August 15, 2014

Two killer whales perform at SeaWorld San Diego.     Photo: Chris Favero/Flickr

Why SeaWorld is Investing in Orca Health

Plans to nearly double the size of its San Diego killer whale environment

Amid falling stock prices and public scorn for its treatment of orcas, SeaWorld announced plans to nearly double the size of its San Diego killer whale environment, put $10 million toward NOAA's wild orca research, and create an independent advisory science committee to oversee its orca program.

The habitat expansion, dubbed the Blue World Project and set for completion in 2018, will increase the pool housing its 10 orcas from 5.6 million gallons of water to 10 million, reach depths of 50 feet, and give orcas a taste of the wild by simulating underwater currents. Visitors to the new habitat will be able to watch the whales from behind a 40-foot glass wall beneath the waterline or along a false shoreline. An advisory group composed of California-based academic researchers will monitor the orcas' health.

Similar environments are planned for construction at its Orlando and Austin locations. 

Despite putting funds toward orca health in the wild and at home, many say the project is a transparent attempt to make up Wall Street losses as a result of outcry initiated by the documentary Blackfish. SeaWorld Enterntainment Inc.'s shares dropped 33 percent Wednesday, a sign that investors don't think the company can recover from its PR disaster. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals says SeaWorld is adding insult to injury by only simulating marine environments for its whales.

"This is a desperate drop-in-the-bucket move to try to turn back the hands of time when people understand the suffering of captive orcas, and it will not save the company," said Jared Goodman, PETA's director of animal law, in an interview with the Los Angeles Times. "A bigger prison is still a prison."

More Outside Coverage of the SeaWorld Controversy

SeaWorld Earnings Flop Amid Blackfish Backlash
The Story of the SeaWorld Death That Started It All
Are SeaWorld's Trainers In Danger? Part 1 and Part 2
SeaWorld's Media Blitz Against Blackfish
Most Recently: SeaWorld and Southwest Part Ways

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Bears and wolves roam the southwest area of the Siberian taiga where Karina survived for 11 days.     Photo: rutin55/Thinkstock

Toddler Has Better Survival Skills Than You

Lived in forest 11 days, rescued by puppy

Karina Chikitova's puppy has been getting lots of attention since it led rescuers to the woods where she was lost. But the real hero here is Karina herself, who is three years old and survived for 11 days in a part of the Siberian wilderness where bears and wolves are known to roam.

On July 29, Karina and Kyrachaan ("puppy" or "little one"), as many call the dog, were with her father at their home village in Russia's Yakutia, part of the remote Sakha Republic. The Siberian Times reports that the girl's father didn't realize that Karina and the puppy had followed him into the wilderness after he left to fight a forest fire. Her parents realized she was missing four days later, but high grasses made an aerial search impossible. 

Meanwhile, Karina and Kyrachaan lived on berries and water, sleeping in a bed she made of grasses. Rescuers believe the two were able to cuddle for warmth: "Nights in Yakutia are cold, and some areas have already gone into minus temperatures," Afanasiy Nikolayev, spokesperson for the Sakha Republic Rescue Service, told the Siberian Times. After nine days, the dog returned to Karina's home village of Olom and guided rescuers right to her. 

Like many three-year-olds, Karina is afraid of the dark, and she suffered bad insect bites in the forest (she's currently recovering at a hospital). But she barely cried after her rescue, and a psychologist who spoke with her said, "The girl is very strong, very resilient."

She's unquestionably our new hero. And, yes, in another parallel to the Balto story, Karina and Kyrachaan will be memorialized in a statue at the local SC Yakutsk Airport. 

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Mekhissi-Benabbad wrote on his Facebook page that he was simply trying to "celebrate my victory like a footballer."     Photo: Getty Images

World's Fastest Shirtless Runner Stripped of Medal

Steeplechaser loses third championship title for crazy antics

French runner Mahiedine Mekhissi-Benabbad won the European Championships 3,000-meter steeplechase for the third time on Thursday. He also lost his championship title for the third time. Mekhissi-Benabbad was disqualified after taking off his shirt and putting it in his mouth during the final 100 meters of the race.

The stripping steeplechaser, who also won the event in 2010 and 2012, had a comfortable lead coming into the final stretch of the race. In order to wave to the crowd as he finished, he shoved his singlet into his mouth for safekeeping. He said that removing his shirt was simply a side effect of the joy of winning.

It's also the cause of a yellow card. "The action was unacceptable. You don't take off your vest during a race. It isn't done," French athletics federation president Bernard Amsalem said, according to the Telegraph.

  Photo: Getty Images

"It was the pleasure of winning," Mekhissi-Benabbad in a report from the Sydney Morning Herald. "I was so happy to defend my title. The main thing was to win. I did not know that I was going to get a yellow card for that." He added, “This yellow card is nothing."

It might seem like nothing to Mekhissi-Benabbad compared with his other run-ins with trouble. He lost the 2010 and 2012 European Championship steeplechase titles for slapping and shoving mascots on the track. At the 2011 Diamond League meet, he got into a fistfight with teammate Mehdi Baala after the 1500-meter final.

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A pair of rhinos under threat in Kruger National Park, one of Africa's largest game reserves.     Photo: Chris Eason/Flickr

South Africa Begins Secret Rhino Evac

Illegal rhino killings up 7,623% in six years

Illegal rhino killings in South Africa's northeastern Kruger National Park, one of the largest game reserves in Africa, have increased from 13 in 2007 to 1,004 in 2013. With 630 rhinos poached in 2014 to date (408 of those in Kruger), South African officials announced this week that they will be undertaking the mammoth task of evacuating up to 500 Kruger rhinos to undisclosed, safer locations.

The relocation is twice as involved as the park's biggest relocation on record, an evacuation of 250 rhinos in 2009. The park has relocated 1,450 Kruger animals over the past 15 years.

The operation will take place on the Wales-sized park's impoverished eastern border with Mozambique, which experiences high degrees of poaching, and will be far from easily completed. Environment minister Edna Molewa said evacuation includes tracking the 1,500-pound animals through remote bush, tranquilizing them from helicopters, and transporting them to state-owned, private, and communal parks. The ministry has also discussed moving rhinos to Botswana and Zambia.

Why the growth in poaching? As with many things, it comes down to money. Demand for rhino horns has increased in Asian countries like China and Vietnam, where the horns were once used as cancer cures in traditional medicine but are gaining popularity as signs of wealth. Conservationists estimate that at a street value of about $30,000 per pound, rhino horn is more valuable than both platinum and gold.

In addition to protecting rhinos from poaching, the relocation could help populations recover. Government biologists said rhino birthrates have declined in the park because its ecosystem can't support the current population.

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