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A scientist by the name of Ken Balcomb has extensively studied killer whales since 1976. Ken Balcomb is the research biologist responsible for discovering that U.S Navy sonar may harm killer whales. Ken Balcomb studied killer whales from the Center for Whale Research which is located in Friday Harbor, Washington.[1] He was also able to study killer whales from "his home porch perched above Puget Sound, where the animals hunt and play in summer months."[1] In May of 2003, Ken Balcomb (along with other whale watchers near the Puget Sound coastline) noticed uncharacteristic behavior displayed by the killer whales. The whales seemed "agitated and were moving haphazardly, attempting to lift their heads free of the water" to escape the sound of the sonars.[1] "Balcomb confirmed at the time that strange underwater pinging noises detected with underwater microphones were sonar. The sound originated from a U.S. Navy frigate 12 miles (19 kilometers) distant, Balcomb said."[1] The impact of sonar waves on killers whales is potentially life threatening. Three years prior to Balcomb's discovery, research in the Bahamas showed that 14 beaked whales washed up on the shore. These whales were beached on the exact day that U.S Navy destroyers were activated into sonar exercise.[1] Out of the 14 whales beached, six of them died. These six dead whales were studied and CAT scans of the two of the whale heads showed hemorrhaging around the brain and the ears, which is consistent with decompression sickness.[1]

Another conservation concern was made public in September of 2008 when Ottawa decided that it was not necessary to enforce further protections (including the Species at Risk Act in place to protect endangered animals along their habitats) for killer whales aside from the laws already in place. In response, to this decision a total of Six environmental groups sued the federal government in Vancouver, Canada claiming that killer whales were facing many threats on the B.C coast and the federal government did nothing to protect the killer whales from these threats.[2] A legal and scientific non-profit organization called Ecojustice led the lawsuit and represented : the David Suzuki Foundation, Environmental Defence, Greenpeace Canada, International Fund for Animal Welfare, the Raincoast Conservation Foundation, and the Wilderness Committee.[2] Many scientists involved in this lawsuit including Bill Wareham, a marine scientist with the David Suzuki Foundation, noted increased boat traffic, water toxic wastes, and low salmon population as major threats putting approximately 87 killer whales [2] on the B.C coast in danger.


In a 2011 CNN Justice news article Bill Mears and Tom Cohen wrote about a lawsuit that PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) pursued against SeaWorld. PETA filed a "20-page complaint asks the U.S. District Court in Southern California to declare that the five whales -- Tilikum, Katina, Corky, Kasatka, and Ulises -- are being held in slavery or involuntary servitude in violation of the 13th Amendment." [3] PETA claims that the 13th amendment technically does not state that it solely applies to non-human animals.[3] Ric O'barry (who was featured in a documentary entitled "The Cove" about dolphin hunting in Japan)and two former SeaWorld trainers supported PETA in moving forward with the lawsuit against SeaWorld.[3] Legal cases in State and federal courts dealing with animal cruelty tend to be based on human actions solely because animals cannot actually be prosecuted or actively participate as plaintiffs and defendants on trial.

In 1970 a killer whale, later named Lolita, was captured from the Puget Sound waters and since then has been performing at Miami Seaqurium for more than 40 years. During these four decades celebrities, children, and a Washington state governor have campaigned to free Lolita.[4] One of the Lolita supporters is Howard Garret. Howard Garret is a co-founder of the non-profit Orca Network located on Whidbey Island, Wash.[4] Garret believes that Lolita has a strong memory of her life and her family in her former natural habitat. The Miami Seaquarium argues that Lolita's interaction and dependence on her human caregivers supersedes her natural survival instincts, thus she would not survive on her own in the wild.[4] They also argue that human and boat activity, as well as pollution are serious threats to killer whales. In December of 2011 supporters offered $1 million dollars[4] to have Lolita freed from the Miami Seaquarium. After campaign and financial efforts to free Lolita were denied by the Miami Seaquarium activists are suing the federal government in federal court in Seattle with the argument that Lolita should have been protected when other Southern region orcas were listed as endangered species in 2005.[4] The Endangered Species Act (ESA) deems it illegal to "harass, harm, pursue, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect" to any species put on the list.[5] The Miami Sequarium did not wish to comment on the lawsuit, instead the Miami Seaquarium released a statement highlighting Lolita's life in captivity as active, healthy, and well cared for.[4] One plaintiff in the lawsuit named Carter Dillard, chief counsel for the Animal Legal Defense Fund, suggested that Lolita be moved to a larger "sea pen" home where Lolita would be able to swim farther distances and interact with other killer whales.[5]

In February of 2010 a 40-year-old SeaWorld Trainer named Dawn Brancheau was killed by a 12,300-lb male[6] killer whale named Tillikum. The fatal event occurred after a show called "Dine with Shamu" at SeaWorld's Shamu Stadium in Orlando, Florida. The Orange County sheriff's spokesman Jim Solomons stated that Dawn Brancheau fell and slipped into the 35-foot-deep tank where she was endured a deadly injury by one of the killer whales.[7] However, other witnesses maintain that Dawn Brancheau was violently grabbed and attacked by the killer whale. A woman, who attended the show at SeaWorld prior to the death of the trainer, named Lori Miller spoke on "Larry King Live" about the trainers were having a hard time getting the killer whales to perform.[7] A spokesperson for PETA commented on this incident and referred to it as "a tragedy that didn't have to happen."[7] Prior to the death of trainer Dawn Brancheau two other trainers were involved in incidents with killer whales at SeaWorld. In 1999, a 27-year-old man snuck into the park after closing and his body was later discovered floating on his back in Tillikum's tank.[7] Another SeaWorld trainer was seriously injured during a show at the Shamu Stadium after being grabbed by a killer whale and held underwater in 2006.[7]

The director of the International Marine Mammal Project for the Earth Island Institute , David Phillips, led the efforts to return Keikoto the Iceland waters.[6]

  1. ^ a b c d e f Pickrell, John (March 2004). "U.S Navy Sonar May Harm Killer Whales, Expert Says". National Geographic News. Retrieved 19 March 2012. 
  2. ^ a b c "Ottawa Sued over Lack of Legislation to Protect B.C Killers Whales". CBC News. 09 October 2008. Retrieved 19 March 2012.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  3. ^ a b c Mears, Cohen, Bill, Tom (26 October 2011). "PETA Lawsuit Alleges SeaWorld Enslaves Killer Whales". CNN. Retrieved 19 March 2012. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f Vallbona, Nuri (Decemeber 2 2011). "Whale Activists Sue to Free Lolita from Captivity". MSNBC US News. Retrieved 19 March 2012.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  5. ^ a b Welch, Craig (01 December 2011). "Captive orca could test Endangered Species Act". The Seattle Times. Retrieved 19 March 2012.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  6. ^ a b Wood, Daniel (24 February 2010). "Death of Sea World trainer: Do 'killer whales' belong in theme parks?". The Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved 19 March 2012. 
  7. ^ a b c d e "SeaWorld trainer killed by killer whale". CNN U.S. 24 February 2010. Retrieved 19 March 2012.