ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED JANUARY 15, 2014
Your books have been inspirational, making me take a second look at autism, the meatpacking industry (I no longer eat meat!), and the history of orcas in captivity. I have critiqued you, sure, but I have never criticized you or questioned your facts except once. That had to do with the way you presented the medicating of fish for orcas as unique when in fact the hiding of medication in food is a common veterinary practice used with animals ranging from cats to elephants. The use of psychological drugs and antacids for marine mammals was pioneered by Dr. Lanny Cornell, who is one of my heroes, but that fact is not mentioned in your book. Rightfully so, as it’s irrelevant to the plot.
Today you posted a piece about the cancellation of a party at a Manhattan restaurant to celebrate SeaWorld’s 50th anniversary with an appearance by live penguins. You wrote:
“According to the Penguin Taxon Advisory Group of the American Zoo and Aquarium Association (AZA), it takes great effort to move the birds around.
“‘Penguins’ adaptation to cold weather conditions, especially the polar species, makes transportation challenging,’ the group reported in a 2005 paper.
“Because of the susceptibility to overheating, special consideration must be taken when transporting polar species of penguins. ‘If the temperature is above 40 Fahrenheit, it is recommended that the penguins be moved in a refrigerated truck,’ the paper reads. But, it continues, SeaWorld has ‘developed protocols for the use of refrigerated trucks and has successfully transported many penguins between their facilities.’
“SeaWorld has three U.S. parks (in Orlando, San Diego, and San Antonio), but it is not known from which location the penguins would have been transported.”
Since this is a penguin matter and I have experience working with SeaWorld’s penguins, I’d like to share something with you: the penguins that were scheduled to appear are not polar penguins. In fact, it is extremely rare for SeaWorld to remove and transport its polar penguins from their exhibit space for outside events for the very reasons you have listed.
The penguins scheduled for the event are Magellanic penguins from South America. They are usually found on the shores of Chili, Argentina, and the Falkland Islands and can tolerate a much wider range of temperatures, including into the 70’s and 80’s. At SeaWorld’s San Diego park and at many zoos, Magellanic penguins are kept in outside enclosures subject to natural temperatures. Because many guests are unaware that warm weather penguins do exist, they often see the slick backs of the birds racing through the water and confuse them for otters. The birds that appear at public events are also not just plucked from the exhibit. They have been trained to be around humans and they are acclimatized to flight. When they do make appearances, they don’t just run around the place (as suggested by SeaWorld’s promotional videos). They are always with their handler. Magellanic penguins are neither on the threatened nor endangered species lists.
Cheers on the good work. Keep it up!
Read David Kirby’s book Death at SeaWorld about orcas in captivity.