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Keto and Tilikum Express the Stress of Orca Captivity

January 20, 2011

In a new study, nearly a year in the making, former SeaWorld trainers Jeffrey Ventre, MD and John Jett, Ph.D, take us deep behind the scenes of Marine parks and their ability to provide environments adequate for keeping killer whales alive in captivity.

Drs Ventre and Jett introduce us to detailed observations and strong statistical calculations that add up to an abundance of evidence that captivity kills orcas, usually at a young age… and that stresses, social tensions and poor health are chronic issues in marine park facilities.

Born from this report, a new statistic called “Mean Duration of Captivity” (MDC), drawn from diverse credible sources, allows overall comparisons with free-ranging orcas and reveals a shockingly low average longevity in captivity.

In this research paper, which can also be viewed and downloaded in its’ entirety HERE  or en español, you’ll see the precursors and symptoms of stresses in orcas in captivity, illustrated with powerful photos. The authors invite students, teachers and the public to share these images and use them in their reports and projects.

 As former orca trainers, and now a medical doctor and biology professor respectively, Drs Ventre and Jett have a perspective that has not been heard in the intensifying debate about captivity for orcas:

Manuscript submitted to The Orca Project by:

 John S. Jett

 Visiting Research Professor

 Stetson University

 jjett@stetson.edu

 

 &

 

Jeffrey M. Ventre

 Physician

New Orleans, LA, USA

jmventre@gmail.com

Appendix A Compiled by John Kielty

 Appendix B Adapted by the Authors

 

The practice of keeping killer whales in captivity has proven to be detrimental to the health and safety of animals and trainers alike.  On Christmas Eve, 2009, trainer Alexis Martinez was killed by a male captive bred orca named Keto, who was on loan from Sea World to a facility called Loro Parque, in the Canary Islands, Spain. Two months later, on 24 February 2010, trainer Dawn Brancheau was killed by Tilikum, an animal involved with two previous human fatalities. Medical Examiner (ME) reports described massive trauma to both Dawn and Alexis. Neither death was accidental.

  

Dawn Brancheau and Alexis Martinez at Loro Parque. The pictures and graphics in this report can be opened and expanded by “clicking” on the photo and then “right-click” to download/save to your computer.

Dawn Brancheau and Alexis Martinez at Loro Parque, Spain. Both trainers were killed by SeaWorld orcas two months apart. The pictures and graphics in this report can be opened and expanded by “clicking” on the photo and then “right-click” to download/save to your computer.

While orca captivity generates large profits for companies like Sea World (SW), life in a shallow concrete tank is greatly impoverished compared to the lives of their free-ranging counterparts. Trainer deaths, whale deaths, and numerous documented injuries to both trainers and whales provide evidence of several key issues related to killer whale captivity.

Tilikum is representative of the many social and health issues plaguing captive orcas.  Typically spending their entire lives within tight family groupings, orcas captured from the wild, including Tilikum, have been traumatically extracted from the security, comfort and mentoring which these groupings provide.  Captured animals are confined to small, acoustically-dead, concrete enclosures where they must live in extremely close proximity to other whales with which they often share no ancestral, cultural or communication similarities.  The resultant infighting amongst captive orcas is exacerbated by virtue of having no place to run, as confinement fails to provide spatial escape options that natural settings offer.  As a result, social strife is common in captivity, including aggression, in which whales are cut, raked, and rammed, usually by members higher on the social ladder.  In one particularly brutal example, Kandu V, a female orca at Sea World of California (SWC), bled to death after 11.9 years (4332 days) in captivity when an artery was severed at the upper jaw (See Appendix A).  The wound was self-inflicted as she collided with another whale in a display of dominance. Over the next 45 minutes, and in view of the public, she slowly bled out, spouting blood from her blowhole until she died. 

Kandu V Spouts Blood from from her blowhole on day of her death

Kandu V Spouts Blood from from her blowhole on the day of her death

 It was whale to whale aggression that resulted in cancellation of the “Believe” show immediately prior to Tilikum pulling Dawn Brancheau into the water at Sea World of Florida (SWF).  This clash involved Kayla and the original “Baby Shamu,” Kalina.  Although this level of aggression usually causes reaction from the other whales in adjacent pools, it is unclear how this clash factored into Tilikum’s choice to grab, thrash and dismember his trainer.  Just four months later, in June of 2010, Kayla and Kalina were fighting again.  This time, Kayla inflicted a significant laceration above Kalina’s right eye, forcing yet another show cancellation.  Kalina would die on 4 October 2010 at the age of 25 from “acute bacterial septicemia.”  It is not clear how bacteria entered her bloodstream.
Social strife and boredom accompanying orca captivity also contribute to broken teeth.  Steel gates are the primary method of separating orcas prior to training sessions, shows, or when aggressive tensions exist between animals (e.g. Kayla and Kalina).  It is common for separated whales to bite down on the horizontal metal bars, or to “jaw-pop” through the gates as they display aggression at each other. In addition, under-stimulated and bored animals also “chew” metal bars and mouth concrete pool corners, like the main stage at SWF.  As a consequence, tooth fragments can sometimes be found on the pool bottoms following these displays.  This breakage leaves the pulp of some teeth exposed.

If left alone, the decaying pulp forms a cavity that leads to food plugging.  The reaction of the orca’s immune system to this plugging is to create inflammation and eventually a focus for systemic infection. Because of the relative youth of most captive whales, the roots of many of their teeth are immature, which makes a root canal procedure impossible. Instead, using a variable speed drill, trainers drill holes through the pulp and into the jaw via an endodontic procedure called a modified “pulpotomy.” This is an uncomfortable husbandry procedure for the whales, which have been observed refusing to participate by sinking down into the water, shuddering, or splitting from their keepers.  After “tooth drilling” is complete, trainers must irrigate (flush) the bored out teeth two-three times each day, for the rest of the orca’s life, to prevent abscess, bacteremia, and sepsis.  (Kalina’s reported cause of death, “acute bacterial septicemia,” should make one ponder how bacteria entered her bloodstream. See Appendix A).  Consequently, orcas at SW and other facilities, like Six Flags, often possess a significantly reduced number of viable teeth, making them poor candidates for release into the wild.

Kalina's Teeth

“The Original Baby Shamu” Kalina’s broken and drilled teeth

In the medical field it is known that poor dentition can lead to a host of diseases including valvular heart disease, gingivitis, pneumonia, stroke, and heart attack.  These open bore holes represent a direct route for pathogens to enter the blood stream where they can then be deposited into the tissue of various organs throughout the body, such as the heart or kidney.  Unfortunately, orca necropsies are mostly done in-house, by park personnel, and under a relative cloak of secrecy.  So despite the prevalence of poor teeth, it is not known what role they play in captive orca deaths.  For example, many whales reportedly die of pneumonia. Could the cause of pneumonia be bacteria carried to the lungs from rotting food plugs or tooth decay? This is unclear due to insufficient research and lack of scrutiny.  Along these lines, pathology reports, and other relevant documentation of the lives and deaths of captive orcas are poorly archived at the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), a division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the federal agency tasked with tracking captive marine mammal data.  Unfortunately, as a means of obfuscating relevant data, marine parks such as SW typically avoid attaching animal names with the cetacean records kept by the aforementioned agencies.  Instead, by utilizing code numbers, marine industry claims are difficult to fully investigate.

[NOTE:  Please see the attached Appendix A for captive orca birth, capture, and death data.  This compiled spreadsheet reconstitutes missing and/or coded information contained in the NMFS's Marine Mammal Inventory Report (MMIR), and introduces a new statistic, “Mean Duration of Captivity,” (MDC) measured in days for ease of comparison and computation.] 

 
 
Orkid and Sumar Teeth Flushing

Orkid and Sumar undergo Teeth Flushing in what is known as “Superior Dental Care” by Seaworld Public Relations

Veterinary and animal care workers at marine parks are under considerable pressure to keep valuable captive assets, such as orcas, alive.  As such, it is common practice to administer on-going prophylactic medications such as those that reduce stomach acid production and block histamine, like Tagamet.  Stress-related ulcers are common in captive marine mammals and must be dealt with medically.  Similarly, the use of antibiotics is often the immediate response to an animal appearing “off” or “slow,” and at any given time one or more orcas may be receiving antibiotics.

APHIS Preliminary Report- Tilikum Medical Review thumbnail

Click on Thumbnail to see Tilikum’s Medical Review by APHIS (PDF)

 

According to a preliminary report prepared by the Investigative and Enforcement Services of USDA APHIS (US Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service) and obtained via the Freedom of Information Act, Tilikum was on antibiotic and antifungal drugs for an “inflammatory issue” with an elevated white blood cell count beginning “about February 11” (2010) and during the time he pulled Ms. Brancheau to her death.  Also in the report, “This whale had a similar issue last October that was treated and fully resolved.  It is unknown where the inflammation was, but they had ruled out the teeth using a thermography unit, but were suspicious of the respiratory tract based on history of other whales with similar blood parameters and clinical signs.”
Pills, such as antibiotics, are typically packed into the morning feeding sessions by pushing them through the gills of herring (fish).  The deleterious effects of chronic antibiotic usage are well established, and include disruption of normal bacterial flora in the gut, malnutrition, and susceptibility of the host to opportunistic pathogens such as fungi and yeast.  The long-term consequences of other commonly used medications at marine parks are poorly understood, as are the effects of a life spent in water treated with oxidative agents meant to kill E. coli and other pathogens.  It is reasonable to expect that as public opinion shifts toward disfavoring killer whale captivity, the pressure on veterinary and animal care staff to utilize prophylactic medications to prevent future deaths will increase. Dead captive killer whales are bad public relations and they serve to fuel the anti-captivity movement.
Wild killer whales can swim a hundred miles daily as they socialize, forage, communicate, and breed.  In stark contrast, with little horizontal or vertical space in their enclosures, captive orcas swim only limited distances, with most spending many hours surface resting.  Consequently, a random visitor to SWF will almost certainly find Tilikum, and others, statically suspended and without significant movement for long periods.  The resultant physical deconditioning amongst captives is poorly understood from a long-term health perspective, as few captive orcas live to old age; however, based upon animal and human studies, one can speculate that the impacts are anything but positive.  More obvious are the drastic changes in dorsal fin architecture (bending) that accompany a life spent at the surface.  Dorsal collapse is a phenomenon nearly exclusive to captivity as it is rarely seen in wild orcas.  100% of adult captive male dorsal fins have succumbed to gravity versus approximately one percent of free-ranging orcas.

 

Dorsal Collapse Comparison

Deceased orca Kanduke’s progressive dorsal bending is measured and compared to a wild orca (T20)

Less understood are the consequences from increased ultraviolet (UV) radiation exposure to the skin, eyes, and immune systems as animals float motionless at the surface.  Orcas in marine parks sometimes suffer from sunburn, and trainers or animal care staff will apply sun-block and black (colored) zinc oxide to the backs of those animals which show signs of burn, or who otherwise spend inordinate amounts of time surface resting.  Furthermore, at least one serious trainer injury has been linked to a whale’s poor visual acuity, possibly secondary to cataract formation.  It is known that UV radiation exposure is a factor in the development of cataracts, especially in low latitude environments with elevated sun exposure. Compounding the issue, water in orca tanks is shallow and clear, offering no natural protection from the sun’s harmful rays.  Contrastingly, free-ranging orcas spend most of their time at higher latitudes, in darker water, and at greater depths, and none spend time looking up at humans with their heads “on deck.”

In the medical community it is also accepted that UV radiation can act as an immunosuppressant and can cause retinal damage, among other physiological risks.  Unfortunately, little is known of the long-term effects on captive orcas exposed to the sun to such an unnatural extent.  The USDA-APHIS, which is charged with enforcement of Animal Welfare Act (AWA) provisions such as protection from the weather and direct sunlight, has historically been ineffective in ensuring compliance with the numerous regulations designed to provide minimum standards of care for captive marine mammals.

Tilikum on Center Stage

Tilikum’s enormous size is reflected in this photo. Only 2 pools at Shamu Stadium are deeper than he is long.

Orcas are carnivores, not scavengers.  In the wild they consume a diet of live (not dead) prey items depending on which cultural subset they come from.  For example, New Zealand orcas are known to feed on sharks and rays, while Icelandic and Northwestern orcas eat herring and salmon.  Still others feed on marine mammals such as sea lions, porpoise, and baleen whales.  Although from diverse places of origin, orcas in captive environments are forced to eat a non-varied diet of carrion.  At Sea World this consists of frozen-thawed whole fish, Clupea harengus (herring), Thaleichthys pacificus (smelt), and Oncorhynchus gorbuscha (pink salmon), at approximately 2-3% of their body weight each day.  Although staff members at these parks are trained to repeat the script that the fish is of “restaurant quality,” they fail to mention that free-ranging orcas don’t typically eat smelt, which are the size of sardines, and which constitute nearly half of their captive diet.  It is not known how refrigeration and freezing of these fish impact the nutritional quality, nor is it known what long-term health consequences arise from feeding captive orcas food inconsistent with their culture.  Additionally, since captives receive essentially the same diet every day, they are more susceptible to vitamin deficiencies from a lack of prey variety.

Marine parks such as Sea World tout their ability to provide environments adequate to keep orcas alive.  However, this claim is not supported by the evidence.  Approximately 157 orcas have died in captivity, not including stillborns and miscarriages.  Based upon the MMIR data, and represented in Appendix A, we have calculated the mean duration of captivity (MDC) to be less than nine years.   This is regardless of whether an orca was extracted from the ocean, or born at a theme park.

Globally, marine parks have enjoyed 60 live births since 1977. However, 32 of those animals (53%) are already deceased (Dec.).  SW alone has had 28 live births, with nine deceased (32%), as are ten of the mothers.  In the wild, successful calf-rearing is facilitated by mentoring mid-wives, family, and stable matrilines.  Based on revised estimates by Olesiuk, Ellis and Ford, (2005), and regarding “Northern Resident” orcas, the mean age at first birth has been estimated to be 14 – 15 years.  For comparison, captive orcas often become pregnant much earlier.  In regard to wild female reproductive lifespan, “single calves are subsequently born at five-year intervals (from the mid-teens) over a [span] lasting about 25 years.”  Reproductive senescence (the equivalent of menopause) occurs around 40 years of age.

AI Semen Extraction

Extraction of Semen from a Male Orca for Artificial Insemination

Giving birth at a young age comes with risks, including immature mothers refusing, or not knowing how, to properly nurse their calves.  This is happening currently with a captive orca named Kohana, who is famous as SW’s second AI calf.  On loan from SW to Loro Parque, she has recently given birth at eight years of age, in October of 2010.  Kohana is not nursing this young orca and it is not clear whether it will survive via bottle and tube feedings.  At SWF, Taima was a notoriously poor mother as well. She died from a prolapsed uterus while giving birth to her fourth calf on 6 June 2010, at the age of 20.  Keep in mind that killer whale gestation is approximately 18 months in duration, and to reiterate, wild Northern Resident calves are “born at five-year intervals.”

Fathered by a transient bull named Kanduke (Dec. 9/20/1990, SWF) and an Icelandic mother Gudrun (Dec. 2/25/1996, SWF), Taima was a true hybrid, unknown in nature, being genetically half-transient and half-resident (transient and resident refer to two culturally and genetically distinct types of orcas). Was she too young at eight years of age to have Sumar (Dec. 9/7/2010, SWC)?  It is known that she became very aggressive with him, and for his own protection he was shipped out of Orlando prior to his first birthday.  Taima was also eventually banned from performing with trainers in the water, as she was deemed aggressive and unpredictable.  As an aside, contrary to the common practice at marine parks of moving young whales to other parks and away from family, wild orcas typically spend their entire lives with family members who, among other things, assist mothers with calf-rearing (see Appendix B for a summary of Kalina’s travel record to various parks). 

 

 

Keto, Tilikum and Taku's Dorsal Collapse

Keto, Tilikum and Taku Display Dorsal Collapse

In light of Ms. Brancheau’s horrific death, the recent focus of public discourse has been on the safety measures in place at marine mammal facilities, and future steps to prevent morbidity and mortality amongst the human keepers of captive orcas.  Safety measures aside, the objective of this article is to identify several key issues related to the whales themselves.  It is our hope that a more holistic understanding of orcas within captive environments may lead to better judgments by park managers, the public, and regulatory agencies such as the USDA, APHIS, NOAA, NMFS and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).  While parks such as SW should be credited for some of the early research on basic killer whale behavior and physiology, a review of the scientific literature suggests that very little new knowledge is being generated as a result of orca captivity.

Additionally, the authors introduce a new statistic, the Mean Duration of Captivity (MDC), which allows for the evaluation of lifespan in captivity.  MDC and lifespan are the same for captive born orcas.  We acknowledge that the MDC is not equivalent to lifespan for captured animals.  However, it is a valid approximation based upon the historical preference of whale collectors to extract the younger orcas of a given clan or pod.

For our population of 152 killer whales that have lived and died in captivity, the MDC equals 2413 days or 6.6 years.  This is a surprisingly low number, especially when compared with free-ranging orca longevity.  We also acknowledge that husbandry procedures and veterinary care may have improved with time, and that the MDC only addresses dead whales for which data exist (n=152).

To incorporate both dead (n=152) and living whales (n=41) we utilized the Kaplan-Meier (KM) method of examining captive orca survival. Employing the median as most representative of the central tendency of the dataset, this method allows “credit” to be given for those whales that are still living, and helps predict orca survival in captivity.  According to the records, there are 41 whales currently living at marine parks, and six (Corky, Lolita, Ulises, Katina, Kasatka, Tilikum) that have been living in captivity for greater than 28 years.  It is not known what attributes have contributed to their exceptionally long lives (by captive longevity standards).  However, expanding the overall population from 152 to 193, to include all whales still alive in captivity (including these long-lived whales), only produces a median duration of captivity of 3108 days or 8.5 years.  Using KM, we can be 95% sure that the true median duration of captivity lies between 998 and 3250 days (2.7 and 8.9 years, respectively).

Using “Baby Shamu’s” landmark birth as a point when successful captive birthing began, 26 September 1985, the MDC differs little between the pre-Kalina (2453 days = 6.7 years, n=105) and post-Kalina birth cohorts (2323 days = 6.4 years, n=47).  Though the data suggests that the post-Kalina birth cohort whales are living shorter lives, the MDC between the two is not statistically significant.

The time has come to evolve beyond keeping killer whales confined in small, unnatural spaces, purely for entertainment purposes.  As we’ve demonstrated, their life spans are decreased and their behaviors altered from the stressors associated with confinement.

Katina, Taku, Kalina and Flag Bearing Trainers

Katina and her two offspring, Taku & Kalina. Before his death, Taku and his mother Katina produced an inbred calf, Nalani.

One solution, which has already been proposed, and we support, would be to phase out captive populations naturally, via attrition.  In short, stop breeding the animals and let those already in captivity live out their lives. Animals such as Lolita at the Miami Seaquarium, whose mother and family group are still alive, and whose teeth are in relatively good shape, may be candidates for a transitional reintroduction to the wild.  However, whales with broken and bored teeth, such as Tilikum, and many others, are likely poor candidates for release back to their natural habitat without ongoing human intervention.

Jeffrey Ventre, MD, is a medical physician specializing in physical medicine and rehabilitation in New Orleans.  John Jett, Ph.D, is a visiting research professor focusing on waterway management issues at Stetson University.

  

Both Drs Jett and Ventre worked as trainers at Sea World of Florida for a combined total of 12 years. They worked with several orcas, including Tilikum, and with Dawn Brancheau.  After SeaWorld, they began professional careers that allow for this unique perspective.  The authors thank Wendy Cooke, John Kielty, Samantha Berg, Carol Ray, Kim Ventre, Howard Garrett, Colleen Gorman, Chica, and Tim Zimmermann for their contributions to this paper. And a special thanks to Ester Quintana-Rizzo, Ph.D. and Alina Castañeda for providing the Spanish translation.

 

Click HERE to view Appendix A   –   Click HERE to view Appendix B

Click HERE  (or en español) to Open/View/Print the Complete Paper and Appendices (PDF)

 For an extraordinary orca experience, please visit Orca Tracker, a geospatial interactive map connecting orca events and scholars from around the world.

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199 Comments leave one →
  1. osacr portillo permalink
    October 3, 2014 10:22 am

    they must be set free the orcas are very stressed I don’t blame them at all let them free

  2. Kevin Bird permalink
    September 10, 2014 3:08 pm

    Having seen orcas in the wild many times i am ashamed of humanity for keeping these magnificent creatures in captivity and ashamed of myself for not doing anything about it sooner. I now plan to do what i can to stop this inhumane practice.

  3. Isabel permalink
    August 20, 2014 1:45 am

    Excellent research. Great work. These facts cannot be argued. Stop the torture.
    I personally believe these highly intelligent creatures kill their own calves to save them from a horrific life.

  4. OrcA's SCREAM of sadness permalink
    August 17, 2014 6:52 am

    Don’t you think even the orcas with damaged teeth would prefer spending the rest of their life in the wild even if it remains only few years for them to live??? instead of turning around in their chemical bathtubs.NO EXCUSES FOR CAPTIVITY. They belong to oceans not even to vet or physician. FREE THEM IF YOU LOVE THEM

  5. Morgan Taylor permalink
    July 1, 2014 1:06 am

    BLACKFISH SUCKS!!!!!

  6. June 25, 2014 7:43 pm

    The so-called “voluntary” semen collection, along with the purposeful in-breeding absolutely turns my stomach. What person (of any level of education!) can possibly be involved with either of those procedures without recognising, even subconsciously, how fundamentally wrong it is?

  7. March 11, 2014 10:56 am

    Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit is a 2010 racing video game being developed.

    Get the added power you crave with our bolt on supercharger systems.
    This can be compared to first learning to drive a car.

  8. Linda permalink
    February 19, 2014 11:17 pm

    We need professionals to care about these poor animals, not only care, WE need to especially listen to them. and their professionals; why is it so difficult to listen to your doctor?

    • osacr portillo permalink
      October 3, 2014 10:21 am

      are you kidding me they don’t belong in a giant pool let them free!!!!

  9. Sophie permalink
    January 3, 2014 12:54 pm

    why don’t you write to the president of blackstone lisa

  10. November 3, 2013 9:44 pm

    Why isn’t anyone writing to the President of BLACKSTONE who own Tilikum…….. hes not reading these blogs…… pressure should start going his way.. not on us and TIlikum let TIlikum free.. really wow….

  11. November 3, 2013 9:38 pm

    BLACKSTone OWNS TILIKUM WHY DONT WE TALK TO THE PRESIDEN%T HES OVER ALL THIS STRESS FOR TILIKUM ALL THE WHALES AND US WHERE IS HE

  12. August 29, 2013 4:36 pm

    killerwhales have stress when are working?

  13. August 29, 2013 4:35 pm

    Can be good for orcas work in an aquatic park?

  14. July 22, 2013 6:49 am

    Hi, yes this article is really fastidious and I have
    learned lot of things from it on the topic
    of blogging. thanks.

  15. jesse permalink
    July 6, 2013 2:55 am

    this is clearly animal cruelty.killer whales should be free to live their lives with out any interference of humans. Seaworld has no right to capture a free animal and imprison it for financial gain. If these whales have the emotions and family ties we could then compare their emotional states to our own. so in other words how would we like it if one of our children or family members were captured to perform tricks for people. these whales lost their families and they are lonely and confused. Everything that is natural for them is being taken away. i personally think all marine parks and zoos should be shut down, it is not right for people to look at animals as entertainment or employees. capturing these whales to put them at marine parks is like giving and innocent person life in jail. these poor beautiful innocent creatures are taken put in a prison and die earlier then they should because the are not in their NATURAL environment.

  16. OrcaSurf84 permalink
    June 6, 2013 12:13 am

    One thing that i keep going back to is the death of kalina, it says the same year she died, she received a pretty bad laceration above her eye from another whale, couldn’t bacteria have entered her blood stream through that deep wound? Also its very shocking how many whales have died from respiratory diseases, specifically pneumonia. Couldn’t that be a result of confined living space? Either way the animals weren’t meant to be in fish tanks, no matter how “big” sea world says they are, point being, they’re not big enough, they’re not the ocean.

  17. theresa lapenna permalink
    April 5, 2013 1:43 pm

    Here is a suggestion.. Keep and study the Orcas you have, but no more breeding, and let the ones you have live out what “Life” they have left, and DON’T replace them.

    • OrcaSurf84 permalink
      June 6, 2013 12:15 am

      Interesting option, but having no whales in captivity would be better

      • Amanda permalink
        September 29, 2013 4:14 pm

        I think Theresa was referring to the fact that most orcas in captivity cannot be released, so we should study the current captives we have. Will conducting these studies, stop the breeding and don’t replace any animals that pass away.
        Although it can be argued that, at this point, there is no more we can learn from orcas in a captive environment. The only study that I think we could really conduct would be studying their intelligence through testing their mental abilities, as some captive dolphin facilities are doing.

        • Amanda permalink
          September 29, 2013 4:15 pm

          *While conducting

  18. January 2, 2013 4:38 pm

    Actually, if you cared to look you could find a huge amount of data about wild whale populations. Theses, peer reviews, books. I challenge you to find even a dozen scientific studies contributed by SeaWorld in the last 20 years about orcas! In fact, the scientific information they disseminate about orca behavior is the equivalent of a third grade book upon the subject, and none of it tells the truth of the behavior of wild orcas living in their natural environment! You might actually want to do some research into the evidence before you make patently wrong assumptions about a subject concerning which you are completely ignorant!

  19. December 9, 2012 12:16 pm

    Reblogged this on Our Endangered Planet and it's Wildlife..

  20. Courtnie permalink
    March 19, 2012 2:40 am

    Very interesting page. What do you think about the whale research centres at Friday Harbour near Vancouver?

    I love killer whales. My passion and interest for them is so precise and distinctive that i cant explain just how important they are to me. Im not sure why i love them so much, they are truely magnificent animals.

    I dont think that broadcasting the miss treatment of them in captivity is the right way to go about saving the whales. Im not sure how i would approach such a situation but i would think more about reasoning with the people who put them in captivity and only think about the money. They are cared for in captivitiy, so its not all bad.

    Tilikum, killed a trainer. No one knows why, as far as i have read. Leaving him in an undersized pool with little attention is definatley not the right way to go about treating an animal. Have they thought about reuniting him with the pod he came from? Can they train him and release him like they did with Keiko.

    Negotiation and ideas will help alot more then having a protest about how bad captivity is.

    I have always wanted to see them at the sea world parks, but i dont want to see them misstreated either.

    I think they should be returned to the wild, as the right thing to do.

    I’d love to hear back and see if my message can make a difference at all.

    Thanks.

    • Sherrie permalink
      April 26, 2012 3:15 pm

      I can’t decide whether I should give you a thumbs up or a thumbs down. I agree that they should be returned to the wild, but I really disagree with you saying they’re cared for at places like SeaWorld. I also love killer whales and was ignorant to the goings on behind the scenes at these places. I actually wanted to be a trainer when I was younger. I did my research these past couple of years and I am SO glad I did before I went any further in my schooling to become a trainer. What happens to these animals emotionally, physically, and mentally is quite disturbing, sad, and disgusting. This small piece of the full article shows all of the abuse they take. I used to think how you did, that they were taken care of and what could be wrong with the life they are living…but I was so very wrong. Orca’s do not need to be taken care of. In the wild, they are more then capable of taking care of themselves and their families. At SeaWorld, they are seperated from their own and they have no proper social structure. It would be like taking you away from your family and friends and putting you in a big enclosure and asking you to perform tricks. If you could never speak to your loved ones again how would you feel? These animals deserve our help and protection and I think that we need to do whatever we can, however we can, to help. There are two dolphins right now from a Turkey aquarium that are being taught, as silly as this sounds, how to live in the wild. Once they are ready, they will be released. This is what we need to be doing with those animals that can thrive out there and still have their teeth. That one picture up there of the whale spouting blood out of it’s blow hole sickens me! I’m not saying that wouldn’t have happened in the wild, you can’t guarantee that any of these animals would have survived this long in the wild, but then they would be in their homes, and it would be natures course, the circle of life as someone has mentioned on here already. It would be NATURAL. There was nothing natural about what happened to that whale. These places need to be shut down and never be allowed to be re-opened. It breaks my heart to know the cruelty these animals are facing. They don’t deserve it.

      I just want to clarify that I am NOT attacking you, because you are correct in almost everything you said. I just have a problem with you saying that they’re taken care of captivity. The aquarium in Miami has failed it’s health and safety check and the whale’s tank is leaking, the roof is falling apart, and the kitchen where they prepare her food is unsanitary. This to me is not taking care of an animal. This is a company that cares nothing about the animal and are just in it for the money. It’s disgusting.

      • Tabitha permalink
        April 9, 2014 2:19 pm

        The sad thing is they can’t be returned, all orcas that have been returned have died shortly after they cannot survive in the wild. Humans should not be allowed to capture any more of them and should not be allowed to breed them anymore. It is very apparent they are not taken care of correctly so they need to be placed with people who know how to take care of them. I was shocked to learn that Sea World trains their trainers and to be hired on all you have to be able to do is swim very well.

  21. February 8, 2012 3:57 am

    So FACT… you believe, then, that because of this “fact” about the whales being rescues that they should be subject to a life of misery and frustration in tiny pools while constantly being forced to perform tricks? Just because SeaWorld is rescuing injured wildlife does not mean that it may then use these living creatures at their expense for its own gain. And I find it quite curious that SeaWorld performs semen collection (scroll up) if most of its animals are rescues…….hm…

    “FACT”.

    Oh by the way, can’t deny this fact- search SeaWorld on Google Earth. You can see one of its whales being kept in a pool so tiny I’d be surprised if he/she could turn around. But I guess that’s ok since the animal was rescued from the wild and is given a choice whether to perform or not.
    There’s a FACT thrown right back atcha hon.

    • Heather permalink
      March 15, 2012 12:10 pm

      Majority of the whales….are not rescued…they are captured in the wild at a young age. IF these whales were for some reason going to die in the wild…they are better off dying naturally, in their environment where the carcass would feed other wildlife in and out of the ocean…Circle of life. We shouldn’t keep giant creatures in captivity where they are starved and then perform tricks for food solely for the benefit of financial profit. These whales would probably prefer to die in the wild where they are happy then in a tank at Sea World where these natural hunters are being hand fed and swimming around in a home the size of your bathtub. Saying that Orcas are better off at Sea World then in their own environment is like saying human trafficking is ok. They have shelter, they are being fed. Sure they are being tied to bed posts, or locked in closets..but hey…they could of died in their natural environment…

  22. FACT permalink
    January 30, 2012 1:52 am

    What if these animals would otherwise die in the wild? What if they were born into captivity and would have no experience in the wild and would die? What if these animals would die earlier if they were released back into the wild? What if you were shown that these animals actually like to perform?

    Well, most of these animals (at SeaWorld at least) were rescues that would otherwise die in the wild or were born into captivity. Releasing them into the wild would kill them. FACT
    Would you rather have that?

    Every single animal at SeaWorld has a choice whether or not to perform and no punishment is given for not performing. FACT

    The trainers love the animals and the animals love the trainers. FACT

    SeaWorld saves thousands of animals (not only marine animals) lives each year. FACT

    PETA does not directly save any animal lives each year, yet spends millions to besmirch the names of organizations that actually do. FACT

    • Why are your facts wrong? permalink
      June 11, 2012 4:52 pm

      Aside: I am not a member of PETA and never will be. I don’t like the organization.

      FACT. Sea World’s orcas are not rescues. Not a single one. A lot of them were born into captivity, yes, but NONE of them are rescues. Releasing them into the wild as-is would kill them, yes, but that doesn’t mean that keeping them captive and breeding more is right, either…

      FACT. I have worked at a facility with captive belugas. You’re right; technically they are “asked” to perform rather than forced to. However, if I were a hungry beluga, or orca, I would do what it took to get fed, too. Contrary to what pro-captivity people want you to think, they don’t get “fed no matter what.” If they don’t perform, their diet is cut. I HAVE SEEN IT MYSELF, IN A WORLD-RENOWNED FACILITY.

    • January 2, 2013 4:49 pm

      This is in answer to the comment that most of the orcas at SeaWorld were rescues or born into captivity. You might want to actually check before you say something so absurd. The wild born whales at SeaWorld were hunted by Ted Griffen and his partner through the use of drive captures, which are inhumane and frequently result in orca death. In fact, while hunting for SeaWorld he once gutted, weighted and sank 4 orcas which died as a result of the hunt. When these corpses were discovered he lied for months about his responsibility. This all OCCURED while he was in the employ of SeaWorld. None of the wild born orcas at SeaWorld are rescues!

      • janine Clark permalink
        January 3, 2013 3:36 am

        I don’t understand why * got this email. *I am 1,000% anti cap.

        On Wed, Jan 2, 2013 at 1:49 PM, The Orca Project wrote:

        > ** > Bj commented: “This is in answer to the comment that most of the orcas > at SeaWorld were rescues or born into captivity. You might want to actually > check before you say something so absurd. The wild born whales at SeaWorld > were hunted by Ted Griffen and his partner thr” >

    • Hannah permalink
      August 12, 2013 2:27 pm

      You are seriously misinformed if you believe that all or any of the orcas were rescues- fact. They are taken from their families at young ages and forced into concrete boxes where they swim in tiny circles doing circus performances for the rest of their young lives. In the wild they live as long as humans where in captivity they are lucky if they make it to their twenties. Why don’t you get the facts straight before you make any comments. Sea world is a corrupt company and anybody who pays to go there needs to seriously reevaluate their morals. So FACT why don’t you check your facts before you say anything else.

    • Jonny Doyle permalink
      September 28, 2013 10:33 am

      All these facts you produce are the most ridiculous statements I have ever heard, NONE, yes NONE of the captured Orcas are rescues from the wild, they are taken from their mother while young, and my placing them in captivity their lives are cut extremely short. So please get your facts right and actually educate yourself, before making silly wayward comments, that have no evidence

    • Thomas E. Pilcher permalink
      October 25, 2013 8:49 pm

      Just sayin, since you’re so full of ‘facts': 1. The beings discussed are Orcas, no others.
      2. None of the captive Orcas were or are ‘rescues’. 3. When you get your ‘facts’ straight then run your obnoxious (and ill-informed) trap. until then…stfu:)

    • October 28, 2013 7:26 pm

      Tilikum was not a rescue. He was captured and taken from his mother. The man who helped to capture him says he cried when he did it and knew it was wrong. The only reason for animals to be in captivity is if they are injured and cannot make it in the wild. Otherwise, kindly they should be euthanized, rather than torture them in pens that are too small. It speaks poorly for the human race.

    • Tabitha permalink
      April 9, 2014 2:23 pm

      They do not have a choice. They are starved if they do not perform and put in a very tiny isolated area. So their choice is to eat or go hungry.

  23. realist permalink
    October 26, 2011 2:36 pm

    It is interesting how much information is presented about captive whale yet there isn’t much statistical evidence regarding the wild whale that are referred to throughout this article. Seems very one sided!! Then again that seems to be PETA’s way – present only the facts that cause emotional response for uninformed audience. Based on the comments below – PETA has succeeded again in instilling this emotional (yet not rational) response!

    • keepwhaleswild permalink
      October 29, 2011 5:30 pm

      To ‘realist’ Maybe you should go away and do your own research on wild whales, then you would relise how much longer an Orca’s life span is in the wild, you would relise how many 1000’s of miles of ocean they travel through every year, how they hunt in co-oporation with each other and teach their young how to hunt, how strong their family bonds are, how complex their vocal range is, you would relise that such a complex beautiful soul should never be in the hole that calls its self sea world. A tiny pool is no place for an Orca just as a tiny cage in a circus is no place for a lion.
      An Orca performing tricks for an audience is not an education its a money making business venture.
      Orca’s do not belong in swimming pools FACT!

    • Tame permalink
      December 4, 2011 2:03 am

      At ‘Realist’- its the ignorance and closed-mindedness that you possess, that will keep these whales confined within concrete walls. It doesn’t matter if the life expectancy on an orca in the wild is less than that of captive orca(which is not the case) the comparison doesn’t even need to be made because the FACT remains, Orcas belong in their natural habitat, all wild animals do, regardless of how unforgiving their environment may be. Whether they live for 6 or 60years in the wild, they are surviving under the elements of nature. It is unnatural for a wild animal to be confined to concrete walls, or steel bars, to be hand-fed, to have their semen collected, to have artificial insemination. So if they suffer and die by the hands of humans, THAT is going against nature. What more evidence do you need regarding the wild whale to realise that the captive whales are suffering? You don’t require stats, you need common sense.

    • Taylor Cowan permalink
      February 29, 2012 9:59 am

      I agree with you realist, PETA does use ethos (an emotional appeal) to “whoo” anyone who’s feels neutral about this kind of topic, to their side. If they used more logic in their comments, I actually might listen. But the fact that they feel so strongly about this topic, it’s hard to back it up with any logic. Read this article at http://www.wdcs.org/submissions_bin/cap-orc-glo-000016.pdf. The WDCS (Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society), actually uses logic behind their statements and shows both sides of the topic. In one part of their article, they actually say, “We have been led to believe that captivity benefits both onlookers and animals alike: entertaining and educating audiences whilst, at the same time, providing a comfortable life for the captives.”
      Now I don’t want to get anymore in this discussion then what I already have, I just wanted to tell you that I agree with your comment, realist.

      • SamN permalink
        July 15, 2013 3:51 pm

        The authors aren’t associated with PETA first of all – they were former SW trainers so you would expect them to know both sides of the story. The paper itself discusses and analyzes the negative impact of captivity from husbandry practices that the whales undergo and the MDC. Maybe that’s what seems like ethos to you.

        As for using more “logic” and facts:

        There are multiple orca populations in the wild so making comparisons to individual populations wouldn’t be scientifically appropriate anyway.

        And for the attached link, reading on you find:

        “We have been led to believe that
        captivity benefits both onlookers and animals alike:
        entertaining and educating audiences whilst, at
        the same time, providing a comfortable life for the
        captives. But, as long-term research into wild orca
        populations increases our knowledge of the species,
        so the glaring disparities between the lives of the
        captives and the lives of wild orcas becomes all too
        apparent.
        The reality of existence for the captives has
        become painfully obvious: cramped, chlorinated tanks,
        often inhabited by frustrated and unhealthy whales,
        performing circus tricks which bear little resemblance
        to their natural behaviour. Many people now feel that
        witnessing such impoverishment is unlikely to yield
        sound educational benefits.”

        Be careful what you cite next time.

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