Tuesday, December 3, 2013

A Case for Killer Whales

Whales have been targets of human intrigue for decades. Native tribes have revered the orca as the “Lord of the Ocean” and respected them. In recent decades western culture has stigmatized them as killers and predators, and become fascinated. With this increased interest commercial operations have begun to pop up including places like SeaWorld and various whale watching outfits across the coasts. These commercial operations have serious consequences for Orcas. As people and vessel traffic increase in natural whale habitats we inhibit their normal ways of existence. Orca whales are content in their natural habitat. Humans not only have  endangered Orcas in the wild, but they have been kidnapped from their natural habitat and held in captivity. There are many reasons that contribute to Orca endangerment. The high amount of pollution in the water creates toxins in their bodies; another contributing factor to Orca endangerment is vessel traffic. It is time that as humans we become more aware of our surroundings, we are all mammals. There’s no difference between Orcas and us. When we destroy their environment, we destroy our environment too. We don’t have any rights to pollute their living environment and bodies. We need to be careful with our interest in whales because it can lead to their demise. 

Orcas, Native Americans, and the Story of Family

       Native American mythology has a very rich cultural history of its own. To the Native American tribes of the Northwest Coast, the Orca is an important medicine animal. They are known as a symbol of power and strength, as well as longevity and romance for it is believed that the Orcas mate for life. Not only do they symbolize greatness but they are also regarded as the guardians and rulers of the sea, as well as the best hunters of the sea, because of their mighty size and power.
        It is believed that Orcas are closely related to humans, and when a human drowns the human is taken down by the Orcas into their deep villages and transformed into an Orca. Some tribes also believe that the Orcas will purposefully take down whole canoes to come closer to their loved one. When an Orca is seen off shore, it is considered a momentous omen and some believe it is a deceased human or chief trying to communicate with their loved ones. Former chiefs lost at sea are also believed to be reincarnated into Orcas.
        In the documentary, The Whale, a true story about a young orca named Luna, the Mowachaht/Muchalaht First Nation tribe that resides on Vancouver Island talked about how they believe that Luna is their old chief, Ambrose Maquinna who passed away the week Luna appeared. Before Chief Maquinna passed away, he told his friend Jerry Jack, “I’m 74! Getting closer to heaven! When I go home, I’m going to come back as a kakawin [killer whale]”. When Luna appeared, the First Nation tribe truly believed that it was Chief Maquinna coming home and they started to call Luna by Chief Maquinna’s nickname, Sukit. Not only did they believe Luna to be a reincarnation of their old chief but that Luna was there for a specific reason and is on a mission. Because the First Nation tribe regards orcas with the utmost respect, particularly Luna in this documentary, and that they believe Luna is their chief, they would put their life on the line to save and protect Luna and any other orcas.
         From the Tlingit tribe, there is the story of a sea lion hunter and highly skilled carver named Natsilane. When he married the daughter of the chief on Duke Island, he decided to live among her people. Once we proved himself worthy, he was placed in honor as an accomplished hunter and spear carver. Although Natsilane earned his place within the tribe, all of his brothers-in-laws, except the youngest, became jealous of him and began to plot against him. On the day of the big hunt, Natsilane and his brothers paddled out to West Devil Rock. When Natsilane jumped onto shore and threw his spear towards the sea lion, he also noticed that his brothers started paddling away and ended leaving him behind. The next morning, Natsilane woke to a sea lion that looked that a man, beckoning to him to go down below the waves into the Sea Lion’s home. At the house, he met the chief who asked Natsilane if he could help his injured son. Seeing that the chief’s son had his spear in his body, Natsilane removed the spear and healed the son. With much gratefulness, the chief granted Natsilane with even greater skills as well as his safe return to the village. Once he returned to the village, he told his wife everything that happened and asked her to keep his return a secret. To seek out revenge on his older brothers, Natsilane created a whale out of wood which came to life and swam out to sea. He called out to the whale and ordered him to find his brothers, kill them and destroy their boat but speare the youngest. When the whale found them, he destroyed the boat and drowned the oldest brothers. The youngest brother made it safely back to the village and told his story about the whale and his brothers’ death.
Whales experience membership in families not only in the sense of Native American culture but also amongst themselves.  Granny, a member of the J-pod, and family matriarch., broke a record that has never even been set before. Granny is the oldest whale that has ever been recorded. She is still swimming and splashing at the ripe age of 102. Granny still rules her pod and watches after her great grandchildren as if she was a young mother herself. Researchers have been lucky enough to document most of this majestic whales life through photos and journal entries dating back to the 1976. We are fortunate enough to see Granny frolic and swim through the Puget Sound with her resident pod quite frequently.
Tilikum is a whale that is known mainly because of the three deaths that he has caused. However us as humans maybe the reason that this whale has come to do the actions that he has done. Compared to Granny, Tilikum became more aggressive due to the captivity he was held in, while Granny was free in the vast Pacific ocean, she expressed less violent acts.  
The difference between these two lives is vast and can only be bridged through a concerted effort between Sea World and conservationists. Tilikum’s days usually start with behaviors or better known as tricks such as the rocket hop, or a bridge. This behavior is reinforced with punishment training with fish or withheld food. This would end up becoming the reason that Tilikum pulled in and killed SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau. Granny’s however would start off with a check of her loved ones and a search for food in the wide open waters of the San Juan Islands. The contrast between the two are stark even with the first morning activities. The fact that there is a significant difference in the morning routine proves that there needs to be changes.  SeaWorld needs to work with conservationist such as The Voice Of The Orcas or the Orca Project to bring the orcas closer to home. We have all the programs in place to bring whales like tilly home to pods like Granny’s, all we need is is the effort from both sides.
Dimensions Of Sea World’s Pools
main pool 80 ft. x 165 ft. x 35 ft. deep
each side pool 120 ft. x 75 ft. x 15 ft. deep
medical pool 40 ft. x 25 ft. x 8 ft. deep
The home of the killer whale held in captivity can be easily compared to living in a bathtub. Imagine being a creature who swims up to 100 miles daily being forced to swim in circles for their entire life. Whales were first captured to be put on display in the 1960’s, people were drawn to the intelligence, trainability, and playfulness of Orcas. The habitat that orcas are forced to inhabit rarely resembles their natural environment.  As of August 2013 there are 45 whales held in captivity, 32 of which were born in captivity. When this first began in the 1960’s the death rates and injuries were high for the Killer Whale. By the 1970s marine parks learned how to breed the whale by artificial insemination. Some whales have even been inbred during this process.
        The whales diet is also different in captivity when compared to the wild. They would naturally consume about three to four percent of their body weight each day. In captivity they are fed a selection of fish and are given 140 to 240 pounds a day along with vaccinations. Perhaps the biggest problem that faces whales in captivity is stress. They are more likely to be aggressive and unpredictable towards other whales and humans which has never been observed in the wild. The aggression is most likely due to their limited environment, chemically altered water, and awkward social groupings. Another major issue is captivated killer whales have an average life expectancy of only 20 years while whales in the wild live between 30 and 50 years and sometimes up to 80 or 90. This is largely due to stress and bacterial infections.

Who are the Whales?

During their lifetime, adult whales grow to incredible sizes. Female orcas can reach sizes as big as 24 ft, and 9000 lbs. Male orcas are larger, growing to sizes of 30 ft, and up to 12,000 lbs. As we can see by these numbers, the whales are enormous in comparison to a human’s average 5’4’ to 5’11” heights. Most of us are also an average of 60 times smaller in weight in comparison as well. Orcas need a lot more space than we do, which is what makes the ocean a great domain for these whales to call home.
The lifespan of orcas are impressive as well, but, unlike humans, are much shorter in comparison. Males live well into their late 40’s, and females into their late 60’s; the age difference in their lifespan is much like that of adult humans--normally the women live longer than the men. The fact that whales live shorter lives than us is something to take into consideration when we think of how quickly their population reproduces.
Female orcas will only give birth to one calf every 4 to 5 years. However, male orcas do not mature sexually until they reach their teen years, just as females do not mature sexually until their 20’s. That’s a possible average of only 8 to 10 calves born per orca in one lifetime--and that is if she is still reproducing at age 60, which is highly unlikely. It is also possible that a female whale may not even follow this pattern, giving birth to a calf at even less frequent intervals; the average number of births per ocra could be as small as 2 or 3. Because these animals do not reproduce quickly, it is crucial that we keep in mind how few the numbers of orcas there are in the ocean.
Just one reason that there are fewer orcas in the ocean than there should be is due to captivity. There are currently 52 orcas in captivity, in tiny little fishtanks in zoos and amusement parks. The terms “tiny” and “little” may confuse you, considering these tanks seem so very large to us--surely these tanks are more incredible than the size of a swimming pool! However, if you were an orca, and six times the size you are now, would you still find these tanks, which require a minimum horizontal dimension of 48 feet and a minimum depth of 12 feet, suitable for living? Consider that orcas live in these fishtanks; they are not just there for a fun while to put on a show and go home like the spectators in the audience--these orcas remain after the show.
 As we capture these animals, we take them from their pods, from their families. These animals are born and bred family animals, social creatures that do not do well on their own. Once they are alone, whales begin to feel stress. In addition to mental stress, captive whales are forced and trained to perform in front of audiences for lengthy periods of time; some whales have performed for 40 years. What once started as a claim for research and scientific data has become a death sentence for whales everywhere.       

A Call to Action

 How can we change the future of the killer whale? Instead of imprisoning the animal we can develope new habitats such as sea sanctuaries which allow up close viewing of the whale without interrupting their migratory path and communication. The whales would then be allowed to enter the ocean where they can safely interact with humans and be able to live out their lives in a dignified and sustainable manner. After all people should pay to see a killer whale be a killer whale rather than a gymnast.

Many conservationists may suggest a bill be passed to release the whales. However the whales held in captivity their entire lives are unlikely to adapt to their natural environment and be accepted into a wild pod or form the proper pod. In the west there is already action taking place to protect the Orca’s of the wild. Scientists are finally being heard and the use of sonar is limited to certain areas where Orca’s are less prevalent so boats won’t interrupt the whales communication and migration. As mentioned before, since the 1970’s most of the captivated whales are born in captivity in order to eliminate the harm caused to whales when being stripped from their native pods in the wild. In regards to wild Orcas the biggest human impact on their well being is overfishing and pollution. Humans and whales are competing for salmon and other predator fish. Commercial fisheries are paid based on the weight of their catch so they objectively set out and scoop up as many fish as possible. We have seen a dramatic depletion in fish stocks over the past century and humans are not the only ones feeling the pain. Whales that rely on the same food source we do find it harder and harder to find their prey. Its important to protect Salmon and other species by protecting marine estuaries, spawning grounds, and taking some weight off the economic value of fish so the stocks can start to recover.

Cleaning our water is also vital to the protection and recovery of aquatic species such as the Orca whale. Plastics and other trash eventually get swept out to sea and are later found clogging the bellies of dead whales and other washed up marine life on coastal beaches. It is rather embarrassing that humans can’t properly dispose of our trash. If humans are capable of inventing and using technology such as iphones and computers there is no reason our empty water bottles can’t make it into a recycle bin. As far as chemical pollution goes, industry is to blame. Offshore drilling and oil transportation has resulted in spills  that wipe out large ocean populations. Fertilizers and other run of from our roads, farms, and factories end up in the ocean causing nitrogen and oxygen levels to change in the water which affect smaller species. This eventually creates an imbalance in the ecosystem and contributes to the lack of resources available to the killer whale.

There are many anti-captivity groups out there such as the TakePart foundation that can illustrate the situation clearly and provide easy ways to get involved and help the whales. The media is an extremely powerful tool as most of the world gets their information from the internet or television. There is power in numbers so making the problem public will educate people around and change the way we perceive not only the killer whale, but other animals forced into captivity.

Why Should We Care?

 Everyday about 140,000 pounds of toxic chemicals enter the Puget Sound, endangering the environment that many orcas call home. According to Environment Washington: In 2008, 549 streams and rivers carried poor water quality from stormwater and toxins that were in tributaries to the Sound. By 2010, more than 521,000 pounds of toxic waste, including cancer-causing chemicals, developmental toxins and reproductive toxins, were dumped in Washington waterways. Every year, more than 9,600 pounds of plastic additives are discharged from sewage treatment plants in the Puget Sound region. More than 1 million pounds of toxic chemicals made their way into Puget Sound from surface runoff, groundwater discharge and city wastewater outfalls.

According to the Port Townsend Marine Science Center: Both transient and resident orcas are impacted as they acquire and retain persistent organic pollutants through the foods they eat. These chemicals, which include PCBs, DDT and other pesticides, have been released into the environment where they accumulate in the tissues of marine life. Made from carbon-based petroleum products, they degrade extremely slowly and can persist in the environment for decades or more.

This diagram shows how small amounts of organic pollutants (the dark red dots) attach to phytoplankton (microscopic plants), at the base of the food web. When phytoplankton is eaten by tiny animals known as zooplankton the contaminants are passed to them. Zooplankton consume many times their own weight as they live and grow so over time their bodies will accumulate higher concentrations of contaminants than the organisms they eat. Zooplankton are then eaten by larger organisms, which are then eaten by fish such as salmon that orcas eat. Every step up the food web results in higher, more concentrated contaminant levels.

PCBs, known to be dangerous to humans for a long time, were used in the US from the 1920’s until they were banned in 1977. During this time, many PCB manufacturing plants nationwide carelessly dumped PCBs into nearby marine waters, and attempts to dispose of it by burning sent it into the atmosphere, dispersing it worldwide.
Urban bays in Seattle, Tacoma and Bremerton, WA have some of the highest levels of PCBs on the west coast. Elliot Bay, Sinclair Inlet and Commencement Bay are particular PCBs hotspots. There are also old PCB dumps on land, where surface water can carry the chemical into the Salish Sea, more than 30 years after it was banned. Biological effects of these compounds in animals (including humans) include cancer, endocrine system or immune system disruption, and interference with brain development in the fetus. In numerous studies on other marine animals, PCBs have been found to cause a weakened immune system, poor reproductive development and malfunction of the thyroid gland, all potentially serious conditions.

According to Environment Washington: Exposure to toxins and pollutants threatens the state's $147 million a year commercial and recreational fish industry as well as the state's $9.5 billion tourism industry - both built around the Sound. Research shows that 30 percent of Chinook salmon spends the entire marine part of their life in Puget Sound, rather than swimming out to sea. Due to the Sound's increased levels of pollution, their diets now have elevated levels of toxic chemicals.

Resident orcas depend on this salmon as their primary food source, and so consume extremely high levels of PCB. Thus, Orca whales in the Puget Sound are considered to be the most PCB-contaminated mammals on earth. And usually Male orcas of both resident and transient populations tend to have higher PCB levels than females, even though they eat the same food. This is because organic contaminants like PCBs are fat-soluble and are stored in an orca's fat deposits. When a female orca gives birth and nurses her young, most of her fat-soluble contaminants are passed to the calf through her milk. Usually this results in adult females having lower contaminant levels than adult males.

No one knows for sure what the consequences of this pollution will be yet, but one thing is for certain: it will not be pretty. There are many reasons that contribute to Orca endangerment. The high amount of pollution in the water creates toxins in their bodies. Another contributing factor to Orca endangerment is vessel traffic (includes boats of all sizes and boats that take groups of people whale watching). A great example of pollution is the use of plastic. Whales not only in the Pacific Northwest area are being affected by this type of pollution but all over the planet they have been found dead and washed up on shore with plastic bags in their stomachs.

Who Else Does it Affect?

                Studies show that the lack of Chinook Salmon around the region is greatly affecting our killer whale population. These salmon are extremely sought after, both by humans and by killer whales. It is the primary food source for the local orcas, and many humans are also after this precious fish, for both its nutritional value and taste. However these salmon have been steadily losing population throughout the years. This is both because of overfishing, and poor hatchery management. It is estimated that whales need anywhere from 221,000 to 1.76 million salmon per year for their feeding habits alone.  And with humans demand a viscous amount of salmon per year too how will there ever be enough? These salmon are dying in population yet demanded by many different species.
                With congress passing a bill authorizing more than $100 million for the development of salmon hatcheries we should think that the problem should be solved right? However the answer is not that simple, after that bill was passed they have since only allowed $1 million for only the planning of these developments and nothing more. Therefore they have yet to make a difference in increasing the population of salmon.
Whales have tried to adapt to a variety of problems,but it becomes increasingly difficult to find new places to live. Various obstacles have impeded the whales livelihood whether it is the water, pollution, temperature, or food supply. Whales have begun to need new sources of food, not just due to salmon population but also because of the combination of warming waters attributed to experts as the increase in planet temperature, especially concentrated in the ocean. Whales are then forced to eat different things such as sea otters, which until the last decade they had never consumed.  The consumption of different food causes an unbalance in the ocean ecosystem.  From the warmer waters and lack of salmon whales must relocate causing new issues in the ecosystem.
 Whales have experienced not only diet problems but aggression due to the warmer waters. Whales are beginning to express some aggression in the wild which is dangerous for humans trying to sneak a peek at whales. Killer Whales already have a bad reputation, and as their natural environment is changing so are their behaviors. Many of them are believed to be more aggressive than just a decade ago. This is blamed on stress that results from many factors including climate change. Since the Killer Whales will be in areas that they normally are not, they are more of a risk in areas where boats and people normally are (Killer Whales and Global Warming 1) If people go whale watching and the warm waters do in fact create a more aggressive whale the ships, kayaks, and people could face some retaliation from the whales. We need to be careful with our interest in whales because it can lead to their demise.  “The steady growth of recreational whale watching has raised some concerns with killer whale researchers. Higher concentrations and closer proximity of boats can force whales away from their traditional habitats” (Killer 1).
One of the most important, and selfish reasons we should care about whales is planet health. Their diet, habitat, and behavior are all affected by human actions.  We are affecting them through the things we do to our planet. Whales are a direct indicator of marine and planet health. We need to learn from the whales and realize that if we pollute this earth the whales will not only be affected but all mammals, yes, even humans.
Killer whales can be regarded as indicators of the health of our marine environment. The high levels of contaminants are very alarming and clearly show that the arctic seas are not as clean as they should be, which particularly affects animals at the top of the food chain (Killer Whales Toxic 1)
Whales are at the top of the food chain and if they become extinct the entirety of ocean life will be thrown out of order and it will be getting too late to help ourselves by saving the planet.
 We should care about whales, because it is cruel to trap them and cruel to pollute their home.  On top of that it would alter the food chain and create an imbalance in the ocean ecosystem. If one mammal cannot survive who is to say that other mammals will not soon suffer the effects of pollution.  There is a lot we can do but it has to be systematically done and implemented.  We need to take care of our planet not just for whales but for our future generations.  It starts with helping the whales and we can learn from that.  When we find ways to create a better environment for whales we will find ways to help create a better environment for all mammals.
We’re all mammals. There’s no difference between us. We don’t have any rights to pollute their living environment and bodies. When we destroy their environment, we destroy our environment too. Once contaminants arrive in marine water, they aren’t easily washed out to sea. Most contaminants tend to sink to the bottom and to stay in one place. Every marine creature assimilates contaminants through the food they eat. But, among sea creatures, whales and other top carnivores tend to have much higher levels of pollutants than other organisms. 
We eat fish like whales do. Polluted fish has always been notified as news on T.V, so people can avoid eating them. But, what about the whales? People have not notified about dangerous fish to the whales. We don’t have any ways to notify it for the whales, so they have kept eating toxic fish, and they have eroded. And their ecological system has changed badly, every day. The whole environmental destruction is entirely caused by artificial creation. Human beings have manufactured weapons from natural resources, and have reduced them to nature. It is a reduction, namely destruction. We live together on the same field, the earth. But human beings have tried to warp a perfect circle of lives. We need to do something for nature, because it is for us.

Actions for the Future

It’s time we take a stand; we need to stop the damages being done to the orcas. We need to put an end to capturing orcas because we are threatening their livelihood and chance at survival as a species. We also need to consider the other issues we’re causing: no more over-fishing, no more daming wild salmon—whale’s natural food supply, no more pollution, and no more ferries full of “whale watchers”. We are intruding on the homes of orcas. It’s time we defend these incredible creatures—before they become extinct by our hands.

Instead of holding the animals in captivity we can develop sea sanctuaries where the whales would be allowed to interact with humans by creating an ocean cove and then the whale would be allowed to live out their lives in a dignified and sustainable manner. The idea is that people should pay to watch a killer whale be a killer whale instead of paying to see a killer whale be a gymnast.

Erica’s article - It is not too late and there is something you can do to help our Orca friends. First minimize plastic bag use, due to the recent findings of plastic resin pellets findings on sandy beaches we know that the pollution exists. A resin pellet is a plastic particle of an industrial raw material that is being transported to a manufacturing site where “user products” (like plastic bags) are being made by re melting and molding into the final product.

Another way to help is to pair up with and support organizations like The Port Townsend Marine Science Center at Fort Warden State Park. There is also The Orca Project, that raises Orca whale awareness throughout the community. And lastly the Plastics Project, and this organization helps keep beaches and the ocean plastic bag free. By joining with others in the work who have the knowledge to help the Orcas, it could really make a difference.

Knowledge is a powerful thing, and by educating and informing ourselves on what actions we can take to help the orcas we have the ability to make significant changes. There are a variety of educational programs (for students, and younger children), as well as teacher workshops, and even orca friendly cruises! We can obtain good habits that will not only be good for our future but also for the Orca whales.  Orca whales can teach us a lot about our environment, our family, and our livelihood. We need to learn from them and help save them and at the same time save our planet.  It starts today with every individual making an effort to fix our environmental