Archive for February, 2010

At Raised By Wolves.

The discussion in the comments is  really good. Christopher from BorderWars (who regularly comments on this blog ) has some really good things to add.

Bottom line: I don’t see how an ethical person of any sort can condone keeping an orca in captivity.


But now I am happy.

Look at the topic being discussed on Yahoo! News.


Have I mentioned how much I hate Fox News?

Let me explain that etymology again.

They aren’t called killer whales because they are whales that kill things. Biologists don’t call them that (although Fox News biologists might). I prefer the term orca or grampus (although grampus also refers to Risso’s dolphin).

They aren’t actually whales. This is actually the largest species of dolphin.

They were called “whale killers,” because that’s what some populations do. They attack the big baleen whales, usually to kill their calves.


Someone reversed the term “whale killer” to “killer whale,” and that’s where we get the name.

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I would like for what he says at the end to not happen.

But my guess is it will.

Killer whale exhibits will be even more popular.

And this really should be a clarion call to seriously talk about ending the captive orca and dolphin industry.

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I find some of the discussion about the killer whale that killed a trainer at SeaWorld in Orlando misses a major point.

No matter what method of training has been used on the animal, it is still a wild animal.

Dogs can be trained using all sorts of methods. They will put up with our shit.

Most wild animals will not.

If you think for one minute that you can train a six ton animal with electric goads and whips, I guess you haven’t seen what happens with a lot of elephants that are kept this way. Something like this happens:


The elephant had been shocked and beaten all its life. It decided it that it had had enough.

Because elephants are somewhat prone to  these “rampages,” I’m not so sure elephants belong in captivity either. They are just as intelligent and complex as orcas. Unlike orcas, they don’t leave us alone in the wild. They have a reason to hate us. We kill them for their tusks. We kill them if they raid our crops. We kill them to steal their babies. If an elephant encounters a person on foot in its natural habitat, it is more than likely going to charge. A captive elephant is very likely to go off.

As I noted earlier, wild orcas, for some reason, don’t consider humans to be prey. There is no documented case of a wild orca attacking anyone. If I read the following statement again, I am going to scream: “Well they don’t call them killer whales for nothing.” Actually, they don’t kill people in the wild.

I can’t say the same for captive ones.  These animals might be trained very differently from the way elephants are.

But their lives are so unnatural that their behavior is fundamentally changed. Their lives and their very being are simply out of their normal context.

These animals have much shorter lives in captivity than they do in the wild. I don’t think an an animal whose life is so caught up in sound can live very well in a concrete tank that is has a water filtration system running at full blast.

For an animal that is known to travel 100 miles a day at 3o miles per hour over the open ocean, the tank is little more than a very cruel prison.

In this prison, the animals are going to do things that they wouldn’t normally do.

Do I think for a minute that changing the methods for training killer whales would make them safer?

Absolutely not.

That is because we’re not getting to a question raised by Irenäus Eibl-Eibesfeldt. In his work Love and Hate, Eibl-Eibesfeldt discusses a badger that he raised in captivity. The badger misbehaves in the house, but every time that Eibl-Eibesfeldt disciplines it, the badger attacks him. However, whenever he did the same to his dogs, the dog s “quickly [learned] to obey.”

Now as I noted a while ago,  Eibl-Eibsfeldt believed that the reason that dogs were so much easier to train is because they are social and form a social rank. European badgers are solitary.

This is nonsense. European badgers are not solitary at all. They live in family groups. Indeed, a typical badger sett has 6 to 8 individuals living in it. However, some family groups may contain as many as 35 badgers. These social groups are know as clans, and these clans have very complex social hierarchies. Eibl-Eibsfeldt was simply wrong about these animals being solitary.

Now, if that part of the argument is wrong, then another part is also at least somewhat dubious. Dogs are not obeying because of their natural history of strict social hierarchy.

If you’ll remember the dog documentary I linked to earlier this week, you’ll recall that the researchers at Eötvös Loránd University kept wolf puppies in the same manner that you’d keep domestic dogs.

The wolves eventually became like Eibl-Eibsfeldt’s  badger. They were unruly. They couldn’t learn the rules of the house. They became possessive of objects.

Now, we all know that wolves have something like a social organization. It is very well studied, although the original framework has been modified a bit.

You’d think that wolves would be very easily trained to not do things.

But they were just like Eibl-Eibsfeldt’s badger.

So it has to be another factor that allows dogs to learn rules and to put up with all of our training methods.

And that other factor is domestication.

Through domestication, dogs have developed certain cognitive skills that allow them to learn rules. They can learn to cooperate with us, and many dogs really want to cooperate with people.

Dogs are also not nearly as likely to respond with aggression when they are challenged as wild animals are.

If you start using some of these dog training methods on wild animals, the chances are much higher that these animals will respond with aggression.

That’s one reason why elephant handling is such a hazardous profession.

Virtually all elephant training methods are  based upon confrontation and force. Yes, they may be like this to each other, but I really don’t think you want an elephant asserting itself over you. My guess is that it won’t be pretty.

And if we adopted these methods for training orcas, I’m absolutely certain that it would do little to curb aggression in this species. In fact, it probably could make things worse.

The reason why orcas are trained using those positive reinforcement methods is really quite simple. There is no other way. You cannot make them do things.

It really doesn’t matter what training methods are being used on these animals. Captivity just isn’t the best place for them.

They’ve not been domesticated. They don’t have the social cognition skills or the desire to cooperate that domestic dogs have.

Even social wild animals can’t be expected to be like dogs.  To get to that same level of domestication, we’d need extensive selective breeding programs. We might be able to produce some genetically tame animals like the Soviets did wit their silver foxes, but if your goal is to produce animals that could one day augment wild populations, breeding for these traits is actually quite detrimental. (I suspect that this may be one reason why Mexican wolves have had such a hard time being reintroduced.)

Of course, orcas aren’t endangered. These animals are being kept in captivity for our entertainment purposes only. Now, that might be fine if these animals remained docile in their captive situation.

But it seems that killer whales don’t.

The best way to prevent killer whale attacks is to ban keeping them in captivity. It really serves no purpose. The education argument is a giant red herring.

We already know that these animals are amazing. I don’t think we have to watch them perform circus tricks to understand that.

Maybe it really is time to Free Willy.

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Dogs attack massive bear


This is from a film called The Bear or L’Ours. It features Bart the Bear as the and Tchéky Karyo as one of the hunters.

The film is set in British Columbia, but it was filmed in the Dolomites.

That’s why the hunting dogs are mostly Beaucerons, a breed that would have been hard to find in British Columbia. In the late 80’s, they weren’t very common anywhere in North America. And in the late nineteenth century, this breed was totally unknown on this continent.

If you’ll watch the full movie,  things do not go well for that Airedale.

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The following videos are of the tail docking procedure in a Jack Russell puppy. (It is very small. And yes, the puppy screams.)

Part I:


Part II:


Part III:


I am ambivalent to tail docking for several reasons.

It is true that  the puppy is in pain, but we haven’t banned circumcision or ear piercing in this country. I’ve not seen any evidence that the puppies remember the trauma of getting their tails cut off.

Phantom pain could always be an issue with this procedure. That’s why this procedure should be performed by a veterinarian. In many states, it is legal to do this yourself. I wouldn’t count myself among those who could do it.

I’ve not seen any evidence that Jack Russells or other terriers injure their tails if these are left intact. Feists and Dachshunds are undocked as a rule. You can’t tell me that Jack Russells have to have their tails docked. It’s just a tradition.

So in most breeds, this is cosmetic surgery.

However, in some breeds, there is some evidence that this preemptive amputation is actually beneficial.

Sweden banned tail docking for cosmetic reasons in 1989.

And when it did, there was an epidemic of tail injuries in German short-haired pointers within just a few years.

A study followed 50 litters of that breed.  38 percent had experienced a tail injury by the time they were 18 months old. By the time they were two, 51 percent had experienced a tail injury. (Yes, that’s a link from the Council of Docked breeds, a pro-docking interest group in the UK.)

These HPR breeds have whip-like tails with very little fat or cartilage on the lower part of their tails. If you’ve ever seen a gun dog work, they tend to wag their tails really hard when they are going on an air scenting mission.  As the dogs run through thick undergrowth, the lower part of their tails can get injured.

I would like a much bigger study on undocked HPR’s. The n in this particular study is somewhat low.

But many countries are banning docking, and it would be very easy to design a good longitudinal study of how often tail injuries occur within these breeds. If the risk is really that high, I think a case can be made for docking in these breeds.

However, I should also mention that sight hounds are particularly prone to these injuries. A common injury in greyhounds is the dog gets its tail caught in a door.

If you look at a greyhound’s tail, the whole thing is like the lower part of the HPR’s. It is like a thin whip, and it is very injury prone.

But none (as far as I know) has suggested that we should dock greyhounds.

Now, as I said before, I am very ambivalent when it comes to tail docking. Almost all of it is cosmetic surgery. However, there are cases in which tail docking really could improve the welfare of certain breeds.

This is an undocked vizsla, but it is one of the breeds that could benefit from tail docking. The lower part of its tail is not well protected by fat, fur, or cartilage. Photo by Béki Peti.

Although my views are ambivalent, my guess is yours are not.

So please feel free to leave what you think in the comments.

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From CNN:

A killer whale killed a trainer Wednesday afternoon at SeaWorld’s Shamu Stadium in Orlando, Florida, a public information officer for the Orange County Sheriff’s Office said.

The 40-year-old woman, identified by sheriff’s spokesman Jim Solomons as Dawn Brancheau, was in the whale holding area about 2 p.m. when “she apparently slipped or fell into the tank and was fatally injured by one of the whales,” he said.

But a witness told CNN affiliate WKMG-TV that the whale approached the glass side of the 35-foot-deep tank at Shamu Stadium, jumped up and grabbed the trainer by the waist, shaking her so violently that her shoe came off.


A SeaWorld employee who asked not to be identified confirmed the description of the attack and added that the whale involved is named Tillikum.

In 2006, a trainer at the adventure park was hospitalized after a killer whale grabbed him and twice held him underwater during a show at Shamu Stadium.
In 1999, Tillikum was blamed for the death of a 27-year-old man whose body was found floating on his back in a tank at SeaWorld, the apparent victim of a whale’s “horseplay,” authorities said then.


The whale involved in the attack had killed before. That in itself should have been a warning. This isn’t a golden retriever.

I’m also not going to go anywhere near the training technique stuff.

That’s talking around the edges of the problem. We need to cut to the heart of the matter.

And to get to the heart of the matter, we have only a simple question:

Should we  even be keeping these cetaceans in captivity in the first place?

At one time I would have answered in the affirmative.

Those parks do provide funds for conservation and research on marine life.

They also provided awareness about how amazingly intelligent cetaceans are. At one time, whales and dolphins were blamed for reducing the productivity of fisheries, and there were regular culls.

But those days are long gone.

We now have the Marine Mammal Protection Act, and only aboriginal whalers can take them.

Now, I must admit that I enjoyed going to SeaWorld in Orlando when I was a boy.

I really liked watching the orcas do their behaviors. It was fun.

I really didn’t see the negative side of captive cetaceans.

Later on, I got to go to an animal training seminar in Hawaii that used live dolphins.(The seminar also included a dog that I later saw on Dogs with Jobs! I wish Nat Geo would bring that show back!)

I appreciate the animals. They are brilliant animals.  They live in complex societies. They care for each other. They bond very closely with their families.

I get that.

However, I’m not now sure that the captive lifestyle is really the best for them.

They live in a world of acoustics.

But in captivity, their echolocation sounds bounce off the concrete walls of their tanks.

The tanks are all they know.

In the wild, they travel hundreds of miles.

In captivity, they are stuck in a concrete tank.

With such complex animals, I don’t think we can provide them the ideal lifestyle in such an environment.

That’s why I don’t think it is appropriate to keep them in captivity anymore.

I saw this animal rightsish documentary a few years ago, and although it has that agenda, it really did change my perspective on this issue:


I don’t think there is a good reason to keep these animals in captivity. Keeping them in a tank is like putting me in a concrete box on Mars. I might be able to survive if I am given adequate food, oxygen, and water.

But would I thrive? Hell no.

It took me two trips to Arizona before I was able to consider it beautiful. I’m accustomed to  densely forested hills that are covered in dense forests. Dry places remind me of the summers when the grass wouldn’t grow and the rivers ran slow and black.

I can only imagine what it’s like for an orca in a tank. What does this animal feel in such a weird environment?

If we think about that question for a minute, the following conclusion is all but obvious:

Some animals just shouldn’t be in captivity. And this is one of them.


I should be taken to task for calling these things killer whales. It seems only captive ones have any interest in killing us. Those famous ones that beach themselves to catch sea lions in Patagonia will allow people to swim near them entirely unmolested.


I really don’t care that PeTA agrees with me on this issue. They got something right for once.


The animal rights people are going to like that one.

I don’t know about the next post, which is on tail docking.


Finally, I don’t know if you knew this or not, but the white shark has one natural predator.

And that’s the orca.



I don’t know if you’ve noticed from this post, but the issue of killer whales in captivity really grinds my gears.

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This is a Pudelpointer.

It was originally a cross between a pointer (as in one developed in Britain) and the standard poodle. The first cross happened between a pointer named Tell and standard poodle bitch named Molly in 1881.

The pointer belonged to Kaiser Friedrich III, and the water poodle belonged to the German hunting dog expert Sigismund Freiherr vom Zedlitz und Neukirch (better known as “Hegewald.”) Hegewald was be a major player the concept of the versatile hunting dog in Germany. It was he who developed the versatile hunting dog utility test to assist in choosing breeding stock.

The Pudelpointer was his creation. This breed is not well-known. However, as I said before, this is one of the breeds behind the modern Drahthaar, and that breed is fairly well-known in its country of origin.

Hegewald’s goal was to create a versatile working dog that could retrieve from the water, point birds, and track game. The German goal of gun dog breeding was not to produce specialized animals, as had happened in the British gun dog world.

But although this dog is wire-haired, it is not a German wire-haired pointer.

It is also not a Drahthaar.

It is one of the dogs that is the ancestor of both.

BTW, I don’t think we can call this breed the first “doodle.”

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As I have written before, the HPR breeds from the continent have not split into show and working form in the same way that the specialized gun dogs from Britain and Ireland have.

However, there have been some splits. It is kind of inevitable. Dog shows are very expensive endeavors in terms of money and time. It is even more expensive to get a dog with both working titles and a show championship.

But in the HPR’s, the splits have been less dramatic– with one notable exception.

I hope that I can be forgiven for generally refusing to call German HPR’s pointers. Yes, they point, but they do many other things. They are not like the pointers you find on Southern plantations and quail preserves. They do point, but no pointer is expected to retrieve. And no pointer is supposed to be a good blood trail dog.  And no pointer is encouraged to hunt furred animals, like coyotes and foxes.

Calling the German HPR’s pointers limits their talent base in our minds. Too many people think they are just an index dog.

To remedy this problem that the English name for these dogs has given us, I have decided to go by their German names. The short-hair is the Kurzhaar.  The long-hair is the Langhaar. I still call the pudelpointer by its name, simply because that’s what its name is in German.

Then I called the wire-haired German HPR a “Drahthaar.” Well, that name has a problem. The dogs that are registered as Deustch Drahthaar are not exactly the same as the “German wire-haired pointer” that is registered with the AKC.

Superficially, the dogs look similar, but they are being bred to very different standards.

The dogs registered as Deustch Drahthaar have a registry and club called Verein Deutsch Drahthaar–Group North America. (Verein, BTW, means union.) Their club has a physical conformation standard, but it also has very strict behavioral conformation standards. The dogs have to go through what is called “performance testing” to evaluate their working abilities:

To insure the continued quest for improvement of performance, regulations were established which require that all VDD Drahthaar used for breeding must first meet certain field performance standards. This evaluation of performance is conducted at special field trails designed to demonstrate inherited qualities.

Now, I wish we actually had something like this for retrievers. There is a physical conformation standard, but the dogs must behave and perform like retrievers in order to be considered for breeding.

Wow. What a novel concept.

I’ve seen many German breed clubs that are like this one. Those Germans were onto something. The club for retrievers in Germany operates like this, but it is using the FCI standard for British retrievers, which means they may not be breeding for the most functional conformation.

This performance registry for Drahthaars is using a very different conformation standard. For example, the AKC standard doesn’t allow any black on the German wire-haired pointer’s coat, but the Drahthaars can come in black roan. (Kurzhaar from Germany can come in solid black).

But what I found interesting about the North American Deustch Drahthaar registry is that it says something like this on virtually every page:

Many breeders of the German Wirehaired Pointer (GWP) errantly refer to their breed as Drahthaar. In addition to significant differences in breed standard, the Wirehair has been bred without regulation or restriction since the late 1950’s, but especially without the performance testing that proves the ability of the Drahthaar. After years of unrestricted breeding and no versatile performance standards the German Wirehaired Pointer has evolved into a distinctly separate breed.

So I can’t call the wire-haired HPR registered with the AKC a Drahthaar.

But calling it a German wire-haired HPR requires too many syllables. It’s just like the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever. Every time I say that breed’s name to an uninitiated person, that person thinks I just made it up. Fewer words and syllables are useful when naming a dog breed, even if the English language has some deficiencies.

The strictness of the Deutsch Drahthaar community means that they can consistently produce good quality dogs. And that policy has worked in Germany and Austria, where the Drahthaar is the most common working gun dog.

And because this breed is very different from the German wire-hair, I think I need to make a correction to something that was said at Westminster this year. The announcer said that the German wire-hair was the most common gun dog in Germany. This is not the case.

It is the Deutsch Drahthaar.

Even saying the name gets my Teutonic blood flowing.


Now, this linguistic problem doesn’t exist with Large and Small Münsterländers, Pudelpointers, Stichelhaars (which are not Drahthaars!), or Langhaars. Only the Weimaraner and the German short-haired and wire-haired HPR’s have been recognized by the AKC. (And the Weimaraner is actually a big game hound that later was developed into an HPR.)

They have yet to start splitting up.


I’ve read in several places that the German HPR’s can’t be trusted with children.

I think this video dispels that myth fairly well:



I remember writing a short story about a Drahthaar when I was in the ninth grade.

However, I can’t remember the details of it.

All I remember is the title of the story was “Drahthaar,” and I made it take place in Moravia or Bohemia.

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More on African bullfrogs

Includes fighting and some of the parental care behavior that I posted earlier:


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