Although Ingrid Visser’s research on wild orcas is remarkable, she is nothing more but a child.
As seen in this video, she does everything a scientist shouldn’t. Interacting with wild (predatory) animals is dangerous. Yet Ingrid loves nothing more but to pet these orcas as if they’re her pets. That’s what they are to her, her pets. And she’ll raise hell over anyone who goes ahead and does the same as her because only she can pet these orcas.
New Zealand orcas have one of the highest dorsal fin abnormalities and it begs the question if Ingrid Visser’s continued habituation of these animals to humans and boats have anything to do with it.
This is Ben, one of the most recognizable of the New Zealand orcas. Years ago he was struck by a boat, the propeller slicing his dorsal fin in half. It was feared that the injury would get infected and kill him, but he miraculously recovered. The front half of the fin still stands up, but the back half collapsed to the left side. This makes him easy to identify, but also serves as a reminder to be careful when boating!
First image from Orca Research Trust, second image from here.
One of the most fascinating things about orcas is that each population has a different set of diet and hunting behaviors. Some populations eat only fish, while others eat only marine mammals, etc. The New Zealand orcas have a pretty varied diet, but they’re the only known orca population to feed off stingrays. The deadly rays can easily take down an orca, but the intelligent killer whales have figured out how to hunt them with skill and dexterity. (however, this stingray hunting habit means the NZ orcas have the highest rates of stranding out of any orca population, since the hunts often lead them into shallow waters) Orcas pass down hunting knowledge and skills to their young, in a way, almost resembling human culture.
It is for this reason we should work to preserve not only the wild population as a whole, but individual populations as well. Only a few wild orca populations have been well-studied, and if a less-studied population disappears, we’re not just losing orcas in a certain area, we’re losing a totally unique group with it’s own dialect and lifestyle that took generations to develop. Sure, a new group of orcas could potentially move into the area, but for reasons explained, it would still be a big loss for a given group to die out.
Video: How SeaWorld Twists Scientific Papers for Corporate P.R.
In 1998 Dr Ingrid Visser (in vid above) wrote a paper describing dorsal fin abnormalities in a small population (n=30) of New Zealand (male) orcas. Of those, 7 had twists or bends, and just one, who died shortly thereafter, had a “collapsed” fin. His name was Slater.
Here’s the trick SeaWorld uses:
Seven out of 30 is 23%. So SeaWorld tells the public that dorsal collapse is “normal” because it happens in 23% of wild orcas. This is completely misleading. Dr. Visser was referring to fin abnormalities in a small group of NZ adult males. Lastly, her study also recorded 174 Norwegian orcas, and only ONE MALE had an abnormality. (0.57%) For whatever reason, including conspecific aggression, New Zealand orcas have more abnormal fins (with bends & twists) than other populations. For clarity, these waves & bends are not the same as a collapsed fin as seen in 100% of all male captives.