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Why Killer Whales in Captivity Should Be Set Free

Updated on August 29, 2017
Michael Kismet profile image

Michael is an author that has a passion for the environment, and is trying to save the planet, one reader at a time!

killer whale in captivity
killer whale in captivity | Source

Killer Whales in SeaWorld

After the release of the controversial film "Blackfish", SeaWorld's ethics were under extreme, justifiable scrutiny. The documentary revealed a much deeper look into the practices that the marine theme park was partaking in -- the issue of keeping Orcas(killer whales) in captivity.

The film revolved around "Tilikum", a highly intelligent, seemingly emotional 12,000-pound captive male Orca that was involved in the death of a SeaWorld senior staff trainer in 2010. It follows Tilikum's unimaginably cruel life, from the moment he was literally cornered and stolen from his mother in the waters of Iceland as a calf, to his miserable and offensively inhumane confinements, and to where Tilikum sadly remains to this day.

In light of the new and profound interviews with the ex-oceanarium employees, SeaWorld has been trying to get in front a runaway train of bad PR and boycotts of their theme parks.

(If I may interject that after I watched this documentary, I was so enraged at the heartlessness some people can have in this world, all in the pursuit of profit. That is a disgustingly sad example for decent human beings, I do not mean the misled trainers, but the executives of SeaWorld, just to clarify. )

Have you seen the shocking documentary, Blackfish?

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killer whales training
killer whales training

Why Killer Whales Don't Belong in Captivity

Here is a summation for the treatment and conditions of killer whales held in captivity. However, one can never fully understand the mental strains and stresses Orcas are constantly under, by being confined and kept in captivity.

  • Orcas are vastly spread among the oceans, and they can travel upwards of 100 miles in one day. Yet captive killer whales are held in small concrete tanks.
  • Orca whales in the wild have a general life expectancy of 40-55 years, and an extended possible lifespan of 60-75 years for males, and 75-100 for females. Captive killer whales usually live 10 years.
  • Limp dorsal fins, all captive males have them, yet it is rare for any wild Orca to be afflicted with this condition. A collapsed dorsal fin is a general sign of a sick or injured killer whale. Captive Orcas are fed an unnatural diet of dead fish, including pig and cow bones.
  • When multiple killer whales are placed together that are not socially compatible, it causes serious anxiety and, and will inevitably cause aggression. In the wild, Orcas do not attack one another, they will simply move away to ease tension, but in captivity, there is nowhere to go. This leads to fatal contact, only in confined spaces like a SeaWorld tank produces these careless consequences.
  • Orcas strong connection to their families cannot be overstated, they have deep connections and are highly sensitive and social mammals. In some pods, the Orca young stay with the mother and pod for their whole lives. In captivity, they are forced in with other killer whales that essentially speak another language.
  • Captive Orcas have bad teeth, all resulting from them biting on concrete barriers and steel bars trying to find a means of escape, perhaps dreaming of the possibility of being united with their pods. SeaWorld's idea of a dental plan? Painful deep drilling with no painkiller or anesthesia.

killer whales at seaworld
killer whales at seaworld

How Intelligent are Killer Whales?

A group of researchers explored and examined the brain of a dead killer whale with the use of an MRI and found an enormous potential for emotions and intelligence. Which really opens the door for us to further speculate the level of a killer whale's capacity for high cognitive functions and emotional content. Killer whales possess the second largest brains out of any other ocean dwelling mammal.

Their brains can weigh up to 15 pounds. Marine biologist and researchers are still struggling to figure out how killer whales have specialized dialects within an Orca pod and unique hunting methods that are pass down from one generation of Orca to the next. Humans and apes exhibit this exact culture of inheriting knowledge and experience from the generation before the present one.

Compared to humans, a killer whale's brain is more or less, 4 times as large as a human's brain. Additionally, possess more surface area in relation to brain weight. Orca brains also have greater speeds in nerve transmission and developed more enhanced areas in the brain that vastly exceeds our own. It's understandable that people don't enjoy the idea of possibly having another species intelligence rival ours.

Compared to humans, a killer whale's brain is more or less, 4 times as large as a human's brain.

— Kevin Spear

Wild Killer Whales Don't Attack Humans

Unbelievable as it sounds, seemingly all Orcas in the wild that have ever existed have one cardinal rule, do not attack humans. There have even been confirmed reports and eye witnesses that Orcas have come to the aid of drowning victims, and chase away sharks in a human's vicinity. It's obvious they sense something in us worth protecting, how our treatment of these majestically amazing animals in the future remains to be seen.

The scientists involved in Orca research have yet to discover evidence that killer whales in the wild have ever caused any human fatalities. Yet they aren't surprised that the world's largest, most powerful and possibly smartest apex predator in a state of extreme frustration, could lash out at the only humans within reach. Which unfortunately are the humans that care for them most, their committed trainers.

Years ago, Dawn Brancheau, a seasoned SeaWorld trainer was pulled in the tank and killed by Tilikum, who already had past incidents. It was a violent death that was utterly tragic, yet called for further investigation of the mental health and stability of captive Orcas. To this very day, SeaWorld has the audacity to still claim that Dawn was negligent, and was solely at fault for her own death.

Interesting Facts About Killer Whales

  • Killer whales inhabit every ocean on the planet.
  • They aren't actually whales at all, they're the world's largest species of dolphin.
  • They have surpassed sharks as the top apex predator in the sea, after the recent discovery of a particular pod that actively and successfully hunted great white sharks.
  • The majority of male orca never leave their mother's side.
  • They can swim at speeds of up to 40 miles per hour.
  • Killer whales are known as "wolves of the sea", for their cooperative nature in tactically hunting for prey.
  • They're not fish, Orcas are marine mammals. They are warm-blooded and will feed their young with milk produced by the mothers.
  • Hardly surprising, their pods are considered one of the most stable social structures of any animal species on earth.(yes that implies beyond humans)

wild killer whales
wild killer whales

How to Save Killer Whales in Captivity

You can make a difference by sharing this information with friends and family that are not aware of what is transpiring in the traumatic lives of captive Orcas. Insist that they do not support the marine parks and their horrendously terrible treatment of these highly intelligent animals.

I can't fully describe the satisfaction I would gain to successfully help spread awareness. To have readers take a measurable and meaningful call to action and actively help spread further awareness. Applying themselves to boycott SeaWorld and other marine life theme parks cruel and sadistic confinement of such beautiful and benevolent life forms. You can also quickly make a difference right this moment by taking the pledge, at takepart.

I want to take a minute to thank the readers for making it through my article, as you can probably tell, it's a very emotional and passionate deal for me. I am somewhat at a loss for words when I try to describe what kind of people(and I use that term loosely) SeaWorld executives are. I, for the life of me, will never understand greed of that intensity and magnitude. Please share this article with friends and your social network. Facebook, tweet it, pin it, however you can to help spread awareness!

© 2014 Michael Kismet


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      Moral Man 15 months ago

      Orcas shouldnt be held in captivity in confined tanks and shouldnt be forced to perform silly tricks. Obviously they are unhappy and will lash out from time to time.

      I was also saddened and angered to learn that for dental treatment, there is no anesthesia given to them and they undergo painful(very painful) drilling. This is unacceptable.

      As far as Orcas attacking people in the wild, its very rare. Perhaps Eskimos are eaten by Orcas with no eyewitnesses and no one to record it. Orcas in the Antarctic seem to be more likely to attack people, perhaps because people rarely venture into the Antarctic. Perhaps they confuse humans with their natural prey which are seals. Attacks on humans in captivity are understandable. They are unhappy being in captivity. Its as simple as that.

      The best way for humans and Orcas to coexist and for that matter, all other wild animals, is for the Orcas to be allowed to live in the wild. If they choose to interact with humans in bays and harbors or anywhere near land, then thats wonderful. Let them come and go as they want.

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      Susie Lehto 2 years ago from Minnesota

      This is a very interesting article, Michael. I learned a lot about Orcas in captivity, and free. I totally agree with you that these great creatures belong in the sea where they live full lives.

    • Michael Kismet profile image

      Michael Kismet 3 years ago from Northern California

      @Bill and Shelly - Thank you both for your support in the idea of freeing highly intelligent captive orcas. God bless!

    • Shelly Nun-Chucks profile image

      Shelly NunChucks Ninja 3 years ago from worldwide

      I saw the documentary also, and it was hearbreaking.

    • Billrrrr profile image

      Bill Russo 3 years ago from Cape Cod

      Good job on this. I watched the documentary. Eyeopener!

      Voted up and interesting.