Tommy Lee wants to make SeaWorld sex tape

Motley Crue drummer Tommy Lee has thought a lot about whale masturbation this week.

Lee contends that to obtain sperm for breeding purposes, SeaWorld has someone “masturbate” Tillikum, a killer whale at the theme park who was responsible for the death of trainer Dawn Brancheau earlier this year.

Lee says it is “sick and twisted,” and that it violates SeaWorld’s own policies regarding trainer and whale interaction, which were revised after Brancheau’s death.

On Wednesday, SeaWorld responded to the rocker’s letter complaining about whale breeding practices by saying that Lee needs to “spend more time checking his facts.”

So, in a second letter — which PETA sent to Gadling today — Lee suggests that the best way to check his facts would be to come to Orlando and see the collection of whale semen for himself.

“To settle this, how about PETA and I come to SeaWorld and videotape the process, and then people can decide how natural it is?” Lee writes.

“It might make your dramatic news releases about a new orca pregnancy or birth less appealing, but the public deserves to know. And they’ve undoubtedly never seen a sex tape like this.”

Manual stimulation of animals is a regular breeding practice used with livestock and with some species at zoos and aquariums.

[Image credit: Flickr user Bread & CBG]

Battle of the bulge: Breeding season starts soon for elephant seals at Año Nuevo

Pull up a chair and start placing your bets — it’s about to get ugly.

No, really, the elephant seals will be gathering soon at Año Nuevo State Park in California for their breeding season. (And have you seen one before?) All nose and gut, the males vie for alpha male status, bellowing their complaints and battling it out by throwing their chests against each other.

They make the Central California coast their home from December to March, and visitors can take a guided tour to see the breeding colony up close — from the first arrival of the males to the final departure of the pups.

Año Nuevo is the world’s largest mainland breeding colony of the northern elephant seal. But back in 1892, fewer than 100 elephant seals existed anywhere because of hunting. Now, thanks to legislation first implemented in Mexico and then the US, they are more protected. Their numbers have increased to about 150,000 — many of them come to Año Nuevo annually.

Advance reservations are recommended for the 2.5-hour walking tours, which run December 15-March 31. First, read the FAQs about the walks, then book your reservation either by phone (650-879-2033) or online. The admission price is $7.00 per person (free for children 3 and younger).

Año Nuevo is located along Highway 1, just 20 miles north of Santa Cruz. Another elephant seal spot is farther south on Highway 1 at Piedras Blancas (7 miles south of San Simeon), which is home to about 15,000 elephant seals. No admission fee or reservation is required there.

Dispatch from China: The time I got drunk off tiger wine (part 1 of 2)

On a nondescript street near downtown Harbin, the Double Mountain Local Products Wholesale Center offers the usual array of kitsch items stripped from the wilderness: deer antlers, pelts and dried starfish. A request for tiger wine, a traditional brew of corpse-steeped cheap liquor with dozens of reputed medical benefits, raises a stern eyebrow from an employee who informs me that as such concoctions are illegal, they are not available at the store.

But at the mention of American money, a store manager intervenes – $100 would buy two bottles, and true to the employee’s words they are not at the store; they will be delivered via courier. Doubts about the brew’s authenticity are shooed away.

The manager is certain the bottles are the genuine article because, she says, “they came from over at that tiger park”. She is referring to the Hengdaohezi Feline Breeding Center on the outskirts of the city. By most accounts, that tiger farm is an enviable success. Started in 1986 with 8 Siberian tigers, it is now home to 800 of the big cats. Compare that with the estimated 150 Siberian tigers in US zoos. The largest tiger-breeding facility in the world, Hengdaohezi – like its cousin down south at the Wolong Panda Reserve – has learned the art of churning out cubs, 100 this year alone.
And whether or not she is speaking the truth, the manager is highlighting a looming international stand-off between conservationists and the Chinese government.

China banned domestic trade of tiger parts in 1993, but that did not arrest the desire for their use in wine or traditional Chinese medicine. A black market fills the demand and goods can often be traced back to breeding centres. In August 2006, a tiger farm in Guangxi province was caught with 400 vats of wine, each stewing a whole tiger carcass. This past June at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) conference in The Hague, the Netherlands, wildlife officials used DNA evidence to accuse the same farm of serving tiger meat.

In a walk-in fridge at Hengdaohezi – off-limits to tourists and journalists – 200 frozen tiger carcasses lie scattered, waiting to be turned into tiger wine and medicine, according to a breeding consultant for the park at neighbouring Northeast Forestry University. Whether Hengdaohezi benefits tiger conservation is questionable, but one thing is certain – if the government lifts the ban on the tiger trade, places such as Hengdaohezi will profit.

Liu Dan, the park’s chief scientist, didn’t see a problem when I paid him a visit. “We can use dead tigers to save live tigers,” he explains, promising to use profits for the centre’s genetic and reintroduction projects.

With its baffling breeding techniques and plans to open a market in tiger parts, Hengdaohezi hardly seems the safest place for Siberian tigers, but how they would fare in the wild is even more uncertain. So perhaps it is fortunate that the reintroduction campaign is mainly hype for now. Although media reports mention plans to release 600 of the captive tigers (apparently hoping to coincide it with the Beijing Olympics), the center has not yet separated any group for eventual reintroduction, selected any potential release sites, or built specialist training enclosures.

As Liu Dan broods over his nursing mothers, he defends the conservation work of the center, posing the rhetorical question that if they weren’t keeping the tigers around for a greater purpose, wouldn’t they be just another tiger farm? “From breeding to reintroduction is a long process,” Liu Dan says. “The program isn’t mature yet.”

A decision on the tiger trade ban can come at any time, according to Chinese government officials. As of 2006, all tigers have been required to wear a microchip, and some authorities say such tracking abilities combined with a certification process – a system that met with success with China’s ivory, crocodile and ginseng trade – could lead to a win–win situation for everybody. But lifting the ban may be illegal. US wildlife enforcement officers say China would be flaunting an existing international ban on tiger parts – and noncompliance could lead to sanctions.

For now though, the world waits for China’s next move.

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s installment, in which I visit the evil breeding facility and play Dance Dance Revolution with a Siberian tiger.


What exactly is a ‘tiger farm’?

A few months ago I traveled to Harbin, the northernmost large metropolitan in China (close to the Russian border) to do some digging around at the world’s largest tiger farm.

The resulting 2,500 word story appeared in Nature, but alas, it’s behind a subscription wall. But my girlfriend did take a bunch of pictures from our three day trip, and so hopefully the gallery below will give you a glimpse into exactly what goes on inside a “tiger farm.”

The Hengdaohezi Feline Breeding Centre, or Siberian Tiger Park as it’s more commonly known, is actually open to tourists. For around $10, they’ll load you up into what is essentially a cage on wheels, and bring in up close to more than 800 Siberian tigers. It’s also the infamous site where this video was taken, showing captive tigers taking down a cow–which by the way, costs $250 if you want to buy it yourself and feed it to the tigers.