Running head: Orcas in Captivity 1 Effects of Orcas in Captivity
Elain B. Rodriguez
University of Maryland University College Orcas in Captivity 2
Effects of Orcas in Captivity “Free Willy” is a film about a boy who be-friends an Orca also known as a killer whale
named Willy, after falling into the animal’s aquarium. The film continues to show the growing
bond that the boy and Willy shared. Willy was kept captive in the aquarium and forced to
entertain by performing tricks for crowds of people. Eventually Willy started showing signs of
depression and self-mutilation, a cry for help in which his friends freed him back into the ocean.
It wasn’t until a documentary called “Blackfish” in 2013 and the publicized death of a Sea World
trainer named Dawn Brancheau in 2010 steered the general public attention and eventually
helped with the understanding that these animals do not belong in captivity. Orcas are highly
intelligent animals; they possess advance cognitive, social and communicative capabilities.
Keeping these highly evolved mammals confined in large aquariums tanks or pools, greatly
affects their overall health’s psychologically, socially and physically.
Intelligence by definition is “Is the mental quality that consists of the abilities to learn
from experience, to reason, to plan and solve problems, to understand and handle abstract
concepts, and to broadly comprehend and adapt to one’s surroundings” writes Mainstream
science on intelligence (2007.p.24). Scientist still have so much to learn about Orcas, but what
we do know is that they are very smart mammals that roam the ocean. It was founded that there
are different populations of Orcas that all have different languages, hunting techniques, social
behaviors and even diet. Orcas advance communication skills separates them from other marine
animals. They communicate with whistles and clicking noise to create a sonar ability of Orcas in Captivity 3 communication. Dolphin and other animals have similar abilities, but Orcas are known to have
different languages within their species. They can also locate the types of food they are looking
for miles away by using their bio sonar ability. “Based on neuroanatomical indices such as brain
size and encephalization quotient, orcas are among the most intelligent animals on Earth”. Orca
Behavior and Subsequent Aggression Associated with Oceanarium Confinement (2016.p.1).
How do you think your mental state would be if you were confined inside a box for a
long period of time? Boredom could turn to depression or aggression. A study by Stephan
Jacobs compiling all official Sea World Orcas incident reports into a data was published in 2016.
In his findings, Sea World owed 65 Orcas in which 29 (45%) of them have been involved in an
official reported aggressive incident. A report analysis was published showing all the incidents
that have happened since orcas were put in captivity from 1967-2015. There are 157
documented incidents where Orcas would tug on their trainers, landing on them during tricks on
purpose, not letting them go from underwater, as if they are playing a game. It was also
concluded that majority of the incidents were from Orcas who were separated from their mother
before their adolescent age (10-11 years of age). Killer whales are not known to attack humans
in the wild. Stories of killer whales saving humans from sharks have occurred more than they
harming humans. So why are they attacking their trainers if they are not known to attack in the
wild, numerous science suggest that keeping these creatures in captivity drives them to their
psychotic episodes. Not only do they turn aggressive towards humans, they also show signs of
depression. An incident captured on the movie “Blackfish” was of an orca mother (Katina) and
her baby Kalina, they were separated and after the separation, Katina showed signs of depression
and did not stop calling out for her baby. The former trainers of sea world, who were by
standards during this time, can only see this as one thing “a mother grieving for her child”. Orca Orcas in Captivity 4 shows signs of distress and suicide, reports of whales in captivity purposely beaching them or
hitting their head against metal cages. It is not hard to conclude that being in an enclosed
confined pool creates some sort of a psychological impact to these amazing marine animals.
Orcas are very social creatures; they travel in groups called pods, and are known to stay
with their pod family for the rest of their lives. Orcas form friendships with humans and other
animals, they maintain physical proximity, displaying affectionate contact and vocalization and
mutual focused attention. (Orca Behavior and Subsequent.p.7). Orcas are known to have
interacted with humans in the wild. Reports of orcas swimming and playing with humans in
boats have been filmed countless of times. Orcas in captivity are sometimes forced to be in
aquariums with other orcas that may not share the same social backgrounds. There has been an
incident where an orca was transported from one park to another and was abused by the other
orcas to the point where the trainers have to separate them and cases of orcas showing actions of
aggression because of jealousy from another orca toward their trainers. One of the biggest cases
is when captive born orcas would be freed to the wild, but would not be socially accepted by the
wild orcas, because their learned social skill is very different from the wild. Having a social
relationship is very important to these highly intelligent emotional animals, just as it is important
to us humans.
One of the most famous captures of orcas was in 1970, near Puget Sound, Washington
State called the “Penn Cove capture” over 80 orcas were circled around the cove and 5 orcas
died during this capture. Baby orcas being separated from the mother at such a young age,
decreases their chance of survival drastically. There have been many reports of the baby calves
dying within the first months of capture without their mother and their pod. Orcas are massive in
size, males can grow up to 23 feet long 7 to 10 tons. And female can grow up to 21 feet and 4 to Orcas in Captivity 5 6 tons. Given the size of these creatures Orcas can easily hurt people, other animals or even
themselves without much effort. Few incidents reported that orcas would turn on each other,
pushing each other to metal rails, or scratching each other with their teeth. There have been 164
orcas that have died in captivity, 92% of Sea world Orcas do not survive past 25 years of age.
Orcas in the wild are known to live average of 30 years (50-60 max) for males and 46 years and
max of 80-90 years for females. This proves that these animals are not meant to be physically
put into captivity.
Today there are still 62 orcas held in captivity around the world, but because of the 2010
incident at Sea World and the later release of the documentary “Blackfish” the general public
now has an idea of how these animals do not belong in captivity. This publicity has helped
animals rights groups as well as countless of scientist who has been trying to speak for these
remarkable animal, to not capture them taking them away from their home, their family, their life
and imprison and force them to do unnatural tricks for entertainment and money. Sea World and
other maritime theme parks has shown dramatic decline in visitors and profits from 2014-2015.
In March of 2016 Sea World announces that they will no longer breed and capture orcas, they are
planning on replacing the shows with a new natural encounter program. This was a win for the
Orca world in the United States. There are still some countries however that is legally capturing
orcas and keeping them in captivity, this is slowly being argued by so many animal rights groups
and scientist worldwide, in hopes to finally free these beautiful animals. In conclusion keeping
these magnificent creatures in captivity greatly affects these animals’ mental, physical and social
states. Orcas in Captivity 6
References A longer list than the parks would like to tell you! (n.d.). Retrieved from
Anderson, R., Waayers, R., & Knight, A. (2016). Orca Behavior and Subsequent Aggression
Associated with Oceanarium Confinement. Animals (2076-2615), 6(8), 1.
Basic Facts About Orcas. (2016, September 19). Retrieved from
Bekoff, M. (2013, July 19). SeaWorld Claims "Blackfish" Is Misleading: Caging Orcas Okay.
Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/animalemotions/201307/seaworld-claims-blackfish-is-misleading-caging-orcas-okay
Free Willy–and all his pals. Orcas and elephants are smart, social and way too large for captivity.
(2014). Scientific American, 310(3), 10
Gottfredson, L.S. Mainstream science on intelligence: An editorial with 52 signatories, history,
and bibliography. Intelligence 1997, 24, 13–23.
Jacobs, S. Incidents by Orca. Available online: http://www.orcahome.de/incidentanalysis.htm
accessed on (14 August 2016).
Spear, Kevin (2010) How smart are killer whales? Orcas have 2nd-biggest brains of all marine
mammals. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://phys.org/news/2010-03-smart-killer-whalesorcas-2nd-biggest.html
The Fate of Captive Orcas. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://us.whales.org/wdc-in-action/fate-ofcaptive-orcas Orcas in Captivity 7 The Penn Cove orca captures. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://us.whales.org/issues/penn-cove-orcacaptures
Running head: Orcas in Captivity 1 Effects of Orcas in Captivity