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Shouka Needs A Companion

March 23, 2012

In 1979, a memorandum of agreement was signed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), the National Marine Fisheries Services (NMFS), and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (F&WS). Under this agreement, Animal Welfare Act (AWA) standards and regulations were acknowledged to be the evaluation criteria for captive care and maintenance requirements for marine mammals and APHIS was designated to provide the inspection and enforcement workforce to implement the regulations.

Section 3.109 of the Animal Welfare Act states “Marine mammals, whenever known to be primarily social in the wild, must be housed in their primary enclosure with at least one compatible animal of the same or biologically related species, except when the attending veterinarian, in consultation with the husbandry/training staff, determines that such housing is not in the best interest of the marine mammal’s health or well-being. However, marine mammals that are not compatible must not be housed in the same enclosure. Marine mammals must not be housed near other animals that cause them unreasonable stress or discomfort or interfere with their good health.”

Since November 2011, Six Flags Discovery Kingdom in Vallejo, CA has not been abiding by this law when it comes to keeping a companion for the killer whale, Shouka. In 2002, Shouka was taken from her mother, father and siblings in France and transported to Six Flags World of Adventure in Ohio to become a new profit maker for the park. Shouka’s new companions were bottlenose dolphins. When SeaWorld purchased the Ohio park  in 2004, Shouka was moved to Six Flags Discovery Kingdom in Vallejo, CA. Shouka’s new companions at the Vallejo park became Merlin and Cupid, two male bottlenose dolphins. Shouka had lived with both Merlin and Cupid for over 5 years, but now she is completely alone.

Before the park opened in April 2011, Cupid was moved to another tank in the park to join a group of bottlenose dolphins leaving Shouka and Merlin alone. Throughout the 2011 season, I personally witnessed Shouka and Merlin continuously separated in their tanks by gates. Shouka often performed shows alone with Merlin locked in one of the back tanks of the stadium alone. As of November 2011, Merlin was moved to join Cupid and the other bottlenose dolphins, leaving Shouka with not a single companion of her own species. Even though Merlin and Shouka are not both killer whales, the way the USDA’s APHIS interprets the law, it is acceptable for a dolphin and a killer whale to be considered companions as they both are marine mammals of the order Cetacea.

Shouka and Merlin

Killer whales are one of the most intelligent, social beings living on this planet. They form strong social bonds with their family members and remain with their family pod for their entire life.  Leaving Shouka alone without any type of companionship except for humans is utterly cruel and inhumane and against the law. I had written to APHIS several times during 2011 advising them that Shouka was without any companionship and they have completely ignored my concerns.

So I’m now asking for your help. Please take a quick moment of your time to sign this petition demanding that APHIS enforces the law and requires Six Flags Discovery Kingdom to provide Shouka with a compatible companion. Shouka has been alone for at least six months!!

You can also write, email or call APHIS:


2150 Centre Ave.

Building B, Mailstop 3W11

Fort Collins, CO 80526-8117

Phone: (970) 494-7478

Fax: (970) 494-7461


August 6, 2011

Lolita in the tank she's been trapped in for 41 years

In just a few months, I will be turning 40 years old. When thinking of all the places I have been, all the different experiences I have had, all the fun, the joy, the laughter, the tears….I contemplate what life must be like for Lolita. I live in a fairly small house, at only 620 sq ft, and there isn’t one day that I don’t have an urge to go outside. Many days go by where I sit and think about Lolita, saying to myself What if? What if my house was empty and I had spent the last 40 years in this same space? What if I was never to see my family for the last 40 years? What if I was trapped here with nothing to do for the last 40 years? What if I was stuck in this little house with no human companionship for the last 40 years? What if several times a day people watched through the windows while I did acrobatic tricks in my little house for the last 40 years? I can’t even fathom What if? I would go crazy, completely out of my mind. This makes me wonder how Lolita has done this for 41 years. The inner strength she must have to continue to survive in that miniscule tank proves to me she has a will to live.

On August 8th, 2011, it will be 41 years since Lolita’s family was forced into Penn Cove, WA by means of speedboats and bombs like M80s. Lolita and over 80 of her family members were surrounded by nets and trapped while the youngsters were chosen for various marine parks. Lolita was one of the chosen ones at only 3-4 years old. She was kept in Penn Cove until September 24, 1970 when she was flown to Miami, FL and placed in an unnatural tank of water, scared and alone. Lolita was to become the “bride” of Hugo, a male orca the Miami Seaquarium purchased two years earlier.

For the next 10 years, Lolita and Hugo performed together until Hugo died from a brain aneurysm on March 4, 1980…..30 years ago! I think back to the What if? What if I lived in this little empty house for the last 30 years of my life without any human companionship. Orcas are known to be one of the most socially complex creatures on this planet. Resident orcas, like Lolita, live and breathe family. They do everything together. What if I was never able to give my mom a hug again? What if I never heard her voice again? Lolita has some Pacific White-Sided dolphin companions but it’s not the same for her. They are not her family. They don’t speak the same language. I’m sure Lolita and the dolphins have formed some sort of communication, but it would be like us communicating with a chimp. It’s just not the same, it’s not family.

Lolita does have an opportunity to see her mother again. An opportunity to hear her voice, see her family. An opportunity to feel the ocean tide on her body once again. An opportunity to be free, free from that tank, free from being an opportunity for people to be entertained. Lolita has a complete, detailed retirement plan that will give her a chance to experience what she was born onto this planet to experience. So many years have been lost but that doesn’t mean that the opportunity could not be given. It brings me back to think about, What if? A few years ago, Jaycee Dugard, was found after she had been missing for 18 years. From the age of 11 until she was found, she was kept in a backyard compound for years, many of which she was locked in a room alone. She had two children by her male kidnapper, both of which lived with her in the backyard compound. What if when Jaycee was recognized, she was not reunited with her family? What if she was told she had to stay in that backyard compound for the rest of her life? What if people said she couldn’t adjust to normal life? Nobody thought in that manner. She was immediately reunited with her mother and family. Why shouldn’t Lolita be given that same opportunity. The Miami Seaquarium owners say Lolita wouldn’t survive. There’s too much pollution in the water. She’s happy in her tank. Really? Did anyone think Jaycee Dugard was happy in that backyard compound? She was taken care of by her kidnappers. She was given food and things to do. But did that make her really happy?

Just because Lolita is not human does not mean she doesn’t feel. Orcas are highly, intelligent, sentient beings who are capable of feeling emotions, capable of feeling love and loss. Lolita has adapted to captivity for 41 years. There’s no reason why she couldn’t adapt to the wild once again. What is needed is supporters, people to take charge and push for Lolita’s retirement. Pressure needs to be made on the Seaquarium and the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services (APHIS). APHIS is the governing agency who oversees the Animal Welfare Act (AWA). Besides the appalling fact that Lolita has been trapped at the Miami Seaquarium for 41 years, her tank is illegally sized according to the AWA. The fact that she doesn’t have another orca companion is illegal according to the AWA. The fact that she does not have any shade structure to protect her is illegal according to the AWA. Despite numerous complaints by concerned citizens, APHIS has done nothing to help Lolita’s situation. She needs you. Her family needs you. What if that wonderful person didn’t speak up for Jaycee Dugard and allowed her to continue to live in that backyard compound? Lolita needs you to be the one to speak up for her. Be her voice.

Several cities around the United States are holding demonstrations the week of Lolita’s capture date in 1970. If a city near you is listed below, be Lolita’s voice for a few hours. If your city is not listed, be Lolita’s voice in your city.


Please note that events are on different days throughout the week of August 7th.

AUGUST 7, 2011

WASHINGTON – Penn Cove, Coupeville, Whidbey Island

12 – 4pm – Begins with ceremonial cruise at capture sight in Penn Cove

For more information on the Washington event:!/event.php?eid=138022639550195

BAY AREA, CALIFORNIA – Six Flags Discovery Kingdom, Vallejo CA

1 – 3:30 pm – Meet at the front entrance to park

For more information on the Bay Area event:!/event.php?eid=238585352828525

AUGUST 8, 2011

MIAMI, FL – Third Annual Walk for Lolita

12 – 5 pm – Meet at the first parking lot after the bridge on Rickenbacker Causeway

For more information on the Miami event:!/event.php?eid=169223919816132

AUGUST 13, 2011


1 – 3pm –  Corner of 4th and Pine near the Water Fountain

For more information on the Seattle event:!/event.php?eid=190472254345956


1 – 3 pm – In front of the Miami Seaquarium

For more information on the Miami event:


12 – 2 pm

For more information on the Boston event:


12 – 3 pm – Riverside Park (in front of the big fountain)

For more information on the Wisconsin event:!/event.php?eid=119284311501596


1 – 3pm – 198 Central Avenue, White Plains, NY

For more information on the New York event:

Contact: Molly Rickles  –


1 – 3pm – Meet at Harkins Bricktown Cinemas

For more information on the Oklahoma event:

AUGUST 20, 2011


1 – 3pm River & Osborne

For more information:



Demand An End To Captive Orca/Dolphin Breeding- Tell SeaWorld NO MORE captive whales & dolphins!

July 27, 2011

Some will argue SeaWorld has played a role in raising awareness regarding orcas and dolphins while other’s will argue SeaWorld has only exploited these animals for fame and monetary gain. Regardless of what has played out in the past, it is now time to retire the idea of accepting orcas and dolphins in captivity. This way of thinking is out dated and must be condemned for the sake of the animals well-being.

SeaWorld is very desperate right now for “new” breeding genes to add to their captive orca breeding program. SeaWorld has over breed, cross-breed and even inbreed their whales to keep the show going, but the gene pool stock is running low. This is leading to the possibility that SeaWorld is trying to collect semen from a male wild caught captive orca in a foreign country to attempt to add diversity into their orca stock gene pool. This should be viewed as unacceptable to the public and law makers, as laws prohibit from the importation of the entire orca into the states….

Why the sperm?

No gloves during medical exam

→ There is a new petition seeking an amendment be made to the Marine Mammal Act of the United States Law

We,the undersigned,request the United States House of representatives to amend  Subpart B  section 216.12 of the Marine Mammal Act to include a ban on importation of Marine Mammals and Marine Mammal Products into the United States for purposes of Scientific Research,and that the issuing of permits for Scientific research and the importation and issuing of permits  of Marine Mammals for purposes regarding introduction of captivity in any Marine park, Aquarium,or other aquatic facility located within the jurisdiction of the United States,or its territories,be deemed unlawful.We request this amendment to 216.12 of the Marine Mammal Protection act to include all Marine Mammals inclusive with section 216.15 of the depleted species section of the act.The importation of Marine Mammals into the United States,whether it be for scientific research,or under permits or license issued by the U.S.secretary of Commerce,condemns Marine Mammals to death or captivity.We request review and adoption of an amendment by the U.S. House of Representatives,request a vote on the aforementioned proposed amendment to 216.12 of the act,and that certification of the proposed amendment be submitted to the United States Senate for review by the judiciary committee,and that said amendment be adopted by the United States Senate.  REFERENCE 16 U.S.C.1374 section 104,issuance of permits,section (c).Subchapter (A) Part 216-Regulations Governing the taking and importation of Marine Mammals.


 Another desperate attempt is to obtain Morgan, a female wild caught orca who was not doing well and became separated from her pod in Dutch waters.

 Morgan’s story is another Tilikum story. The opportunity for release existed/exists yet SeaWorld worked/works to pursued to the Icelandic/Dutch government saying Tilikum could not be released as he would expose the wild orcas to captive diseases and Morgan can not be released because she has been in captivity.

No Gloves during medical procedure

SeaWorld is fighting tooth and nail for Morgan. An attorney is representing Morgan in hopes of getting her released back to the wild where she belongs.

→ Morgan Needs our help, please sign Morgan’s petition

This would not be occurring to Morgan if these animals were not being kept for display, she would have been released back to the her pod. If the public would have stood up for Tilikum prior to his transfer to SeaWorld, he would not have been able to play a role in the death of three individuals in captivity. Tilikum would have been free with his family doing what they best, living life.

It is time to we take a stance against the public display of orcas and dolphins in captivity by ending the captive breeding programs. Once the captive breeding program is ended the remaining orcas and dolphins could phased out over time.

→ Please sign our petition if you agree SeaWorld should end their captive breeding orca and dolphin programs out their captive orcas and dolphins.

It’s Time To Go Above & Beyond for Lolita

June 8, 2011

For over 25 years, the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services (APHIS) has refused to enforce the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) when it comes to Lolita, the killer whale housed at the Miami Seaquarium. APHIS has not only refused to enforce the AWA, they have provided concerned members of the public with misleading and contracting information to justify that the Miami Seaquarium meets and even exceeds AWA regulations in regards to Lolita’s housing situation. The numerous interactions I’ve had with APHIS over the last year has proven they are not interested in enforcing the AWA. Instead they are interested in protecting the interests of the Miami Seaquarium.

This photo clearly shows how miniscule Lolita's tank is compared to her body length

Since 1970, Lolita has been living in an illegally sized tank, unprotected from the blazing Miami sun, storms &  hurricanes. Lolita has also been without the companionship of another orca since 1980. The Animal Welfare Act is the only means of protection that Lolita has and the fact that our government continues to turn a blind eye to this situation has prompted myself and others to continue to speak on Lolita’s behalf.

The most egregious AWA violation concerns the minimum horizontal dimension (MHD) of Lolita’s tank. Lolita’s tank measures 35 feet wide x 80 feet long making the MHD measurement 13 feet less than the 48 foot minimum requirement of the law. Lolita is approximately 21 feet long. Just a simple glance at her tank would be enough for any rational person to detect there is no way Lolita’s tank could measure at least 48 feet wide

In 2010, I sent a complaint letter to APHIS expressing my concerns that Lolita’s tank size was not in accordance with the law. I received a response from Chester Gibson, APHIS’s Deputy Administrator of Animal Care stating to me Lolita’s tank size met and even exceeded the minimum requirement of the AWA.

Gibson stated: The minimum horizontal dimension (MHD) requirement is 48 feet; the MHD measurement is 80 feet in one direction and 60 feet in the other. We did NOT include the medical pool area in our MHD measurements of the main pool. Therefore use of the medical pool area does NOT diminish the size of the main pool.

There is no dispute that the measurement parallel to the trainer’s work station was 80 feet, but there is a major dispute in the other MHD measurement. Knowing there is absolutely no way possible that Lolita’s main pool measured 60 feet without use of the medical pool prompted a second complaint letter to APHIS.  In January 2011, I sent a second complaint letter to Chester Gibson with clear photographic proof that refuted APHIS’s claims that Lolita’s tank was legally sized. I wanted an explanation as to how Lolita’s tank measured 60 feet along with all documents on file with APHIS that pertained to the measurements of Lolita’s tank.  At this time I also requested APHIS publicly re-measure the tank as an effort to stop the unnecessary use of tax dollars APHIS has wasted for decades responding to the thousands of complaints they have received from concerned citizens about Lolita.

To no surprise, Chester Gibson responded by dismissing my concerns and refusing to publicly re-measure Lolita’s tank.  With no explanation as to how Lolita’s tank could measure 60 feet, I was told

However, as we mentioned in our prior letter, according to our measurements, Lolita’s pool size fully meets – an in fact, exceeds – the space requirements for marine mammals as detailed in Section 3.104 of the Animal Welfare Act.

This letter referenced me to contact Dr. Betty Goldentyer, D.V.M., Eastern Regional Director if I would like to discuss my complaint further. I promptly contacted Dr. Goldentyer providing her with the same letters I sent to Chester Gibson along with the responses I received from Mr. Gibson asking her for the explanation I failed to receive from Chester Gibson. Dr. Goldentyer initially thought it would be best to discuss my concerns over the phone.

Google Earth Measurements proving Lolita's tank is illegally sized

Dr. Goldentyer called me on March 14th, 2011 and said that my confusion was due to the Google Earth measurement photographs I sent to APHIS did not show under the island in Lolita’s tank. She proceeded to tell me that the island was actually a floating platform that was held up by some sort of pedestal. Therefore, Lolita could swim underneath it making her tank legally sized.

I made Dr. Goldentyer aware that I had a picture of Lolita’s tank drained showing the island was solid cement and it extended to the bottom of the pool. When I asked her when the Seaquarium remodeled the tank, she had no answers and continually stated that Lolita can swim under the island so it’s legal.  I asked Dr. Goldentyer even if Lolita could swim under the platform, according to Chester Gibson of APHIS, the medical pool was not included in their 60 foot MHD measurement.

Lolita's tank drained clearly showing the island is solid cement

She proceeded to tell me that APHIS’s  60 foot measurement was from the edge of the main pool to where the gates were connected to the island.  I expressed to Dr. Goldentyer this made no sense as the pool measured 35 feet which would require the island to be 25 feet wide to match their 60 foot measurement.  The island only measures 11 feet.  As the conversation went on with Dr. Goldentyer stumbling over her words, I finally told her I would send her the pictures I had of Lolita’s tank drained and asked her to send me the viewing window picture she claimed to have showing that Lolita can, in fact, swim under the cement island.  Immediately I sent Dr. Goldentyer the above image of Lolita’s tank drained.

A few days after I had this phone conversation with Dr. Goldentyer, I received documents from APHIS which I requested via the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

These documents are APHIS’s “blueprints” for the measurements of Lolita’s tank. These documents prove the 35 foot measurement of Lolita’s main pool I took from Google Earth was indeed correct and APHIS’s Chester Gibson was incorrect by stating the main pool measured 60 feet.


For the last four months, Dr. Goldentyer has given me excuse after excuse as to why she has not yet produced this floating island picture.  I continued to express my concerns with her floating island theory questioning what the purpose of the gates on each side the island would serve if Lolita could just swim under it.  I sent her additional photographs of the tank drained, the FOIA documents I received and asked her every few weeks since March where was the picture.

Dr. Goldentyer initially told me she wanted to make sure she had all the facts, so she “asked for specific new photos and would be in touch”.  After a few weeks since our conversation, she advised me that she did receive the photos but needed additional information to make sure she had all the relevant information from the appropriate sources.  Then at the end of April, I was told she had the Assistant Regional Director, the Regional Animal Care Specialist and the local inspector working on a response to me. Dr. Goldentyer advised they all wanted to independently confirmed all the information, confirm the information through channels and have a good definitive answer for me. One request for a simple picture turned into several months of getting the run around from Dr. Goldentyer.

While I was waiting for Dr. Goldentyer’s photo & definitive answer, a fellow colleague sent me a letter she received in 1998 from APHIS after she voiced her concern regarding the legality of Lolita’s tank size. The response letter she received from APHIS states:

The minimum horizontal dimension (MHD) requirement is 48 feet; the actual MHD is 80 feet in one direction and 60 feet in the direction interrupted by the platform. We wish to point out that the definition for MHD (AWA Section 1:1) does not preclude the presence of partial obstructions. Therefore, the MHD measurement considerations begins at the pool’s edge and continues beyond the platform.

On May 17, 2011, I sent a copy of this letter to Dr. Goldentyer advising her that I now had 3 different contradicting explanations as to how APHIS found Lolita’s tank to be legally sized.  Just 2 1/2 weeks after sending this letter to Dr. Goldentyer and four months of waiting for a response from her, I received my “definitive answer” from APHIS.

On June 2, 2011, Dr. Goldentyer sent me an email along with an attached letter and diagram. In the email, she wrote:

Thank you for your interest in Miami Seaquarium and for your patience as we reevaluated the issues. I hope that you find the attached letter, diagram, and table helpful. In my letter, several concerns regarding Lolita and Seaquarium are addressed which I include for your information. The diagram and table contain the pool size information which is most pertinent to your concerns. I understand that you may not agree with the agency determination regarding Lolita’s pool, however, we do strive to provide clear consistent information and I am sorry for the confusion.


Betty Goldentyer, DVM


To me, this letter appears to be the new “everything is great” at the Miami Seaquarium response APHIS may intend to use for future complaints as it addresses everything but what I had been waiting for from Dr. Goldentyer….the supposed floating island picture.  The diagram attached with this letter though contained the exact information from last letter I forwarded to Dr. Goldentyer  from my colleague. Upon opening the this last email from Dr. Goldentyer  and reviewing it, it felt like a slap in my face once I realized their “definitive answer”  came from a letter I sent to her weeks before which was dated back to 1998.

APHIS's diagram of Lolita's tank meaurements

In just over a year’s time, I’ve received three different confusing rationale from APHIS justify their allowing the Miami Seaquarium to continue housing Lolita in her illegally undersized tank, without any AWA enforcement action by APHIS.  If APHIS actually “strived to provide the public clear consistent information” as Dr. Goldentyer put it, I would not be in the position I am today which is no further than I was over a year ago except for a paper trail of the misconduct within APHIS.  Dr. Goldentyer provided me no explanation as to why I received various explanations from APHIS except “sorry for the confusion”.

This is what has prompted me to step further than APHIS and contact the Office of the Inspector General (OIG), the USDA’s internal auditor that has cited the Eastern Regional Division of APHIS for not enforcing the law, not finding violations, and not assessing fines.  In collaboration with Orca Network, The Orca Project, and a broad range of groups and individuals nationwide, I sent a letter to the USDA’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) on June 6, 2011 requesting an investigation of the failure of the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) to take enforcement action against these AWA violations:

Lolita’s tank, which is the smallest orca tank in North America, is 13 feet shorter than is required by the Animal Welfare Act (Section 3.104).

– Lolita has no shade to protect her from direct sunlight and no protection from the weather, including hurricanes. Her exposure to sun and weather violates Section 3.103(3)(b) of the Animal Welfare Act.

– Lolita’s pool does not meet the perimeter fence requirements to keep animals and unauthorized people out, nor does it protect her from abuse and harassment by the public. [Sections 3.103(3)(c) and 3.101(2)]

– Lolita has not been in the company of another orca since 1980. This highly social marine mammal is subjected to this solitude in the unfounded belief that her dolphin tank mates are an acceptable replacement for a member of her own species. Only a related family member would be appropriate as Lolita’s companion. [Section 3.109]

The refusal of APHIS to enforce the AWA for Lolita, thus allowing the Miami Seaquarium to maintain its license to keep her in her minuscule sunbaked pool, is especially appalling because Lolita is unique among the captive orcas in North America in her potential to be returned to her orca family in her native waters. Lolita was captured in Puget Sound from the Southern Resident community of orcas, which is the most intensively and comprehensively researched cetacean population worldwide. She is a member of the L pod, and her mother is still alive. This orca community has intense, lifelong matrilineal bonds: the orcas never leave their mothers, forming large family groups with complex social systems. Lolita continues to make the unique calls of her L25 subpod, named for its 82-year-old matriarch. Her family pod still lives in Puget Sound. Because Lolita was old enough at capture to have learned how to catch fish and still speaks her pod’s dialect, there is every reason to believe that she can be successfully reintegrated with her family in Puget Sound. And although at age 44 she is the oldest surviving captive orca in the world, she is still a young, healthy adult; in the wild her potential lifespan will be much longer than it will be in captivity. Cetacean experts have plans in place to retire Lolita from the Miami Seaquarium, reintroduce her safely to Puget Sound, and reintegrate her with her family if she chooses. Otherwise, Lolita would be cared for safely in a baypen in Puget Sound.

I am definitely not the first person that has asked APHIS to enforce the Animal Welfare Act for Lolita nor will I be the last.

Lolita's baypen retirement center on the west side of San Juan Island, Washington. Courtesy of OrcaNetwork

Our friends at The Orca Project and OrcaNetwork have just publicized “Calls For Action” asking the public and media to help us take Lolita’s case to the next level.

The Orca Project – Justice for Lolita. Taking Her Fight with APHIS to the Next Level

OrcaNetwork’s recent press release – Agency Fails to Protect Captive Orca

Hopefully, you will be the next to join in this action, voice your concerns and support the proposed retirement of Lolita from the Miami Seaquarium.

What You Can Do To Help Lolita!

The OIG has a “Hotline” for reporting violations related to USDA programs such as fraud, employee misconduct, mismanagement, conflict of interest, etc. The “Hotline” tips can be submitted online, by email, by phone, by mail. Here’s the link to the OIG’s hotline:

Use these sample letters and email contacts provided by the OrcaNetwork and The Orca Project to send to APHIS

PLEASE TAKE A MOMENT TO SIGN THIS PETITION created by Hunter Shaffer a 13-year-old disabled activist from New York State who is dedicated to retiring Lolita to her native waters in Washington. Shaffer has gathered over 1,700 signatures on a petition asking APHIS to help “retire Lolita from the Miami Seaquarium, and rehabilitate her in Puget Sound.” Please sign and share widely.

I’d like to give special thanks to Howard & Susan of OrcaNetwork for their dedication to Lolita for so many years.

The Truth Behind Samoa’s Death- captivity disease not found in wild orcas

May 25, 2011

The Truth Behind Samoa’s Death:

Samoa, a 14 year old female orca purchased by SeaWorld died from a fungus, NOT actual labor complications. Shocking new details publicly revealed about Samoa and her calf.

In 1989 SeaWorld Inc. obtained Samoa, an approx. 12 year old female orca whale from Aquarama Sao Paulo in Brazil. Samoa was sent to Sea World Aurora in May of 1989 and by March 14, 1992 Samoa had died at Sea World San Antonio.

During Samoa’s time at SeaWorld San Antonio she became pregnant with Kotar’s off spring producing a female fetus. During Samoa’s 13th month of pregnancy Samoa became so sick that it actually lead to her and the unborn fetus’s deaths.

According the Marine Mammal Inventory Report the 14 year old, female Orca whale named Samoa died from MYCOTIC MENINGOENCEPHALITIS. The necropsy report states Samoa died from SYSTEMATIC ZYGOMYCOSIS , which rarely causes disease in people or animals. This diagnosis is backed by a scientific study in the journal of Zoo and wildlife medicine 2002 American Association of Zoo Veterinarians

“During a 10-yr period, a killer whale (Orcinus orca), two Pacific white-sided dolphins (Lagenorhynchus obliquidens), and two bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus), all housed at SeaWorld of Texas from 1991 to 2001, were infected with fungi from the class Zygomycetes. In four out of five cases, the fungi were identified as either Saksenaea vasiformis or Apophysomyces elegans. Death occurred within 23 days after the initial clinical signs.”
“a killer whale was infected with zygomycetes, In one case, infection originated in the placenta and uterus of a periparturient animal.”

Also during our search for information regarding Samoa we have come across information stating Samoa died from labour complications. 

Killer Whale Dies While Giving Birth- Calf Also Dies

Yet upon reviewing Samoa’s necropsy report it is stated she had “a well organized infection caused by fungus” and “the degree of autolysis (self digestion refers to the destruction of a cell through the action of its own enzymes) of the fetal tissue is compatible with intrauterine (In the uterusdeath several days prior to the death of the dam”   On March 14, 1992 Samoa began to naturally abort the unborn dead fetus.

fetal flukes were observed protruding from the genital slit“.

Samoa’s body was trying to self abort the dead fetus!

The average gestation period for an orca is 15 to 18 months.  Samoa, at only 13 months was claimed to be giving birth. Logically this would have meant she was having a premature birth.  

Samoa’s necropsy report states: 

“Saksenaea Vasiformis was isolated from the uterus. hyphae (fungus) observed microscopically in the uterus and brain tissue were identical. Samoa had a 3 1/2 to 4 inch in diameter softness and hollow space in the right hemisphere of her brain.” (Saksenaea zygomycetes also aggressively invades the vascular system.)
Samoa had a huge area in her brain that had been severely damaged by the spread of the fungus which originated in her uterus.  She literally had brain damage as her brain was being eaten away by a common fungus found in soil.
It has been reported 
  Sea World – San Antonio (1992):  Months before her death in 1992, horrified onlookers had watched the orca Samoa perform “bizarre, repetitive movements, hurling her body into the air and crashing down again and again upon the hard surface of a wide shelf at the side of her pool.” In a tragic note, Samoa was pregnant, and her full-term fetus died with her due to birth complications (WDCS report Orcas: Dying to Entertain You, pg. 45).
 Saksenaea Vasiformis is an infectious fungus found world-wide in association with soil. It is most often associated with cutaneous (relating to or existing on or affecting the skin) or subcutaneous lesions (implies just under the skin) after trauma. It is very uncommon for individuals to contract Saksenaea Vasiformis, unless the immune system is compromised or weakened. The chance of curing the individual depends greatly upon early detection and treatment.  If left untreated mortality, is inevitable such as in Samoa’s case .
When one comes into contact with Saksenaea Vasiformis in an open wound, with a compromised immune system, and becomes infected there is generally two separate onset of symptoms displayed. If treated immediately with fungal medicine the results are generally not fatal. If there is improper treatment or no treatment during the first onset of symptomsm the results can and will generally lead to morbidity or mortality. 
For this type of fungus to be present in Samoa’s uterus shows a couple of different things
  • Samoa had an open tear or cut in her uterus
  • While having the open cut Samoa had “something” inserted into her uterus that had the fungus on it
  • Samoa had a compromised immune system
  • Samoa went untreated for this specific fungus far too long which lead to her and her calf’s mortality

This fungus could have been easily transmitted via an infected medical instrument or even a trainer’s own hands. Transmission of the fungus could also come from the water in the pool when husbandry procedures were being performed. The orcas are not moved to clean water when conducting husbandry procedures. These sessions occur in the same pools the orcas swim, urinate, poop in and trainers swim/walk in.

 Another option would be that during mating sessions with Kotar, he tore Samoa’s uterus and he himself  infected Samoa with the fungus, either through the water transmission from the pool or himself directly.  The risk for Zygomycosis is especially high when the skin or mucus membranes have been injured. Wound care is essential in preventing Zygomycosis. The wound must be carefully cleaned and monitored for signs of infection which obviously did not occur.

The cause of entry will never be known.  There is no evidence SeaWorld followed up with the whys and how Samoa actually obtained the fungus. 

Samoa has a fairly large necropsy report. This is in part due to all the damage that she suffered while being in captivity.  This is not a disease wild orcas get.

  • Shallow skin cracks were radiating from her blow with no evidence of external trauma. Most likely caused by long term sunburn or drying of the skin near the blow hole
  • Multiple worm like parasites were observed embedded in granulation tissue (new connective tissue and tiny blood vessels that form on the surfaces of a wound during the healing process ) in her sinuses.  Her left eustachian tube (passage that equalizes air pressure in ear) was utterly destroyed by granulation tissue (new connective tissue and tiny blood vessels that form on the surfaces of a wound during the healing process ) and osteophytes (bone spurs) resulting from presence of parasites 
  • Blood clots and hollow spots in her brain
  • Mainstream bronchi was  filled with white froth
  • Both lungs were filled with fluid: uniformly dark red, white froth oozed out on cut section
  • There appeared to be an excessive amount of clear, yellow fluid in her abdominal cavity. Petechiation (flat round red spots under the skin caused by hemorrhage) were observed on the peritoneal wall adjacent to the uterus
  • Multiple small stones in 3rd or 4th compartment of stomach

Reproductive System:

The left horn contained a near term female fetus that weighed 104.5 kg. The fetal tissue displayed ADVANCED autolysis (self digestion).

Gravid horn distended with fetus. Uterine surface diffusely dark red, placenta uniformly dark red and multiple petechial ( small (1-2mm) red or purple spots ) and paintbrush hemorrhages on serosa of uterus.

Gross Summary:

  1. Malacia (state of abnormal softening of tissue ) and cavitation of the lateral center of the right cerebral hemisphere (in brain).
  2. Multiple uterine hemorrhages.
  3. Vermionous pterygoid sinusitis (common North Atlantic worm).
  4. Autolytic (self-digestion) female calf in left uterine horn.

Microbiology Summary: Saksenaea Vasiformis was isolated from the uterus. Hyphae (fungus) observed microscopically in the uterus and brain tissue were identical.

Signed by: Leslie M. Dalton April 23rd, 1992

Ronald R. Crawley, D.V.M., Ph.D the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio also made comment’s regarding the necropsy findings.

The mycotic organism was found only in the uterus and brain. My impression is that a primary mycotic endometritis developed which spread to the brain and fulminating encephalitis developed. The degree of autolysis of the fetal tissue is compatible with intrauterine death several days prior to the death of the dam.”

Clifford J. Hixson VMD , Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Pathologists directly sent this comment to SeaWorld of Texas in regards to Samoa and her calf.

“Systemic zygomycosis is most likely responsible for the death of the mother killer whale and her calf. Severe tissue damage associated with luxutiant growth of fungal organisms is present in both the brain and uterus of the mother. Although fungal hyphae are evident in several areas of the placenta, there is no microscopic evidence of systemic invasion of fungal organisms in the calf”

Even though the necropsy report along with the other letters mention the fetus dying in the uterus days before Samoa, there is no mention of what actually caused the death of the calf. I suppose that is another matter SeaWorld did not care to know the whys or hows about. 

 This again raises the question about medical procedures being conducted in non-sterile environments with handlers not using sterile gloves or sterile equipment. Can SeaWorld actually meet the medical needs for captive orcas? This again, like Kanduke, may be another reminder of a disease that would seem to be isolated to captivity.



It’s the new treat popping up in the captive dolphin shows all over America, jello treats!

May 25, 2011

It’s the new treat popping up in the captive dolphin shows all over America,  jello treats!

Loro Parque Orca Trainers With Colored Jelly Treat. © Loro Parque Image

Loro Parque Orca Trainers With Colored Jelly Treats. Loro Parque Image

Dolphin connection  in the Florida Keys describes Jello as a “special treat” for the dolphins.

“our creative thinking brought us to gelatin…the unflavored kind, of course. But, we wondered, could it harm them? Here’s what we found out (tuck this little baby away under useless stuff I know) – turns out gelatin is 98% water and 2% protein. Perfect! Why? Well, because dolphins eat fish (protein) and extract all of the fresh water they need from the fish that they eat. Okay, that makes it safe to feed, but would the dolphins eat it? Have to say, if we worried about that, it was wasted time…the dolphins LOVE IT! And soon we found that this gelatin thing could be used for much more than a treat or a toy…making our veterinarians LOVE IT too…here’s why:

If a dolphin isn’t feeling well, often one of our first indications is that they won’t eat fish. That means we have no way to get them nutrition, water, or medications. Red Alert! We have found however that gelatin is readily eaten, even when fish is not. Hallelujah! With cool, soothing gelatin, we can provide plenty of hydration and can hide vitamins and medications inside. They feel better almost immediately! But if not, we can even add nutrition to the gelatin by including ground up fish gruel into the mixture. Thank goodness we almost never need to go to such extremes, but it is such a relief to know that we have this valuable tool to use should we ever need it!”

It has long been rumored that captive orcas and dolphins get stomach ulcers often.  Gelatin is found to be used widely in the treatment of ulcers and blood clots in humans and animals. Gelatin contains peptides of which many of you will recall “Pepcid AC” being a common treatment for stomach ailments. Gelatin is made essentially from boiling the connective tissue, bones and intestines of cattle, pork and horses. The stomach ulcer of various origins is well prevented and healed by short peptides, which are part of gelatin. Gelatin’s short peptides – glyprolines – consist of amino acids of glycine and proline. It is them that protect the stomach mucous tunic from injuries. The highest antiulcer activity was discovered by the researchers with the PGP-sequence peptide: proline, glycine, proline. Glyprolines are easily absorbed in the stomach and remain in the blood for a long time without breaking up. They act not only on the stomach cells but also on the central nervous system overcoming the blood-brain barrier, therefore they cure even the ulcers caused by stress.

Glyprolines are natural peptides. They are generated in the organism in the course of collagen synthesis or decomposition. During the experiments carried out by the Moscow biologists, gelatin (partly hydrolyzed collagen) added to rats’ feed partly protected the rats from ulcer. Further experiments were carried out by the researchers with gelatin hydrolysate. Processing gelatin by hydrochloric acid imitates the process taking place in the stomach. After gelatin hydrolysis was performed, the researchers educed and refined about 30 short peptides, also including glyprolines.

It has turned out that gelatin peptides reinforce resistance of the stomach mucous tunic to ethanol and stress action, decreasing the ulcer area by twice. If peptides are introduced to the animals with already developed ulcer, it will also close quicker. Therapeutic effect was revealed by peptides not only in case of intraperitoneal introduction but also in case of intragastric introduction, this method being even more effective.

The researchers point out that gelatin hydrolysate produces protective and medicinal effect comparable to the action of pure PGP peptide, which is currently known as the most active glyproline. In the researchers’ opinion, not only the above-mentioned glyprolines but also short peptides unknown so far participate in the antiulcer action of gelatin peptides. Therefore, to produce the most promising protective and medicinal antiulcer drugs, the researchers are planning to investigate the action of all substances that make part of gelatin hydrolysate.

Another long-standing rumor has been that

captive marine mammals have a difficult time remaining hydrated

due to eating dead, frozen fish.

Here is what Dolphin connection has to say about using gelatin for hydration:

Our animal training team partnered with their colleagues at SeaWorld Florida in Orlando to present a paper on the multiple uses of unflavored gelatin with marine mammals. That’s right – gelatin! The paper documented the ten-year history of our facilities working together to introduce something fun, new, and groundbreaking to the art of keeping of marine mammals. Gelatin use began at SeaWorld as an enjoyable and entertaining toy to be played with. It has enriched the lives of many whales and dolphins over the years. But then our veterinarians got to thinking…gelatin is 80% water and could be a great way to get fluids to a dolphin that might need them. So they asked, “Can you teach dolphins to eat unflavored gelatin?” and the trainers answered, “Yes!” Since then we have been utilizing gelatin in a variety of ways – just for fun, for additional fluids, and even for hiding vitamins or medications. The presentation of this paper created an incredible amount of discussion and interest among folks in the marine mammal training field and is already slated for publication in 2010. It makes us feel proud to contribute something of value to our occupation, especially when it has the potential to make a positive impact in the lives of whales and dolphins in zoos and aquariums around the world!

Seems the captive marine industry has found that feeding large amounts of gelatin keeps marine mammals around a bit longer through hydration and curing stomach ulcers….so next time you see a trainer feeding jello to a dolphin or an orca you’ll never know if it is just a “treat” or is it a form of medication and a sustainable source of life for them.

It has been stated that Tilikum was being fed ten gallons of gelatin daily (which is about 80 pounds)

to increase his hydration level while he was in isolation last year.

Tilikum: A year after trainer death

I also came across an interesting story regarding a little girl who was out viewing wild dolphins. During the tour the little girl stated the dolphins would love jello treats and when questioned why the family stated they had seen captive dolphins being feed jello. You can read the full story here.

This is really poor education being passed on as acceptable behavior for all dolphins. This little girl believed it would be a good thing for them, like a “treat”. She had no idea wild dolphins do not eat jello.

Informnauka (Informscience) Agency

You can make a difference!

April 15, 2011

Although I do not agree with marine mammals being confined in captivity, I am happy to say that Six Flags Discovery Kingdom has corrected one of the citations they were given last year by the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services (APHIS) for failure to comply with the Animal Welfare Act (AWA).  After visiting the park in August 2010, I found numerous violations of the AWA and reported them in a letter to APHIS.  APHIS responded to my concerns stating they would look into my concerns by conducting an unannounced inspection at Six Flags which they did on November 10, 2010.

You can read the entire inspection report here

One of the non-compliant items Six Flags was cited for was the failure to have a perimeter fence along the back pool area of the killer whale and dolphin stadium.  This was to be corrected by February 1, 2011.

Section 3.103(a) of the AWA requires a perimeter fence that is of sufficient height to keep unauthorized persons away from contact with marine mammals. The only thing that was separating the public from the pools was a simple handrail.

Anyone could have easily entered this area and climbed over the wall into the pools that house Shouka the killer whale and two bottlenose dolphins, Merlin and Cupid.  This was especially concerning to me given the thousands of children who visit Six Flags each year.  Now, the access into the back pools would not be so easy unless someone can conspicuously climb up this fence.

I had also reported to APHIS the disgusting conditions of the back pools at Shouka stadium. The viewing windows were covered in a thick growth of algae and the tanks were so dirty, you could barely see Shouka, Merlin or Cupid. It was very obvious that the tanks had not been cleaned in quite some time.  Although APHIS did not cite Six Flags for the water quality in the tanks, Six Flags has made major improvements in the cleanliness of these tanks.

Marine parks are required to abide by the minimum standards set forth in the AWA in order to keep marine mammals on public display. It is the duty of APHIS to conduct inspections to ensure these marine parks are meeting the requirements of the law.  For over a quarter of a century APHIS has been the governing agency overseeing animals in captivity. APHIS is an agency that is not known for their excellence in providing protection to animals in captivity.  They are known more for their inaction than action.  APHIS has been inspecting Six Flags for over 25 years and not once directly cited them for a failure to protect their marine mammals. They are supposed to know the law and report any conditions that do not meet the law, not turn a blind eye. It seems to me, the only way to get APHIS to actually do their job is to continue to publicly pressure them by writing very specific letters of complaint and reporting the violations of the AWA you have found to APHIS. When writing to APHIS what I have found to work the best is to write a professional letter stating the violations you found at the park,  adding in the laws that correspond with what you found, include pictures and even videos with your letter of complaint. If you do not get a response from APHIS and you have found a clear violation of the AWA, do not give up. Continue to write to them, make phone calls and follow up. Eventually you will get the right person to look into your concerns. You can make a difference!!

Learn the Animal Welfare Act Report violations of the AWA to APHIS HeadquartersMailing Address:
4700 River Road, Unit 84
Riverdale, MD 20737-1234E-mail:
Phone: (301) 734-7833
Fax: (301) 734-4978

Western Region

Mailing Address:
2150 Centre Ave.
Building B, Mailstop 3W11
Fort Collins, CO 80526-8117

Phone: (970) 494-7478
Fax: (970) 494-7461

Eastern Region

Mailing Address:
920 Main Campus Drive
Suite 200
Raleigh, NC 27606-5210

Phone: (919) 855-7100
Fax: (919) 855-7123

Making Dreams Come True…How You Can Help Wild Orcas

April 7, 2011

SunSuper Dreams is holding a contest right now, Make The World a Better Place, which does not end until April 30th, 2011. The contestants depend on the votes of the public to make their dreams come true and win the contest.

Gwen Williams protesting for the retirement of Lolita

  Gwen Williams,  a young orca activist from Australia has entered the contest. If Gwen wins $5,000.00 dollars will be donated to the Orca Network . The Orca Network is dedicated to raising awareness of the whales of the Pacific Northwest, and the importance of providing them healthy and safe habitats.

The Orca Network is a very worthy cause, as so many wild orcas are in danger now due to loss of natural food sources and chemicals contaminants. Supporting Gwen means supporting wild orcas! 

Gwen’s dream is to help protect the wild orca species. Throughout the Pacific Northwest, their population is under threat from habitat degradation, loss of prey, industrial chemicals contaminating the waters, and more. Their numbers have suffered a steady decline over the years. Orcas are an integral part of the environment. They are also highly intelligent beings with complex social behaviours, and have captivated whale watchers for many years. To lose the family pods that travel through the Pacific Northwest would be extremely damaging to the environment, as well as a tragedy in human history. Many animals species have become extinct over the years. Lets not add wild orcas to that list!


All they need is your families vote. Each family member can have a chance to vote, as Sun Super Dreams allows for a vote each day from your computer. It only takes a few seconds to make your vote count. Please take this opportunity to help make a girl’s dream come true and offer support to the wild orcas….be sure to check you spam mail, as you will have to confirm your vote through your email. Thanks everyone for the support!

You can vote here

Here is a video Gwen made regarding a wild baby orca crying for it’s mom when it was separated from her during a Taiji hunt. Gwen has a Youtube video account called FreedomForOrcas

Shamu, Shamu…The Dark History Behind The Chant

April 5, 2011

At SeaWorld all the whales are known as Shamu, even though each orca has their own individual name. During the orca shows, the trainers pump the crowd by chanting “Shamu, Shamu” as they clap their hands high in the air. This chant… is in its own way is a tribute to the dark days of the brutal orca captures that many are not aware of. Next time you enjoy the chanting of Shamu please remember the history that goes with that name.

SeaWorld representatives have been quoted as saying:

animal rights extremists sole objective is denying
Americans the privilege of experiencing marine mammals in places like SeaWorld

Sharing Shamu’s story with the public is part of that “privilege” that Americans should be aware of, it is part of our history. Our intentions are not to deny Americans of anything….our intentions are to share what was denied to the orcas that have been placed in captivity….after all we really are not above the animals society places in captivity. Mankind just figured out that they can over power marine mammals and take them for profit.

This footage was discovered in 2009. King 5-TV reporter Don McGaffin began work on a story about the captures of orcas in Puget Sound. In August of 1971 SeaWorld acquired Kona & Kandu at Penn Cove in WA state (seen here in this graphic footage). 2 of the 3 killer whales captured here went to SeaWorld of California (the first SW). This capture was a significant event in the formation of the multibillion dollar corporation.

In October of 1965 Shamu was captured. Ted Griffin captured Shamu and her mom from the waters of Puget Sound. Shamu was the fourth wild orca to be captured. During Ted Griffins Orca hunting days he would kill many orcas due to them not meeting the needs for the industry standards for public display, similar to the dolphin Taiji hunts today. One of these orcas was Shamu’s mom. Griffin shot her with a harpoon and she drowned right in front of baby Shamu.

The adult female, dying of her harpoon wounds, opened her blowhole and dove, drowning herself. The calf was netted and hauled in to the pen.

Orca capture


Griffin made no apologies about the whales that died in the hunts, including Shamu’s mother. SeaWorld comments regarding this matter is simply stated as “it is a sad, ancient history.” Yet every time the Shamu chant is done that history becomes the present.

Shamu was named after Namu. Namu was accidentally caught in a fisherman’s net one evening. Namu was sold to Ted Griffin and Griffin would eventually capture Shamu to be a companion for Namu. Shamu was traumatized by the capture, her mother’s violent death, and she didn’t get along with Namu, thus Shamu was eventually sold to SeaWorld.

Shamu died on August 23, 1971 from an infection of her blood and uterus after living just 6 years in captivity.

Shamu got her name from Namu, She+Namu=Shamu. Even though Shamu and Namu were not compatible her name implies they were. To add Namu into SeaWorld’s orca legacy  seems kinda sick and twisted in many ways.

  • Namu’s capture was very traumatic to him, the wild orca pods and even some of the locals who witnessed the event.
  • Namu’s capture would lead to the beginning of many more deaths to wild orcas
  • Namu’s capture and death led to future violent rounding up of entire pods of wild orcas, to have many of them killed or taken into captivity, through the use of explosives.

Namu’s story is very sad. Namu drowned by tangling himself in the cables of his pen trying to escape just one year after being placed in the Seattle Aquarium.

Late on the evening of June 22, a local salmon fisherman named Bill Lechkobit was caught in a sudden gale south of Namu, at the mouth of Warrior Cove. To avoid being swept onto the rocks, Lechkobit cut loose his net and headed for a safe harbour. Early the next morning, his friend and fellow seiner Bob McGarvey emerged from the cove to find two killer whales trapped inside the abandoned net. One was an adult bull, about 6.5 metres long; the other was a young calf.

As McGarvey watched, the current suddenly opened the end of the net and he saw the bull swim free, only to return inside the circle of mesh when the calf would not follow. McGarvey and Lechkobit, who had returned to the scene, realized they had a prize on their hands. Moby Doll had received so much publicity that fishermen all along the coast knew the value of a live killer whale.

They secured the captives with more netting, and within a few hours they had sent word to the outside world that they had a couple of whales for sale. Prospective buyers, including the Vancouver Aquarium’s Murray Newman, immediately flew to the tiny cannery village, but they were all dismayed by the asking price, $25,000 per whale. Which, of course, did not include the expense of transporting the animals south. The deal seemed even less attractive a few days later when the calf escaped. Since it was really the younger, smaller whale that the rival aquariums wanted, the captors found themselves with one remaining overpriced animal that might escape at any time and had a healthy appetite for salmon. Meanwhile, they weren’t getting any fishing done.

McGarvey and his friend decided to make a final offer:

“The first person here with $8,000 in cash gets the whale.”

This spurred Ted Griffin into action. Griffin was the 29-year-old owner of the Seattle Marine Aquarium, a facility he had opened on the city’s waterfront in 1962. Unlike most of the other aquarium representatives, he was an entrepreneur and a showman, not a scientist. Griffin had long sought a killer whale for his facility. He had spent many hours patrolling Puget Sound by helicopter and boat looking for a specimen, and he wasn’t about to let this one get away. He had already been up to Namu, but his initial offer had been refused.

When news of the final price reached him in Seattle, it was a Saturday night and the banks had closed. Griffin grabbed a couple of shopping bags and set out along the waterfront, calling on hotels and restaurants and writing them cheques for whatever cash they had in their tills. Before the weekend was over, his bags were stuffed with small bills and he was on a flight north, accompanied by a gun-toting former Mountie he picked up in Vancouver as a security detail.

Griffin got his whale, which he christened Namu. (Subsequent research has found that it was C11, a member of one of the northern resident pods. C11 was a 20-year-old male whose mother, C5, known as Kwattna, lived until 1995, when she died at the ripe old age of 71.) He then faced the challenge of moving his four-tonne acquisition 700 kilometres along some of the most treacherous waters on the Pacific coast. Although no one knew it at the time, Griffin was pioneering the technique that Springer’s rescuers would use 37 years later. With the help of local fishermen, he welded several tonnes of steel bars into a three-sided pen about 12 by 18 metres and six metres deep, kept afloat by empty oil drums scavenged from a local salvage company. A net hung across the open side of the pen.

Meanwhile, other whales regularly visited Namu at Warrior Cove. Some of them were large males with dorsal fins towering two metres in the air. Others were cows and calves. Their high-pitched whistles and squeaks echoed against the rocky shore in a plaintive symphony. On one occasion, as many as three dozen whales showed up to support Namu, splashing around the net, tails lobbing and vocalizing. While most of these whales came and went, one cow and her two calves, presumably members of Namu’s family group, remained near the net almost continuously.

Once Griffin got his makeshift cage into the water, it was towed to Warrior Cove, where Namu was coaxed into it. Griffin hired a local purse seiner, the Chamiss Bay, to tow the pen as far as Port Hardy, and on July 9, it set off, accompanied by the Robert E. Lee, a 10-metre pleasure tug owned by Seattle disc jockey Bob Hardwick. For the entire trip, a small group of journalists aboard the Lee filed daily stories about Namu’s progress, building public interest in the operation. Also aboard the Lee was Gil Hewlett, a 24-year-old biologist “donated” by the Vancouver Aquarium to assist in the transfer. Hewlett was the lone Canadian involved in the expedition. Journalist Sylvia Fraser described him as “a handsome towhead who was never seen to wear shoes and who looked like a beach boy left over from the latest surf-side movie.”

A violent goodbye

At Port Hardy, the Chamiss Bay left to go seining and the tow was taken up by the Ivor Foss, a Seattle tug. Two hours out of Port Hardy, a group of about 10 whales were spotted in the distance converging on the pen. Hewlett described what happened in his journal.

“When they are within 300 yards of the pen, Namu lets out a terrifying squeal, almost like a throttled cat. He leaps out of the water and crashes against the left corner of the pen. There was terrific thrashing and he is making all kinds of sounds. Then they are there again, the same family of the cow and two calves. They came straight up behind the pen to about 10 feet away, tremendous squealing going on. Namu seemed to lose all co-ordination in the pen. He kept getting swept against the cargo net and swimming vigorously forward. The family unit circles around towards the end of the pen. Those of us on the pen are yelling and screaming at the top of our lungs. “This is an incredible experience. The excitement is almost overwhelming.”

Once the tow passed through Seymour Narrows, however, the other whales disappeared. (Years later researchers would learn that the narrows form a boundary between the typical ranges of the northern and southern residents.) On the southern coast, the little flotilla was joined by a growing fleet of pleasure boaters who were curious to see the captive killer. Members of the crew kept busy warning the sightseers to keep their distance. A team of researchers from the Boeing Company’s acoustic division had arrived. They were taping Namu’s vocalizations for possible application in anti-submarine warfare, and the constant roar of boat engines was interfering with their recording.

At one point, the whale developed blisters on his dorsal fin. Sunburn, it was decided. The convoy was stopped at Deep Bay, opposite the southern end of Denman Island, and Hewlett went off to track down some zinc oxide lotion. He telephoned Jane Van Roggen, a member of the Vancouver Aquarium board who was holidaying in the area and together they drove around to all the local pharmacies. “When we told the pharmacist we needed enough zinc oxide for a killer whale,” Hewlett recalled, “he/she either laughed uncontrollably or looked at us incredulously, saying ‘zinc oxide only comes in two-ounce tubes!’ We bought every tube in the area and took them back to Deep Bay.”

Attaching a brush to the end of a bamboo pole, Don Goldsberry, a collector from the aquarium in Tacoma who was part of the transfer team, painted the fin with the zinc oxide mixed with mineral oil. Namu didn’t much like it — indeed, after one coating, he wouldn’t let Goldsberry get close again with the brush — but it seemed to work. At Deep Bay, where the convoy was held up by storm warnings, two young boys with a boat charged 75 cents to take spectators out to view the whale. Meanwhile, at the village’s only phone booth, journalists lined up to call in their stories.

Marketing Namu

On July 25, the saltwater caravan reached Deception Pass at the north end of Whidbey Island, where it paused to wait for a tide change. When Hewlett looked up at the bridge that spanned the pass, what he saw astonished him. “The bridge is crowded with people, as are the banks on both sides,” Hewlett wrote in his journal. “There must be 5,000 people, with cars lined back for miles on each side. Namu rolls twice and then gave a smack with flukes. The crowd, upon seeing this, gave a cheer — then the Lee and the Ivor blew their foghorns. I think for the first time, all of us realize how big this whole thing is.”

Three days later, welcomed by a flotilla of boats, swooping helicopters, water skiers, go-go dancers and a brass band, Namu reached his future home at Pier 56 on the Seattle waterfront.

Namu was a public relations bonanza that Griffin, whose aquarium needed a financial shot in the arm, exploited to the limit. The whale’s image appeared on everything from sweatshirts to colouring books. Namu was front-page news not just in Seattle but around the world. His voice was used at station breaks on Bob Hardwick’s radio station. The pilots of passenger jets arriving at the airport reported on his health as routinely as they gave the local weather report. A nightclub launched a new dance craze, the “Namu,” including moves like the dorsal, the spray and the dive. Griffin was filmed in his wetsuit riding on Namu’s back, gripping the tall dorsal fin.

Within a year, the whale was starring in his own Hollywood movie, Namu the Killer Whale. In the film, a biologist played by the ruggedly handsome Robert Lansing convinces the people in a hostile coastal fishing community that killer whales are not the deadly predators they loathe and fear. Lansing actually did some of his own stunt work, going into the water to ride on Namu’s back. These images of a benign, playful, endearing animal, no more dangerous than a large dolphin, reinforced the change that was taking place in the mind of the public about the nature of killer whales.

Namu lived for a year at the Seattle aquarium before he drowned by tangling himself in the cables of his pen trying to escape.


CREDIT SOURCE FOR INFORMATION- the book Operation Orca by Daniel Francis and Gil Hewlett (2007).

Education or exploitation?

April 4, 2011

Smack dab in the middle of the Las Vegas strip lays Siegfried & Roy’s Secret Garden & Dolphin Habitat. Located in the back of the Mirage Hotel & Casino, this is supposedly a place for you to experience an exotic, enchanting and wondrous world and come face to face with white lions, white tigers, panthers, leopards, and a family of Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphins.  A recent visit to the Secret Garden did provide me an experience, but was this an enchanting and wondrous world?….not by any means.  Seeing these animals left me with a feeling of sadness.  It is certainly a different world, but not one full of enchantment and adventure.

As I walked into the facility, most of the guests were gathered around the first pool as the trainers were conducting a “trainer for the day” session.  I walked up to the pool and immediately made eye contact with Huf-n-Puff, an 11 yr old female born at the Mirage. She was laying her head on the side of the pool as her baby and mother swam around her.  After we stared at each other for a few minutes, I walked away with a sense of emptiness thinking how she didn’t belong there on the side of the freeway in the middle of the desert.

As I looked around, I noticed there was nothing to protect these babies from the elements. There are palm trees around the tanks, yet there are times throughout the day the trees offer no shade from the blazing Las Vegas sun. I lived in Las Vegas for 11 years and if you’ve never spent a summer in Las Vegas, you haven’t experienced HOT.  Being in the sun for even a few minutes when it’s 120+ degrees outside is UNBEARABLE. The summers in Las Vegas are wicked, there is no break from extreme heat…day after day for months and months the sun is baking the Earth.

It was only like 70 degrees out when I was there, but if it was it was mid-summer, these babies would have little to no shade during certain parts of the day. I kept thinking how they would be able to dive up to 150 feet to the ocean’s depths to escape the sun and here they are left with tiny spaces to offer them no protection from the blazing hot summers in Las Vegas. It is a requirement of the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) that marine mammals are provided protection from the elements.

Section 3.104 (3)(b) Shelter. Natural or artificial shelter which is appropriate for the species concerned, when the local climatic conditions are taken into consideration, shall be provided for all marine mammals kept outdoors to afford them protection from the weather or from direct sunlight.

If these dolphins were provided protection from the blazing hot Vegas sun, they wouldn’t have to have sunscreen put on their melons. If they weren’t in captivity, they would be able to dive into the ocean to avoid direct sunlight. They would not surface rest for long periods of time nor would they be limited to one small area to avoid being roasted in the sun.

I just kept thinking how unfair it was to keep such an intelligent, sentient being in these conditions. They could have had the chance to live their lives in the open ocean, foraging, traveling and socializing. Instead these babies are kept in a concrete tank, on the side of the freeway with nothing but some humans to rely on for everything they were born to be able to do on their own. They are left day after day to swim around and around in circles and do some tricks every now and then.   

Las Vegas has been the home of exploiting animals for many decades by use of magic shows and exhibits, most notably Siegfried & Roy’s white tigers. For 18 years, the Mirage hotel displayed the white tigers behind glass in the entrance to the casino.  After much public pressure, the tigers were moved to the back of the hotel where one can pay $15 to see them along with white lions, leopards and bottlenose dolphins.

 The big money-maker of the attraction though is the dolphins. The dolphins don’t perform “shows”, yet the Mirage promotes widely their “Trainer for a Day” program at a whopping cost of $550. As a “trainer for a day”, you can even have the privilege of paying 2 observers for $150 each.  It would cost $850 for you to be a “trainer” for 6 1/4 hours and 2 friends to “observe” and take pictures. Oh but the three of you would receive a fruit & pastry breakfast, a 3 course lunch and a photo opportunity with a dolphin. You as a “trainer” receive the all-inclusive package which includes:

The use of:

  • Lockers
    • Wetsuit
    • Towels
    • Dive mask
    • Sunscreen
  • Shower amenities
  • Souvenir polo shirt
  • Souvenir ball cap
  • Complimentary 8×10 photo
  • Photo CD
  • Certificate of completion
  • Continental breakfast
  • Three course lunch

It is absurd to believe that the Mirage is all about education. Promoting their outrageously priced “trainer for a day” program is nothing more than making a buck.  There wasn’t even a pamphlet given to us to read or any signs with information on dolphins….there was no one to teach you anything about the dolphins except if you were a paid participant.

In 1990, the Mirage acquired 5 wild caught dolphins from different facilities to begin their display to the public. Since then, thirteen dolphins have been born at the Mirage, ten of which are deceased along with four of the five original dolphins acquired in 1990. Their record of captive breeding didn’t start off well, considering two of the first three calves born were a stillborn & a baby that lived only 2 weeks.

With four dolphin deaths in 2004, the Mirage hired a team of outside experts to conduct an audit of the exhibit. The audit results were turned over to the U.S Department of Agriculture, the government entity responsible for ensuring that marine mammals in captivity are properly cared for.  In December 2005, the USDA and The Mirage entered into a settlement agreement in which the hotel agreed to make undisclosed changes as to how it cares for the dolphins at the exhibit.

“The parties recognize that the licensee has voluntarily taken steps to evaluate and to improve its operations,” the agreement states.”

Since 2004, another three dolphins have died in the Mirage’s care, one being a 2 year old male.  Just months prior to 2-year-old Sgt. Pepper’s death, the Mirage applied to the National Marine Fisheries to import two captive Atlantic bottlenose dolphins from Bermuda for breeding purposes.  By this time, the Mirage’s collection of dolphins was dwindling quickly.

In August of 2009, the Mirage was granted their permit application to import those two dolphins from Bermuda.  Immediately, the Mirage became under fire from animal activists concerned of keeping dolphins in the middle of the desert given the track record of deaths at the Mirage.  Instead of importing the dolphins from Bermuda, the Mirage  acquired three dolphins from SeaWorld. Applying for a federal permit to import the dolphins left the Mirage open for public scrutiny. But when a facility transports animals between facilities within the U.S., there is no requirement to apply for a federal permit. This allowed the Mirage to acquire the dolphins they wanted at the time under a hidden veil of secrecy.

As I was sitting at the edge of one of the pools, I looked down as I felt one of the dolphins, Maverick, staring at me. He kept swimming around in a small circle, then would place his head on the ledge in front of me and then swim away staring at me. He kept doing this over and over for about 20 minutes.  Again, I felt the same sense of emptiness as I had earlier while looking at Huff-n-Puf.

Every time Maverick would come back around to the ledge, he would stop and stare at me for a few minutes. I sat there looking around at the other guests wondering if they had any thoughts as to how it must feel for the dolphins to live here or were they just thinking of how it made themselves feel to see a dolphin so close up & “personal”. Was there any thoughts or concerns about the noise & pollution from the freeway or what it must be like to be so limited?

Las Vegas is the home to gambling, not dolphins. If the Mirage was all about education and conservation, they would not be exploiting these dolphins for tourists to be a “trainer” for a day. Forcing these dolphins to live in barren, concrete tanks that are unnatural environments is not education,  conservation or humane.

With the amount of pre-mature dolphin deaths at the Mirage, it’s no wonder the nickname “Dolphin Death Pool” exists.


TELL THE UNIVERSITY OF NEVADA TO STOP SENDING STUDENTS TO THE DOLPHIN EXHIBIT and provide the tools necessary for students to pursue internships focused on wild dolphins in their natural environment.



Write, email or call the USDA/APHIS and ask them to enforce the Mirage abide by Section 3.104(3)(b) of the AWA and provide a shade structure for the dolphins.

2150 Centre Ave.
Building B, Mailstop 3W11
Fort Collins, CO 80526-8117

Phone: (970) 494-7478
Fax: (970) 494-7461