Big oil v orcas: Canadians fight pipeline that threatens killer whales on the brink

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Original article: Big oil v orcas: Canadians fight pipeline that threatens killer whales on the brink


On one shore there are snow-capped mountains. On the other side loom towering skyscrapers. These churning waters off the coast of Vancouver are marked by a constant flow of ferries and containers ships – but they are also home to 80 or so orcas.

Known as the southern resident killer whales the group has long had a fraught relationship with the urban sprawl they live alongside, leaving them on the knife’s edge of extinction.

In the late 1960s and early 70s, dozens were captured and sold to aquariums and theme parks around the world. Those who remained were exposed to runoff chemicals used in local industry, making them some of the world’s most contaminated marine mammals.

But now the orcas of the Salish sea face what conservationists say is their biggest threat to date: an expansion proposal for a pipeline that would snake from Alberta to the Pacific coast.

Spearheaded by Texas-based energy infrastructure company Kinder Morgan, the C$6.8bn ($5bn) Trans Mountain Expansion project is designed to transport Alberta’s landlocked bitumen to international markets.

The proposal – which still needs the approval of the federal government, led by Justin Trudeau – would expand an existing pipeline to lay nearly 1,000km of new pipeline from Alberta to Vancouver’s coastline. Oil tanker and barge traffic in the region would soar nearly sevenfold, to as many as 408 tankers a year.

Conservationists warn that the spike in tanker traffic would be disastrous for the resident orca whales – a genetically unique population that is already classified as endangered in both Canada and the US.

“The approval of the project is also the approval of the extinction of the population,” said Ross Dixon of the Raincoast Conservation Foundation. “No one is disputing it. Nobody is saying that’s not accurate. It’s been accepted.”

In May, Canada’s energy regulator wrapped up two years of review into the Trans Mountain proposal, recommending that the federal government approve the project. The approval was conditional, subject to 157 conditions that include 49 environmental requirements. The regulator also noted the project “is likely to result in significant adverse effects to the southern resident killer whale”.

Trudeau’s cabinet has until 19 December to make its final decision.

Analysts have long speculated that the approval of the pipeline is imminent. “The choice between pipelines and wind turbines is a false one,” Trudeau told attendees at a Vancouver conference on clean technology in March. “We need both to reach our goal, and as we continue to ensure there is a market for our natural resources, our deepening commitment to a cleaner future will be a valuable advantage.”

Trudeau has faced immense pressure from Alberta – where sagging oil prices have sent unemployment soaring to around 8.5% – to approve a pipeline, but promises by Donald Trump to resurrect plans for the Keystone XL pipeline could alleviate some of this pressure.

Many are not taking any chances. The Raincoast Conservation Foundation has joined forces with several other organisations to launch a legal challenge against the energy regulator’s approval of the project, arguing that it failed to take into account the impact on the orca whales and their habitat. The groups are currently waiting to hear whether their application for judicial review, filed in June, will be given the go ahead by the court.

The anticipated increase in tanker traffic will heighten the physical and acoustic disturbances in the water, said Misty MacDuffee of Raincoast Conservation Foundation. “The noise of the propeller and the engine emits at a frequency that can mask the communication of the whales,” she said. “And the overall traffic combines to create sort of a din … so it reduces the actual space over which the whale can hear and be heard by other whales.”

The result could hamper the whales’ ability to catch food, she said. “They’ve got a unique diet, they’ve got a unique language in terms of their dialect and they’ve got a unique culture. And it’s that package that’s in jeopardy.”

Climate change has steadily diminished the availability of Chinook salmon, the whales’ main food source. Drone research has revealed whales with altered body shapes and lacking fat deposits, suggesting they are starving. “You can visibly actually see the ribs on some of these whales,” said MacDuffee.

If tanker traffic increases, the whales will not simply move to another area. “That critical habitat is not just a space on the map. It has these acoustic components, food supply components and water quality components.”

The fate of the orcas is just one facet of the broad opposition the project is facing. More than 20 municipalities and 17 First Nations communities have come out against the proposal while hundreds of youth marched in Ottawa last month to urge the government to shelve the proposal. Thousands more are expected to turn out for a protest march in Vancouver this Saturday.

The existing pipeline – which began operating in 1953 – passes near several schools, at one site running under a school playground, said Karen Wristen of Living Oceans.

It was concerns over this trajectory that launched 92-year-old Elsie Dean into action. “It comes right through our community,” said Dean, pointing to the pipeline’s route through her home of Burnaby, a city of some 220,000 people in British Columbia.

Since 1961, the pipeline system being eyed for expansion has reported approximately 82 spills to the country’s energy regulator, she noted. “It just seems rather insane to consider putting this amount of bitumen in a community of people.”

Dean helped launch Broke, or Burnaby Residents Opposed to Kinder Morgan Expansion, four years ago in an effort to steer Canada – whose greenhouse gas emissions rank among the highest per capita in the OECD – away from fossil fuels and towards meaningful efforts to tackle climate change. “We know that if we don’t cut back on fossil fuels, the future generation or certainly my grandchildren will be affected adversely by climate change.”

One First Nations community has countered the proposal with a demonstration of the alternative. The Tsleil-Waututh Nation, which sits directly across an inlet from the existing Kinder Morgan tanker terminal, recently launched a fundraising campaign to expand the community’s commitment to solar energy. “It’s a poetic way to illustrate the choices before us,” said Charlene Aleck, a councillor with the community.

The Kinder Morgan project was analysed through the same lens as all others that come through the territory, said Aleck. “Is it feasible, is it something good for the water, land and air?” The community of 500 people was unanimous in its opposition. “It didn’t even pass the lowest entry form of how we would run business on our land.”

Chief among the community’s concerns was the possibility of an oil spill, she said. “One accident and the lives and livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of people, as well as salmon, dolphins, whales, seals and a multitude of other aquatic and hundreds of thousands of avian species, would be destroyed forever.”

Earlier this month, Trudeau announced C$1.5bn in funding to improve response measures. The move was widely seen as an attempt to quell some of the opposition to the proposed pipeline.

Aleck welcomed the funding as a way to address the issues arising from the industry already in operation in the region. “But the best way to mitigate an oil spill is not to approve the Kinder Morgan expansion,” she added.

When queried on the opposition facing the proposal, Kinder Morgan pointed to a series of links on their website highlighting the company’s funding of orca research and its efforts to engage communities affected by the pipeline.

The project has received 41 letters of support from Aboriginal groups located along the pipeline and marine corridor in Alberta and British Columbia, said the company. More than C$13m in funding had been provided to some 98 communities who wanted to learn more about the project, it added.

The pipeline does not run under any buildings, the company noted. “Living or being active near our pipeline does not pose any health risk.” Where the pipeline runs near schools, it said, “we are open to working with individual schools or districts to fully support their safety efforts and ensure their emergency response plans and ours are coordinated.”

If the project is approved, the company said it would invest more than C$150m in marine spill response in the region. “The investment will fund five new response bases, about 115 new employees and approximately 26 new vessels at strategic locations along BC’s southern shipping lane,” the company said.

The millions in funding does little to address what seems to be a certainty of the project – the risk posed to the resident orca whales, said Dixon of the Raincoast Conservation Foundation. “If this population goes extinct, it’s gone for good,” he said. “They’re part of our identity, they’re part of the place in which we live. If we lose them, we lose a part of ourselves.”

Loro Parque welcomes the first baby zebra shark born in the Aquarium

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Loro Parque is very happy to welcome the newest family member. The best zoo in Europe and the second best in the world, according to Trip Advisor, welcomes Udra, the first baby zebra shark (Stegostoma fasciatum) who was born in the Park. She is a female baby of 72 grams and 27 centimeters and is in perfect health.

This is a wonderful success of the professional team of the Aquarium, who performed an egg cesarean to ensure that the baby zebra shark could born without any difficulty. If she had born in the sea, and her mother being first-time mother, as the first hatching eggs she would have probably faced difficulties at birth. From her birth on October 24, the animal continues to develop well, and she currently feeds on small pieces of prawn, mussels, hake and squid. The amount she receives does not exceed 4% of its body weight.

Her parents, Marylin and Elvis, live with another pair of zebra shark in the aquarium, so now one more member is joining this wonderful family of sharks. These animals can measure up to three and a half meters, and they have a cream-colored body with dark spots, what allow them to pass by unnoticed when they rest on the sandy bottoms of the sea.


They have a broad, flattened head, and a ventral mouth with which they can dig at the bottom of the sea and look for small animals. Their tail is almost half of the total length, and they have powerful lateral muscles. The common name of these animals is due to the stripes they have when they are young, which later turn into spots when they are adults.

It is a slow but slippery swimmer. This shark does not chase his preys, he just drives them into small spaces and uses its great and flexible body in order to make them unable to escape. Its jaw is in the ventral part of its head, and has also the special ability of being retractable inward allowing the shark to be more aerodynamic. Although the ability with its jaw allows the shark to swim faster, he is still a slow animal, but that extra speed can be vital when escaping from predators, and during prey hunting.

The breeding and reproduction of zebra sharks is essential to provide more information on how to conserve and guarantee the well-being of endangered species such as angelsharks (Squalma squatima) which is the world’s most threatened specie, and the hammerhead shark (Sphyrna sp.), whom Loro Park Foundation helps through protection projects.

Letter to the Editor: San Antonio Zoo Response

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Original article: Letter to the Editor: San Antonio Zoo Response

My name is Tim Morrow, and I’m the CEO of the San Antonio Zoo. You may be asking yourself why the San Antonio Zoo is submitting an article to The University Star. Well, the reasons are important and species survival is at stake. To allow misinformation to go unchecked is not only dangerous, but would be irresponsible to our planet and to the mission of the San Antonio Zoo and all other accredited zoos and aquariums.

Recently a student article titled “Zoo Animals Do Not Belong in Captivity” was published in this paper. The author stated, “when we take an organism and restrict its entire world to an unsuitably small space we essentially strip the creature of its right to a true chance at life.” This statement not only misrepresents modern zoos, but also, ironically, underscores the importance of zoos in today’s world in giving animals a true chance at life. While once zoos were a place to display a menagerie of animals for entertainment, times have changed and so, too, has the mission and focus of zoos like ours. Today’s zoos, in many cases, are the last best hope for many species’ survival and serve as important centers of education, conservation and research.

To imply that having animals in the care of man and increasing the educational opportunities of millions of visitors is “asinine” is not only short sighted, it is dangerous. On the educational front, zoos accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums have more visitors annually than all the major U.S. sports leagues combined. The San Antonio Zoo hosts more than 1.2 million visitors annually including hundreds of thousands of children. When visitors come to zoos they do more than have fun, they learn. We teach them about the species in our care, we teach them about these species’ plight in the wild, and we offer ways for them to assist conservation efforts that we lead, fund or participate in as a 501(c)3 dedicated to our mission of saving species. Even if a guest leaves with no more knowledge than they walked in with, which is highly unlikely, by just visiting an accredited zoo they are helping to fund important conservation efforts and, therefore, making a positive difference.

In the internet age with so many online “sources”, it can be difficult to discern fact from fiction. When doing research, it is important to ensure the “facts” are coming from credible, knowledgeable sources. The article in question uses sources which at best would be considered not credible. A quick glance at shows that this is a tabloid site with no zoological background or education. The article quotes an anti-zoo group (a group whose entire mission is to bring high impact lawsuits, not support animal care, conservation or education) that contends the substrate is hard and that there is little to no shelter for Lucky, one of our Asian elephants. A quick visit to the San Antonio Zoo, however, would show the article’s author otherwise as the yard consists of sand, soil and grass, and that beyond the trees and 30-foot cliff walls there are multiple shade structures within the habitat.

It’s important to recognize that man has effectively taken a majority of the planet for our own needs. The “wild” as people imagine it is a very romantic notion, but sadly most of it is gone. What we are left with are small fragments of natural spaces. Spaces that are being encroached on every minute as the human population and consumption grows while animal populations dwindle. We are in the midst of the 6th extinction on our planet. But here’s the alarming fact: the extinction we are currently seeing is 1,000 times the natural background rate with literally dozens of species going extinct every day, and this one is being caused by humans. Where there are wild animals there is human/wildlife conflict, there is deforestation, and there is poaching. On this planet, there are only 3 northern white rhinos left. Ninety-six African elephants are slaughtered each and every day – 30% of the entire population has been wiped out in last 7 years. There are less than 40,000 Asian elephants left, less than 5,000 reticulated giraffes left, the western lowland gorilla is critically endangered, and the list goes on and on…and on.

In your lifetime many of these species could be gone from our planet, and the only place your children might see an elephant could be at a museum. Scientists estimate up to 200 mammal species become extinct every day, and that since 1970 we have lost over half of the animals that were once here.

Given the current extinction rates and man’s propensity to take habitat, to poach for financial gain (a rhino horn can bring over $100,000 on the open market) and the overall effect we are causing on the climate, zoos like ours are more important now than ever. Managing species in captivity, breeding them for sustainability or re-release whenever possible is critical, and we must do this for as many species as possible.

Recently, the San Antonio Zoo and our conservation partners (Calgary Zoo, International Crane Foundation, Audubon Nature Institute) received national recognition for saving the Whooping Crane from extinction. Without having this bird in captivity, studying its behaviors and successfully breeding it, this bird would be gone. In the next few weeks we will ship thousands of Puerto Rican Crested Toad tadpoles born at our zoo back to Puerto Rico to try and save this species from extinction, and we have a Conservation and Research Department working to breed endangered aquifer species for re-introduction in case of extinction of those species. The San Antonio Zoo leads conservation projects in China, Japan, Chile, Peru, Mexico, the United States and we are funding or participate in conservation efforts on almost every continent. All of this is made possible by a visit to the San Antonio Zoo. Now, multiply that by all of the accredited zoos in the country and around the world, and we comprise one of the planet’s largest conservation efforts.

In her last message, the author of the article in question speaks to being honest about the way we choose to treat our fellow earth dwellers. Zoos provide these animals with a life free from poaching and habitat destruction, and ensures they receive world-class, round-the-clock veterinary care, enrichment and the chance to be ambassadors for their species through education, awareness and scientific study. Look at the pictures of life in the “wild” for the animals of our planet and decide for yourself if zoos are important and need to continue efforts to save these creatures from extinction.

Zoos are evolving and are no longer what they were just 10 to 20 years ago. Dig a little deeper on your next visit to the zoo, read the signage, talk to the keepers and volunteers, and most importantly find out how YOU can get involved to help save species. We cannot be the generation that lets these magnificent creatures disappear from our planet. How would we explain that to our children?

I leave you with this quote by renowned environmentalist Baba Dioum: “In the end, we will conserve only what we love; we will love only what we understand and we will understand only what we are taught.”

A study reveals that mammals live longer in zoos

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Zurich / Halle / Berlin, 07/11/2016. Animal living freely in the wild are threatened by factors such as food scarcity, predators, adverse weather conditions and strong animal rivalry. However, animals living in zoos are protected against such hazards. An international research team, together with the University of Zurich (UZH) and the Halle Zoo, carried out a study on more than 50 species of mammals to determine whether these animals live longer in zoos or in the wild. This apparently minor issue about the life of animals is not easy to answer. Particularly in the case of animals living in the wild, since it is extremely difficult to figure out the exact date of their birth and death. On the contrary, zoos usually have a complete report with their animal’s data available. But there are currently enough studies on animals living in the wild to compare their life with animals living in zoos with their precise age data.

Carnivorous animals also live longer The Universities of Zurich and Lyon, led by the research team of Zoo Halle, conducted a study which analyzed the demographic parameters of more than 50 different species of mammals. Researchers found that about 80 percent of the species living in the zoo live longer than they do in wildlife – among them is the Cape buffalo, the reindeer, the zebra, the lion or the beaver. “On the basis of the data obtained, 15 species of carnivores lived longer in the zoo,” said Marcus Clauss, Prof. of Comparative Digestive Physiology of animals living in the wild of the UZH (University of Zurich). “It is clear that survival as a predator in the wild is not necessarily easy.”

The zoos welcome the findings of the study The Association of Zoos (VdZ) representing 70 zoos scientifically directed in the German-speaking area welcomed the study findings. “Animal keeping at the zoo should always be evaluated and developed according to scientific criteria. The findings of the study fully invalidate those arguments put forward by zoo critics about the high mortality rate of animals living in zoos, and they also demonstrate that zoos provide favorable living conditions adapted to each of the animal’s characteristics,” says Volker Homes, director of the Association of Zoos (VdZ).

Complex assessment of zoosResearchers highlight that life span of the animals is only one factor among many to ethically evaluate animal care. “Probably the most important finding from our study is that living in the wild means not always paradise living conditions,” says Prof. Clauss. The study also arrives at the conclusion that certain species, especially those that live longer in the wild, have a slightly longer life expectancy. We talk about chimpanzees, for example. “Particularly in the case of primates, much has been invested in the last two decades in the expansion and improvement of facilities and in new husbandry systems,” says Dr. Dennis Müller, co-author of the study and director of the Zoo Halle. Moreover, he explains that: “The success of these efforts will only be statistically demonstrated by the longevity of these species within 20 – 30 years.” Volker Homes adds that “given the massive extinction of species living in the wild as the consequence of the destruction of natural habitats, zoos are clearly very important for biodiversity conservation.”

The study is available on the following link:

Discovering Tenerife by Geocaching

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We would like to share with all of you some news coming out of a school in Southwest Germany. Ninth-grade students from this school have sent us a project on which they were working on for a long time. This project was centered around Tenerife, and Loro Parque as the main attraction on the island. We are very pleased to know that our message is reaching everyone, and that they see us as an example of modern zoo. We would like to thank all students and their teachers for having made a great effort on this excellent work. This gives us motivation to keep on in our work for the care and protection of animals.