Floridians Come Together for Clean Water

On Saturday, November 16th, I had the pleasure of attending the Citizens’ Clean Water Summit. Over 250 people from all over Florida came together in Orlando to talk about something that is often taken for granted: clean water. Florida waterways are currently facing very serious problems, some of which I was not even aware of until the summit, and the regions in Florida are not all facing the exact same problem, but the one thing that we have in common is that we have had it– we want clean water and we want it now.

I love living next to the beautiful Indian River Lagoon, the most biologically diverse estuary in North America. I love looking out on the Lagoon and suddenly seeing a few dorsal fins from bottlenose dolphins appear and I love seeing manatees moseying along. My appreciation for these beautiful animals led me to be a clean water advocate and made me appreciate where I live. Reading articles about the mass die-offs of the wildlife in the Lagoon make me feel physically ill. Hearing about more and more people contracting flesh-eating bacterial infections from being near the Lagoon makes me afraid to go near the thing that I love most about my home. I’m tired of my elected officials wasting time and ordering more and more scientific studies because the studies that have already been conducted are “inconclusive”. I’m angry that Big Sugar and fertilizer companies are being protected over the health of Floridians and the beautiful wildlife that used to thrive here. All these reasons are why I attended the Citizens’ Clean Water Summit.

Image

photo by Jennifer Winter

The point of the summit was to build a network of clean water advocates from every region of the Sunshine State so that we can come together as one and take action. We began to plan local actions as well as one unified action to take place in Tallahassee– more details on that soon!

I left the summit with even more reasons to be angry– polluted springs in central Florida, extreme “green slimealgae blooms all over the state, coral reef die-offs in the Keys– but I also left with a smile because now I have more faith than ever that we can do something to make things better. I am now a proud member of a statewide network of over 250 individuals and 119 organizations. We have the power to fix these problems, and we’re going to. It is going to take time, hard work, and many unified voices, but it will all be worth it because we will save Florida’s water.

Are you a Floridian who is interested in joining the fight? E-mail me at afagan@finsandfluke.org! 

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Kiska, the World’s Loneliest Killer Whale; a Q&A with Dr. Naomi Rose

Dr. Naomi Rose is the marine mammal scientist for the Animal Welfare Institute in Washington, DC. Dr. Rose addresses marine mammal policy issues at AWI, including the protection of marine mammals in the wild and in captive situations. She has been instrumental in campaigns opposing the capture and captivity of marine mammals for public display and has been a key player in the international debate on the issue. She is actively involved in several campaigns and coalitions addressing problems associated with cetacean live capture, trade, and captivity, both in the U.S. and abroad. Dr. Rose has been a member of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) Scientific Committee since 2000, where she participates in the subcommittees on environmental concerns and whale watching. She has appeared and been quoted in numerous news media, including television and radio. She has authored or co-authored over 30 scientific papers and authored numerous articles for animal protection publications, as well as chapters in several books. She lectures annually at three universities and speaks at and participates in various conferences, workshops, meetings, and task forces at the international, national and state level. She has testified before the U.S. Congress four times. Dr. Rose received a Ph.D. in biology from the University of California at Santa Cruz in 1992, where her dissertation examined the social dynamics of wild orcas. She has worked in the marine mammal advocacy field for over 20 years.

Naomi recently visited Marineland while attending the Blackfish fundraising event held in Niagara. We decided to catch up with her and ask her a few questions about the facility, Kiska the Killer Whale and the general well-being of the animals residing at the park. Some of the questions were based off of observations from our visit to Marineland in May of this year.

Copyright: Fins and Fluke

Copyright: Fins and Fluke

Alex: How did Kiska appear to you? Was she active or floating motionless? 

Dr. Rose: She was both. Most of the time we observed her (about a half hour) she was motionless, but there was a brief 3-4 min period when she became quite active (we believe she was reacting to the feeding activity going on with the belugas in the next tank). She hauled herself entirely onto the shallow ramp, did a tail slap, and swam quite fast in a straight line, but then she settled back into floating motionless, swimming slowly near the  bottom, and otherwise circling the front half of the tank slowly.

She seemed a bit underweight – there was a suggestion of a slight depression behind her blowhole, a diagnostic sign of weight loss in cetaceans. She had a necrotic-looking patch on her dorsal fin. Otherwise her skin was normal. To my eyes, she seemed depressed. I wonder what she is “thinking” – it is not normal for an orca to be entirely alone as she is and none of the training staff interacted with her the entire time we were watching. Her state of mind is simply and literally unimaginable.

Alex: While you visited the facility did you see any human to whale interaction with Kiska? Do you feel that Marineland has indeed imposed an “enrichment program” as ordered by the OSPCA?

Dr. Rose: No one interacted with her for the half hour we were observing her. I saw no evidence of an enrichment program.

Alex: What could Marineland do to improve Kiska’s life and well-being?

Dr. Rose: Certainly she should have some “toys” in the tank with her. The training staff should also interact with her throughout the day – she should never go more than a half hour without some interaction from her caretakers. She should continue to be trained for basic husbandry behaviors – it’s something to keep her occupied. In other words, she can be alone (without other cetaceans) without being alone, as it were, as Keiko was when he was in Oregon.

Alex: In comparison to SeaWorld, how does ML measure up? In terms of care and animal well-being?

Dr. Rose: My apologies, but generally speaking I don’t compare or rate facilities. However, Marineland is not offering adequate stimulation or enrichment for Kiska. The belugas’ conditions in Arctic Cove are crowded. The lack of natural light in the Aquarium for the pinnipeds is unfortunate and they too lack enrichment, although at least they have companions. Generally speaking, the enclosures at Marineland are either overly small (the Aquarium and King Waldorf Stadium) or over-crowded (Arctic Cove – the number of belugas in Friendship Cove is also high, but not as high as in Arctic Cove).

Alex: Do all the animals at this facility look to be in poor health? 

Copyright: Fins and Fluke

Copyright: Fins and Fluke

Dr. Rose: I don’t know that Kiska is in poor health, actually. She isn’t behaving normally for an orca (captive or wild) and her behavior suggests depression, but that doesn’t mean she is in poor physical health. Other than the odd blemish on her dorsal fin and a suggestion of being underweight (which might not actually be the case), I didn’t see any outward physical signs of poor health. I can’t make that judgment based on a half hour’s observation.

The other animals we saw seemed okay. All the seals and sea lions were active except for one seal, who was relatively inactive. They seemed up to weight, had no obvious wounds or sores, and the seals’ eyes were open. One sea lion was swimming oddly – she was keeping her head above water the whole way around the tank and when she dipped her head below the surface now and again, she closed her eyes (her eyes were mostly open above the surface). The belugas all seemed active and up to weight.

The tanks had obviously been recently scrubbed and the water was clear. However, Arctic Cove had some significantly peeling paint all around the tank walls.

The primary impression I always have when I visit Marineland is the degree to which the animals are left to their own devices in barren enclosures. There is little to no enrichment for any of them, marine or terrestrial, and other than in King Waldorf Stadium, an odd lack of interaction with training staff. We were there when they were feeding the belugas, but in between those feeding sessions, no one seems to interact with the non-performance animals at all.

Alex: Lastly, What do you think the future holds for Kiska? What would be the most humane “plan” for her?

Dr. Rose: I wish I knew! In her current situation, I simply cannot imagine what her state of mind is. I thought Tilikum was the loneliest whale in the world, but that dubious honor is held by Kiska now.

The most humane plan in the near term would be to move her to another facility with orcas. The most humane plan in the long-term is the same plan for all the world’s captive orcas – she should be retired to a sea pen.

______________________________________________________________

If you’d like to know more about the animals at Marineland please visit the Star expose articles here or follow the Marineland: In Depth blog for the latest news. There is also a fantastic petition created by Marineland Whistleblower, Phil Demers, here that can be signed and shared via social media. Lastly, I’d like to thank Dr. Rose for taking time out of her busy schedule to answer my questions about Kiska and Marineland; thank you for all that you do Dr. Rose!

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Call to Action: Stand Up for the Indian River Lagoon

The Indian River Lagoon, North America’s most biologically diverse estuary, is facing massive wildlife die-offs in a record amount of time. That’s not a big deal, right?

Yes, it’s a huge deal.

This is an issue that has been brewing for quite a while and it is finally starting to get the attention that it needs, but we need to act fast. Algae is taking over the Lagoon, killing seagrass, suffocating the inhabitants, and although there are many suspected culprits of what is causing the algae to grow in such an abundance and so rapidly, excess nutrient pollution is undeniably a large part of the problem. Excess nutrients wash into the Indian River Lagoon during summer, the rainy season, and that is why we need to urge the local governments to implement strong protective ordinance complete with a ban on fertilizer use during the summer months. Lush, green lawns are nice and all, but a healthy lagoon is better.

This Thursday, July 18th,  at 9am, the county commissioners of Indian River County are holding a special meeting on this subject. The county is currently considering passing a weak state ordinance that will fail to protect Florida’s water quality and does not include a summer moratorium on summer fertilizer use.

Please take time to call or write to the Indian River County commissioners and urge them to pass strong ordinances that protect the beautiful Indian River Lagoon, and the amazing creatures that call it home, such as the bottlenose dolphin and the West Indian manatee.

Florida manatee in Fort Pierce, FL. Photo by Amanda Fagan

 You can find the commissioner’s contact information here. We have constructed a small sample letter that you can e-mail to the commissioners.

Tips

  • be polite and courteous
  • use strong language such as “I urge you” and “I am calling on you”
  • tell them why this issue is important to you personally

 

To Whom it May Concern,

I am writing you today urging you to support a protective ordinance for the Indian River Lagoon, including a summer ban on the use of nitrogen and phosphorous fertilizers. The Indian River Lagoon is the lifeblood of the Treasure Coast and we all need to do everything in our power to protect it. The massive wildlife die-offs in the Indian River Lagoon are undeniably unusual and alarming, and this tragedy has captured the attention of people all over the world.

I am calling on you to choose the Indian River Lagoon, the lifeblood of the Treasure Coast, over the fertilizer industry. Please pass a strong ordinance, complete with a summer fertilizer usage moratorium, and stand up for the Lagoon.

We can save the Lagoon!

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Fins and Fluke review Blackfish

blackfishI had the pleasure of being able to catch a one-time screening of Blackfish at the USA Film Festival in Dallas this weekend. I had high expectations for this film following many positive and amazing reviews; I was blown away and all my expectations were all met plus some!

The film opens with a powerful scene that will draw you in almost instantly. The interviews performed by ex-SeaWorld trainers were incredible: moving, emotional and heartbreaking at times. Several of their accounts in this film were brand new to the public. Former employee Carol Ray shares a memory about the removal of the original baby Shamu, Katina, and her mother, Kalina’s heart wrenching reaction had me in tears along with the entire theater. Another former trainer, John Hargrove, recalls a similar event with yet another baby ripped away from its mother. Seeing the chilling footage of this beautiful being crying out for her baby broke my heart; that scene will forever remain vivid to me.

Tilikum, the Killer Whale responsible for Dawn Brancheau’s death in 2010, is not portrayed as a killer or monster in this movie. It’s apparent the film maker was careful to paint a more insightful picture of an Orca who has spent many years of his life suffering. Many detailed narratives from previous trainers and Orca experts add to this to prove to the public a very important point skipped over by the media; perhaps Tilikum isn’t the only one responsible for such an awful situation. The film is thought provoking enough you will question the very facility you thought you trusted!

Brace yourself for other scenes in this movie that will move you to tears; bring tissues because you will need them! The terrifying near-death scenes of Orca attacks on trainers will have you gripping the edge of your seat. SeaWorld’s awful PR spins of these attacks later presented to the public as “trainer error” will leave you feeling betrayed and angry. Lastly, SeaWorld’s complete and utter disregard for their employees safety will leave a lasting impact sure to change your views on captivity forever. Overall this film was powerful, emotional, sensitive, and informative. It will forever be viewed as a “game changer” in the business of holding Killer Whales in captivity. Visiting SeaWorld will never be the same for you once you’ve viewed this film.

Blackfish is slated for national theater-wide release this summer. Be sure to keep your eyes peeled on the Blackfish website and Facebook page for more up-to-date information. You won’t want to miss this, I assure you!

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

10 Tips To Be A Better Animal Advocate For Our Oceans!

ImageWe tend to get the same question on a daily basis, “What can I do to help?”. We have constructed this  guide  specifically for you in mind! Below are ten tips to be a better animal advocate for our oceans:

1) Utilize social media! Teach yourself how to use Facebook and Twitter. There are many great videos and how-to’s on the Internet. We highly recommend this video for Twitter and these written instructions for Facebook.

2) Read as many articles and books as possible. If you see us post an article on our Facebook page you should take the time to read it; we post these articles to further educate you on important issues.

3) Read petitions before you sign them. We say this to ensure that you know exactly what you are backing when you sign it. More times than not people don’t actually read the petitions wording and end up supporting something that they actually don’t agree with.

4) Respond to a call to action! If you are unable to fax or call then email or pass on the information to someone who can. The more people that respond and take action the bigger the impact we will have.

5) Share information on social media! Once you’ve figured out the basics of Facebook and Twitter, we strongly suggest “sharing” articles, books, movies and images on a regular basis. In doing so you are spreading the word to other people.

6) Wear t-shirts related to your cause when you are going to be “out and about”. You may garner some attention or you may lead someone to decide to educate themselves further! We can’t help but suggest a Fins and FlukeOccupy Marineland, Sea Shepherd or Save Japan Dolphins t-shirt!

7) Talk to your friends and family about the causes that are most important to you. This goes hand in hand with reading the most recent articles and studies so you know exactly what you are talking about.

8) Write a blog! Even if it’s just about your thoughts on Taiji or global warming, you are still doing your part. If we can all come together and support each other for the oceans it’s worth it in the end. If you have an article or blog post you’d like us to repost please send it to our email or Facebook page!

9) Volunteer for an organization you respect. All around the world there are opportunities to get involved whether you are in a landlocked state or out on open water. We recommend getting involved in any shape or form and lending your spare time to something you care about. If you can’t volunteer we highly suggest donating even a small amount to an organization the you support.

10) Finally, keep up the great work! We are impressed and inspired by people who care and who continue to strive to improve the earth we live on. In reading these tips it’s apparent that you have compassion for our oceans and we appreciate you!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Are Dolphin-Safe Tuna Labels Eco-Safe?

For many grocery shoppers a dolphin-safe label on their tuna can be a huge incentive to buy that product. Let’s face it; millions of people around the world adore dolphins. Buying a can of tuna that is advertised to the public that no dolphins were harmed can bring a sense of comfort. But what does the “dolphin-safe” label really mean? Does it mean that dolphins were safe from catch methods, or does it mean that there is no dolphin meat in that product?

Image

Mother and calf awaiting release from tuna fishing net. Copyright ecosafetuna.org

The current US laws on dolphin-safe labeling can be extremely misleading to the public. When the Marine Mammal Protection Act was created and later enforced, dolphins in US waters were finally safe from tuna fishermen. However, this does not address tuna fish caught in other parts of the world. The dolphin-safe label seen on almost all cans of tuna in American grocery stores does not actually cover the protection of dolphins, and other marine life, outside of the Eastern Tropical Pacific. The label actually only takes the method of fishing into consideration and NOT the bycatch. Taking into account that tuna is the number one seafood import in America this news should be extremely alarming to consumers. “Dolphin-safe” labels should not be deemed eco-friendly or even dolphin-friendly for that matter.

After further digging it is apparent that the tuna fishing industry is left unregulated by any agency. The Campaign for Eco-safe tuna reports that “98% of tuna sold in the United States originates from unmonitored and untracked fisheries where thousands of dolphins are killed every year”. Does this mean that there is a possibility that dolphin meat could actually be in your tuna can? Recent statistics say that 1 in 5 people believe that “dolphin-safe” means no dolphin meat is in the can itself. The sad and very tragic fact of the matter is  that dolphins have been harmed and killed due to tuna fishing methods and later discarded as bycatch.

Image

An example of shark bycatch from tuna fisherman. Copyright to Ecosafetuna.org

Shark Conservation, for many animal advocates, is a hot topic. With a study released just last month in Marine Policy we are looking at a large drop in shark population numbers. The study suggests that 3 sharks are killed every second, totaling around 100 million a year. Where are all these sharks going, might you ask? Obviously a large percentage of these majestic predators are being slaughtered for the shark-fin trade, but what about the tuna industry? It is reported by several organizations that sharks are indeed a bycatch in the tuna fishing business. The fishing practices of these companies also cause harm to other species of animals in the oceans including whales, turtles and seabirds. The sad truth to this matter is that sharks have also been harmed and killed by tuna fisherman and  later discarded.

It’s time to take a stand; action is everything! The current Dolphin-safe Tuna labeling is outdated and destructive to our oceans. The United States needs to update the tuna fish labels and allow a neutral international commission to regulate, track, and oversee the tuna Fish caught in our oceans and sold in our stores. We truly need a new system that considers bycatch instead of catch methods. As a consumer we urge you to please educate yourself further in this matter, talk to your local lawmakers and make conscious efforts to decrease your consumption of canned tuna.

Sources:

http://ictsd.org/i/news/bioresreview/132205/

http://beachchairscientist.com/2013/03/20/3-truths-on-the-fables-about-dolphin-safe-labels/

http://www.ecosafetuna.org/case-for-ecosafe-tuna/why-dolphin-safe-tuna-isnt.html

http://oceana.org/en/blog/2013/03/new-report-100-million-sharks-are-killed-each-year

http://www.pewtrusts.org/our_work_detail.aspx?id=140

http://www.ecosafetuna.org/case-for-ecosafe-tuna/current-us-law.html

http://www.iattc.org/DolphinSafeENG.htm

Posted in Uncategorized | 6 Comments

Take A Stand in Defense of Animal Welfare & Marine Park Whistleblowers

Image
Marineland Canada is one of Ontario’s most popular tourist attractions. Until Phil Demers, a Marineland senior trainer, went public (via the Toronto Star) with how Marineland treats its animals, no one really knew about the horrific conditions in which those animals live and die. You can find the Star’s extensive investigation series into what goes on behind-the-scenes at Marineland here.

In response to Demer’s actions, Marineland and its owner, John Holer, fired and sued Christine Santos, who happens to be Demers’ girlfriend. And now Demers has been sued as well, AND he has been threatened with additional legal action as well. Demers and Santos now face crippling legal bills, just to defend themselves, and financial ruin if they can’t muster a legal defense.

What can you do to help?

1. Please make a donation of any amount to Phil and Christine’s Legal Defense fund on Indiegogo. Even a donation of $5 or $10 – will help. If you can afford more, fantastic! And we are grateful for any amount you can give, large or small. The Indiegogo campaign has just two weeks to run, and we need to blast through the fund-raising target of $25,000, and go as high as possible, to show Marineland that it can’t get away with using lawsuits to attempt to punish and bankrupt whistleblowers. Click here to donate – the site is easy to use, please contact us if you have any questions or send an email to info@finsandfluke.org.

2. After you’ve donated, please change your Facebook and/or Twitter profile picture to the shot of Phil and Smooshi, the walrus whose welfare motivated Phil to speak out about Marineland. Then consider updating your Facebook status to: “I’ve just changed my profile picture to show I made a donation to help fight for the animals at Marineland, and to protect marine park whistleblowers. If you would like to take a stand, too, find out more here,” and include a link to the donation site. You have permission to use the photo in this article.

3. Please help us spread the word on Twitter. Here are some sample tweets you can copy & paste:

Pls take a stand 4 #marinepark #animals & against #whistleblower intimidation by @MarinelandCan #Smooshi #Kiska http://www.indiegogo.com/Marinelandabuse

@MarinelandCan intimating #Whistleblowers – take a stand & donate to help #Animals & #Smooshi & #Kiska http://www.indiegogo.com/Marinelandabuse

I donated to #Whisteblowers intimated by @MarinelandCan to save #animals & #Smooshi – you can too here: http://www.indiegogo.com/Marinelandabuse

Help #Whistleblowers & #Smooshi by donating to #Whistleblowers who take a stand against @MarinelandCan here: http://www.indiegogo.com/Marinelandabuse

4. Spread the word on any other social networks you use including Google+, Pinterest, Tumblr etc.

5. Finally, if you have any legal connections, or know of any Ontario lawyers who might consider taking Demers’ case on pro bono or at a reduced rate, please private message us or email info@finsandfluke.org

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

New Years Resolutions for 2013

FAF action is everything

As a new organization we are keen to set goals for ourselves in the new year. We have decided to write a list of new years resolutions for 2013; these are all things we wish to achieve realistically. All of these points are in no particular order, we deem them to all be important and hope to resolve each one.

  1. A member from our team, Paige Nelson, will be present for the Marineland opening day protest. We will continue to “cover” MarineLand and the ex-trainers who have bravely spoken out about the neglect to the marine mammals presently living at this facility. 
  2. Continued pressure on Yahoo to stop the sale of Whale meat on their website. You can find an important petition here. Additionally we will be starting an email campaign on this in the near future.
  3. We are going to continue to promote this petition to APHIS & the USDA to reinstate the swim-with-dolphin-program regulations. We believe in protecting the dolphins, even if they are forced to be in captivity (something we obviously wish to change in time).
  4. We are hoping to raise enough funding for the first Marine Sanctuary in Europe for baby Marco’s the dolphin. You can find more info about this here.
  5. The pressure will be kept on IMATA & WAZA for the sake of the dolphins in Taiji. Another important petition to take action right now can be found here.
  6. Keep your eyes peeled for more information pertaining to the application to de-list the Southern Resident Killer Whales. There will be talking points available and instructions on how to make a public-comment.
  7. We will continue the good fight for better Manta Ray protections world-wide. We are hoping to have some events pertaining to this in the future.
  8. We will keep the pressure on Resorts World Sentosa regarding their 24 wild-caught dolphins. The goal is to have them all released back into the wild. An event to send an email to the resort is here.
  9. We would like to see a world-wide ban on Shark Finning. We will be hosting several events nation-wide throughout the year calling for a ban on the sale of Shark fin soup. Keep your eyes peeled on our facebook page for those.
  10. Lastly, we will continue to support other organizations that share the same common goals as us. We hope to partner with a few very important organizations in the future to cover as much ground as possible.

The list may seem long and daunting, but we are a group of passionate, hard-working and dedicated individuals to our cause. Keep your eyes peeled, 2013 is going to be a good year for our oceans!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment