Response to Comments and Questions from the J50 and Southern Resident Killer Whale Public Meetings

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On September 15 and 16, 2018, NOAA Fisheries held two meetings in Friday Harbor and Seattle, Washington, to hear from the public about the J50 emergency response and recovery of Southern Resident killer whales. We appreciate the participation at these meetings and the feedback and suggestions shared.

Below are comments and questions we received with responses. We received over 220 written comments, one petition with 1000 signatures, and almost 60 verbal comments during the meetings. We will be adding to this page on an ongoing basis to add more comments and responses.

What was SeaWorld’s role in the J50 response and any possible rescue?

In an effort to best respond to J50 and all such endangered species response efforts, we reach out to the world’s top experts, and SeaWorld is one of many partners with highly specialized expertise on the response team. SeaWorld veterinarians and biologists are among the most experienced in the world at caring for whales in managed care, and killer whales specifically. This is not a new partnership, Sea World has been a stranding network responder along the west coast, Gulf of Mexico, and along the Florida coast for many years and have supported rescue and rehabilitation of dozens of marine species. SeaWorld also operates some of the world’s most advanced diagnostic laboratories for assessing the health of cetaceans. These laboratories provided the results from fecal samples indicating that J50’s mother, J16, likely carries parasitic nematode worms. That discovery led veterinarians to recommend J50 be treated with a deworming medication, since the whales share prey. In this way, SeaWorld’s expertise and support informed and improved the effort to treat J50.

As the management authority for whales, including the recovery of endangered whales such as the Southern Residents, NOAA Fisheries has the final say on how response efforts proceed, including the effort to support J50. SeaWorld and our other partners responded to requests from the J50 team assembled by NOAA Fisheries according to their expertise, and provided support when and where it was asked. To help J50, the team needed the best expertise and resources available. SeaWorld’s support helped supply expertise and resources that the team needed to best help J50.

While some have questioned SeaWorld’s role in this response effort given its history decades ago of capturing killer whales from the wild, including Southern Residents, much has changed. SeaWorld has not been involved in captures in nearly 40 years and is committed to helping protect wild whales. SeaWorld today responds to stranded animals as a member of the West Coast Marine Mammal Stranding Network, and has supported the recovery of Southern Resident killer whales through monetary, resource, and expertise support to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s Killer Whale Research and Conservation Program. This Program has helped restore habitat for Chinook salmon that Southern Residents rely on for food, and fund research to better understand and address the risks and threats to these wild whales (2017, 2016, and 2015 list of projects funded).