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Zoos, Aquariums, and Animal Parks: When the Wild becomes the Captive – A Focus on Orcas

February 26, 2010

The orca or killer whale is the largest member of the dolphin family. Almost all of the captive orcas in the world today were taken from the wild. It is against the law for wild whales to be captured for aquaria in British Columbia (BC). However, cetaceans (whales and dolphins) can be imported.

Animal welfare groups agree that whales suffer physically and psychologically in captivity. Their small artificial pools with chemically altered water could never replicate the sea. Captive whales are often deprived of the family unit that they would live within in the wild.

These factors have an effect and as a result the life span of orca in captivity is much shorter than that of wild orca. Captive orcas are taught to perform on cue and are forced to endure a life of public scrutiny. Studying whales in this environment teaches nothing about wild orca as their lifestyles are so dramatically controlled and altered by man.

Prisoners in solitary
Jacques Cousteau said:

“There is about as much educational benefit to be gained in studying dolphins in captivity as there would be studying mankind by only observing prisoners held in solitary confinement”.

In the wild, male orca can live to be 50 years old. Females may reach 80 years of age. Beluga whales and dolphins can live 25-30 years. In captivity the lifespan of whales may be severely reduced. Many animals die shortly after capture. Most die from bacterial infections. According to records, over 24 cetaceans have died at Vancouver Aquarium. Bjossa has lost 2 mates and 3 calves.

In the wild, whales and dolphins live in small family groups called pods. Orca offspring stay with their mothers for life. Whales and dolphins are highly intelligent and extremely social animals. In captivity groupings of cetaceans may be unnatural. Unrelated whales and dolphins are forced to live together. The animals have no choice over their companions. At Vancouver Aquarium a baby beluga whale was separated from her mother for 6 months.

In the wild, orca whales may travel up to 100 miles a day, reaching speeds of up to 30 miles an hour. They are able to dive hundreds of feet below the water’s surface. For captive orca this is impossible. They would have to swim in circles for hours, even days to cover the range they would do if in the wild.

A world of sound
Wild orcas live in a world of sound. Each family or pod has their own dialect. They use echolocation to capture their prey. Captive orca only have the sounds of water cooling pumps and filtration systems and these are heard by the whales 24 hours a day. The other sound that they hear is that of the public, who clap and cheer when the orcas perform demeaning tricks. Glass and concrete enclosures have an effect on the sounds made by captive whales and dolphins.

Orcas are designed for a life in the sea. They have evolved to be part of a complex ecosystem of marine life. Captivity is foreign, environments are sterile, water is chemically treated, social grouping is unnatural, and life is artificial. It is no wonder that orca in captivity suffer from injury, illness and premature death.

Cruel statistics
Since 1965, 56 orcas have been captured from the waters around BC and Washington State, including one whole family. 54 are now dead, living on average 5.2 years once captured. The impact on the wild populations is only now being recognised. The entertainment industry has ignored the devastation it has left behind. Since 1961 there have been more than 130 orca captured from the wild for the entertainment industry. Over 75% are now dead. They survived on average less than 6 years.

Our aims
We would like to see all dolphinariums closed. You can help by boycotting dolphinariums wherever they are and asking family and friends to do otherwise. We would like to see all captive whales and dolphins released to the wild, after long term rehabilitation and retraining has been carried out. We wish to see an end to the capture of whales and dolphins from the wild.

CaptiveAnimals.com

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