Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Orca Too Depressed to Nurse? Has Dr. Ingrid Visser Completely Lost it?

Up until now, I haven’t had a single negative thing to say about Dr. Ingrid Visser (unlike her accomplice John Hargrove), a ‘marine biologist’ often cited by anti-SeaWorld activists as being a world-renowned orca expert. This I don’t doubt, but now I have some troubling insight into how a respected academic can forfeit basic scientific principals and exploit their concrete status in order to inflict harm on a company whose ethics they disagree with. Such an act reeks of confusing desperation from a side brimming with so much support.


From The Dumb Dumb (or Dodo):

“Recent footage taken at SeaWorld appears to show a mother orca who's too depressed to nurse her calf.
Ingrid Visser, Ph.D., a marine biologist who specializes in orcas, and John Hargrove, a former SeaWorld trainer, recently took a trip to SeaWorld San Diego with a team from Superpod, an upcoming orca documentary project. While there, they spotted an orca named Kasatka apparently refusing to nurse her calf, a 2-year-old male named Makani.”
Now wait, let’s be clear on something. Regardless of what I’m about the speculate about this situation, I’m not going to say that Visser is definitely wrong about her biased hypothesis; that would make me guilty of the same logical fallacy she seems to be obliviously shoving to her naïve audience. Instead, I am completely against her 'methods', and I find it almost laughable (if it weren’t so sad) that she is simultaneously accusing SeaWorld of being anti-science, surely ready to launch the 'they started it!' defense if confronted.

In the video we have a brief glimpse of the orca Kasatka not allowing her calf Makani to suckle, and this is cause for headlines that the animal is “depressed”? Talk about taking the ball and running with it.

The first obvious logical fallacy the SeaWorld-hating duo is making is called confirmation bias.

Confirmation bias is the tendency to search for or interpret information in a way that confirms one's preconception—in the case of Visser and Hargove, both are dead set with their opinion that orcas are suffering 24/7 at SeaWorld, and they’ve obviously snuck into the aquatic theme park to obtain incriminating footage to suit their beliefs.

This cognitive bias makes it impossible to remain objective, and this is imperative if you are going to call yourself an animal behavioral scientist. So Visser has the GALL to then say:
"SeaWorld doesn't like me as a scientist," Visser explains. "They don't like the fact that I'm seeing things in the wild that reflect badly on them with the orca in captivity here."

No self-respecting facility should hesitate to remove a person with this particular goal. Visser is seen giggling in the face of her and Hargove’s escorting out of the park, something they certainly deserved, but that’s the understatement of the century.

Why is a “world-renowned” orca expert promoting horrifically bad science and rampant anthropomorphism? I would certainly expect this from Hargrove, not Visser. I am far from being an expert on anything, but several independent sources state killer whale begin weaning after about a year.
“Newborn calves nurse for about a year before weaning”.
Animal Diversity Web

Yet Visser is claiming SeaWorld is fabricating this information and using it to “justify separating calves from their mothers well before it's healthy”.
"I've seen pretty independent calves at one year — I've seen utterly dependent ones at three years," she added, emphasizing that there's not "clear-cut" answer for when calves stop depending on their mothers.”
Two things. These orcas are in captivity, and yes, this is the reason these activists’ blood boils. But we can certainly expect atypical behavior from captive animals, and that doesn’t automatically make it bad.

It is inevitable that the behavior of animals in human care will differ from wild animals and it is completely unreasonable to assume that every strange behavior performed by a captive animal is evidence of depression, suffering, or bad health. But this of course is the core of their arguments and why the crux of their philosophy fails (in my opinion) regardless of whether their beliefs are accurate or not.

There can be numerous reasons why the orca was not letting the baby nurse. That being said, even an experienced orca expert should be aware that even though we’ve made strides, we still know very little about wild killer whales and even something as important as gestation length was unknown until they were bred in captivity.

Visser speaks as though she knows everything and any intellectual worth their salt understands that they always have a lot more to learn. This applies especially to all cetaceans. 

Visser says “some mothers allow nursing from calves who are 3, 4, 5 years old, even older”.

Well, maybe this one didn’t (without bad mental health being the culprit).

 Or maybe Visser just hasn’t been lucky enough to witness every behavior of these animals.

Is the calf’s bumping a stereotypic behavior? The Dumb Dumb describes stereotyping as: “repetitive and meaningless patterns that animals sometimes develop due to the stress of captivity”.

But if the calf is, as Visser describes, “so desperately hungry”, the behavior has meaning. The baby is trying to feed, that would make it not a stereotype.

“In the video, both Visser and Hargrove touch on the anti-science mentality that leads the park to embrace a misguided and often flawed approach to interpreting orca behavior.”

It’s almost as if the The Dodo is illustrating the irony of this promotional propaganda masquerading as an inquisitive scientist wanting to observe animals objectively.


  1. I'm confused. You repeatedly cite that this woman is an expert, but regard her as 'biased' and therefore discredit her expert view.

    However you are neither an expert, nor are you unbiased, and yet assert your view as the correct one.
    Despite neither being an expert, or without bias, and ALSO not having seen or experienced the things this woman saw and experienced at Seaworld...
    And you proceed to refer to the expert on orcas as not only wrong, but you go so far as to call her a 'Dumb Dumb' as if you pocess a superior knowledge of orcas and their behavior. As a non expert, with 0 years of experience.

    This article in itself is incredibly contradictory.
    It comes off as you being offended that someone dares to know more than you do on this subject. You are so blindly pro animal captivity that you actually get personally offended when someone points out a dangerous behavior?
    You claim to be pro responsible keeping, but you're unable to draw a line and admit when something is being kept poorly...

    Is the fact that we still know so little not something that bothers you?
    That most orcas (read: all but two or three) have not achieved a lifespand over twenty years, and the majority die under ten years, in captivity. Does that not bother you?
    Have you considered that maybe the need to keep them in captivity (and profit) from them doesn't make this long term experimentation with keeping them that results in more deaths than life is not acceptable?

    I love exotic animals, I am very pro zoos and aquariums. But sometimes when you view certain things happening in captivity you need to be a little more critical, especially when you claim to care so much for the animals you're talking about.

    You claim bias from other individuals, but really this entire blog is a written documentation of your own personal bias.

    1. I called the website of which I copy-pasted the quote 'The DoDo', 'The Dumb Dumb'...that's why you see it in parenthesis...can't you read? Apparently not. All the answers to your concerns are addressed within. I clearly state I normally have no problem with Visser. She's anti-captivity but I haven't criticized her anti-captivity points until now FOR A REASON. I need no expertise to call her out on basic scientific principal. Are you arguing that her so-called expertise makes her use of the confirmation bias acceptable? Her own quote, "some mothers allow nursing..." states that not ALL orca mothers do this. Anyone with a brain can point out these obvious flaws, but if you lack simple sense and logic, you might just allow yourself to be manipulated by any 'expert'. I'm not arguing a single thing that would require me to observe what she did (that was filmed, AND she has given her account. There is no secret thing that she's observed) or be an expert. Maybe you aren't smart enough to see the distinction.

      "That most orcas (read: all but two or three) have not achieved a lifespand over twenty years"

      Two or three?? I counted 10 here over 20 years (Born 1996 or before) alive now from SeaWorld's parks. You must have been thinking 40+.


  2. Why would depression cause a mother not to feed her young? It’s not like she has to do anything extra. She doesn’t have to muster the effort to pull her depressed self out of bed to go heat up a bottle for the baby like a depressed human mother might.

    I wonder if on of the reasons the “depression” reasoning is being used because people don’t like to think of animals behaving in “mean” ways. Orcas are magical noble creatures to a lot of people, so seeing a mother not allowing her hungry baby to feed shatters that mystical noble animal illusion.

  3. All I have to add to this discussion is that what I observed yesterday at the Bronx Zoo was inhumane and cruel. An animal on display is generally half the size of its enclosure. There's no room to move, this condor cannot fly, that eagle is paired with another eagle that are incompatible as observed by their behaviors, this huge redtail catfish cannot move, It's stuck in place all day, the poor livestock in the children's zoo, fed by the handful all day the alfalfa garbage, look at them bloated in their dirty wool barely able to move or heaving on the floor, these poor creatures in a type of incarceration that is inhumane to the extreme. A bird with a 10 foot wingspan kept in a cage where it can not fly?!?! Why. Why Melissa do you champion this type of cruelty. Depression or not these animals are suffering on every level. Rant over. Just take a stroll through your local zoo and you'll see what I'm saying.

    1. I've been to the Bronx Zoo numerous times and was there in August. I have no idea what you're talking about. Their birds of prey are more than likely INCAPABLE of flight. They tend to be rescues.

  4. I know these comments are from last year, but I had to say a couple of things. First off, most birds of prey at the Bronx, as Melissa pointed out, have been injured and can no longer fly. The eagles there have plenty of room, both cannot fly, and I've never seen any signs of aggression between them. They both seem to be in good shape as well. Also, Red tailed catfish are commonly kept in ponds and tanks. They are lethargic, slow-moving, and spent most of their time lying in the muck waiting for prey to pass by. I've owned fish for over a decade now, and I've never seen red tails unusually in-active or remotely unhealthy in smaller tanks. Do people do any real research before condemning people to animal cruelty? On top of that, the animals in the petting zoo are 100% (probably more) healthier then those in factory farms where most meat is produced. I think zoos are great, educational places where people can learn to respect and get close to animals they may not otherwise get to see. Oh, and I own exotic pets as well, I eat meat, I hunt, fish, etc., but I always take very good care of all my animals, and that isn't going to change. I'd like to think that most respectable zoos would do the same.