On May 19, 2015, SeaWorld Entertainment, Inc. announced a commitment of $1.5 million over three years to a new partnership with The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (abbreviated: NFWF) through the Killer Whale Research and Conservation Program (abbreviated: KWRCP). Support of the KWRCP is part of SeaWorld’s $10 million pledge to fund research and conservation for killer whales in the wild – the largest private commitment of its kind.
The KWRCP will focus on three strategies: increasing prey availability; improving habitat quality; and strengthening management through crucial research. NFWF will seek to match this commitment with additional public and private dollars and plans to release an initial Request for Proposals (RFP) June 8 in conjunction with the global celebration of World Oceans Day.
“SeaWorld and the SeaWorld & Busch Gardens Conservation Fund have long supported organizations that focus on results-driven, on-the-ground research and conservation work,” said Joel Manby, president and chief executive officer of SeaWorld Entertainment, Inc. “NFWF has a longstanding reputation for working efficiently and effectively to conserve species and their habitats and we are looking forward to working together to protect wild killer whale populations.”
The program is dedicated primarily to providing support to aid in the recovery of the endangered Southern Resident killer whale population found in the coastal waters of Washington State and surrounding areas, known as the Salish Sea.
“Killer whales are amazing animals and as a species at the top of the food chain, they play a key role in the health of the ocean ecosystem,” said Jeff Trandahl, executive director and CEO of NFWF. “We are excited to be a partner with SeaWorld, a company with a long-term commitment to conservation efforts, in this critical effort to help restore the populations of killer whales found in the Pacific Northwest.”
As part of SeaWorld’s $10 million commitment, multiple killer whale projects are already underway through funding provided by the SeaWorld & Busch Gardens Conservation Fund (SWBGCF). These projects include:
1) Continued funding of a breakthrough nutritional assessment of Northern Resident killer whales using unmanned aerial drone technology.
Scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) took a series of precise body measurements of the killer whales living at SeaWorld, including pregnant whales. Now they are using drones to photo-document wild killer whales, and based on the images collected at SeaWorld, are able to monitor the wild population’s nutritional and reproductive states.
2) Research on SeaWorld’s killer whales’ milk composition will help scientists understand the nutritional requirements for mothers and calves.
In the Pacific Northwest, killer whales face the challenge of not enough salmon. By understanding how much energy goes into producing milk and having a better handle on how calves grow, we can determine if available prey are sufficient to meet the nutritional needs of the killer whales in the wild.
3) Research into pregnancy and lactation will help scientists understand how killer whales metabolize toxins.
This study is looking at how toxins are transferred during pregnancy and lactation to offspring. Toxins are identified as a major health concern for wild killer whales. They have been proposed as causes for reduced pregnancy success and increased health issues in wild whales. By studying the whales at SeaWorld, we can create an effective model to better understand how these toxins impact wild killer whales.