Fin

That’s fin as in the end of something, not as on a fish.

When I was unexpectedly pulled into this whole marine mammal captivity argument 18 months ago, I had no idea how much of an obsession it would become.  It gave birth to this blog and to an entire Facebook group with 400 members.  Many of the people I’ve met along this journey have been brilliant and open to conversation.  Quite a few many more have been, well, quite licentious in their approach.

The whole concept of sea pen sanctuaries astounds me.  I can not fathom why groups, such as PETA and AWI, that advocate for such things, do not go out and build them.  It makes sense to me that if one is suing to remove orcas from a theme park and place them in a sea pen sanctuary, that one would have a better chance of doing so if that sanctuary already existed.  At this point, with marine life parks refusing to hand over their orcas, I don’t see one going into sea pens or returning to the wild from the existing parks over the next five years.  What I do see happening sooner is an activist group purchasing a freshly captured orca in Russia and letting it do the Free Willy thing.

Sometimes I feel that Mid-Caps are like wholfins - aberrations that just should not exist.

Sometimes I feel that Mid-Caps are like wholfins – aberrations that just should not exist.

Sometimes, people need to compromise.  Like with the amendment to the recent Washington House bill banning cetaceans, which now allows rehabilitating cetaceans to be housed in aquarium tanks instead of sea pens, which the original text of the bill restricted rescues to.

But the anti-captivity and the pro-display people aren’t talking.  They each have their own groups of expert scientists (who do talk to each other, but rarely share consensus in the public record), their own group of trainers, and their own group of zealots with their own blogs and web pages.

On both sides, there’s plenty of double speak, exaggeration, and lies everywhere you look.

And I’m leaving all that.*

But that’s not why I’m leaving.  I’m bringing a close to this blog and all my other captivity matters simply because my life is about to go in a radically new direction and I will no longer have the free time to devote to this subject.

If you are linked to me via social media, if you suddenly find yourself unfriended over the next few days, it’s not personal.  It’s simply because my connection to you is limited to the captivity issue.

I want to thank a number of people for the adventure over the past year and a half: Lauren, Kelly, Whitney, Jim, Callie, Sandra, Sy, Eric, Erik, Fred, Erin, Tim, Howard, John, Naomi, Richard, Mark, Bridgette, the other Tim, and everyone else, especially my nemesis Jeremy.

Son of a bitch, I’m sick of these dolphins. – Steve Zissou, The Life Aquatic**

 

*I will still be blogging from time to time on ThemedReality about the attractions, museums, and zoos.

**I’m not sick of dolphins.  If you thought I was, shame on you.

 

What’s in a Name? The Great Oxymorons of Theme Park Nomenclature

I was recently asked on Twitter if I thought the name SeaWorld was an oxymoron.  Now, I know where the person asking was headed with this.  With the seas taking up 71% of the planet’s surface and containing 97% of its water, isn’t it pathetic to call a small theme park with animals entrapped in enclosures in tiny facsimiles of their native grounds “sea world?”

Well . . . .

If you’re going to try to be literal, there are a number of other parks the oxymoron game works better with:

  • Universal’s Islands of Adventure, which has no islands.
  • The San Diego Zoo Safari Park, which in its former incarnation as the San Diego Wild Animal Park, only held captive animals reliant on human care for survival.
  • EPCOT, which is not the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow that its letters stand for.
  • Tokyo DisneySea, which borders a Bay and surrounds a man made lagoon.
  • Knott’s Berry Farm, which is no longer a berry farm, nor is owned by the Knott family.
Marineland of the Pacific in all its 1960's glory.  This is a few years prior to the acquisition of Orky and Corky (who were purchased to compete against Shamu in San Diego).  They would occupy the large round pool on the far right until 1987, when the park was purchased by SeaWorld and closed.

Marineland of the Pacific in all its 1960’s glory. This is a few years prior to the acquisition of Orky and Corky (who were purchased to compete against Shamu in San Diego). They would occupy the large round pool on the far right until 1987, when the park was purchased by SeaWorld and closed.

In the realm of marine parks, there’s a hierarchy.  A “land” (Marineland) is higher than a “park” (Sea Life Park).  A “world” (Sea World) is higher than a land.  And a “kingdom” (Chimelong Ocean Kingdom) outranks them all.  Of course there are variations, many playing off the terms “aquarium” and “oceanarium,” such as the Miami Seaquarium or the Gulfarium.

Sea World 1964 (click to make larger).  The tiny oval in the center of the park, to the right of the dolphin lagoon, house pilot whales the first year of operation and killer whales the next six.

Sea World 1964. The tiny oval in the center of the park, to the right of the dolphin lagoon, housed pilot whales the first year of operation and killer whales the next six.

The term Sea World itself can be found worldwide, with Sea World parks unaffiliated with the American company operating at one time or another in Argentina, Australia, Indonesia, Japan, China, South Africa, and Italy.  The root of the American park’s name goes back to 1963, when it was under development.  The company had a very close affiliation with Marineland of the Pacific at the time, and Marineland actually acquired many of Sea World’s original animals.  It was necessary for the operators of the new park to differentiate themselves from their neighbor in Los Angeles.  If the LA park was “marine,” they could be “ocean,” “aqua,” “water,” or “sea.”  And if the LA park was a “land,” they had to be one step up the hierarchical ladder, and become a “world.”

Welcome to Florida, New York.

Welcome to Florida, New York.

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Hello ladies.

Hello ladies.

Inside the Florida Pavilion at the New York World's Fair.

Inside the Florida Pavilion at the New York World’s Fair.

There was one other reason to call the park a “world.”  In March 1964, when Sea World opened, “world” was the buzzword of the day.  A month later, the much anticipated 1964/1965 World’s Fair would open in Flushing Meadows, New York.  It was the largest fair on US soil after World War II.  Disney had designed pavilions at the fair for Illinois, General Electric, PEPSI, and Ford.  The celebrated design team of Ray and Charles Eames designed the IBM pavilion.  And the State of Florida brought live dolphins to the fair site in Queens to perform.

Please! I will trade you my baby for a pearl!

Please! I will trade you my baby for a pearl!

In 1964, the world was a very real concept that personally impacted many in San Diego.  Marines and sailors stationed in the area were headed to Vietnam, via Japan and Okinawa.  So they could share with the wives and girlfriends (hoping not having both simultaneously) what they experienced overseas, SeaWorld on opening day featured a Japanese Village, which remained until just a couple of years ago.  Women would dive to the bottom of a tank and pick an oyster, which could then be shucked and the pearl inside placed into a fitting (another great way for a serviceman to keep his loved one happy).

Is SeaWorld (the name condensed due to a trademark case filed by Australia’s Sea World) an oxymoron?  I don’t believe so.  Its animals come from the sea and they come from all over the world.  On opening day, there were animals caught in the Pacific and the Atlantic, performing penguins from Africa, and even in the second year of operation, Amazonian river dolphins. The longest continually running attraction at SeaWorld San Diego is an aquarium, that for most of its existence was known as World of the Sea.

Sea-Arama Marineworld in Galveston Texas, which closed eight months before I arrived on the island to learn marine biology.

Sea-Arama Marineworld in Galveston Texas, which closed eight months before I arrived on the island to learn marine biology.

Years ago, in Galveston, TX, there was a marine life park that a young John Hargrove (former SeaWorld trainer and author) used to visit, where he would watch a young Todd Robeck, now SeaWorld’s Vice President of Theriogenology, train the dolphins.  The place was called Sea-Arama Marineworld.  Now is that an oxymoron?  I couldn’t begin to tell you, because I don’t even know what that means.

What to Expect Stateside from SeaWorld

orlando map

Based on new CEO Joel Manby’s experience at Herschend Family Entertainment, here are a few of the things we’re likely to see happening over the next five years at SeaWorld:

  • An increased emphasis on education, especially interpretive signage.
  • More artisan craftspeople in the parks to feed into the targeted family demographic.
  • Non-theme park standalone attractions.  SeaWorld has already attempted this with its bids for the river tour in downtown San Antonio and the giant wheel in San Diego.  Manby has a successful track record in this market segment.
  • Management contracts over non-SeaWorld owned theme parks, private zoos, and aquariums.
  • The purchase of one or more hotels surrounding the Orlando park and their complete refurbishment and rethemeing, transitioning the Orlando operations from utilizing partner hotels to becoming a fully integrated resort along the lines of Universal Orlando, Walt Disney World, and LEGOLAND Florida.
  • A fourth theme park in Orlando, likely the size of Aquatica or Discovery Cove, to feed into that integrated resort.  Although the type of park is unknown, it would likely carry over the oceans or sea theme of the other three parks and the hotel(s).

A Primer on Writing the AZA to Deny SeaWorld Accreditation

If you’re a SeaWorld fan or supporter, you should head over to Awesome Ocean or another of your beloved fan sites.  This post is not for you.

I’ll lay out my position at the very start – I’m not at all opposed to you writing to the AZA in an effort to cause SeaWorld to lose its accreditation.  I believe that people should follow their hearts, and if your heart says that the animals there live in horrible conditions, then follow it.

But be cautious with your letter.  Writing the AZA is not like sending letters or petitions to AAA or Southwest in efforts to get them to end their partnerships with SeaWorld.  The AZA is one of a number of industry associations representing zoos and aquariums, and you need to take that into account when writing your letter of concern.

First, it’s important to remember that the term “animal rights extremist” was not coined by SeaWorld.  It’s been used throughout the zoo community for quite some time.  So don’t mention PETA or cite any of its websites.  The zoo community as a whole is not a fan of PETA and its tactics.  If you’re going to cite a veterinarian, chose someone with far more experience working with wild and exotic animals than PETA’s Heather Rally, who is less than a year out of veterinary school.  Two women I really admire who are good to quote are Naomi Rose and Ingrid Visser, though I’m not certain how the AZA will accept them because of their crusades to end captivity, and Dr. Rose may be a tougher sell due to her involvement with AB-2140 (more on that later).  Two other good candidates for quotes who have great relationships with AZA zoos and aquariums are Sylvia Earle and Jane Goodall.

Second, the accreditation is for the entire park, so you’ll want to express your concern over a number of animal enclosures, including those for pinnipeds, reptiles, birds – not just the orcas.  Although the AZA has unique guidelines for elephant exhibits and husbandry, it does not for orcas.  The three SeaWorld parks are the only AZA members with orcas, and therefore SeaWorld has established the standard for the Association as a whole.

Third and most important, word your letter carefully.  To the zoo community, there is a big difference between “animal rights” and “animal welfare.”  The goal of animal welfare is to improve the conditions of the exhibit space and the husbandry of the animals.  The goal of animal rights is to remove the animals from captivity altogether – which is in direct contradiction to the purpose of zoos and aquariums.  Letters that have an overtly animal rights tone may not be taken seriously by the AZA.

Fourth, avoid any mention of California’s AB-2140 Orca Safety and Welfare Bill.  Jim Maddy, the President and CEO of the AZA flew to Sacramento and stood before the California Assembly Water, Parks, and Wildlife Committee to express his opposition to the bill on behalf of all of the AZA’s California members.  Lecturing the AZA on why a bill they are opposed to is a good thing will likely get your letter placed at the bottom of the pile, especially if you attempt to write about the bill while failing to note the AZA’s objection to it, showing that you really haven’t paid that much attention to the bill and its proceedings.

Fifth, the accreditations are not for SeaWorld as a corporate entity, but for the individual San Diego and Orlando parks. Sending individual letters for each park will provide a better assist to the committee in making its decisions than an overriding letter about the parent company’s policies.  It may also be worth your while to spend your funds and visit one or both of the parks up for accreditation.  First person accounts go much farther than third person citations, especially if the source material involves the animal rights movement.

Finally, the letters should be site and time specific.  Only the San Diego and Orlando parks are being evaluated.  Any other parks owned by SeaWorld, such as San Antonio or Tampa, or parks or aquariums where SeaWorld animals are or have been on loan, such as the Georgia Aquarium, Marineland of Canada, or Loro Parque, are irrelevant.  The committee is also only concerned with the current situation at the two parks.  Do not include incidents or policies more than five year old and do not include any future planned projects, including the Blue World Project orca habitats.

One of the more popular form letters going around was posted on change.org.  The author intends it to have double the impact, with the intention that British Airways will drop its alliance with SeaWorld if the parks lose accreditation.  I commend her for her forward thinking.  This letter is a perfect example – as in a perfect example of how not to write a letter to the AZA.  Let’s take a look.

The author separates the letter into sections based on different aspects of the AZA Accreditation Standards.

  • “Animals must be managed as appropriate for long-term genetic viability of the species, which means careful planning of resource allocation, exsitu breeding, and ex-situ/in-situ conservation and research.”

The author begins by referring to orcas at Loro Parque, Spain.  These orcas are irrelevant to the accreditation process as they reside at neither the San Diego nor Orlando parks undergoing inspection.  She then offers a link to the Captive Cetaceans website, one I myself use often as a reference, but one that is obviously opposed to SeaWorld. The linked post on Captive Cetaceans does not cite any supporting documentation, research papers, or researchers working in the field with orcas to back up its data. Finally, the author only addresses orcas and not other animals in the parks.

  • “All animals must be housed in enclosures and in appropriate groupings which meet their physical, psychological, and social needs.”

This response entails a number of valid concerns that have been addressed by the public.  The problems, as in the above section, remain an emphasis on orcas instead of inclusion of other animals and the mention of Loro Parque.  Only care in San Diego and Orlando are relevant.  Anything that happened to SeaWorld orcas in San Antonio, Canada, or Spain are irrelevant to this accreditation process.

  • “Also, providing program animals with choices and control over their environment (e.g., whether they want to participate in a program on any given day), where and when appropriate, is essential to ensuring effective care and management.”

The author quotes former SeaWorld trainer Jeff Ventre from a blog post on the WDC website.  Mr. Ventre left SeaWorld in 1995.  While his experience has proven relevant in the world of public opinion, Mr. Ventre is recounting his experiences from 20 or more years ago in this statement, which makes it irrelevant to the AZA’s accreditation process.  A quote from a trainer who has left during the past few years, such as John Hargrove, Bridgette Pirtle, or Branden Loetz would be more time appropriate to the investigation.  The AZA is concerned with current procedures, not with what occurred 20 years ago.

  • “The animals must be protected from weather or other environmental conditions clearly known to be detrimental to their health.”

The author responds by stating that captivity itself is detrimental to the life of orcas.  This is the wrong thing to state to an association whose entire existence is based on captivity.  And, as before, the author concentrates solely on orcas, ignoring other animals in the parks.

  • “Institutions that acquire aquatic animals from the wild will make a good faith effort to determine that collecting procedures are done in a sustainable manner”

The response centers on the capture of the Southern Resident killer whales in the 1960’s and 1970’s.  Not only are British Columbian and Icelandic captures ignored, but anything before the turn of the 21st century is pretty much irrelevant to the inquiry.  The AZA is not interested in what took place in the past.  It’s interested in how the parks currently handle captures, which also include their large collections of fish and birds.  If the AZA went back and accredited each and every zoo based on the methods of acquisition that took place decades and, in some cases, centuries ago, it would end up denying the majority membership.

  • “Institutions dealing with commercial collectors must determine that the collectors are properly permitted to conduct legal collections of animals (including aquatic animals) from the wild.”

The response to this section is almost identical to the above and contains the same faults.

  • “The animal is used in a respectful, safe manner and in a manner that does not misrepresent or degrade the animal.”

Although the dorsal fin collapse argument is valid, the lifespan argument does not address this particular AZA standard. Orcas have only been in captivity for the last 51 years.  It is impossible, therefore, for a single captive orca to have reached the same age as wild counterparts.  Besides, the AZA is concerned with the current situation, not the overall 51-year situation.  The current situation includes orcas that are in their 30’s and 40’s, well on their way to matching their wild counterparts. On another note, the author fails to address how the animals are not used in a respectful and safe manner or are degraded.  This is where choreographed shows with blaring music and lights for entertainment purposes might be addressed – something that does not appear anywhere in this letter.

So what can we expect the outcome of this letter writing campaign to be?

  • If the majority of letters are like the one above, they will likely have a minimal impact and the two SeaWorld parks will be reaccredited.
  • However, the committee could take into account some of the points made about orcas in SeaWorld’s care and place the parks on table accreditations.  These provisional one-year actions allow the parks to retain their accreditations while fixes are made. They’re followed by a follow-up inspection and second hearing.
  • If the AZA opts to deny the membership altogether, the parks will have 60 days to appeal.  Once the appeal is denied, they will have to wait a full year from the date of the original denial to reapply for accreditation.  Although this won’t result in the death of animals as some have claimed, it will result in the loss of AZA program privileges, including staff and animal exchanges and participation in Species Survival Plans, which will affect mostly non-mammalian animals in the SeaWorld collection.  However, this loss will be offset by their memberships in WAZA and AMMPA and by their individual relationships with other zoos and aquariums.
  • If they lose both AZA and WAZA membership, they will retain their AMMPA membership, which will place them in the same league as the Miami Seaquarium.
  • Or they could opt to join the ZAA on top of the AMMPA membership.  ZAA is the other major zoo and aquarium trade association in the United States.  Its rules are more lenient than the AZA with regards to breeding and visitor interaction.  This would place SeaWorld on the same membership and accreditation level as Six Flags Discovery Kingdom.

The best advice I can give is don’t write your letter like the one above.  The author attempted to address the principles behind the standards.  But that’s not what the investigation team and the committee are looking at.

If you want to have an extremely effective letter, you need to address almost all of the Areas of Primary Focus starting on the bottom of Page 32 of the 2015 AZA Guide to Accreditation.  And the only way to effectively to do this is to visit the parks and ask the staff questions.  When animal activists like Ric O’Barry, Naomi Watts, Ingrid Visser, Russ Rector, and others, want to know exactly what shape things are in, they go and see it first hand.  It will be painful to fork over your money to a company your detest and it will be painful to experience animals in conditions you find hideous, so bring a few hundred extra dollars with you.  You’re going to need a side trip to a Disney park afterwards to bring the happy back into your life.  But you’ll also be bringing a very effective letter to life.

Initial Analysis of Potential Construction Issues with Blue World Project

By Joe Kleiman, The Mid-Cap Chronicles

© 2014 Joseph L. Kleiman.  All rights reserved. Content may not be reproduced, downloaded, disseminated, published, or transferred in any form or by any means, except with the prior written permission of the author.

Although I have relatives who have been employed by the California State Contractor’s Licence Board and the Navy Corps of Engineers, this is an independent assessment.  To the best of my knowledge, it does not represent the beliefs of any state or federal agency, my employer, or my clients.  I do not profess to be either a trained engineer or a construction expert and the following are solely my observations.

I shall not question whether or not the Blue World Project will take place.  For the purposes of this essay, it is assumed that it shall.  Neither shall I question where the funding will come from.  Although irrelevant to this discussion, including the three orca habitats and additional announced improvements at the Texas park, I have low balled the cost at $375 million, with a high ball figure based on potential cost overrides and delays at $600 million.

According to the current plans, all three SeaWorld parks will maintain the existing stadium pools, and ancillary pools for holding orcas and medical examination. The existing stadium grandstands will remain, as will performance-based orca shows.  In San Diego and Orlando, an existing secondary show pool currently used for “Dine with Shamu” presentations will be enlarged into the Blue World Project habitat.  In San Antonio, where such a pool does not exist, the habitat will be all new construction immediately adjacent to the existing Shamu Stadium.  In addition to the orca habitat, San Antonio is also set to begin construction on a new sea lion habitat featuring a new counter service restaurant and a new dolphin habitat.

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SAN DIEGO

Based on an overlay provided by SeaWorld, the San Diego orca habitat will be immediately surrounded by what appears to be a new support building to the south, the existing pools and grandstand to the east, the dolphin habitat to the north, and the park’s new multimillion dollar Explorer’s Reef entrance plaza to the west.  Based on the illustration, the sky bridge bordering the new habitat will be removed, while the eastern entrance to the stadium will now be accessed through the southern portion of the habitat.

Considerations include:

  • Construction noise
  • Dust, dirt, and other debris
  • Potential toxins underground

NOISE AND DEBRIS: It is common practice in zoological parks to relocate animals who reside in close proximity to construction zones to temporary housing farther away.  Three types of animals are directly impacted by the construction of the new orca habitat – the ten orcas currently residing in the park, one of which has recently been confirmed as pregnant, the dolphins residing in the interactive habitat immediately adjacent to the north of the construction zone, and the tide pool animals of Explorer’s Reef.  This may require the construction of temporary housing pools elsewhere in the park or the transfer of some animals to other facilities, be they operated by SeaWorld or others.  Other animals may be impacted by the construction noise as well, particularly if a thick cloud cover is in place over the park, deflecting the sound waves back to land.

The prevailing winds in San Diego flow from the northwest to the southeast.  Any dust and debris picked up from the construction zone will flow directly towards the park’s new entrance and its touch pools.  The construction may require a new temporary park entrance to be put into place during the two to three estimated years of building the new habitat.  At times, the wind shifts, blowing either directly south or to the southwest.  During these times, dust and debris from the construction site may enter the existing orca facility and the Shamu Stadium grandstand.

TOXINS: Approximately 500 feet due east of San Diego’s Penguin Encounter and Wild Arctic exhibits sits South Shores Park.  According to a 2000 article by Jeanette De Wyze in San Diego Reader, three workers excavating the site to build the park in 1988, were exposed to hydrogen sulfide fumes, with one dying shortly after. South Shores Park lies on what was between 1952 and 1959 the city’s landfill.  According to De Wyze, San Diego’s four main military contractors deposited toxic material at the site, including up to a million gallons per year “of chromic, hydrofluoric, nitric, sulfuric, and hydrochloric acids; dichromate; cyanide; and paint and oil wastes.”

A 2003 California Coastal Commission document on Sea World’s request to build it’s Journey to Atlantis facility (which falls outside the historic boundaries of the landfill) states the following:

“. . . one test well had produced an abnormally high reading for hydrogen sulfide during one test. The report itself goes on to state that this was either an anomaly or the result of a deposit of sulfur materials close to the probe, which took the sample from 15 feet underground, not on the ground surface. The report does not conclude that any immediate human health hazard exists at the site of the splash down ride, and monitoring for landfill gases continues at this time as recommended.”

The report goes on to state:

“. . . there is no indication the continued buildout of SeaWorld park in the already developed portion of the leasehold and not the site of the historic landfill, poses any risk to health and safety of the park users.”

As the site for the new orca habitat is on the far end of the property from where the former landfill stood, it’s unlikely, with the exception of toxins potentially having migrated below the water table across Mission Bay’s south shore, that the new facility will be affected by this issue.

SAN ANTONIO

Considerations include:

  • Proximity to existing orca pools
  • Noise
  • Sinkhole

PROXIMITY: San Antonio has the most space available for new construction and the greatest spacing between animal attractions of the three parks.  The new orca habitat will likely be directly adjacent to the small tanks of the current orca facility.  As the current stadium (though not the holding pools) is under a dome, it would be possible to close off the main performance tank from the construction zone (unlike the other parks, all six San Antonio orcas can remain in a single tank without conflict).  As with San Diego, proper zoo construction protocol would make it preferable for the orcas to be relocated during the construction.

NOISE: The noise from three major construction projects in a row, which may overlap in places, could prove to be irritable to park staff, guests, and animals.  Although animal venues are farther spaced out than San Diego, as with the California park, cloud cover could carry noise, including beyond park boundaries into surrounding commercial and residential neighborhoods.

SINKHOLE: The San Antonio park is built upon the limestone bedrock of the Edwards Plateau, however it does not appear that construction to sixty feet would have a negative impact on the Edwards Aquifer and its tributaries as the park falls outside of the Aquifer’s “fresh water zone,” according to the 1986 Geological Society of America publication The Balcones Escarpment: Geology, Hydrology, Ecology and Social Development in Central Texas.

According to the United States Geological Survey (USGS), “Sinkholes are common where the rock below the land surface is limestone, carbonate rock, salt beds, or rocks that can naturally be dissolved by groundwater circulating through them. As the rock dissolves, spaces and caverns develop underground. Sinkholes are dramatic because the land usually stays intact for a while until the underground spaces just get too big. If there is not enough support for the land above the spaces then a sudden collapse of the land surface can occur. These collapses can be small . . . or they can be huge and can occur where a house or road is on top.”

ORLANDO

Considerations include:

  • Noise and debris
  • Aquifer pollution
  • Sinkhole

NOISE AND DEBRIS: Same considerations as the other two parks.  Spacing between the new orca habitat and other animal venues is similar to the situation in Texas.  The conversion of an existing display into the habitat with its proximity to other existing orca tanks parallels the situation in San Diego with minor variables.

AQUIFER POLLUTION: The Orlando park is built on top of the Floridan Aquifer, from which Orlando and surrounding counties obtain fresh water.  In 2008, Scott Powers reported in the Orlando Sentinel that “Salt water from some of the giant pools and related plumbing at SeaWorld Orlando and neighboring Discovery Cove has been leaking into the aquifer, beneath those theme parks, in some cases for seven years or more, according to state environmental records.”

The contamination appeared to have been restricted to the near surface aquifer, and not the deep water aquifer, from which public water is obtained.  However, as Powers points out, “Government regulations forbid companies from degrading any groundwater, whether deep in the earth or near the surface, to levels below drinking-water standards, because that water could one day be needed for human consumption.”

SeaWorld patched up most of the leaking tanks and filtration equipment.  A swim through salt water reef aquarium at Discovery Cove was closed entirely and the space reopened as a new attraction, Freshwater Oasis.  In January 2014, the main show pool at Shamu Stadium was shutdown in order to perform maintenance on the structure without water being in the pool.  It’s not known if any of this maintenance was related to the earlier leakage into the aquifer and SeaWorld was not consulted in the research and writing of this piece.

SINKHOLE: Florida is as prone to sinkholes, if not more so, than Texas.  When one considers the amount of concrete that must be pored at the base of the structure to prevent leakage, and the fact the water depth in the tank is equivalent to a five story underground parking garage, the excavation could be as deep as sixty feet.

The USGS states this about sinkholes related to the Floridan Aquifer and man made structures: “Collapse sinkholes . . . form suddenly by the collapse of the roof of a large solution cavity Such large cavities commonly form where ground water circulation is vigorous, thus accelerating the dissolution of the limestone. As the cavity expands laterally, its roof gradually flakes off under the effect of gravity. Continued dissolution and spalling of the cavity roof proceed until the roof suddenly collapses under the weight of the overlying material, and a steep-sided, circular sinkhole forms. Collapse sinkholes form either in places where the cavity roof consists entirely of limestone, or where clay forms a bridge over the cavity; they are the type of sinkhole that usually forms in response to human activities. Additional loading of the land surface by construction of surface-water impoundments or buildings . . . or harmonic loads produced by the vibratory action of passing trains or heavy construction equipment have all been known to trigger sinkhole collapse.”

However, if proper engineering is used and salt water leakage is nonexistent, there should be no issue with a sixty foot construct, as it’s still a distance above the Aquifer.  A USGS research well in operation adjacent to SeaWorld is accessing the water at a depth of 239 feet.

But, let’s imagine for the heck of it that a sinkhole suddenly did appear beneath the new orca habitat.  What would it look like? If we imagine the orcas as expensive, rare sports cars, then we could imagine it would look something like this.

The Secret Stash of Mid-Cap Manor: MCC’s Collection of PDF’s on Marine Mammal Captivity Part 1

An ever increasing number of PDF files about marine mammals in captivity are available on The Mid-Cap Chronicles for viewing or download.  Here is a list of some of the current selections being stored at the blog.  I’ll list and link to the remainder later this week.  And I have lots more to add to the collection.  Enjoy.

Marine Mammal Water Quality: Porceedings of a Symposium, USDA APHIS, 1998

Bellazzi, Gabriela Updated Report on the Killer whale Kshamenk, Wild Earth Foundation 2013

2014 OSHA Citation against Miami Seaquarium

Gaydos & Bahan A Review of the Vancouver Aquarium’s current operations pertaining to cetaceans with comparison to other aquariums, UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine – Orcas Island Office, 2014

Brewer, Janesse Captive Cetaceans Roundtable FINAL Meeting Summary, 23.4 Degrees, 2014

Reinhold, Robert At Sea World, Stress Tests Whale and Man, New York Times 1988

Andrews, Davis & Parham Corporate response and facilitation of the rehabilitation of a California gray whale calf, Aquatic Mammals 2001

Complete Global Captive Marine Mammal Index (MMI), NOAA Fisheries 2013

Graham & Dow Dental Care for a Captive Killer Whale, Orcinus orca, Zoo Biology 1990

Colitz, et al Risk factors associated with cataracts and lens luxations in captive pinnipeds in the United States and the Bahamas, JAVMA 2010

Georgia Aquarium Inc. v. Penny Pritzker, in her Official Capacity as Secretary of Commerce, National Atmospheric Administration, and National Marine Fisheries Service, Complaint for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief, United States District Court, Northern District of Georgia, Atlanta Division 2013

Lien, Jon A review of live-capture and captivity of marine mammals in Canada The Department of Fisheries and Oceans, 1999<

Johnson, William Captive Breeding & The Mediterranean Monk Seal: A Focus on Antibes Marineland, International Marine Mammal Association 1994

Klinowska, Margaret Dolphins, Porpoises and Whales of the World: The IUCN Red Data Book, International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources 1991

ABTA Animal Welfare Guidelines: Dolphins in Captive Environments, ABTA 2013

Barbis & Korstad United States Design Patent D604,788 S: Killer Whale Life Vest, USPTO 2009

Animal Legal Defense Fund, et al v. United States Department of Agriculture, et al and Marine Exhibition Corporation, d/b/a Miami Seaquarium Order Granting Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss or In the Alternative for Summary Judgment, United States District Court, Southern District of Florida 2014

Awesome Ocean takes on The Dodo . . . and The Dodo fights back

Launched in January, The Dodo is a site where people who love animals can write about animals.  As the site grew, many of its aspects began to take on animal rights issues, especially regarding SeaWorld.  This didn’t stand well with the folks behind the Unofficial SeaWorld Podcast and the Stand with SeaWorld Facebook page. So this past month they created Awesome Ocean as a way to counter The Dodo.

Both sites have a lot of cute, feel good articles.  Both have a lot of good information.  But both also have a lot of false or misinformation in a number of their pieces, either done on purpose or out of negligence.

Some of that misinformation is very clear to people on both sides of the SeaWorld issue.  I decided to take on The Dodo‘s piece about orca deaths at SeaWorld after a few activists had already pointed out the same errors on The Dodo‘s Facebook page and even a few more.

This problem stems from both sites being designed as tabloids.  Anybody can submit their writing, and many entries (not all) on both sites have the appearance of a blog, an op-ed, or a fifth grade essay. Although both sites have editorial staff, to the best of my knowledge, neither has a scientific advisory board or scientific adviser of any kind that would be able to determine inconsistencies in submissions and increase the objectivity and credibility of each site.

Awesome Ocean was started with the financial assistance of SeaWorld.  Awesome Ocean calls it a “small start-up investment.”  SeaWorld calls it a “small start-up grant.”  While the exact amount has not been disclosed, we do know that it is far less than the $2 million in venture capital funds used to start  The Dodo.

1466159_734585016586042_2638000635839637809_nNaomi Rose, a professional activist scientist and woman in search of a bigger binder, told me via email: “It’s certainly clearly just another SeaWorld PR site.”

However, Eric Davis, founder of Awesome Ocean and professional penguin fancier, told me via phone: “SeaWorld has1477440_10151800453179205_42094218_n just given some funding to help us get this off the ground because they believe in the site.  They have no editorial control at all.  That’s all us.”  SeaWorld even endorsed the site by sending emails to its various mailing lists.

The vast majority of posts on both The Dodo and Awesome Ocean lack any kind of empirical evidence.  The decision in these posts on what’s right and what’s wrong is based purely on the subjectivity of personal morals, ethics, and beliefs.  Anyone can look at a single issue in a number of ways, such as orca pregnancy in captivity.

One side can say SeaWorld is breeding their orcas too young and getting them pregnant at too short an interval between pregnancies as compared to the wild.   The other can say that pregnancy patterns in the wild are based upon the societal needs of an individual population or pod, whereas those parameters do not exist in captivity.

One side can say that getting orcas pregnant in captivity serves no conservation purpose and does not help wild populations.  The other can say that many scientists and researchers use gestation figures determined at SeaWorld when writing papers on wild populations, as accurate gestation periods in the wild cannot be determined.

As an examination of how personal values affect our decissions, I asked a few anti-cap friends of mine the following question and posted it on a couple of internet groups primarily populated by anti-caps:

If the Walt Disney Company were to own SeaWorld, would you boycott its theme parks, cruise ships, films, and other products?

The overwhelming answer was “Yes.”

I then pointed out that the cruise line currently contract with a number of swim with dolphin operators and the company itself owns four dolphins at EPCOT it uses for swim programs.

The vast majority that had said “Yes” suddenly changed their answer.  Some of the responses:

“I don’t know how I could tell my five year old she can’t see Finding Dory.”

“My seven year old loves Disney so much!”

“I’ve been a fan of Disney since I was a kid.  I can’t give that up.”

“I have relatives that work at Disney. I couldn’t do that to them.”

“I guess you can enjoy the park, just skip the dolphin show.”

The irony of the last statement is that it can also be said of SeaWorld.  In fact, using that philosophy, I was able on a recent visit to Six Flags Discovery Kingdom, to enjoy the entire park while not encountering a single animal.

I have a feeling that had I gone on to mention Disney’s longstanding and currently expanding relationship with the owners of Ringling Brothers, the vultures that died in an unventilated shed, or the cheetah cubs that died from exposure to chemicals, I would have received the same answers.  (For the record, I believe Disney’s current level of animal husbandry is among the top of the industry.)

So which site, The Dodo or Awesome Ocean, is right?  The question that should be asked is: Which site is right for you?

DISCLAIMER: I had been asked to provide a piece for Awesome Ocean prior to its launch.  As the launch date kept getting pushed farther and farther back, I opted to pull my piece and not provide content for the site.  The piece originally submitted to Awesome Ocean, on orca mortality rates, now appears on this blog in the SeaWorld Myths category.  Additionally, I was never informed prior to Awesome Ocean‘s launch that SeaWorld was financially backing the site.  Had I been aware, I would not have agreed to submit my article in the first place as that may have been construed as a conflict of interest with work I do for certain clients.

It’s a good day. As much as I really wanted, I managed to write the entire post without mentioning the problems with sequential hermaphroditism in captive black sea bass.  It’s fascinating.  Look it up.