Killer Whales in Captivity

Status of Captive Orcas

Intelligent, charismatic and curious, the delphinidae family, including orca, is common in many aquariums and animal parks around the world, and between acrobatics and games, they have popularized a successful but controversial form of entertainment.

Why are there orcas in captivity?

Keeping orcas in captivity took place since the early 1960s and through time many individuals have lived in several aquariums. Many orcas were captured in their natural habitat and then transported, but others were born, raised and died in an aquarium. At present, it is estimated that there are over 40 orcas in captivity.

The Delphinidae are highly intelligent and social animals and have the ability to learn quickly. Thanks to this capability to imitate others, they perform coordinated acrobatics in water parks and people flock to watch them in action.

The playful behavior of killer whales is natural because it meets predominantly communicative functions. Many movements are useful for feeding and reproduction. In water parks or aquariums, orcas receive training based on a stimulus-response process to achieve spectacular performances that delight people.

The places where the orcas are kept claim to be entertainment, education and even research centers, where two separate orcas receive care by a qualified professional in the handling of these large cetaceans. All water parks should seek adequate feeding to meet the needs of the orcas, good medical care, adequate conditions for their size and physiological needs and also respectful treatment to their nature.

The confinement problem

Following several attacks on trainers, animal advocates and the general public has put the captivity of orcas under scrutiny. They claim that the confinement is simply a form of animal abuse concealed by the happy, magical and magnificent appearance of the shows.

Many stories around this theme are alleged. The parks have been accused of forcing orcas to have induced artificial behaviors in unnatural habitats, to encourage its violent hunt, to keep them in inadequate conditions in terms of size and health of the water tanks, to interfere with their natural behavior, decrease their expectation of life, and more. According to the WDC (Whale and Dolphin Conservation) organization at least 44 orcas have died in SeaWorld.

One of the most famous orcas was Keiko, who played Willy in the American film Free Willy (1993). He was captured in Iceland when he was just two years old, after being rescued from fishing nets. During his life, he went through several aquariums and got used to interact with people, but after starring in the film society began to protest to get his freedom. In 2002, he was reintroduced to the ocean, but he never adapted to the wild. Rarely interacted with other orcas and never joined a herd. Keiko died in 2003, shortly after its reintroduction.

A more recent case is Tilikum, a captive killer whale at SeaWorld in Orlando, Florida. He was involved in the death of three people including two experienced coaches. Some time ago a documentary called Blackfish, which exposes the dangers that animals face (and not just orcas) when staying in artificial conditions and under constant trainings was released; these dangers were not only to themselves but also to humans in contact with them. In contrast, SeaWorld and other parks have rejected bills that want to ban captive orcas.

Free Orcas

Discussions on this issue are more active today than ever. But meanwhile it is essential to put to work and take action to protect these animals.

Sources # Keiko


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