The Case Against Killer Whale Captivity
For many years, the case has been made that the largest predator of the oceans, killer whales (orcas), should be free from the exploitation of a multi-billion dollar marine mammal entertainment industry which has been permitted to operate under the guise of education and conservation. These intelligent, highly social, amazing beings deserve their freedom, however the popular perception portrayed by theme parks have our government officials and the public thinking otherwise. But the tide is changing and the truth about orca captivity is finally catching-on in public perception and with the media.
Unlike the mis-education perpetuated by the highly profitable aquaria, studies have shown the life expectancies of killer whales in captivity are well below those of their wild counterparts. Despite industry claims of advancements in veterinary care, nutrition and husbandry techniques, killer whales fare much better in the wild… even with the man-made decimation of their habitats. The true focus has since evolved toward education and conservation in the protection orca environments instead of continuing to allow the exploitation of these individuals for lucrative entertainment corporations.
In January, 2011 The Orca Project introduced a paper co-authored by two former SeaWorld trainers, Dr. John Jett and Dr. Jeffrey Ventre titled “Keto and Tilikum Express the Stress of Orca Captivity”. This report dove into many of the detrimental effects of orca captivity and their decrease in life expectancy through new calculations of the Mean Duration of Captivity.
Today, in collaboration with The Orca Project, Dr. Naomi Rose, Senior Scientist at the Humane Society International has released another groundbreaking paper- “Killer Controversy: Why orcas should no longer be kept in captivity” (see it below)
Building on several decades of studies, including a 1995 peer-reviewed paper on the survivorship rates of several captive marine mammal species, the Jett/Ventre report, and now Dr. Rose’s study, the case has been laid-out to show that not only has captive survival rates not improved but they have actually worsened.
Utilizing these reports as well as industry and government documents, the causes of decline in longevity are multi-fold… just as we have presented here at The Orca Project. The stressors associated with captivity are clearly depicted in the Jett/Ventre report as well as our report on orca dental health.
The death of Dawn Brancheau in February, 2010 has also brought the dangers of orca confinement and display to the forefront. It also highlighted the unjust solitary confinement that Tilikum endured for nearly 1 year after killing Dawn, a punishment that did not fit the crime of serving a life of captivity against his will. With dozens of previous incidents between killer whales and trainers leading to injury or death, including the death of trainer Alexis Martinez by a SeaWorld orca in the Canary Islands just 8 weeks prior to the attack in Orlando, Florida, the evidence is clear that orcas do not belong in captivity.
We encourage you to read the report by Dr. Rose which presents the growing body of scientific evidence showing that orcas do not adapt to captivity, including:
Previous analyses using data through 1992 showed that captive orcas have higher mortality rates than wild orcas; new analyses examining data through 2010 confirm that the situation has not improved in the past 18 years, and in fact has worsened. Captivity is, in essence, poor habitat for orcas, causing early death.
- Captive female orcas give birth too young and too often, leading to both high adult and high infant mortality.
- The most common cause of death for captive orcas is infection. Chronic stress may be an important factor in weakening the animals’ immune response.
- Captive orcas have poor dental health compared to wild whales, which may be another factor in their susceptibility to fatal infections.
- Orcas in captivity are more aggressive toward each other than in the wild. Females also behave abnormally toward their calves more often than in the wild.
- Since captive orcas have been publicly displayed, they have seriously threatened the lives and safety of dozens of people, and four people have been killed. However, wild orcas have injured only a handful of people — none seriously — and there are no records, at any time in history, of them killing anyone.
Read the press release introducing Dr. Rose’s paper from The Humane Society International and The Humane Society of The United States, by clicking HERE, and download the complete report “Killer Controversy: Why orcas should no longer be kept in captivity” in PDF format by clicking HERE. The full report can also be seen below:
Update- 2013: Naomi A. Rose, Ph.D. now continues her amazing work as a marine mammal scientist for the Animal Welfare Institute and is part of a team working with Merlin Entertainments Group to create the first sanctuary for captive bottlenose dolphins. She has been advocating for the welfare of captive whales and dolphins for more than 20 years. On October 24, 2013 CNN published her Op-Ed titled “A win-win solution for captive orcas and marine theme parks”.
Since its inception in 2010, The Orca Project has collaborated with some of the world’s top marine mammal experts, caring professionals and individuals from diverse backgrounds. The amazing alliance and friendships born from this endeavor will continue to expand on the groundwork laid out by those before us. We will continue to develop on their work to educate the public and our government oversight agencies about the detrimental effects of keeping killer whales in captivity. We encourage former and present trainers, marine mammal park employees (in the U.S. and abroad), scientists, authors, individuals and the media to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org to continue this important work. Confidentiality is assured if you wish to remain anonymous.