After hearing the news that SeaWorld’s orca ‘Tilikum’, the whale that killed trainer Dawn Brancheau, has died I thought I’d blog about the controversial topic of keeping the orca’s in captivity. Having recently applied for work experience at an aquarium, working with sea mammals, I thought the topic would be very relevant.
I suppose the arguments for keeping these killer whales in captivity meant the animals could provide a rare opportunity to do crucial research, and the breeding program at SeaWorld does help with increasing killer whale numbers. The killer whale’s only predator is mankind. Although Orcas are not an endangered species, some local populations are considered threatened or endangered due to pollution, depletion of prey species, conflicts with fishing activities and vessels, habitat loss, and whaling.
However, “If SeaWorld didn’t exist, would our understanding of wild killer whales be significantly reduced? I think the answer to that is no, it would not,” says a veteran marine-mammal researcher who works at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Furthermore, most animal right activists have said that releasing the orca’s into the wild now that SeaWorld has put an end to its breeding program would not be a wise idea. Most of the killer whales at SeaWorld have live there all their lives and would not survive without human help.
In my opinion, I think breeding programs to increase numbers of these beautiful creatures would be very beneficial, especially as it is our fault for reducing numbers – by whaling or oil spill contamination to their habitats. However, I do agree that the public should get to see these wonderful animals, especially if the money they use to buy a ticket can go towards breeding more of these magnificent creatures. On the other hand, getting them to do tricks and making them act outside of their normal behaviour, perhaps isn’t the way to do it. Unlike the orcas in the ocean, the killer whales in captivity need antibiotics, antifungals, and even antidepressants to maintain their health and well-being. I strongly disagree that this is okay…I believe any animals mental health is as important as ours.
A possibility for these animals could be moving to sea pens, this would allow the orca’s to be in a more natural habitat.
The Keiko example
The killer whale featured in the 1993 film “Free Willy” is often cited in the debate over sea pens.
Keiko was captured off the coast of Iceland in 1979 and trained to perform at theme parks. Many years later, the orca was transported to a sea pen in Iceland in 1998 after spending several years at a Mexico City theme park. Keiko swam away during a short cavort outside of the pen while accompanied by caretakers on a ship. He later turned up in a deep inlet in Norway and was found playing with children and fishermen. The whale died a few months later of acute pneumonia.
SeaWorld trainers have said the experience showed that sea pens were not a safe environment for orcas. Others countered this view, saying the experience with Keiko taught experts how to build a better sea pen. If better pens can be made that will not allow the whales to get pneumonia, this case study proves that orca’s could survive if transferred from theme parks to sea pens.
I’d love to hear other people’s arguments for and against the captivity of any marine mammal, as well as the orca. Feel free to leave a reply!