Picture this; a 22-foot, 12,000 pound creature being forced to spend the rest of his life in a “glorified” swimming pool, with no interaction with any other species of its kind. This is how every orca in captivity is forced to live out the rest of his or her life. They are forced to eat an unnatural diet everyday. They are crammed into tiny spaces that only measure; 48 feet in length and 12 feet in depth, they are essentially living in bathtubs and due to the size of the tanks, and the size of the killer whales, no more than two to three orcas can live in one tank. After having a calf, the two orcas are separated within two or three years, when in the wild they would sometimes stay together for life.
Going through these traumatic changes puts a lot of stress on the animals resulting in early death, and drastic personality changes. While in captivity orcas face many overall health problems. Almost 90% of male, and 70% of female orcas that live in captivity have partially or completely collapsed dorsal fins to one side. This condition is often referred to as flaccid fin syndrome. An orca living in the wild usually travels far, and quickly in deep water, so while there are moving through the water, it provides pressure to the fin, keeping it upright, and keeping the tissues inside healthy. There are many theories on why the dorsal fin of killer whales flops to one side during their time in captivity.
One of them is due to the orca spending much of its time at the surface of the water and not swimming fast or far enough. This results to the fin tissue getting less support, and starts to fall over. Dr Lance Barrett-Lennard documented two adult male orcas who both have recently exhibit abnormalities in their dorsal fin. Dr Lance Barrett-Lennard believes them to be results from injuries along with the fact they are not swimming enough. Injuries happen quite often in captivity, especially with marine life. Studies have compared many factors of wild orcas to captive orcas from aggression, health and the most shocking fact they had gathered, the life expectancy in both males and females from the two different lifestyles.
In the wild male orcas are expected to live up to 70 years, and females live to at least 80 years old. In captivity those ages are slashed in half, with males only living up to 30 years and females living till 40 years.Many factors come into play when thinking about life expectancy, such as diseases like kidney disease, and west nile virus. Bacterial pneumonia is the most common cause of death for captive marine life, being the result of chronic stress, psychological depression, and even boredom. At Marineland, located in Niagara Falls, adult killer whales eat 150 lbs of food everyday. While killer whales usually eat up to 375 pounds of fish a day.
It is often to find many orcas in captivity on diets that are not only unhealthy but unnatural. Orcas are constantly under a tremendous amount of stress that they can never truly deal with while in captivity, and that large amount of stress is what some marine biologists think to be the reason behind the issue with premature deaths of newborn orcas. Based on brain size and encephalization quotient, orcas are among some of the most intelligent animals on earth. They have displayed a range of complex behaviors indicating social intelligence, but these are difficult to study in the open ocean. The non-profit Seaworld & Busch Gardens Conservation Fund works on behalf of wildlife and habitats worldwide.
This organization uses the accessibility of killer whales in captivity to gain an understanding of the relationships among reproductive endocrinology, anatomy, behavior and physiological events. While orcas are in captivity it allows them the opportunity to educate the public with a close up experience they cant get in the wild. Places like Seaworld are also exposing the species to top veterinary care, ensuring they are always up to health standards.
With orcas in captivity, performing routines that their trainers have taught them brings in more money to help keep all these benefits for the whales up to date, the money also goes towards strengthening management through crucial research, and improving habitat quality. Another reason we should be keeping them in captivity is due to the captive born orcas. If we were to just release them back into the ocean they wouldn’t have all the necessary skills to survive. The social structure of killer whales is considered to be one of the most stable and highly complex of any animal species, when coming from captivity the whales wouldn’t be able to adapt to the strength of the structure leaving them more vulnerable than orcas that are in a pod. Another essential skill for survival in the wild is hunting, while in captivity whales didn’t have to use their own resources to hunt because the trainers got their food for them. With captivity having a strict diet, orcas would have to be able to adapt to the wider variety of prey. In the wild each killer whale has different eating habits.
The first type of Orcas relies on hunting penguins and eat a variety of fish for their diets, while the other type of orca eats antarctic toothfish, and patagonian toothfish. Throughout recent history there have not been any reports of wild orca killings involving human beings.The only recorded fatal attacks by orcas were in captivity because of the stress involved in being deprived of everything that is important to them. Killer Whales that aren’t a good match with their tank mates are forced to live in tight spaces together, resulting in anxiety, depression, and tension between them. Fights outbreak often due to the tension, while in the wild they have strong bonds with their pods that last a lifetime, and in the wild if a fight does break out they have space to flee. In captivity, there is nowhere for them to go, leading to many serious injuries and even death. Most orcas undergo a serious personality change, like Tilikum did from the documentary blackfish.
July 5th,1999 at Seaworld Orlando, a man named Daniel Dukes from South Carolina, was found in one of the orcas tanks. Daniel was draped across the back of the parks biggest orcas. A later autopsy revealed that Daniel’s cause of death was drowning. His body was covered in bruises and bitemarks from Tilikum.
Weather or not Tilikum caused the death wasn’t confirmed but the marks on the body was a clear indicator he had made contact with the victim. Orcas that are not usually aggressive tend to snap when all the anxiety gets to much for them to handle. Captivity not only leads to early death for the animals, it puts people at significant risk of injury and death as well. Although you might think it is cool to go see a 12,000 pound orca whale jump 12 feet in the air and get soaked by the splash, is it still cool that those same whales are suffering? How would you feel if the roles were reversed? If you were forced to live in a bathtub.
If when you were only two years old, you had been ripped away from you mom?