Monday, March 24, 2014

Orca's in Captivity

   Each year, millions of people support aquatic theme parks such as SeaWorld without thinking of the negative effects these parks have on the organisms that live in them. One major marine mammal that is suffering due to a life in captivity is the Orca Whale. In nature, these creatures live in the open ocean with thousands of miles to travel every year. In captivity, they are forced into small living quarters that are not conducive to their development. In these forced environments, Orca's are shown to have shorter life spans with an average life expectancy of 30-50 years as compared to a life expectancy of 60-100 years in Orca's in the wild. You may have also noticed that Orca's in captivity have collapsed dorsal fins. This phenomena is a sign of an unhealthy Orca and is not naturally seen in nature. Below is a picture of an Orca in captivity with a collapsed dorsal fin, along with statistics on how many captive Orca's there are throughout the world.
     Just as the picture above states, keeping Orca Whales captive is not what nature intended. Many of us heard of the tragic deaths caused by a killer whale named Tilikum. This poor creature was only 2 years of age when he was stolen away from his mother in Iceland waters. Tilikum is now past 30 years of age and has been used to breed more than 54% of SeaWorld's Orca's, despite his aggressive behavior. It is no wonder, however, that Orca's in captivity become aggressive because they are forced into small areas that humans would view as bathtubs. If you were in a bathtub for 25 years, don't you think you would get a little psychotic? The story of these whales in captivity was put into perspective as the 2013 film Blackfish was released. This emotional film gained international attention as the sad story of Tilikum began to unfold. Although three human deaths have been caused by this animal, SeaWorld continues to hold degrading shows, almost acting as if these animals are merely a commodity. 

     In an effort to stop the captivity of these magnificent animals, one California lawmaker proposed a ban on Orca's in captivity, which could potentially outlaw Shamu shows in San Diego California (SeaWorld). The lawmaker states that there is no justified reason for the continued captivity of these animals. They are far too large and intelligent to be confined to such small living quarters. If this proposal were to be accepted, then all ten Orca's at the San Diego location are to be rehabilitated and returned to the wild where possible. Already, human preferences towards captive Orca's are beginning to change. This can be seen in the image below
     Due to lack of good human judgement, many Orca's have been in captivity for too long. Their health, life expectancy, lack of care, and living conditions are completely lacking in these man made habitats. SeaWorld sounds like a fun place to go, until we dig deeper and realize the inhumanity that occurs behind the scenes. To understand all of the hardships faced by Orca Whales, I recommend watching the documentary on Tilikum and many other Orca Whale's called Blackfish.

1)Cowperthwaite, G. (2013). Blackfish. Retrieved from
2)Kirby, D. (2014, March 7). Calif. lawmaker to propose ban on orca's in captivity. Retrieved from
3)PETA. (2014). Seaworld of hurt. Retrieved from


  1. I have a question about the collapsed dorsal fins...I looked at the source for that topic, but I was just curious if you came across any information about what specifically causes that to occur. Lack of minerals/essential nutrients, dehydration, lack of movement in captivity....? I know there are a lot of theories, but anything concrete?

  2. There are some theories as the why the dorsal fin tends to collapse in captivity. One, maybe the lesser of two evils, has to do with gravity. In the wild, Orca's travel vast distances with water resistance helping to shape the fin into it's natural erect position. In captivity, Orca's can only swim so far in a small holding tank, causing their fins to collapse. Another theory as to why these fins collapse is accredited to loss of collagen. Collagen is responsible for the elasticity in our skin and is mostly made of water. Whales receive hydration through their live prey. In captivity, whales are only receiving dead prey and therefore do not get enough necessary hydration. This is theorized to cause collagen to become weak and brittle, resulting in dorsal fin collapse. Another theory that seems to get rejected is that dorsal fin collapse happens when the animal is depressed. There is no definitive answer to this phenomena, but it is definitely not natural and may be due to multiple factors.

  3. I have heard that dolphins used for these shows will commit suicide and cover their blowholes to escape from the torture they experience in captivity :(

  4. As kids, we just bask at the wonder of the animals that SeaWorld has. I have seen anti-Seaworld films like The Cove and Blackfin and surprisingly, most of their arguments are valid. Seaworld on the other hand, only comes back and says that their arguments are false and are far from truth but they fail to tell their side of the story. At least I have never been able to find SeaWorlds side of the story. As for the SD lawmaker, his proposition for the law is not properly constructed according to what BigThink analysts are saying on the news. Either way, if we are to give better conditions for captive animals by law, it must be done so throughly and with no holes. However, Morgan's last statement "peoples views are starting to change" may be a better method than wasting money in politics and law.

  5. It is amazing to me what we as humans do to some creatures just to have a form of entertainment. Some things are meant to be left alone. I believe that in instances such as this, if the people truly want to see a creature that would suffer in captivity, then they should simply google it or watch it on television. Some things are just not meant to be tamed and this particular whale is one of them.

  6. I never understood the severity of keeping orcas in captivity until I watched the movie Blackfish. It broke my heart. I understand that places like SeaWorld and other companies think that animal performances aid in educating their customers, but now I only see it as excessive greed and profit. It's so sad. I'm interested in seeing there the future of SeaWorld goes.

  7. While I agree that keeping orcas, and probably many other marine mammals, in captivity is unnecessary and bad for the animals (and probably unethical) I am not necessarily swayed by your choice of references. None of them cite any scientific literature and seem to be potentially biased websites. They may be correct, but it is hard to judge that for myself due to a lack of evidence from scientific studies.