Newspaper article Charleston Gazette Mail

Scientists Bemoan SeaWorld Decision to Stop Breeding Orcas

Newspaper article Charleston Gazette Mail

Scientists Bemoan SeaWorld Decision to Stop Breeding Orcas

Article excerpt

ORLANDO, Fla. - There's one last orca birth to come at SeaWorld, and it will probably be the last chance for research biologist Dawn Noren to study up close how female killer whales pass toxins to their calves through their milk. While SeaWorld's decision last month to end its orca breeding program delighted animal rights activists, it disappointed many marine scientists, who say they will gradually lose vital opportunities to learn things that could help killer whales in the wild.

Noren got to observe only one mother-and-calf pair at a SeaWorld park before the end of the breeding program was announced.

"It's really difficult to publish with one. I really was hoping for a couple more, but that is what it is, said Noren, who works at the National Marine Fisheries Service's Northwest Fisheries Science Center in Seattle.

SeaWorld's 29 orcas at its parks in Orlando, San Diego and San Antonio could remain on display for decades to come and will continue to be available for study by outside scientists, as they generally have been for many years. The whales are 1 to 51 years old.

But as SeaWorld's orca population dwindles, researchers will lose chances to collect health data and make other observations, such as drawing blood, measuring their heart rates and lung capacity, and documenting their diets and their growth. As the animals age, scientists say, research will be limited to geriatric orcas.

No other marine park or aquarium in the world has SeaWorld's experience in maintaining or breeding orcas in captivity.

SeaWorld parks hold all but one of all the orcas in captivity in the U.S., and they have housed more than half of all captive killer whales in the world tracked by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration over the past 50 years. Orcas held in Canada, Japan and Europe have not been as accessible to researchers.

SeaWorld will continue to support research projects underway on hearing, heart rates and blood, said Chris Dold, SeaWorld's chief zoological officer.

"There won't be an immediate crunch, he said. But he acknowledged: "Over time, yeah, there's a loss of this resource to society and science.

SeaWorld's critics, including People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and WDC/Whale and Dolphin Conservation, sidestepped questions of whether outside researchers will suffer. …

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