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.
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?
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!