Distinguishing personal belief from scientific knowledge for the betterment of killer whale welfare – a commentary

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We contest publication of Marino et al. (2019) regarding captive killer whale (Orcinus orca) welfare because of misrepresentations of available data and the use of citacions that do not support assertations. Marino et al. misrepresent stress response concepts and erroneously cite studies, which appear to support Marino et al.’s philosophical beliefs regarding the cetacean hyphotalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis.

To be clear, these misrepresentations are not differences of scientific opinion, as the authors’ conclusions lack any scientific basis. More extensive review of Marino et al.’s citacions reveal a dearth of empirical evidence to support their assertations. Further, Marino et. al’s approach to animal welfare is not consistent with conventional veterinary approaches to animal welfare, including their apparent opposition to the use of preventative and therapeutic veterinary interventions.

While Marino et al. argue that killer whale’s cognitive and spatial needs preclude management of this species under human care, misrepresentation of the citacions used to support this opinion invalidates their arguments. Misleading interpretations of data relative to killer whales’ cognitive and emotional needs, as well as specious and unsubstained comparisons with states experienced by humans with posttraumatic stress disorder and other conditions, represent a number of strategies used to misrepresent knowledge regarding killer whale welfare. These misrepresentations and fallacies are inconsistent with scientific ethical standards for credible, peer-reviewed journals (ICMJE, 2018) and are barriers to rigorous discourse and identification of strategies for optimizing killer whale welfare.

Assertions in the paper amount to nothing more than a compilation of conclusory, philosophical statements. We would also like to mention that manuscripts such as Marino et al.’s do great damage to the fields of comparative psychology and to behavioral science as a whole.

Access the full document here:

Type of MisrepresentationSelected examples [page numbers in Marino et al. (2019) in brackets]
FabricationMarino et al. stated that “regularly prescribed prophylactic antibiotics prior to even minor repair work in the stadium adjoining her tank” (p. 17) occurred for a single killer whale at a single facility, based on an unpublished self-citation (Visser, 2016). The Visser (2016) self-citation had a single mention of a whale stadium repair, and no antibiotics appear to be listed in the document. (See Appendix 1 for more information.)
DistortionMarino et al. stated that cetaceans “adhere to the classic HPA model” (p. 13) while the cited references state otherwise (for a full discussion, see the above section: Fallacies in Marino et al.’s argument that orca under human care suffer from chronic stress).

Marino et al. misused a citation on use of novel objects for environmental enrichment (Sambrook & Buchanan-Smith, 1997) to support a statement that “one of the greatest stressors in the lives of captive animals is their inability to control most aspects of their surroundings and lives” (p. 17). Sambrook and Buchanan-Smith (1997) did not use the word stressor, and “stress” is only included in Sambrook and Buchanan-Smith’s list of citations.

Marino et al. state that “The expansion of these areas in cetaceans is arguably associated with high-level cognitive and social functions suchas attention, prediction, social awareness and empathy” (p. 3). Neither citation used supports this statement. One of the citations used (Allman et al., 2005) is concerned with autism in humans. The second paper (Hof et al., 2005) is a self-citation, in which the words “attention,” “prediction,” “social awareness,” or “empathy” do not appear with an electronic search of the text.
OmissionMarino et al. state that “Gastric ulceration is often caused by prolonged stress, as well as being associated with the bacterium Helicobacter pylori (Nomura et al., 1994)” (p. 8). However, Marino et al. failed to cite the extensive number of Helicobacter-related publications subsequent to Nomura et al. (1994) indicating that the organism is generally a commensal (nonpathogenic) and that it is also found in healthy free-ranging cetaceans (for more information see above section: Are killer whales’ physical needs met under human care?).
Cherry pickingMarino et al.’s section on self-awareness (p. 5) does not acknowledge that contingency checking is found in many species that never pass the mark test (Anderson & Gallup, 2015; Clary & Kelly, 2016), and that a 9fish species (cleaner wrasse, Labroides dimidiatus) shows both contingency checking and passes the mark test (Kohda et al., 2019).
Misleading vividnessUse of terms such as “commercial trade” (p. 2), “concrete tanks” (pp. 1-3, 10, 14-19), and “tricks” (rather than trained behaviors for husbandry or enrichment purposes) (p. 18), “dead fish” (p. 11), and dental pulps that are “necrotic, infected, or hyperplastic” (p. 11), are intended to evoke negative emotional connotations.

Referring to killer whale offspring as children (p. 7) invokes a human-based association instead of remaining objective. This contrasts with previous JVB publications, in which production swine are housed in “individual crates” (Oelke et al., 2018), Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar) in “transport systems” for aquaculture (King, 2009), and working therapy dogs studied in outpatient hospital settings (Clark et al., 2019). Similarly, nondomestic animals kept as pets or for exhibition were housed in cages (pet gray parrots, Psittacus erithacus; Greenwell & Montrose, 2017), cheetahs (Acinonyx jubatus) and tigers (Panthera tigris) were kept in enclosures (Phillips et al., 2017), snakes in enclosures or viveria (Warwick et al., 2019), gorillas (Gorilla gorilla gorilla) in indoor habitats (Fuller & Allard, 2018), and dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) housed in open and closed facilities (Ugaz et al., 2013).
Snow jobExtensive discussion of encephalization, cerebral expansion, limbic system, sensory regulation, self-awareness, emotion, and other information (pp. 2-6) that does not specifically address the question of whether killer whale experience chronic distress that compromises their welfare.

Linking of killer whale welfare and killer whale attacks on humans (pp. 10, 33, 34) when they are distinct issues.
Draw your own conclusion/jumping to conclusions fallacyMarino et al.’s extensive list of medical and dental diseases (pp. 8-11) with descriptions of treatments that may be intended to evoke negative connotations. This contrasts with the context and consideration of how medical and dental care is viewed for humans and other species, as well as for untreated disease in free-ranging killer whale.
Red herring falaciesFour types of red herring fallacies are listed below.
Appeal to emotionReference to the negative emotional experiences of post-traumatic stress disorder (p. 16), learned helplessness (p. 18), and other psychological concerns of humans without documentation on the affective states of killer whales is misleading and lacks valid reasoning.
Appeal to consequencesMention of rare killer whale attacks on caretakers (p. 10) rather than acknowledgement of human-killer whale bonds or link to animal welfare consequences.
Appeal to natureMarino et al. argued that killer whales must be suffering from maladaptive stress responses (p. 13) due to the absence of opportunities for extensive travel, rather than considering the elements of why killer whale travel (e.g., to forage) and how relevant animal needs could be addressed under human care.
Association falaciesCorrelating Carnivora and killer whale behavior (p. 16) because both consume other animals, rather than accounting for different environmental and other factors.

UICN Letter to Barcelona City Council

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An update on the newborn calf of the orca Morgan

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It’s now just over a week since Morgan gave birth and the entire team of carers, veterinarians, and international experts who have been monitoring the situation are delighted with the calf’s progress. The primary focus continues to be ensuring that the calf is getting all the nourishment it needs and the team has been concerned that Morgan’s milk production has been lower than required.

While natural breastfeeding is always the preferred option, nothing is more important than the wellbeing of the animals in our care – so the veterinary team has stepped in to assist at times by temporarily bottle feeding the calf.

Despite continuous attempts to help Morgan feed naturally, her milk production remains low. As a result, the only option has been to move the calf over to regular bottle feeds. Thanks to Loro Parque’s world-leading facilities and the help of the world’s top experts, we are able add the small amount of milk that Morgan is producing daily to the bottled formula feed, which is provided in a special dedicated medical pool. Using Morgan’s milk helps enrich each meal the calf receives and provides the vital antibodies that aid the development of its immune system.

Despite the challenges in breastfeeding, the bond between mother and calf continues to grow and Morgan is demonstrating exemplary maternal instincts as she swims alongside her calf at all times they are together.

We know from the many messages of support we continue to receive that many of you are closely following this news, so we will keep providing updates as and when we have new information.

Loro Parque welcomes a newborn calf of the orca Morgan

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Loro Parque has good news to share: the orca Morgan that was rescued after being found near dead near the coast of the Wadden Sea in the Netherlands and that forms part of our group of orcas, gave birth to her first calf this morning, which finds itself in a perfect state of health. From the very first moment, Morgan demonstrated to be an exemplary mother attending to her newborn, which is swimming next to its mother in the installations of the ‘OrcaOcean’.

The orca Morgan was rescued at the coast of the Wadden Sea in 2010 and was attended by a team of experts of the Harderwijk Dolphinarium in an effort to help the lost animal, which showed such a severe malnutrition that the animal was only skin and bones. In this moment, Morgan only weighed 430 Kg and the keepers of the Dutch dolphinarium were not sure that the animal was going to survive the first night after its rescue. They, however, were hopeful that with a proper level of care, affection and attention of the care givers, as well as with the adequate nutrition, the animal could make a recovery.

Thanks to all these efforts of the team at Harderwijk, the animal began to recover its weight and strength, and as the Harderwijk installations were not prepared to keep orcas, the Dutch authorities initiated a formal commission to determine the future of the orca Morgan. A group of international and independent experts came to the conclusion that there were only two viable alternatives for the animal: euthanasia or to be kept at an installation of an aquarium that complied with the necessary conditions for this animal species.

At this moment, as Loro Parque had the most modern installations for orcas in existence, the Park was contacted to see if it would accept the animal. Despite all the challenges that this request represented, Loro Parque accepted the petition, thus, avoiding the only other alternative that was left for the animal: the euthanasia.

After a few months at our installations, the orca Morgan adapted to the new conditions and integrated perfectly into the existing group of orcas at Loro Parque. At the same time, it was discovered that the orca suffered a severe hearing deficiency, which was yet another argument to confirm that animal was incapable to survive on her own in nature.

Given this last circumstance, there were a number of questions as to what exactly a delivery would imply for the animal without a hearing capacity. Today, Loro Parque would like to share the great news: the delivery went in a completely normal manner and the first hours after the birth have been developing in accordance with the best expectations.

It is impossible to know the gender of the new calf yet, although the most important issue now is that both, the mother and the calf, find themselves in a perfect state of health. Loro Parque will be informing the public about the development of the situation, and would like to take this opportunity to thank all its visitors from many different parts of the world, the tour operators and all the collaborators in the scientific field for all the support to the Loro Parque mission: to protect and conserve animals and their natural habitats for future generations.

Thomas Cook’s Mistake

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Visit Thomas Cook’s Mistake

Justus-Liebig-Universität Giessen supports Loro Parque

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Source: http://www.loroparque.com/press/en/component/k2/item/download/7_e03a3c393e275a8df7948bcc8a5c599d

Recently, Thomas Cook, a touristic tour operator, stated that they will not sell tours or tickets of Zoos, keeping Orcas. As reason the impact of keeping those animals on animal welfarewas provided in addition to the change of visitor opinions. This statement has a negative influence on zoos at all, as the statement sentence all zoos keeping orcas, and maybe even more in future. In general, it is a positive sign, that tour operators think about the attractions they sell and implement also quality controls based on scientific evidence which can be measured. This has been done by several tour operators and zoos where accredited. The problem starts, when Zoos, which passed this accreditation, than gets banned by single tour operators without providing further reasons. In public, this might be taken as scientific evidence that either the zoos have not passed this accreditation, or that certain animals cannot be kept in captivity by respecting animal welfare. For the first, this is just a false information with regard to the LoroParque as he passed this accreditation, and for the second there is no scientific evidence that generally the keeping of Orcas in captivity is not possible.

Suffer of animals is difficult to judge. An animal can suffer by organic or mental reasons. In the first case the suffer is usually obvious, in the second case suffer also results in health issues or behavior alterations. If, in the second case mental suffer does not result in health issues, it is not detectable, if even present. For the last no evidence is so far provided and leads just to an emotional discussion which is not scientifically based. This means that only the health of an animal (and physiological parameters) is a measurable tool. Therefore, it is vital that Zoos have their own veterinary departments with experts in their field, exchanging their knowledge worldwide. Here, Loro Parque is an excellent example of state of the art veterinary care. Their vet department involves three veterinarians, which have a long history of zoo animal experience and even free-ranging animal medicine. They are supported by state examined veterinary nurses and educated laboratory staff working in a large in-house laboratory. Many zoos do not have such facilities. The animals are routinely examined and environmental samples are taken, so any alterations in the health or management of the animals are immediately noticed. By providing this and not detecting management related health issues in the animals, there is no evidence that the animals do suffer.

Control of Zoos by specialist are necessary and if zoos fail to meet the state of the art criteria of zoo management, tourist operators may and should implement consequences. But this should be based on the Zoo itself and not on the animals they are keeping by pretending that such animals cannot be kept.

All in all, tour operators should not start to act as judges for animal husbandry and what is possible and what is not. They should implement accreditation systems based on scientific evidence and knowledge developed by experts in Zoo housing systems and veterinarians which are specialists for the different animal groups. In general, such a statement of a tour operator as made by Thomas Cook is unfair for those zoos providing the best care to their animals according to the up to date knowledge which is available at present and does not respect the impact of zoos towards species conservation and nature awareness of the public. The emotional driven discussion, which potentially led to the decision of the tour operator should be placed back on a scientific and evidence based discussion.

Open Letter from AMMPA & IMATA to Thomas Cook

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Original source: 180802AMMPA_IMATAThomasCookLetter

Dear Dr. Frankhauser,

We are writing on behalf the Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks & Aquariums (AMMPA) and the International Marine Animal Trainers’ Association (IMATA) to urge Thomas Cook Group to reconsider its decision to stop selling tickets to SeaWorld Orlando and Spain’s Loro Parque because of their care for and public display of killer whales in their world-renowned institutions.

Our request is based on science, research and facts verified by the Alliance, which is the preeminent trade association and accrediting body for zoos, aquariums, and marine parks throughout the world that exhibit marine mammals. The Alliance supports the highest standards of care for marine mammals and contributes to their conservation in the wild through public education, scientific research, and the rescue and rehabilitation of sick and injured animals in the wild. Our accredited institutions in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Europe, Asia, and the Caribbean—including SeaWorld Orlando and Loro Parque—collectively possess the largest body of marine mammal experience and expertise in the world.

As one of the oldest and largest animal training organizations in the world, IMATA is dedicated to advancing the humane care and handling of marine animals by fostering communication and sharing best practices among individual professionals through training, public display, research, husbandry, conservation, and public education. IMATA members utilize the most advanced and responsible management techniques benefiting the marine animals in their care to ensure the public’s experience with these animals fosters emotional and personal connections that promote conservation of our marine environments and respect for marine species.

While we share Thomas Cook’s desire to ensure animal welfare in tourism, it is disappointing that your company is ignoring the fact that both institutions exceed the highest animal care standards in the world and are leading contributors to education, conservation and research efforts to conserve killer whales and other marine mammals in the wild. SeaWorld and Loro Parque are also leaders in marine mammal rescue and rehabilitation and provide an important connection between people and daily work to protect marine life. This work is exactly what your customers said they desire when they report they want you to “take animal welfare seriously.”

Do not deny your customers the choice to see for themselves all that SeaWorld and Loro Parque are doing for animals globally to ensure animal welfare. Let them experience firsthand how inspiring and often transformational it is to see marine animals up close and in a safe, educational environment that is positive for people and for animals. This is what makes accredited marine parks so critical in the global efforts to protect marine mammals and the oceans.

SeaWorld has rescued more than 31,000 animals in the past five decades through its SeaWorld Cares program and provides funding and professional expertise to important animal and habitat conservation projects around the world. As part of its $10 million commitment to killer whale conservation, SeaWorld has helped fund a breakthrough nutritional assessment of Northern Resident killer whales and has done work on killer whale milk composition to understand their nutritional requirements and pregnancy and lactation to understand how killer whales metabolize toxins in their environment.

Loro Parque continuously receives awards of excellence and the highest ratings from visitors who recognize the institution’s commitment to marine mammals. Loro Parque also makes important contributions to conservation and research projects throughout the world. Since 2011, Loro Parque has funded or participated in research projects with orcas focused on bioacoustics, genetics, physiology, ethology, biotracking and biometrics. They are also participating in a project to evaluate the effects of realistic pollutant exposure on in vitro immune function in killer whales in order to generate data for a population model of contaminant effects in killer whales. As a result of this scientific work, in the last six years, six scientific papers have been published in peer- reviewed journals (and another three have been submitted), two masters and six diploma theses have been produced, and 11 presentations have been given at international congresses.

Like all Alliance members, SeaWorld Orlando and Loro Parque are mission driven and make animal welfare their top priority. The conservation of animals is what inspires the professionals at these outstanding organizations to dedicate their lives to providing the best care of marine mammals both at their organizations and in the wild. Their dedication and the opportunities they provide the public to connect with and learn more about these amazing animals is what draws millions of visitors to these parks. We understand the pressure animal rights organizations like PETA can bring to bear on a company through endless protests, letter writing and demands, constantly moving the goalposts on their desired action. They targeted Thomas Cook Group, and they will continue to pressure your company and others. However, please don’t confuse customer interest in animal welfare with the radical agenda of animal rights groups that attacked you and that are now taking credit for your decision to end support for organizations that are actually doing significant work to save marine mammals. Contrary to allegations from animal rights organizations, science shows that marine mammals in accredited facilities thrive and live as long as or, in many cases, much longer than their counterparts in the wild. They receive high quality, nutritious food, regular and preventative veterinary care by licensed professionals, and exercise and play in ways that are mentally and physically beneficial. These are facts from the experts who know and care for the animals, not those whose agenda it is to end the public display of all animals.

Again, we urge your company to reconsider its decision to deny your customers the chance to experience SeaWorld and Spain’s Loro Parque marine parks that are leading the work to save marine life.


Kathleen Dezio

Loro Parque announces the incorporation of its new Zoological Director

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Tony Greenwoods career began some 30 years ago in Auckland, New Zealand. He has a brought experience in International business, Tourism, zoological and philanthropic projects from rebuilding villages in Vanuatu to self sustaining projects throughout Asia, Africa and South Africa.

Tony Greenwoods started his first business, Melbourne’ first Pet Warehouse, specializing in selling of Australian and Exotic birds. He started to supply zoos and professional breeders around the world and to be heavily involved in bio security, animal husbandry and parasite management. He has owned as well helped to build and operate Wildlife Parks and zoos in Africa, Australia, and South East Asia.

His most recent project was Zoological Director of Riyadh Zoo in Saudi Arabia, where he has been instrumental in rebuilding the zoo to international standards.

Tony Greenwood will start his new position as Zoological Director of Loro Parque on April 2, 2018.