By Sam Lipman
Displaying orcas in captivity is good science and great for conservation education — so say SeaWorld and most of the other facilities displaying cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises) around the world. However, there are many who would disagree: researchers who study orcas in the wild, animal welfare advocates… even the founding father of SeaWorld!
In the words of George Millay, the man who opened the entertainment facility that has fallen under hot scrutiny in the Blackfish documentary, “SeaWorld was created strictly as entertainment. We didn’t try to wear this false façade of educational significance.”
The first SeaWorld park opened in 1964 in San Diego, California (where there is now a proposed bill that, if passed, will make orca shows illegal). They put their first orca on display one year later, only the fourth orca ever captured from the wild and the original ‘Shamu’.
It wasn’t until fifteen years after that education was introduced to the SeaWorld parks for the first time. A 1989 amendment to the Marine Mammal Protection Act in the USA meant that they had no choice but to bring in a supplement to their animal circus shows. However, a second amendment in 1994 meant that this entertainment industry could largely self-regulate and this is still the case today.
Educational systems of profit-making marine amusement parks appear fundamentally flawed due to commercial obligations.
Truths are twisted to fit in with the facts of captivity. For example, in the past SeaWorld provided educational material stating that wild orcas live between 25 to 35 years. Today they claim that “no one knows for sure how long killer whales live”. However, scientific studies of free-ranging orcas have produced more precise data, estimating females to live on average 50.2 years (80 to 90 years maximum longevity) and males to live on average 29.2 years (50 to 60 years maximum longevity). In other words, orcas have similar lifespans to humans. This data for wild orca life-expectancy is widely accepted in the orca research community, so the question begs to be asked, why will SeaWorld not accept it? Does it have something to do with the greatly reduced median life-expectancy for their captive orcas, which is less than 8.9 years?
In 2006, SeaWorld’s ‘Ask Shamu Team’ stated in an email, “There are some people who claim killer whales live 80, 90 even 100 years old, but it is important to note that such claims are not backed by any scientifically documented evidence as far as we know.” That explains it then – they just didn’t know about the science that had been published 16 years prior and cited by a further 195 articles. Surely it would be responsible to read everything there is to read about orcas before keeping one? (SeaWorld own the majority of the 54 orcas currently in captivity).
See on www.thedodo.com