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Friday, March 5, 2010

Should Orcas Be in Captivity?

Orcas are beautiful animals. We call them killer whales and they are - they're vicious meat eaters, who fight with Great White Sharks. They travel and migrate, and can be found all over the world (although they're more frequently found in the northeast Pacific, Iceland, Norway and Antarctica). Yet, for some reason, humans have found it necessary and right to keep these creatures in pools the equivalent size of a bathtub (to the whale anyway). Why?

When the Killer Whale Tilikum killed Sea World trainer Dawn Brancheau in February, one of my co-workers knew I'd have an opinion and came over to ask what I thought. My simple answer is, no, Killer Whales (and Dolphins for that matter) should not be in captivity. His argument was that the only reason that anyone cared about Killer Whales is because they're easily seen in places like Sea World, and so shouldn't some be held there?

So, I mulled it over. Gave it some thought. My answer is still no.

Sea World is a business. They are defending keeping Orcas in captivity by saying that they are educational, but what exactly are we learning? Orcas do not do tricks for human entertainment when they are in the wild. They do not interact with humans in the wild. These shows are entertainment, not education. Sea World will continue to defend them because nearly 70% of the revenue from Sea World is generated by the Orca shows. So - no Killer Whales, no Sea World.

Let's look at Humpback and Blue Whales. They're not found in captivity, they're too large. Yet, somehow, life goes on for them. We know they exist, we care about them, we want to see the species continue. So, really, is it necessary to have Orcas in captivity in order to "care" about them? Isn't this why we have Animal Planet and National Geographic? Isn't this why we have whale watching expeditions? I mean, Discovery Channel has a whole week devoted to sharks, and there is a lot of hype surrounding the Great White, and yet there aren't really Great White Sharks in captivity (there have been 5 at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, all only held for a short period of time). I'm not buying that you need to have a few Orcas in captivity to torture them and teach them tricks in order to learn about them.

Some facts (courtesy of the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society):
  • Wild Orcas have lifespans of 35 years for males and 50 years for females. Most Orcas in captivity do not live past age 30.
  • 136 Orcas have been captured from the wild, and 123 of them are now dead. Their average life span in captivity has been 4.5 years.
  • Orcas born in captivity live to be an average of 8.5 years old before they die.
  • Orcas can and do dive to 60 meters.
  • The maximum depth of Shamu Stadium is 10.7 meters. This is one of the largest Orca pools in the world.
  • Orcas have highly developed brains, and live in the wild in social groups and closely-knit pods.
  • Four captive Orcas live completely alone.
Let's just stop this. Please avoid Sea World. Don't give them your money. There is no reason to be keeping these animals in captivity.

For more information on other marine mammal injustices, please see the Oscar Nominated Documentary, The Cove.

Captive Orcas: Dying to Entertain You, Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society

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