Orca Whales: Captive or Free? Sheena Anderson ENC1101-09 Professor Cooper 7 November 2011 Anderson 1 Orca Whales: Captive or Free? For many years, people have gone to places like SeaWorld in either Orlando, California, or Texas to marvel at and to be entertained by the creatures known as Orcinus orca. For those people not familiar with the scientific term, they are also called Orca whales. These powerful, magnificent, intelligent creatures have become the trademarks of the parks where they entertain, and they have also made a lasting impression on the children and adults who come to see any of their shows. More than 13 million people flock to the company’s three parks in Orlando, San Diego, and San Antonio to see Shamu every year (Vary, linccweb. org)”. But while it is true that people greatly enjoy these shows, there is a growing controversy regarding the argument about whether these animals should be caged or free. This paper is going to explore both sides of this argument, while offering possible solutions to this fragile, yet majorly-controversial issue. The first part of this paper is going to look at the argument for preserving captivity.
There are many people in the world today that feel that there is nothing wrong with having whales in captivity. Primarily, they are used for public entertainment at places like SeaWorld in the United States and some other whale parks around the world. Without a doubt, Orca whales at these parks have quickly become the primary source of income, generating hundreds of millions of dollars each year in revenue. The executives at SeaWorld truly do seem to have the whale’s best interest at heart by stating the argument that it is necessary to capture some whales to study their lifestyles as a way of promoting species preservation.
Anderson 2 They like having the whales in a place that is easily accessible, so they can sit and observe the whale’s behavior or attempt to interact with the whales, without the fear of them being able to swim away. Human beings love the idea of having an animal as large and as powerful as the Orca whale under their complete control due to thinking that they can tame and domesticate the Orca just the same way they have domesticated dogs, cats, horses, birds, and many other wild creatures over the years.
Human beings enjoy having power over anything, particularly anything as large as a killer whale. But sometimes, nature strikes back, as it did when Dawn Brancheau, a trainer at SeaWorld, was killed by an Orca whale named Tilikum. This incident is just one more to add to the many other incidents that have fueled the arguments calling for the freedom of captive Orcas. Now, it is time to look at some of the reasons why Orca whales should be free, rather than imprisoned. The first issue is the overall health of the killer whale itself.
When it comes to the Orca’s tank, chlorine is added to salt water in order to fight bacteria, and to help the water closely resemble that of the sea. However, when this is done, Orcas can, and have developed skin disorders much like the papilloma virus in humans. One such example of this is Keiko, the star of “Free Willy” (Ettlin, 1993). Keiko developed a skin condition due to the chlorine in his tank that ultimately was the beginning of the end of his life on any stage: movie or performance tank. Anderson 3 Another issue with captive Orcas’ health is tooth decay.
There is a much higher risk of captive Orca whales having broken or fractured teeth due to age and confinement. Orca whales can also develop these conditions due to chewing on the steel gates of the tank to establish dominance or what is commonly known as “barking” and or “jaw popping” (The Orca Project, 2010). Poor oral hygiene in Orca whales not only can lead to cracking and breaking of their teeth, but also to serious and quite painful oral infections. As with humans also, oral infections in Orcas can spread and lead to other health problems such as blood infections and even death (The Orca Project 2010).
Another noticeable difference between a killer whale in the wild, versus one in captivity is a bent-over dorsal fin. This condition is primarily caused by the extremely small size of their new environment compared to their natural one. Ingrid E. Newkirk, the president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) said this on whales in captivity: “Depriving these intelligent, social animals of everything that is natural and important to them is like confining Olympic swimmers to a bathtub for life (States News Service 2010)”.
Another additional problem that can arise as a direct result of an Orca being confined in a small tank is anger/aggression. If it was unknown before, the world definitely has now seen firsthand just how bad it could be with the death of the trainer Dawn Brancheau in 2010 at the hands of Tilikum, a 12,000 pound Orca whale in Orlando, FL. (Whale Watch 2010). Critics of the event say that she was asking for trouble by being that close to the whale in the first place. Anderson 4 “They say captive orcas grow bored and depressed in their small pens, and that can cause them to lash out (Whale Watch 2010). Here is some more food for thought, Howard Garrett, director of the nonprofit Orca Network, says that Orca whales in captivity may become even more aggressive than those in the wild. “In their natural habitat, there is no record of any harm to a human anywhere,” Garrett adds to that by saying “You cannot say that about elephants, wolves, or any other highly evolved social mammal (Whale Watch, 2010). ” Along with the previously stated arguments, there is also the issue of nutrition and diet.
Orca Whales in the wild hunt a variety of food including salmon, tuna, stingray, seals, sea lions, otters, and even the occasional shark. Orcas in captivity do not have that luxury. They are fed a combination of mostly frozen whitefish, salmon, mackerel, and herring. Veterinarians working for parks like SeaWorld also slip vitamins, supplements, antibiotics, and some steroids into the Orca’s food in order to keep their diet balanced. Orcas in captivity are also controlled by food, and so is their training.
Orca trainers are taught to reinforce the animals’ good behavior with food. When you look at this behavior through the eyes of an Orca, it turns into food deprivation. The Orca learns that if it does a certain maneuver correctly, a whistle will blow, and it will receive a fish. If the Orca does not do the maneuver correctly, no whistle and no fish (slave to entertainment, 2003). As many people already know, Orca whales are acoustical creatures in means that they use sonar called echolocation as a means of survival. When an Orca is in the wild, it uses it’s
Anderson 5 echolocation for many things including navigation, hunting prey, and even locating other family members or pods. In captivity, Orca’s don’t use their echolocation, because it is not needed on account of their small confines. When an Orca is put into captivity, it is taken away from everything nature intended it to be- a beautiful, intelligent, social creature (slave to entertainment, 2003). Another pressing issue arising with Orca’s in captivity whether or not they can be released back into the wild successfully.
According to the owner of the Miami Seaquarium, Arthur Hertz, “The chance of an Orca being rehabilitated and released back into the wild successfully is very slim” (slave to entertainment, 2003). Many experts and veterinarians disagree with this statement, saying that it is indeed possible for an Orca to be released successfully back into the wild. The proof of this is Keiko, the star of “Free Willy”. Keiko lived in captivity for over 10 years and suffered many ailments and illnesses until his release in 2000.
Studies on Orca whales in captivity have also shown that their life expectancy is much smaller than that of wild Orcas. When it comes to the life span or expectancy of Orcas in captivity, studies have shown that they live a maximum of around 20 years. Wild Orcas can live as long as 80 years. Scientists and researchers believe this is because of the impact that captivity has on Orcas, versus that of the wild. Orca whales are the epitome of freedom- freedom from restriction, freedom from boundaries and arbitrary control (slaves to entertainment, 2003).
Orca whales were born free to roam the vast oceans of the world at will, Anderson 6 without having to fear for their lives. Before the need for profits and amusement came into play, they were free to swim in their family groups, away from the harm of humans. . But until we can learn to understand and respect nature, Orca whales will continue to be exploited and abused in captivity until they die or are extinct. Orca whales in captivity have earned their freedom from the prisons called tanks we enclose them in for our entertainment purposes.