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While we thank Channel 10 for the opportunity to respond to these questions, we must express our disappointment regarding your sources. It appears that in researching this story you have accepted as fact the propaganda of animal rights extremists whose sole objective is denying Americans the privilege of experiencing marine mammals in places like SeaWorld. We have long been the leader in marine mammal display. The welfare of SeaWorld’s animals is our highest priority. SeaWorld parks have displayed killer whales for nearly four decades and in that time, we have conducted more than 160,000 shows and millions of interaction sessions, including husbandry, training, research, enrichment, play, veterinary care and exercise. While we recognize that there is an element of risk in any animal interaction, there have been a remarkably small number of serious incidents and no fatalities. We’d also like to remind KGTV and its viewers that correct common name for this species is “killer whale” not “orca.” “Orca” is part of the species’ Latin name. The shorthand “orca,” while in wide use, is incorrect. It would be like calling dogs “familiarus” or horses “caballus.”
Q1: Does SeaWorld have any comment on the deaths of the whales during the capture years ago in Puget Sound? 1965-1974? A: Collections that occurred more than four decades ago have no bearing on the SeaWorld parks that people visit today. Virtually nothing about killer whales was known in 1965. They were animals so feared and despised that they were routinely used by military pilots for aerial target practice. The techniques used in those early collections would not be employed today, primarily because we know far more about these animals today than we did in 1965. In any event, the question is irrelevant. SeaWorld hasn’t collected a killer whale from the wild since 1978 and can now point to the most successful breeding program for this species in the zoological community. More than 80 percent of our killer whales were born in our parks or other zoological institutions. Many were born to parents and even grandparents who were born in our care. Most of your viewers will recognize that asking the SeaWorld of 2007 to defend collection techniques employed in 1967 is unfair and does nothing to contribute to their understanding of the complex philosophical issues surrounding marine mammal display. It is, in fact, like us asking you to defend your station’s coverage of the Vietnam war. Q2: Specifically, does SeaWorld have a comment on the death of the mother of the original Shamu in 1965 or the deaths of 4 whales during a capture for SeaWorld by Ted Griffin and Don Goldsberry? (Goldsberry became a VP for SeaWorld) We understand that the park was
owned by another entity at that time but wanted to offer you an opportunity to respond to this question. A: The death of any animal under any circumstances saddens us, but we’re left to wonder why we are being asked about collections that occurred more than 40 years ago. We are not affiliated with Don Goldsberry or Ted Griffin in any way. They are not employed by SeaWorld now and, according to our records, haven’t been for decades. Here are the facts on killer whale collection: The Marine Mammal Protection Act, a federal law that exists to protect marine mammals in zoological habitats and wild marine mammals in U.S. territorial waters, sets out the terms under which animals like killer whales can be collected from the wild for public display. The MMPA did not exist until 1972 so any collection from the wild before then relied on techniques that would likely not meet MMPA standards and would certainly be unacceptable to SeaWorld today. In defense of individuals like Goldsberry and Griffin, however, almost the only thing known about killer whales in 1965 was that they were animals to be feared and despised. Fishermen shot them as a matter of routine. If there is a higher sensitivity and respect for these animals today, places like SeaWorld can claim some measure of credit. And, as a matter of fact, Goldsberry was never a vice president at SeaWorld. Q3: What is SeaWorld doing about whale research to benefit whales in the wild? A: A tremendous amount. Channel 10 itself has aired dozens of stories on SeaWorld’s contribution to the scientific understanding of wild marine animals, including whales. We have funded countless studies of killer whale behavior, including conflicts between fishermen and wild whales in Alaska’s Prince William Sound. We have sent teams to assist wild whales in distress, including a trip in the mid-1990s to rescue eight killer whales from Barnes Lake in Alaska and a trip just last month to stabilize and treat a newborn killer whale beached near Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. We rescue, rehabilitate and release more marine mammals than any organization in the world, including animals like J.J., the California gray whale raised in our care and released off the coast of San Diego. SeaWorld has more than 40 years of leadership in wildlife conservation and education. The success of the parks' animal rescue and rehabilitation programs, educational programs and breeding programs are unparalleled in the world. The knowledge we have gained through the breeding programs in our parks has contributed to our understanding of killer whale biology, reproductive physiology, and behavior. This knowledge is important in assessing the status of wild populations. Originally, scientists thought that the gestation period for killer whales was 12 months. We have shown that in fact gestation is closer to 17 months; important to modeling expected population growth rates in the wild. We have documented growth patterns in killer whale calves. We have studied vocal development in killer whales and demonstrated that killer whale calves learn their vocalizations in a manner similar to the way that human children learn
language. We have developed effective means of handling and transporting killer whales. In a conservation sense, the animals in our zoological population provide a living laboratory for developing knowledge and techniques crucial to the future survival of endangered or threatened killer whale stocks. In fact, the knowledge we have gained from the killer whales in our parks is having an immediate impact on wild populations. For example, scientists from Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute were able to help Alaskan longline fishermen resolve a problem with killer whales taking black cod off their lines. Tensions had elevated to the point where fishermen were applying for “take” permits to use explosives and many whales were being shot. The environmental community was advocating shutting down the fishery. Institute scientists, working from hearing sensitivity curves (audiograms) developed from the SeaWorld collection of killer whales, were able to study the noise made by the fishing vessels as they backhauled their gear, and discerned which components of the noise the whales were able to cue in on. The Institute was then able to recommend how fishermen could quiet their vessels to dramatically reduce the distance over which the vessels could be heard by the whales, thereby resolving the problem. In addition to the scientific research and conservation value of the killer whales at SeaWorld, there is also a significant educational benefit that should not be overlooked. Over the years, nearly 300 million people of all walks of life have visited SeaWorld parks. In our parks, visitors are exposed to marine mammals in an exhilarating and educational manner that is designed to instill an appreciation and respect for all living creatures and natural environments. The exhibits are designed to also inspire visitors to conserve our valuable natural resources by increasing awareness for the interrelationships of humans and the marine environment. Inspiring and engagement through education are the first steps in conservation. And our educational efforts reach well beyond our parks. SeaWorld offers an extraordinary number of special programs, including formal instructional programs for school children and teachers in our parks, outreach programs made available for schools that cannot visit the parks, distance education programs such as "Shamu TV," an award winning environmental television series, and the SeaWorld/Busch Gardens Animal Information Database internet Web site. And, of course, SeaWorld and Busch Gardens devote around-the-clock, behind-thescenes and across-the-globe resources and technology to rescue, treat, shelter and release many species of stranded, sick and injured animals. Our parks rescue, rehabilitate and release more animals than any other organization in the world. Since 1970, the parks have rescued more than 13,000 animals, including several endangered and threatened species that averages out to about one animal rescue every day for the past 34 years. At SeaWorld San Diego alone, more than 4,000 animals have been rescued in the last four decades. Our financial commitment to our Animal Rescue and Rehabilitation Program is estimated at more than one million dollars per year. Q4: What is SeaWorld doing to aid the whale population in the Puget Sound, the pods that provided the first generation of whales for SeaWorld?
A: Much of what is known about the killer whale’s natural history was learned at SeaWorld and in other zoological institutions. Our contributions to the scientific understanding of killer whale social behavior, bioacoustics, anatomy and reproductive biology are a matter of record. We have been called upon several times over the past decade to assist killer whales in Puget Sound, including the rescue of a killer whale named Sandy and rehabilitation of a young whale named Luna. We have provided that assistance without hesitation and entirely at our own expense. Q5: What types of anti-depressants are your trainers providing Orcas? A: None of SeaWorld’s killer whales are given anti-depressants. The context of this and the following question seems to insinuate that our killer whales are stressed. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Combining the fact that they live in large pool complexes, which range from hundreds of thousands to millions of gallons (at or beyond what is required by federal law), with extensive social enrichment programs, high quality food, no contact with predators and the world's best medical care, we know our animals are content and in excellent physical and mental condition. Another demonstration of the healthy and stress free environment for our animals is breeding. We have had many killer whale, dolphin, walrus and other animal births at our park. An animal’s willingness to breed is suggestive of both good physical and mental health. Q6: What type of ulcer medications are your trainers providing Orcas? What dosage? A: We provide whatever treatment an animal’s medical condition demands. None of our killer whales are being treated for ulcers at present. Q7: Are any of your whales blind or disabled? A: No. Q8: During an unannounced visit by our I Team, a trainer told us the dorsal fin on Corky was drooping to one side due to old age. Corky is roughly 37 years old. A: We’re not sure who you spoke with during this visit, but from the information included in your question, we believe it wasn’t a trainer. First of all Corky’s dorsal fin doesn’t droop. It is perfectly straight. Second, Corky was collected in 1969. Her age at collection was estimated, based on length and weight, to be at least 2. That would make her at least 40, not 37. She was not collected by SeaWorld. She entered our collection in the late 1980s from a now-closed marine park near Los Angeles. A killer whale’s dorsal fin has no bone in it. It’s made up of fibrous connective tissue. Certainly that kind of tissue breaks down somewhat with age, but the shape of a dorsal fin varies from animal to animal, which is as true of wild whales as it is in whales in a
zoological setting. The shape of a whale’s dorsal fin offers no insights whatever to its health or state of mind. You might be interested to know that a recent survey of killer whales around New Zealand has documented that 23 percent of wild males had bent dorsal fins. Still, we’re left to wonder how the shape of one whale’s dorsal fin is relevant to a story about maintaining killer whales in a zoological setting. Q9: At least 3 trainers have said there is too much stress on trainers and on whales-this contributes to the attacks. Trainers also expressed concerns that whales were too busy performing, then doing extra activities such as Dine with Shamu to develop positive bonds with the trainers. Response? A: We’ll start with your use of the word “attack.” We have had millions of discrete interactions with killer whales – in shows, training, husbandry, exercise, artificial insemination, play and veterinary care – with only a tiny handful of incidents that might be described as serious. Not one of those incidents has resulted in a fatality and only a few have resulted in injury to our trainers. I should remind you that killer whales are the ocean’s top predator. They weigh as much as six tons. They are enormously powerful animals able to prey on anything that crosses their path. Yet our trainers interact with them, play with them, perform with them, exercise with them, and enter the water with them – thousands of times each week. Without incident. This does not suggest to us an animal that is experiencing stress of any kind. Likewise our trainers. We are sensitive to the expectations we place on all staff members and make adjustments as we feel they are necessary. We do not view things like Dine With Shamu as “extra” activity for the killer whales. It is, like any interaction between whale and trainer, highly reinforcing for the whale. All interactions, whether they are for training, husbandry, enrichment or public performances contribute the relationship development and bond between trainers and killer whales. Q10: SeaWorld VP Don Goldsberry---Sources say he is responsible for capturing more animals than stated on permits. Is this true? A: Don Goldsberry hasn’t worked for SeaWorld in 20 years. We haven’t collected a killer whale from the wild in nearly 30 years. The collections you’re referring to are ancient history. Very few members of our current zoological team have even met Don Goldsberry. Certainly we would never accept any departure from the specifications of a collection permit, including the number of animals collected. Q11: Sources say these animals would be traded to other aquariums outside of the US, only to be “borrowed” by SeaWorld? Is this true? Is it continuing today? A: We have absolutely no idea what you’re referring to. Your sources are incorrect. Every animal that has ever been acquired by SeaWorld – through collection, captive birth, acquisition from another aquarium or for long-term care after beaching – has entered our collection legally. The U.S. government maintains an inventory of all captive marine
mammals. That list, which includes births, deaths, collection status and transfers within the zoological community, is public record. Q12: At one point, SeaWorld executives said that orcas live to about 30 years old in the wild. What is SeaWorld’s position now about the life span of Orca’s in the wild? What does SeaWorld consider the probable life span of an Orca in captivity? A: Longevity is consistently the most misrepresented part of the debate over the zoological display of killer whales. The simple fact is this: No one knows how long captive or wild killer whales live because no one has ever followed a group from birth to death. We have often said that 30 years is as good an estimate of average killer whale lifespan as we currently have. Clearly animals can exceed that age, as evidenced by one of ours, Corky. She is at least 40 and perhaps as old as 42. Peter F. Olesiuk, Graeme M. Ellis and John Ford, three of the world’s most respected marine mammal scientists and individuals who have studied longevity in wild whales for years, recently wrote in the proceedings of the 16th Biennial Conference on the Biology of Marine Mammals that female killer whales in their study group had a mean life expectancy of 31 years and males just 19 years. Q13: What is SeaWorld’s response to the high number of miscarriages and early deaths of calves born to whales in captivity? A: We don’t accept the premise of your question. The number of calves that do not survive their first year is vastly lower in whales born in our zoological setting than it is in the wild, where neo-natal mortality is estimated at 50 percent or more. In our population of killer whales, calf mortality is only 20 percent. As far as miscarriages are concerned, it is rare among our killer whales and we have no reason to believe that it is any more common in our animals than it is in the wild. The opposite is almost certainly true, given the quality of our veterinary care and the environmental pressures and pollution faced by wild populations. Q14: How much space do the whales have for swimming in their pools? A: Animals at SeaWorld are given all the space they require. They live in large pool complexes which range from hundreds of thousands to millions of gallons (at or beyond what is required by federal law). The killer whale habitat at SeaWorld is 7 million gallons of continually filtered and chilled seawater. It is, in fact, the largest marine mammal habitat ever constructed. Q15: Does SeaWorld take any more whales from the wild? This question includes any whales that originate from foreign aquariums but that were caught in the last five years in the wild. A: No whale in our care was collected from the wild within the last five years, by us or anyone else. We haven’t collected a killer whale from the wild in nearly 30 years. It should be noted, however, that wild collection of marine mammals, including killer whales, is entirely legal in the United States. It is provided for in the Marine Mammal
Protection Act, which acknowledges the tremendous educational benefit of interpreting these animals in a zoological setting. Q16: Does SeaWorld have any whales in “storage” in aquariums outside of the United States? A: SeaWorld doesn’t “store” whales or any other animal. There are marine mammals living in our parks that are on breeding loan from other institutions and there are SeaWorld marine mammals on breeding loan to other facilities. There are four SeaWorld killer whales living in Loro Parque, a zoological institution in the Canary Islands. Those are the only SeaWorld whales currently living outside our parks. Q17: What is the maximum number of shows that an Orca will be expected to perform in one day? A: A killer whale isn’t expected to perform any shows. Participation in shows is entirely voluntary as is any interaction with our zoological staff. If a whale doesn’t want to participate – although this is a rare occurrence -- that is entirely their choice. However, whales find participating in shows, like any interaction with our zoological staff, an enriching, interesting and fun experience. They are eager to participate. Q18: Are there any safety issues with “swim with the dolphins” programs? A: Swim with dolphins programs in SeaWorld parks and Discovery Cove are very safe. There is an element of risk with any animal interaction, however, we have created these programs with safety as the highest priority and problems are extremely rare as a result. We rely on positive reinforcement with all of our animals, including dolphins. Our animal training staff teaches our dolphins to interact safely in the water not only with our trainers but also our guests. Q19: Is there any health and well being concerns for dolphins involved in “swim with the dolphins” program? A: We monitor the health of all of our animals very closely. We have encountered no health issues related to a dolphin’s interaction with our guests, either in swim programs like that offered by Discovery Cove, or other types of dolphin interaction in SeaWorld parks. Our dolphins find these interactions interesting and fun, and they participate voluntarily.
Q20: Would SeaWorld support regulations on “Swim with the Dolphins” programs nationwide, limiting the interactions between dolphins and people? A: We would support any regulation that was based on sound husbandry and behavioral science that we felt was necessary to assure the health and safety of our animals and guests. However, there is no reason to consider regulation for dolphin interaction based on the experience in SeaWorld parks and Discovery Cove. The amount of dolphin/guest
interaction in our parks has been determined by our staff, the most experienced and knowledgeable marine mammal caretakers in the world today. The amount of interaction is entirely appropriate.
Q21: While our crew was visiting the park, we witnessed a SeaWorld employee refunding a customer his money and providing free SeaWorld tickets after a dolphin “incident.” How often are people hit, bitten, or harmed in any way by a dolphin during the swim with the dolphin program? Is the public advised of this potential problem? What is SeaWorld policy when this happens? A: We pride ourselves on providing the highest quality and safest animal experiences in the world. Any interaction with an animal carries a small element of risk. Incidents of the type you describe are exceedingly rare in our parks. Guests in our dolphin interaction programs are informed of the remote possibility of injury and are taught how to safely conduct themselves in the presence of dolphins during the classroom portion of their program. Our policy is to take whatever measures are necessary to assure that guests leave our parks 100 percent satisfied with their experience. Any guest who might experience an injury in one of our parks receives medical care from our emergency medical technicians. In the more than a decade that we’ve had the Dolphin Interaction Program, no guest has sustained more than a minor bump or bruise. Through our Dolphin Interaction Program we also have educated hundreds of thousands of guests about dolphin behavior, ecology, physiology and behavior. This education process is first hand and personal, and goes far beyond any book or video about dolphins in making a lasting impression. Q22: Regarding Superior Court Case number 604148, John Allen Sillick v Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, Inc, and SeaWorld Inc.- SeaWorld asked and was granted a motion sealing most of the case and all of the parts relevant to the health of Orky and the veterinary care at SeaWorld. Why did SeaWorld want this information shielded from the public indefinitely? Would you be willing to open the records in this case? A: The company that owned SeaWorld in 1987, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, asked that the records concerning our veterinary care be sealed because much of the information in those documents is proprietary, highly technical and requires a very specific type of veterinary expertise to understand. As we have seen many times, veterinary information released by SeaWorld can be and often is taken out of context. The incident in which John Sillick was injured occurred many years ago. We have made countless refinements to our training and husbandry procedures since then. To preserve Mr. Sillick’s privacy, we cannot discuss the specifics of his case.
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