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Of captive orcas, and ineffective preaching

I post below my response to an article detailing “reasons” to stop keeping captive orcas. Whilst there are indeed reasons for not keeping them captive, the article does a poor show in making valid points. I responded to each or the article’s points, and then expounded on what I think the issues are.

For those who think the text bellow is too long:

I think the most pertinent arguments become that
– shows and tricks are unnecessary conditioning, and point to a deeper problem on the human side of the fence
– SeaWorld is guilty of malpractices, the which must be addressed
– unlike other species, orcas have higher mortality in captivity than in the wild (information pending), and are more susceptible to mosquito-borne diseases in captivity.


The article comes from good sentiment but is fundamentally flawed on 6 of their points. Additionally, they miss the true issues. I would like to respond to each point, and then add my own.

1) What is the higher mortality rates due to? Are there steps to prevent this? Have these steps been taken? A battle is mentioned at the start of the paragraph, but no causal links are discussed beyond the passing mention, nor remedies to the issue.

2) Are the medical treatments wrongly prescribed/administered? I see no issues here, apart from decrying the administration of medication itself. On the subject of the Jello – if there is lying, it is a problem with SeaWorld’s practises. Captivity in general is not yet under fire. Better care can be given. Sounds like it is, unless someone can actually point out what care described is not actually being carried out properly.

3) This is a good argument. The further question though is, is it treatable, but it indicates that infection is nearly inevitable, with the only method of prevention being non-captivity, as far as we know it.

4) Nobody likes having their teeth done. We teach human children that they’ll get treats for good behaviour at the dentists. Some adults would rather let their teeth rot than have the corrective drilling done. Braces are a pain, tooth removal even more so – I know this personally. More pertinent question is: is this general captivity practice, or is it SeaWorld’s technique alone? Would changing the type of separation prevent any need for tooth alteration?

5) In the wild, her deformed calf would have been killed and her second would have still killed her by internally decaying, no? Or do I misunderstand the mechanisms at play? It is tragic, but I have yet to see a causal link to captivity causing this.

6) Violence between animals happens in the wild as in captivity. No surprise there. Granted, there is sever fault from the establishment where the gate fell on Kotar, where the gate should have been properly secured. Accidents happen in buildings, I don’t see buildings being banned. Not making the buildings safer is the irresponsible part.

7) This is how captive breeding works. I understand that the same is done for rhinos and pigs, and other large mammals. If you do not feel you can do that part of the job, yes it should be your right to refuse to do it, but it’s not a professional fault, and with reticent non-breeding individuals, this is the only way to collect semen.

The article as a whole I think is preaching to the choir. Those who already want the animals to be free will feel their opinions reinforced, but it offers no real information to the rest of us. Here are my points:

a) I see no merit in having “shows” and killer whales doing “tricks” – there is a fundamental issue with the idea that, to meet the goal that education should be fun, animals need to be trained to “entertain.” It is a shortcoming of our own ability to inspire amazement and wonder in observing the animals in appropriately designed habitats, and observing simply their normal behaviour.

b) Persisting in having incompatible individuals cohabit causes serious issues – points 1 and 6 highlight this.

c) The orca’s conservation status is unknown at the moment. Breeding programs and techniques may need to be studied should they be endangered.

d) If we are to study and understand orcas, we either need to start breeding the ones already in captivity or study them in the wild. To stop them from being held in captivity, we need to demonstrate that the keeping of captive orcas offers us no further information over the study of wild ones. Keeping them for entertainment is not appropriate.

e) The captivity itself of the orca individuals may or may not be beneficial, but a number of the article’s points indicate malpractice at SeaWorld, a specific organisation. Only points 1 and 3 indicate a problem with actual captivity, and point 1 does not present any causal links.

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