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News Article | November 9, 2015
Site: www.reuters.com

Visitors are greeted by an Orca killer whale as they attend a show featuring the whales during a visit to the animal theme park SeaWorld in San Diego, California March 19, 2014. The move, which follows a vote by the California Coastal Commission last month barring the park from continuing to breed killer whales, or orcas, in captivity, was announced during a webcast company presentation to investors and the media. In place of its centerpiece orca performances, the park plans to open a new killer whale exhibition in 2017 staged in a "more natural setting" with a more conservation-oriented theme, SeaWorld Chief Executive Officer Joel Manby said during the presentation. SeaWorld executives did not immediately elaborate on how the new attraction would differ from the old shows. And it was not clear whether the same changes would be undertaken at the company's two other aquatic theme parks, in Orlando, Florida, and San Antonio, Texas. SeaWorld has faced heated criticism and declining admissions since release of the 2013 documentary film "Blackfish," which depicted captivity of killer whales as inherently cruel and said the practice has persisted because orcas are the primary attraction at the company's highly lucrative theme parks. The film, which SeaWorld has criticized as inaccurate and misleading, also explored the circumstances leading to the 2010 death of a top SeaWorld trainer, who was pulled underwater and drowned by an orca she had worked and performed with in Florida. Trainers have not been allowed back into the water with killer whales during performances at SeaWorld since that incident. A plan by the San Diego park to expand its orca pools drew opposition from animal rights groups and their supporters who wanted to see the park's collection of 11 killer whales released into the wild instead. The state Coastal Commission voted unanimously in October to permit SeaWorld San Diego to expand its orca habitat while requiring the park to cease its captive-breeding program for the whales. SeaWorld said days later that it intended to challenge that decision. The commission's decision was seen as a major blow to the park's long-running traditional orca shows, named for Shamu, the original killer whale star of SeaWorld's performances, in the 1960s and early 1970s.


News Article | March 18, 2016
Site: www.biosciencetechnology.com

After years of pressure, SeaWorld made a surprise announcement: It no longer breeds killer whales in captivity and will soon stop making them leap from their pools or splash audiences on command. Surrendering Thursday to a profound shift in how people feel about using animals for entertainment, the SeaWorld theme parks have joined a growing list of industries dropping live animal tricks. Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus is retiring all of its touring elephants in May. Once-popular animal shows in Las Vegas have virtually disappeared. "Society's attitude toward these very, very large, majestic animals under human care has shifted for a variety of reasons, whether it's a film, legislation, people's comments on the Internet," SeaWorld Entertainment CEO Joel Manby said. "It wasn't worth fighting that. We needed to move where society was moving." SeaWorld's 29 killer whales will remain in captivity, but in "new, inspiring natural orca encounters," according to the company. SeaWorld's orcas range in age from 1 to 51 years old, so some could remain on display for decades. Attendance at SeaWorld's parks declined after the 2013 release of "Blackfish," a highly critical documentary. Some top musical acts dropped out of SeaWorld-sponsored concerts at the urging of animal rights activists, who kept up a visible presence demonstrating outside the parks' gates. Still, the decision shocked advocates who have spent decades campaigning against keeping marine mammals captive, and it represents a sharp U-turn from SeaWorld's previous reaction to the documentary. In August 2014, SeaWorld announced major new investments in the orca program, including new, larger tanks, first in San Diego and then at its parks in Orlando and San Antonio, Texas. But the California Coastal Commision didn't approve the $100 million expansion until last October, and when it did, it banned orca breeding as part of the decision. SeaWorld sued, arguing that the commission overstepped its authority, but said it would end its San Diego orca shows by 2017. Meanwhile, SeaWorld brought in a new leader with more experience in regional theme parks than zoos and aquariums, which have been fending off such protests for decades. Manby was hired as SeaWorld CEO last March 19 after running Dollywood and other musically-themed parks. He said Thursday that he brought a "fresh perspective" to the killer whale quandary, and soon realized that "society is shifting here." Orcas have been a centerpiece of the SeaWorld parks since shows at the Shamu stadium in San Diego became the main draw in the 1970s. But criticism has steadily increased in the decades since and then became sharper after an orca named Tilikum battered and drowned trainer Dawn Brancheau after a "Dine with Shamu" show in Orlando in 2010. Her death was highlighted in "Blackfish," and it wasn't the first for Tilikum. The whale also killed an animal trainer and a trespasser in the 1990s. "Blackfish" director Gabriela Cowperthwaite said she applauds SeaWorld's decision, "but mostly I applaud the public for recalibrating how they feel ethically about orcas in captivity." The new orca shows will begin next year at the San Diego park, before expanding to its San Antonio park and then to Orlando in 2019, Manby said. What about shows involving dolphins and other marine mammals? "Stay tuned on that," Manby said. "A lot of people don't understand how hard it is internally to make these kinds of decisions. We need to execute this well. We need to make sure we have the organization in the same direction. Then we will apply those learnings elsewhere." SeaWorld has not only discontinued breeding orcas through artificial insemination; it also feeds the whales birth control medication, Manby said. One of SeaWorld's most prolific breeders has been Tilikum. The 35-year-old whale has sired 14 calves during his 23 years in Orlando, but he's gravely ill now and not expected to live much longer. "So you're saying you're ending your breeding program? Well, guess what? Your breeding program is ending anyhow. I think it's greenwashing," said Ric O'Barry, who directs the DolphinProject.net advocacy group. In 2012, SeaWorld sent workers to infiltrate the animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which has been particularly critical. Manby confirmed the effort last month. He said the undercover workers were sent to protect the safety of SeaWorld employees and customers, but he vowed to end the practice. Now, SeaWorld hopes to turn a less strident foe, the Humane Society, into a collaborator, helping to educate guests about animal welfare and conservation through interpretive programs and expanded advocacy for wild whales, seals and other marine creatures. Humane Society CEO Wayne Pacelle, who called SeaWorld's about-face a "monumental announcement," said his organization is by no means naive about SeaWorld, but sees a chance to make progress for animal rights." "We didn't want to be endlessly mired in conflict," Pacelle said. PETA wasn't satisfied, insisting Thursday that SeaWorld should give up its orcas altogether. "SeaWorld must open its tanks to the oceans to allow the orcas it now holds captive to have some semblance of a life outside these prison tanks," PETA spokeswoman Colleen O'Brien said in a statement. Manby countered that no captive dolphin or orca has been successfully released into the wild. SeaWorld is abandoning plans to expand its orca tanks now that the breeding program has ended, the company said. A spokeswoman for the California Coastal Commission praised this, and suggested that SeaWorld drop its lawsuit as well. Manby said SeaWorld's three marine parks may move closer to the balance of rides, shows and animals found at the company's Busch Gardens parks. They need a mixture of experiences to keep a family at the park all day, he said. "I do think you have to have more rides," Manby said. "Some of these messages about animal welfare ... You can't hit them with that all day because sometimes it's a heavy message. You have to balance it."


News Article | December 30, 2015
Site: phys.org

The suit filed in San Diego County Superior Court says the California Coastal Commission was outside its authority when it made the ruling on breeding in October. The commission endorsed a $100 million expansion of the tanks known as "Blue World" that SeaWorld uses to hold orcas, but in a surprising and serious blow to the park, included a ban on breeding at the planned facility and prohibitions on the sale, trade or transfer of the whales. The commission had to approve the project as it does all major building plans in coastal cities, but the park's attorneys argued the agency's authority should have ended with the structure itself. "This last-minute 'no breeding or transfer' condition is unprecedented," SeaWorld said in the lawsuit, which claims the commission's action is illegal because it has no jurisdiction over the orcas. "The orcas are not, in any way, part of the coastal or marine environment," the lawsuit says. "All of SeaWorld's activities with respect to the care, breeding and transportation of orcas occur onshore in the orca pools and not in the marine environment and are specifically governed by federal law." Noaki Schwartz, spokeswoman for the Coastal Commission, said the agency could not comment on the particulars of the lawsuit, but the commission said in a statement that it "stands by its decision in October to protect killer whales." People For the Ethical Treatment of Animals, the main group opposing the project, said in a statement Tuesday that the commission was within its rights and made the correct decision. "It's clear that the company's primary intention in pursuing the Blue World Project was to breed more orcas to confine to tanks," PETA said in a statement. SeaWorld said in October that it would challenge the decision and that it had hired attorneys to examine it but did not give specifics before filing the lawsuit Tuesday. Last month, the Orlando, Florida-based company said it would end theatrical orca shows at the San Diego park after visitors at the tourist attraction made it clear they prefer seeing killer whales act naturally rather than doing tricks. The shows will continue at the company's Orlando and San Antonio parks, which are not affected by the breeding ban. Explore further: Mont. aims to reduce wolf numbers for first time


News Article | December 30, 2015
Site: www.reuters.com

Visitors are greeted by an Orca killer whale as they attend a show featuring the whales during a visit to the animal theme park SeaWorld in San Diego, California in this file photo dated March 19, 2014. The lawsuit, filed in San Diego Superior Court, argues that the California Coastal Commission overstepped its authority when it imposed the breeding restriction because it does not have jurisdiction over the marine mammals, which are regulated under federal law. The commission, which oversees development along California's coast, only had jurisdiction to approve or reject construction projects at the park and would effectively end SeaWorld's popular killer whale shows, the complaint said. "The condition forces SeaWorld to either agree to the eventual demise of its lawful and federally regulated orca exhibition, or withdraw the permit application and forego the effort to enhance the orcas' habitat," SeaWorld Entertainment Inc attorneys said. During a contentious seven-hour hearing in October, the California Coastal Commission voted unanimously to give SeaWorld permission to double the size of its orca pools so long as the park ends its captive breeding program and does not transfer any of its marine mammals to other facilities. Critics who attended the hearing questioned SeaWorld's treatment of animals in captivity and demanded the park's population of 11 orcas be released into the wild. "The Coastal Commission process became unhinged," the complaint states. "Animal rights activists appeared at the Coastal Commission hearing and vilified SeaWorld in their 'testimony,'" the lawsuit contends. Officials at the commission did not immediately return calls for comment about the lawsuit. Eight of SeaWorld's 11 orcas are the result of captive breeding, the lawsuit said. "SeaWorld has not collected an orca from the wild in more than 35 years and has committed to not doing so in the future," attorneys said. The complaint asks the Superior Court judge to either order the the restrictions be removed or order a new hearing of the development proposal, called "Blue World," without the restrictions on breeding and transfer, and for the cost of SeaWorld's attorney fees.


News Article | February 15, 2017
Site: www.latimes.com

El Niño may not have brought much rain to Southern California, but it did take its toll on the Golden State’s beaches. A new study of the waves, water levels and coastal changes at 29 beaches across California, Oregon and Washington has found that the 2015-16 El Niño triggered unprecedented erosion across much of the West Coast. The results, published this week in the journal Nature Communications, document a level of degradation from which these natural systems may not be able to recover. That could have far-reaching environmental and economic impacts, experts said. The analysis also opens a window into how the coast is likely to hold up as climate change and its associated sea-level rise worsen. “This is likely the kind of El Niño we may experience more in the future,” said lead author Patrick Barnard, a coastal geologist with the U.S. Geological Survey in Santa Cruz. El Niño is a multiyear weather pattern that typically brings big storms to the West Coast. Drought-parched Southern California had awaited the expected rains last winter with bated breath, hoping it would help revive California’s wilting landscape. Northern California did get a good soaking — but down south, the deluge never materialized, leaving many Angelenos wondering whether El Niño really came to the region at all. But the phenomenon did hit Southern California — along with the rest of the West Coast — hard. That’s because the weather pattern isn’t just about rain. Its strength also can be measured by the power of the waves pounding the coastline. Barnard knew he wasn’t the only one watching the coastlines; colleagues at half a dozen other institutions had been monitoring activity along the West Coast. They quickly realized that, wet or not, they could have a monster El Niño on their hands — and that it could take a major toll on beaches. Beaches go through a seasonal cycle: Powerful winter waves drag sand out to sea, while more gentle waves in the summer deposit much of that sand back onshore. During El Niño winters, the waves are extra-strong, removing even more sand — and causing more erosion — than usual. Teaming up, the scientists made surface maps using a remote-sensing laser technology called light detection and ranging, or LIDAR. They also drove all-terrain vehicles across beaches to perform GPS-based topographic surveys. (Barnard, not the biggest fan of dune buggies, said he took it slow.) That kind of analysis wasn’t possible during the last really big El Niño season in 1997-98, when GPS technology was just coming online, Barnard said. “There was a little bit of data collection back then,” he added, “but now it’s basically cheaper, it’s faster — it’s easier to collect these kinds of data.” The researchers found that the most extreme waves were about 50% larger than usual during the 2015-16 El Niño season. Consequently, the level of beach erosion was a whopping 76% higher than normal — and 27% higher than any other recorded winter. Barnard and his colleagues had expected this El Niño would be big. They just hadn’t thought it would be quite this big. “We saw the conditions in the Pacific, but I think we were definitely surprised at the scale of the event — especially in relation to the other two monster El Niños that have always been considered to be the big ones,” he said, referring to the 1982-83 and 1997-98 winter seasons. The problem with such extreme erosion is that there’s very little chance the summertime waves can deposit enough sand to make up the loss. That makes an El Niño like last year’s a potentially unrecoverable event for the natural system. Beaches can also be replenished with new sediment washing down rain-swollen rivers. But in Southern California, the combination of powerful waves and little rain created a worst-case scenario, Barnard said. This situation is one that’s been long in the making, said Robert Guza, a physical oceanographer at UC San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography who was not involved in the study. “Southern California, we love to build in river floodplains and then say, ‘Holy crap, it flooded,’” Guza said. “Then we dam the rivers for flood control and say, ‘Holy crap, the sand’s not getting to the beaches anymore.’” The damming of Southern California’s rivers has trapped roughly half of the sediment that would otherwise replenish the region’s beaches, he added — sediment that later costs money to remove. “Our beaches are sand-starved, partially because we’re starving them,” he added. The loss of such beach area has serious consequences for the plants and animals that rely on that habitat, said Lesley Ewing, a senior coastal engineer with the California Coastal Commission in San Francisco who was not involved in the research paper. “There are birds that nest on sandy beach areas; there are fish that lay their eggs on the beach, like grunion,” Ewing said. “So they’re really important for a number of parts of the food web.” There are also economic ramifications for property owners and cities near such coveted shorelines. Beaches bring in money from both locals and tourists — which is why millions of dollars are often spent to bring in sand to artificially replenish them, Guza said. “The beaches are really an incredibly valuable public resource,” Ewing said, pointing out that those cooling sea breezes may become increasingly valuable to state residents as inland areas heat up over the next several decades. Ewing said the study affirmed what she’d seen at beaches in Northern California, including severe erosion at Half Moon Bay and Pacifica State Beach. For Guza, the findings helped explain the significant erosion he’d seen at San Diego beaches. This El Niño may have been a big one, but it may become “the new normal,” Guza and Ewing said. During El Niño, the sea level temporarily rises by several inches along the coast. That’s a good proxy for the sea level rise that’s expected in the coming decades as rising temperatures melt polar ice reserves, Guza said. “The only real prediction I have is, it will get worse — a lot worse,” Guza said. “I just don’t know how fast.” Communities, he said, will have to decide whether to protect vulnerable beaches —  perhaps by bringing in more sand, or building sea walls.


News Article | January 25, 2016
Site: www.scientificcomputing.com

LONG BEACH, CA (AP) — Forget about selfies. In California, residents are using smartphones and drones to document the coastline's changing face. Starting this month, The Nature Conservancy is asking tech junkies to capture the flooding and coastal erosion that come with El Nino, a weather pattern that's bringing California its wettest winter in years — and all in the name of science. The idea is that crowd-sourced, geotagged images of storm surges and flooded beaches will give scientists a brief window into what the future holds as sea levels rise from global warming, a sort of a crystal ball for climate change. Images from the latest drones, which can produce high-resolution 3-D maps, will be particularly useful and will help scientists determine if predictive models about coastal flooding are accurate, said Matt Merrifield, the organization's chief technology officer. "We use these projected models and they don't quite look right, but we're lacking any empirical evidence," he said. "This is essentially a way of 'ground truthing' those models." Experts on climate change agreed that El Nino-fueled storms offer a sneak peak of the future and said the project was a novel way to raise public awareness. Because of its crowd-sourced nature, however, they cautioned the experiment might not yield all the results organizers hoped for, although any additional information is useful. "It's not the answer, but it's a part of the answer," said Lesley Ewing, senior coastal engineer with the California Coastal Commission. "It's a piece of the puzzle." In California, nearly a half-million people, $100 billion in property and critical infrastructure such as schools, power plants and highways will be at risk of inundation during a major storm if sea level rises another 4.6 feet — a figure that could become a reality by 2100, according to a 2009 Pacific Institute study commissioned by three state agencies. Beaches that Californians take for granted will become much smaller or disappear altogether and El Nino-fueled storms will have a similar effect, if only temporarily, said William Patzert, a climatologist for NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. "When you get big winter storm surge like they want to document, you tend to lose a lot of beach," he said. "In a way, it's like doing a documentary on the future. It'll show you what your beaches will look like in 100 years." What the mapping won't be able to predict is exactly which beaches will disappear and which bluffs will crumble — all things that will affect how flooding impacts coastal populations, said Ewing, the California Coastal Commission engineer. "We're not going to capture that change," she said. "We're going to capture where the water could go to with this current landscape and that's still a very important thing to understand because it gets at those hot spots." So far, project organizers aren't giving assignments to participants, although they may send out specific requests as the winter unfolds, said Merrifield. If users wind up mapping real-time flooding events along 10 or 15 percent of California's 840-mile-long coastline the project will be a success, he said. A realistic goal is a "curated selection" of 3D maps showing flooding up and down the coast at different dates and times. The Nature Conservancy has partnered with a San Francisco-area startup called DroneDeploy that will provide a free app to drone owners for consistency. The app will provide automated flight patterns at the touch of a screen while cloud-based technology will make managing so much data feasible, said Ian Smith, a business developer for the company. Trent Lukaczyk heard about the experiment from a posting in a Facebook group dedicated to drone enthusiasts. For the aerospace engineer, who has already used drones to map coral reefs in American Samoa, the volunteer work was appealing. "It's a really exciting application. It's not just something to take a selfie with," he said, before heading out to collect images of beach erosion after a storm in Pacifica, CA. Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


News Article | January 25, 2016
Site: www.biosciencetechnology.com

Forget about selfies. In California, residents are using smartphones and drones to document the coastline's changing face. Starting this month, The Nature Conservancy is asking tech junkies to capture the flooding and coastal erosion that come with El Nino, a weather pattern that's bringing California its wettest winter in years - and all in the name of science. The idea is that crowd-sourced, geotagged images of storm surges and flooded beaches will give scientists a brief window into what the future holds as sea levels rise from global warming, a sort of a crystal ball for climate change. Images from the latest drones, which can produce high-resolution 3D maps, will be particularly useful and will help scientists determine if predictive models about coastal flooding are accurate, said Matt Merrifield, the organization's chief technology officer. "We use these projected models and they don't quite look right, but we're lacking any empirical evidence," he said. "This is essentially a way of 'ground truthing' those models." Experts on climate change agreed that El Nino-fueled storms offer a sneak peak of the future and said the project was a novel way to raise public awareness. Because of its crowd-sourced nature, however, they cautioned the experiment might not yield all the results organizers hoped for, although any additional information is useful. "It's not the answer, but it's a part of the answer," said Lesley Ewing, senior coastal engineer with the California Coastal Commission. "It's a piece of the puzzle." In California, nearly a half-million people, $100 billion in property and critical infrastructure such as schools, power plants and highways will be at risk of inundation during a major storm if sea level rises another 4.6 feet - a figure that could become a reality by 2100, according to a 2009 Pacific Institute study commissioned by three state agencies. Beaches that Californians take for granted will become much smaller or disappear altogether and El Nino-fueled storms will have a similar effect, if only temporarily, said William Patzert, a climatologist for NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. "When you get big winter storm surge like they want to document, you tend to lose a lot of beach," he said. "In a way, it's like doing a documentary on the future. It'll show you what your beaches will look like in 100 years." What the mapping won't be able to predict is exactly which beaches will disappear and which bluffs will crumble - all things that will affect how flooding impacts coastal populations, said Ewing, the California Coastal Commission engineer. "We're not going to capture that change," she said. "We're going to capture where the water could go to with this current landscape and that's still a very important thing to understand because it gets at those hot spots." So far, project organizers aren't giving assignments to participants, although they may send out specific requests as the winter unfolds, said Merrifield. If users wind up mapping real-time flooding events along 10 or 15 percent of California's 840-mile-long coastline the project will be a success, he said. A realistic goal is a "curated selection" of 3D maps showing flooding up and down the coast at different dates and times. The Nature Conservancy has partnered with a San Francisco-area startup called DroneDeploy that will provide a free app to drone owners for consistency. The app will provide automated flight patterns at the touch of a screen while cloud-based technology will make managing so much data feasible, said Ian Smith, a business developer for the company. Trent Lukaczyk heard about the experiment from a posting in a Facebook group dedicated to drone enthusiasts. For the aerospace engineer, who has already used drones to map coral reefs in American Samoa, the volunteer work was appealing. "It's a really exciting application. It's not just something to take a selfie with," he said, before heading out to collect images of beach erosion after a storm in Pacifica, California.


News Article | March 7, 2016
Site: www.sej.org

"It was like a sequel to a bad movie. One month after I watched the California Coastal Commission whack the executive whose career was devoted to preserving and assuring equal access to the state's greatest treasure, I went to Diamond Bar on Friday to watch another massacre. This time the target was a man with more than three decades of experience fighting smog and improving public health in a region with some of the dirtiest air in the nation. The South Coast Air Quality Management District ignored pleas from environmentalists and public health experts and told Barry Wallerstein to get lost."


Ewing L.C.,California Coastal Commission
Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences | Year: 2015

Coastal areas are important residential, commercial and industrial areas; but coastal hazards can pose significant threats to these areas. Shoreline/coastal protection elements, both built structures such as breakwaters, seawalls and revetments, as well as natural features such as beaches, reefs and wetlands, are regular features of a coastal community and are important for community safety and development. These protection structures provide a range of resilience to coastal communities. During and after disasters, they help to minimize damages and support recovery; during non-disaster times, the values from shoreline elements shift from the narrow focus on protection. Most coastal communities have limited land and resources and few can dedicate scarce resources solely for protection. Values from shore protection can and should expand to include environmental, economic and social/cultural values. This paper discusses the key aspects of shoreline protection that influence effective community resilience and protection from disasters. This paper also presents ways that the economic, environmental and social/cultural values of shore protection can be evaluated and quantified. It presents the Coastal Community Hazard Protection Resilience (CCHPR) Index for evaluating the resilience capacity to coastal communities from various protection schemes and demonstrates the use of this Index for an urban beach in San Francisco, CA, USA. Copyright © 2015 The Author(s) Published by the Royal Society.


News Article | October 23, 2015
Site: www.nytimes.com

The company said the California Coastal Commission did not have the jurisdiction to ban breeding as a condition to approve an expansion project.

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