Contaminants in the Dolphin Death Pool

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Contaminants in the Dolphin Death Pool

We were horrified at what we witnessed inside the dolphin death pools at the Mirage hotel in Las Vegas in February: chewing gum and a chicken nugget.

Gum in the Mirage pool, Feb 2015.

Gum in the Mirage pool, Feb 2015.

I was photographing Beetle biting at the gate (like he usually is every time I see him now) when a small child who was talking to the trainer stationed near where the main and center pools meet exclaimed “There’s chewing gum in the pool!”. I looked down.. and he wasn’t kidding. Some tourist had spit their gum right into the pool. I photographed it and moved back. The trainer did not seem to notice. She continued her conversation with the child who did not mention it again.

Chicken nugget in the Mirage pool, Feb 2015.

Chicken nugget in the Mirage pool, Feb 2015.

I moved closer to the bend of the main pool near the snack shop, watching for reactions from the crowd and educators. I should of been looking in the pool. The educators should of been looking in the pool. Another guest walks by and exclaims “Is that a chicken nugget?” My eyes instantly dart down. There it was. A half eaten chicken nugget.

At this point, I could not sit back and silently collect information. I had to alert the educators to the contaminants in the pool.

Situations like these could turn deadly for the dolphins who are trapped in a hotel swimming pool in the Mojave desert.

A 5 year old dolphin named Ying-Ying swallowed steel wool, causing gastric mucosal hemorrhage.

Nami in her cove in Taiji, Japan.

Nami in her cove in Taiji, Japan.

Nami was the name of an orca on display at the Taiji Whale Museum in Japan. Over the course of her life in captivity, she swallowed over 154 pounds of stones. The biggest stone was nearly 7 inches and weighed 4.5 pounds.

Miami Seaquarium had a dolphin named Poncho in the 1980s. He died after eating 2 deflated footballs, 31 coins, 21 stones, 2 screws, 1 training whistle, 1 ten penny nail, 1 metal tag, 1 piece of wire, 1 metal staple and several other unidentifiable objects.

Jim Horton, a marine park employee for 16 years, went on the record to talk about dolphins at Seaworld being poisoned to death from eating coins…

Jim Horton: People were throwing coins in the pools all the time. Idiots. We had one young one year old [dolphin] that turned white. And we thought it was some kind of genetic mutation. The animal died during the day. So we pulled him out and put him on a cart, spraying him with water and rubbing him down so it looked like he was still alive while we were going through park. What we found out was that the white dolphin had a stomach full of coins and rings and jewelry. Everything was perfectly shiny except the pennies. They were the only things that were dissolving.

After 1982, I think, they started making pennies out of zinc and coating them in copper. So it was zinc poisoning. The zinc killed the dolphin. We had another dolphin in there, a young calf, that ate four coffee cans of coins and jewelry. It took six months to get all the coins out of her stomach…..The animal’s stomach was completely full of coins. And sharp, pointy stuff, like name tags or brooches. Baby pacifiers were big. There would be a wad of baby pacifiers and a bunch of paint chips from the pool, and stuff like that blocking the intestine.

Keto having an endoscopy performed on him.

Keto having an endoscopy performed on him.

In 2006, Keto, Skyla and Kohana underwent endoscopies to examine their stomach after eating paint chips from the pool. An endoscopy requires trainers to restrain the animal, insert a bit into their mouth, and wire a camera down into their gastrointestinal tract to look for blockages. See a short video here.

Winnie was a 26 year old orca at Seaworld San Antonio in Texas who died after eating tiles, coins, nuts, bolts and other objects making up a 12 pound blockage.

Mirage does what every marine park does- sells their beverages without bottle tops and other small items so you are unable to throw them into the pool, but they do not restrict you on bringing in your own food and objects. Parents are often guilty of allowing their children to eat in public places and play with toys in an attempt to keep them calm and civil. Children are also careless and do not understand consequences. They can and will throw things into dolphin pools.

A child sits with her legs in the dolphin pool at the Mirage

A child sits with her legs in the dolphin pool at the Mirage

I’m extremely concerned about the low pool walls in Las Vegas. Tourists are often highly intoxicated in this town, and ready to try the first thing that pops into their head. In 2012, students visiting while on break from studying law at UC Berkeley chased one of the exotic birds on display at the Flamingo hotel into the pushes and beheaded it.

Foreign object contamination is a “normal thing” for captive dolphins, and one of the strong arguments one can make against exploiting these creatures in pools.

This time it was a chicken nugget and chewing gum, but tomorrow it could be anything. Please do not visit any captive dolphin facility and persuade your family and friends to do the same. Dolphins are dying to entertain you.


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Miracle March for Lolita

On January 17th, cetacean rights activists from around the world will descend on the Historic Virginia Key Beach Park near Miami Seaquarium beginning at 8am EST. The crowd is coming together to show Miami Seaquarium how many people are pushing for Lolita’s release from the captive slave park. The event includes vendors selling merchandise which help support the movement globally, key speakers like Howard Garrett, Jane Velez Mitchell, and Dr. Naomi Rose plus a silent march beginning at 10am sharp. The march will walk around the south side of the Rickenbacker Causeway. To get all of the information about the event and the itinerary for the day, visit the event page: Miracle March For Lolita

alinaSWho is Lolita and why all of the fuss? Lolita (also named Tokitae) is rumored to be from the L-Pod of the endangered Southern Resident orcas with L-25 Ocean Sun as her mother. Lolita was captured from Penn Cove, Washington on August 8th 1970 along with 80 other orca. The orca were spotted by plane, boats raced in circles, and bombs were even set off. The group split up, trying to get away. One group was initially captured, and the second group came to their location later. 8 of these orca were sold to marine parks around the world. C5These orca became known as Lil Nooka, Ramu 4, Wally, Clovis, Chappy, Jumbo, Winston (Aka Ramu) and of course, Lolita- the lone survivor to this day. Other orca faced an even worse fate- 5 of the killer whales drowned during the stressful capture. 4 of those 5 were young babies who tried to charge at their mothers on the other side of the gate. Ted Griffin and Don Goldsberry tried to cover this up by filling the babies stomachs with rocks and anchors, sinking them out in the ocean. 3 of the babies washed up on shore, causing an outrage with the citizens. SeaWorld was taken to court and had to agree to never capture orca in Washington state ever again. Witnesses to this capture say the whales were making noises they will never forget- screaming out to one another in distress.

bothLolita was purchased by the Miami Seaquarium to be a tank mate for their other orca captured in the same location a few years prior named Hugo. Miami Seaquarium was even nice enough (catch my sarcasm, please) to build a larger tank for the two of them so they would not have to share Hugo’s current vomit-inducing small tank known as the “Celebrity Pool“.   This pool is currently used to house manatees. The new pool is appropriately named the “Whale Bowl“. This new tank is only 35x80x20 ft, and deemed illegal according to standards set in the Animal Welfare Act. cleanbothLolita was placed in the Whale Bowl as soon as she arrived, but Hugo had to stay isolated from her due to fear that they would fight. The two of them were constantly vocalizing to each other. No one knew at the time that these two orca were most likely from the same pod. Eventually they were put together, performing in numerous shows and even mating a few times (with no successful pregnancies) before Hugo killed himself by bashing his head against the side of his tank one too many times. His body was then taken from the park and placed into the Dade County Dump.

Lolita has shown signs of aggression. Her and Hugo attacked trainer Chip Kirk in the 1970s. Hugo left a scar on his arm, and the two of them ripped up his wetsuit. Hugo also would show aggression towards the trainers during performances. Eventually MSQ did not want to work with him anymore and were training Lolita to be used as his replacement.

Lolita has continued to perform in shows for over 40 years. That means that the Miami Seaquarium has made over $160million USD from her. Don’t you think she deserves to go home? She belongs to the most studied group of orca on the planet, the Southern Residents. Lolita is the only Southern Resident currently in captivity. There is an extremely detailed retirement/release plan set up for her if Miami Seaquarium would ever give her the chance to thrive in the world she belongs in.

letlolita

PrisonThe Miami Seaquarium (or Seaprison, your choice) opened it’s doors on September 24th 1955, making this the oldest marine park in the United States. That is no excuse for their poorly thought out idea of an orca tank. Over 500,000 people visit this park annually, lining the pockets of the owners with money every day. This park is so greedy they even applied for a permit to recapture Keiko from the wild to be a mate for Lolita!

deathWhen the Miami Seaquarium first opened, they were the largest sea park in the entire world. They gained much popularity when the TV show Flipper & 2 movies were filmed at the Seaquarium. Ric O’Barry was a trainer and stunt double for the franchise. After he watched the star dolphin Kathy die from what he believed to be a suicide, he vowed to become a cetacean rights activist.

The Miami Seaquarium has had more cetacean deaths than I can count, both wild and captive born. Included in that list are sperm whales, a beaked whale, and 7 other pacific white sided dolphins.

Miami Seaquarium has promised on several occasions to build Lolita a new tank, but they have never came through.

Lolita is perhaps the only orca in North America that has a chance at survival outside of her tank. She has performed for us for over 44 years. We must continue to fight for her freedom, her chance to rejoin her family (whos calls she has responded to in the past). Join the movement, Retire Lolita, Free Tokitae!

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