Killer Whales in Captivity

Killer Whales in Captivity

Killer Whales in Aquariums

Many visitors travel to Sea World to see the most famous Orca of all time – Shamu. However, the original Shamu died in 1971, after living in captivity for only six years. Now, Shamu is just a trademark used by Sea World. To date, 140 Orcas have died in captivity, and there are currently only 45 live Orcas known to be living in captivity. Of these Orcas, 26 were born in captivity, while the other nineteen were born in the wilds.

Some scientists say that male Orcas live to be about 30 years old, and females live to be about 50 years old in the wilds, while others believe that the males live to be about 50 and the females live to be about 90 years old. However, all scientists agree that both male and female Orcas held in captivity don’t live much more than twenty years.

The fact that Orcas do not reach their natural life expectancy in captivity has become a source of many heated debates between those that hold the dolphins captive, and those who want to protect them. Animal activist feel that Orcas are only taken into captivity for entertainment and profit, and not for scientific study. Furthermore, they feel that any scientific study of Orcas would be best done in the killer whale’s natural habitat – not in aquariums. Another concern for Orcas that are born in the wilds, then taken into captivity, is the fact that Orcas live in pods – or families – and their families operate much like our human families do – with strong attachments and emotions. The psychological effect of tearing these majestic creatures away from their family members is a great source of concern.

Before the Internet, when information traveled slowly – if it traveled at all – the general public knew very little of the plight of the Orcas held in captivity. They simply enjoyed the entertainment that these larger than life creatures provided at marine parks, such as Sea World. However, now that information flows freely throughout the world, a greater awareness of the unnatural conditions these Orcas are forced to live in has come to light. Several incidents have been reported over the past several years that make many people question the continued captivity of Orcas. These incidents include accidents, illnesses, failed pregnancies, premature deaths, and even attacks on trainers and other human beings.

Aggression towards Orca’s trainers, and their fellow captives has been increasing rapidly over the past few years. Many feel that this is due to the compromised mental and physical health of Orcas held in unnatural habitats. When compared to Orcas that live free, the Orcas held in captivity have very different behaviors. The size of the tanks, and the lack of anything resembling their natural habitat is blamed for the variations in both health and behavior. Natural movement and speed are decreased, and the tanks have flat, plain blue walls. Many scientists believe this lack of diversity in the tanks leads to limited activities, which also affects the behavior of the Orcas.

Health problems of Orcas held in captivity are blamed on the quality of the water. Even though the water is pumped in from the ocean, in most marine parks, it is filtered to remove micro and macro marine life, and chlorine is added. An ozonator is also used to remove bacteria. All of this filtering and water treatment is not natural for the Orcas.

Killer Whales in Aquariums

A killer whale in captivity jumping out of the water

Scientists believe that the unnatural sounds are also a problem for Orcas held in captivity. The sounds of water pumps and crowds of cheering people interfere with the natural echolocation of the Orcas, and has a negative impact on their communication. Orcas have very sensitive hearing. The feeding of the Orcas is also questioned. In their natural habitat, Orcas feed on sharks, fish, squid, whales, seals, turtles, octopus, penguins, and sea gulls. However, in captivity, Orcas are fed frozen fish and vitamin supplements.

Activists believe that the capture and transport of these animals is extremely cruel, due to the psychological stress caused by the separation of pod members, and the stress caused during transport. Then, on top of that stress, further stress is added when the Orcas are placed into tanks with other Orcas that are not members of their pods, or with different species of dolphins altogether.

It seems that now that the public has access to information that it did not have before, some steps have been taken to release Orcas back into the wilds, and many marine parks have taken Orcas off display. Furthermore, attendance to these shows has been greatly reduced over the past several years, which sends a message to the industry that uses Orcas for profit that we are no longer being entertained by Orcas held in captivity, and we would rather see them in their natural habitats.