Looks like SeaWorld is in trouble yet again, Green Monsters. Remember the research paper by Dr. Ingrid Visser – head of the Orca Research Trust – that they twisted to try and fool the public back in March?
The 1998 paper explored the prevalence of dorsal fin abnormalities within a small population of wild whales in New Zealand. A small sample of the orcas studied were observed to have had bent, crooked – but still upright – dorsal fins, for a variety of reasons. However, SeaWorld used the data contained within the study to try and claim that the condition of dorsal fin collapse – in which a male captive orca’s dorsal fin flips onto its side, due to a combination of inadequate exercise and the low water pressure in their tanks – was a widespread phenomenon amongst all whales, both wild and captive.
And now Visser herself is challenging SeaWorld to address the issue and publicly apologize for having misused her paper.
She is hoping the marine park will respond to her before a meeting in Miami with the Virgin Group, scheduled for next week. Here, she and other orca research specialists – including Dr. Naomi Rose, senior marine mammal scientist with the Animal Welfare Institute – will be discussing the negative impacts captivity can have on dolphins, porpoises, and whales. The meeting was organized by Sir Richard Branson, in response to criticism over Virgin Holidays’ travel packages to SeaWorld.
Speaking of the research paper in question, Visser said: “Firstly, my cited paper is about New Zealand orcas, not a population found off the west coast of North America. Any orca biologist worth their salt would know that.” She further noted that only one male orca in the New Zealand pod was recorded as suffering from a collapsed dorsal fin, and that all the other orcas who were observed to have suffered a dorsal fin injury “had bent (or twisted) or partially collapsing fins, not collapsed.”
As a member of the Society for Conservation Biology, Visser is determined not to take SeaWorld’s misuse of her data lightly, since the Society’s Code of Ethics urges members to “attempt to correct misrepresentation of their research by others.” On two separate occasions, she has asked Dr. Judy St. Leger, SeaWorld’s director of research, to correct the erroneous information.
In one email, dated May 15, she said, “I hope, that as a scientist yourself and as the Director of Research at SeaWorld, you can see how wrong this misrepresentation is – not only to inform the public by distorting the facts but also misrepresenting the data by not presenting it in context.”
Sadly – but unsurprisingly – St. Leger has yet to respond to Visser’s request.
This isn’t the only time SeaWorld has engaged in a bit of fact-twisting. They have previously been known to claim that their whales live longer than those in the wild, because of the “exceptional veterinary care” they receive – despite the fact that the very paper they use to substantiate their claims does not support this.
Will they ever learn, Green Monsters? Let us know what you think with a comment below.
Image source: Wikimedia Commons