The stress of orca captivity

Orca at Seaworld - (c)Stig Nygaard/CC

An orca at Seaworld (c)Stig Nygaard/CC

Two former Sea World animals trainers with more than 12 years combined experience have released a report documenting how social and health issues plague captive orcas, the largest member of the dolphin family. Ex-trainers John Jett and Jeff Ventre (now a professor and doctor respectively) also note that it’s likely that the intense confinement and behavioural deprivation led to the death of Dawn Brancheau, who was killed by a frustrated young male orca in 2010.

The report states “In the wild orcas typically spend their entire lives within tight family groupings”. Life after capture is bleak and the report notes; “Orcas captured from the wild have been traumatically extracted from the security, comfort and mentoring which these groupings provide…confined to small, acoustically-dead, concrete enclosures where they must live in extremely close proximity to other whales with which they often share no ancestral, cultural or communication similarities. The resultant infighting amongst captive orcas is exacerbated by virtue of having no place to run.”

According to the report’s authors not only is aggression towards humans commonplace among captive orca, but infighting between whales who have “no place to run”, in one instance led to a female orca (captive for 11.9 years!) severing an artery in her upper jaw in a display of dominance over Corky, another wild-caught orca. Over the next 45 minutes, she slowly bled out, spouting blood from her blowhole until she died. See this video for Corky’s story.

This new report once again leaves us asking how many more dolphins will be torn from their families and be denied the chance to choose a mate or roam the vast oceans before we this exploitation ends? There can be no justification for using these animals in circus-style performances. Dolphins, like all other wild animals, should be admired for their amazing natural attributes and protected in the wild, where they belong.

The full report can be read here.

8 Responses to “The stress of orca captivity”

  1. Lorna Says:

    It’s sad to see any wild animal in captivity but for such a massive creature to spend it’s life confined to little more than a swimming pool is awful. How anyone can enjoy watching these miserable animals forced to perform silly tricks constantly is beyond me.

  2. Maren Says:

    I totally agree with Lorna. Too many people just can’t see beyond the “performance” they are watching and have absolutely no idea what the “training” involves and what it means for these animals to be torn from their families. One of my ex-colleagues said when reading about Dawn Brancheau’s death “this whale has gone absolutely mad” – my reply was “wouldn’t you if you were locked in a tiny room for the rest of your life?” he said he would…

  3. amy cox Says:

    i love orcas they are my fave animal. i have got a mug or springer and will do anything to help and support any whale or dolphin campaign i think they should be in the wild and i refuse to ever go to any place where they are captive!! its obvious why trainers keep dying when they are working with caaptured whales and to be honest it serves them right. i had to smile at this report because i feel that the more negative reports of whales in captivity there are ,the more chance there is of doing something about it. i just feel sad at the sressed it causes the animal. i would break my heart to know that i had put such a big, free animal in such a small space. n it breaks my heart even now to no that some people just are not bothered.

  4. Garry Sheen Says:

    Another example of animals being deprived of everything that makes them wild. Given the orcas’ massive home range and that they live in family pods of up to 40 individuals, makes their captivity somehow even more dreadful.

  5. Colleen Gorman Says:

    Thank you for posting this, Born Free. Like Lolita/Tokitae, Corky and Katina, Tilikum was also born free. He was robbed of his freedom all those years ago, and is now being kept in isolation after the horrible tragedy after taking Dawn’s life. 338 days and counting. You can read more about his story by visiting The Orca Project, Seeing is Believing – Tilikum’s lonely life after Dawn. Your viewers can also read about Lolita and the efforts being made to get her home. She deserves to be retired, rehabilitated and returned to her home waters off the coast of Washington State where her family still resides.

    Thanks again,
    Colleen Gorman
    CEO – The Orca Project
    President – John Kielty

  6. Lorie Says:

    One of my ex-colleagues said when reading about Dawn Brancheau’s death “this whale has gone absolutely mad” – my reply was “wouldn’t you if you were locked in a tiny room for the rest of your life?” he said he would…

    mmhmm, that’s the kind of reaction I saw whenever there’s news of a captive animal attacking its “trainer”. There’s no sympathy for the animal, there’s no empathy with the animal.

    My strong belief is that for any of these faux-”edutainment” establishments to be ended, we need to educate the kids. It’s the kids that ask their parents to go to zoos and aquariums. It’s thinking their kids will enjoy a visit to SeaWorld or the local zoo or the roadside safari that their parents pay the family admission.

    So there’s some sort of defensive uproar when animal rights groups demand the transfer of a sick elephant from the city zoo to an elephant sanctuary, as though we’re depriving their kids of something, or it’s a matter of civic pride that their city has a physically-deteriorating elephant as resident in their zoo.

    Thankfully, kids aren’t so clouded by illusions, and I know that common sense can get through to them. Zoocheck has a program that goes to schools in Toronto, Canada, educating kids about the abuses in zoos and the intrinsic wrong of essentially imprisoning souls ~born free~ for the sake of “entertainment”.

    But there’s me perching on a soapbox.

  7. Ronnie Says:

    I agree with what you said Lori…it needs to start with our children! We need to educate our children about the negative consequenses of captivity for all wild animals. Parents need to stop giving immediate gratification to children and stop letting them have or experience anything they desire. I have heard parents say, “but if we can’t go to a marine park, how will my child ever get the education about the animals or know what they are like?” There is no education at Marine parks, except teaching people what not to do to wild animals.

  8. Dawn Davies Says:

    A friend of mine once admitted that taking her 2 year old to a local zoo made her feel a little uncomfortable. When I asked her why she had done it then she just said that she also felt it was important for her son to experience these animals and be educated about them. I reiterated my view that all zoos should be closed but she said that while they are not ideal they may help inspire children to become the conservationists of the future. This is NO argument. No animals life should be sacrificed to ‘inspire’ others. In addition if I wanted to educate someone about wild animals I would show them Planet Earth, Blue Planet etc etc if I couldn’t afford to go and see the animals in their own habitat. They would soon see that animals in zoos/marine parks cannot educate about wildlife because that is the one thing they are denied…a wild life