For decades orcas have been forced into our entertainment industries with the sole purpose to attract guests and watch them put on a show. Sea World is leading the way with how much revenue their orcas bring to their parks, but unfortunately Sea World is not the only company that is treating these animals as such. Although Sea World argues that they do research, there is zero proof. Instead of focusing on research that could better these animals, they lie to the public about the well-being to cover up the truth in the tanks. After all, Sea World sees Orcas as money in their pockets. With how much orcas have in common with humans, they should not be seen as a dollar sign or a simple creature. Their lifestyle is too intricate to be forced into a tank, and with that; the treatment of the orcas at Sea World is inhumane and wrong. Innocent animals are being turned into victims in the name of the entertainment industry.
On November 18, 1961 in the Newport Harbor of California, Wanda, the first live orca was captured. After hours of relentless fighting to get away, the collection crew working for Marineland was able to get her. Never before had such a large animal be taken from its home to go be put on display. Shortly after Wanda’s capture, she was placed in a 100ft by 50ft by 19ft tank. However, upon her arrival to her new home, she swam as fast as she could into the wall of her tank. Some were saying it was an act of trying to escape, but orcas are smarter than that. Two days after the incident, Wanda’s behavior became agitated and violent. Marineland stated, “At 8:30 AM on 20 November, the whale became violent and after encircling the tank at great speed and striking her body on several occasions…She finally swam into a flume way, convulsed, and expired.” Many argued that Wanda’s death was a suicide due to her traumatic capture and new, cramped, living conditions. You would think the experience Marineland had with Wanda would prove that orcas are not meant to be in tanks. However, that it not the case. As the years progressed, the thrill of seeing orcas outside their habitat became more and more desirable.
Sea World likes to say they are all about educating the public on ocean life, but it is clearly all for entertainment. People don’t go to Sea World to learn, they go to be entertained. Last time I checked there were no class rooms, but there was an excess of loud music and dancing animals. With that, the company likes to use the word “research” whenever they are doing a publicity stunt. Researchers that work through Sea World are the only ones allowed to work with the orcas, or any of the animals. The care of the orcas is coming from a biased stand point with no outsider opinion. If you were lying to the public about the health of unhealthy animals why would you want an actual researcher’s opinion or care? Outside researchers would see that the orcas are chewing on steel gates and breaking their teeth along with behaving erratically, and that would look bad to the public. With that, Sea World will go to extreme measures to cover up the truth. Dr. Naomi Rose of the Animal Welfare Institutes states, “Whenever the industry says, ‘we proved dolphins live longer in captivity’ there is no peer-review sheet and no publishers proving their studies reliable.” (ScubaFilmFactory2015). Peer review is described as an academic term for quality control. Furthermore, each article published in a peer-reviewed journal was closely examined by a panel of reviewers who are experts on the articles topic. (ScubaFilmFactory2015). It has been twenty years since anything has been published in peer review literature about the survivorship of captive whales and dolphins, yet Sea World states they are constantly doing “new” research. They have nothing but biased opinions to back up their various studies that have not been found accountable. Sea World states that they have a commitment to conservation, but for every $1,000,000 of Sea World’s revenue $600 of it will go to conservation programs. (Whale and Dolphin Conservation2016). Roughly five cents per ticket goes to a decent cause. Having this company help the public and their animals is like pulling teeth, they are simply in it for the money.
The behavior of orcas in captivity is far more different than how they act in the wild. Captive orcas have been known to suffer from depression, stress, anxiety, and even PTSD. In the wild, orcas are known to work as a team whether it be hunting or raising and protecting the young. Orcas have drawn out social rules varying from pod to pod, and sometimes these differences clash. “Orcas who are not compatible are forced to live in tight quarters together. The resulting anxiety and tension causes fights between orcas. In the wild, orcas have strong social bonds that may last for life, their social rules prohibit serious violence against each other.” (PETA 2017). In the wild orcas follow their social rules and avoid issues with other orcas. However, due to the living conditions of captive orcas they often fight and cause one another physical pain. They typically fight by raking each other. Raking is when one orca digs its teeth into another and causes deep lacerations and bloody wounds. It is a way that they bully each other, leaving the vulnerable orcas trapped with nowhere to swim away to. How do you think it would feel to be cooped up in a pen with someone causing you physical pain and you have nowhere to run? This abusive behavior has not been seen in wild orcas because they are typically peaceful animals. Within captivity orcas become distressed by not being able to swim as much as their bodies demand. “Free orcas are among the fastest animals in the sea, and they swim as far as 100 miles every day.” (Peta2017). Unfortunately, being confined to a small space leaves them to swim around their tank in circles all day. It’s no surprise that these animals are becoming narcotic, I would too if I had to spend my life in a bath tub.
The traumatic life conditions captive orcas deal with often leaves them with PTSD. Whether it be from the time they were captured, the abuse from other orcas in their tanks, or the inability to adapt to an unintended lifestyle. Dr. Hope Ferdowsian explains the PTSD among orcas as, “Like humans with PTSD, throughout their lives, captive orcas suffer from threats to their physical health and families as well as exhibiting persistent fear, distress, avoidant behaviors, and increased aggression.” (PetaPrime2016). With the increase in mental health issues among captive orcas, safety concerns should’ve been put in place to help the orcas and the trainers working with them. Up until 2011 Sea World thought it would be smart to have their trainers in the water with a l2,000 pound, distressed, animal. One of the most qualified trainers named Dawn Brancheau was seen
as the best of the best among her fellow trainers. In 2010, Tilikum, a rather aggressive orca who had previously killed two other people, pulled Dawn into the water by her pony tail. During the encounter, the she was scalped and later died while in Tilikum’s grip. The death of Dawn Brancheau sent a sudden shock to the public and to OSHA. However, Dawn wasn’t the only trainer who has died working with the orcas. There have been several attacks on the trainers throughout the years, and unfortunately some were fatal. According to the Whale and Dolphin Conservation, in captivity there have been over 100 aggressive acts and four death. Later stating that in the wild there has been one aggressive attack and zero deaths. With such a large difference in the number of attacks from captive orcas and wild orcas, we need to acknowledge this behavior and realize they’re not meant to work with people.
Following Dawn’s death, OSHA ruled that the trainers were no longer allowed to be in the water having physical contact with the orcas. Sea World took OSHA to court on several occasions fighting to keep the trainers in the water, despite the deaths. In the movie Blackfish, former trainers mention the secrecy behind the attacks and deaths. Several trainers were lied to thought out their careers in order to keep them doing their jobs. After all, the trainers are at risk working with these PTSD stricken animals.
Sea World likes to believe that they are doing good, but it’s obvious they are doing more harm than good. The amount of health concerns orcas face in captivity continues to increase. The most noticeable health concern for these captive animals is the males collapsed dorsal fin. This deformity is also known as a loss of structural integrity; which can later lead to a partial or total collapse of the dorsal fin. (Sea World Fact Check 2017). A collapsed dorsal fin is a sign of an unhealthy or injured orca, to no surprise, all the male orcas at Sea World have a collapsed fin. Of the many causes leading to the collapsed fin, some are due to, “inadequate depth of the tanks(which thereby result in unnatural exposure to the sun and lack of natural water pressure) and extreme boredom for the animals, so they spend excessive amounts of time floating or swimming at or near the water’s surface(so there is no support of the fin from the water).” (Sea World Fact Check 2017). Likewise, Peta elaborates the cause to be, “They have no space in which to swim freely and are fed an unnatural diet of thawed dead fish.” (PETA 2017). Sea World argues back that this condition is common among the male orcas, however, in the wild this condition is incredibly rare and affects 1% of their population. (PETA 2017). On the other hand, Sea World argues that this is a perfectly normal condition. Dr. Christopher Dold, the head veterinarian at Sea World, mentions, “The dorsal fin is not an indicator of the orca’s health.” (Sea World 2015). He goes on explaining how the structure of the dorsal fin is similar to the structure of a human ear containing no bones. Dr. Dold states the orcas at Sea World spend most of their time near the surface of the water and have gravity working against them, but he fails to mention why the orcas are surfacing so much.
The most dramatic difference between captive and wild orcas is their life span. Orcas in their natural habitat have a much longer lifespan than those in captivity. “Wild male orcas live an average of 30 to 60 years old and females an average of 50 years and up to more than one hundred.” (Peta 2017). One of the biggest lies Sea World continues to say is that orcas live longer in captivity. However, the amount of premature deaths occurring in their tanks proves them wrong. By having an orca in captivity, their lifespan drops significantly. Since 1971 thirty-eight orcas have died at Sea World, most deaths occurred in orcas ranging from five to sixteen years old. (Whale and Dolphin Conservation 2016). According to the Orca Network, “Bacterial Pneumonia is the most common cause of death for captive dolphins and orcas. A contributing factor to infection caused mortality in captive orcas may be immunosuppression. Pathogens or injuries that the immune system of wild orcas would successfully combat or manage may be fatal to captive orcas, due to chronic stress, psychological depression, and even boredom ” (One Green Planet 2015). The mental stress the orcas endure is incredibly hard on their body and immune system. These imprisoned animals are living a fraction of what they should be and they need the proper care and lifestyle to healthy. At the end of the day, captive orcas are wrongfully dying and someone needs to take responsibility for the failed attempt of captivating wildlife in a healthy manner.
Orcas are incredibly family oriented. Male offspring stay with their mother into adulthood and sometimes their whole life. Families of orcas are often referred to as pods, within each pod there is a special dialect along with unique hunting tactics that makes each pod different. Each pod has a different way of life similar to the different cultures we have in our lives. Humanizing these animals might be taboo, but their communication and family orientation is the closest to humans. Which leads to the most heartbreaking part of it all, the broken family bonds when the orcas are captured. In 1971, Sea World sent out a group of men to capture six orcas, and bring them back to the park where they would begin their new life as prisoned performers. During this capture
three orcas died, but the dead orcas were worthless to these men. The men capturing the orcas were told to cut open the dead orcas’ bodies, stuff them with rocks, and tie weights to their tails so that they would be out of sight and out of mind. John Crowe was one of the men hired to collect the orcas, and in the movie Blackfish he makes it clear how guilty he feels about what he has done. John goes on describing the terror and separation of these animals as awful and it being the worst thing that has ever happened in his life. (Baby Wild Films 1999). When the baby orcas were being taken out of the water and removed from their families, the family stuck around. Knowing they could be captured too, they stood right by their baby as it was being taken from them. As the baby orcas were being lifted out of the water, the family cried for it, and baby cried back. They were all wailing just like a human would if their baby was being taken. It is an injustice to rip these families apart for our own entertainment.
The simple answer to stop all of this would be to put the orcas back in the ocean where they came from. Unfortunately, captive orcas cannot survive on their own in the wild. Many are born into captivity and lack the knowledge of how to survive in the wild. Captive orcas were never taught how to hunt or how to understand the dialects because of captive breeding. All their instincts are different from wild orcas, and it’s something we can’t teach them. However, there is a solution, and it is Sea Pen. Sea Pen would be an island that is “a corned-off coastal habitat that serves as a sanctuary for rescued marine mammals.” (Take Part 2016). Within this sanctuary, orcas will live in a much larger, controlled, environment in the ocean with nets grounded in at the sea floor to keep the orcas in. Some of the closed off sections will provide veterinary care while other sections are for the more progressed orcas. Although it is still captivity, it is a much better way of life for the orcas giving them a taste of freedom and an ocean life that they can survive in. Ingrid Visser (a marine biologist), Lori Marino (a neuroscientist & animal behavior expert), and Naomi Rose (a marine mammal scientist) are all working to get Sea Pen into action, and hopefully in the near future, Sea Pen will become an organization we can all be proud of. In the meantime, stay clear of Sea World.
Orcas have been in captivity for far too long, and it’s time we make a change. We live in a time where animal rights matter, and the treatment of these innocent animals will not go unnoticed anymore. It took decades to get elephants out of circuses, but it has proven we can do the same with the orcas. We need to stop exploiting a species that was never meant to be involved in our thrill-seeking entertainment industry. Orcas are too smart, too complex, too large, and too socially aware to be a part of our lives on land. Let’s be the last generation to have orcas in captivity, and let’s empty the tanks.
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