family.

Miami SeaQuarium is a disgrace and they should be ashamed of their actions.

Samantha Berg Samantha Berg, M.Ac., Dipl.Ac.
Former SeaWorld Trainer
Blackfish movie cast member

-------------------------  City of Miami & APHIS Contact Info  --------------------------

Mayor Tomรกs Regalado 
3500 Pan American Drive
Miami, FL 33133

Office 305-250-5300 
Fax 305-854-4001

USDA-APHIS Animal Welfare contact info: