"The human spirit is not dead. It lives on in secret…. It has come to believe that compassion, in which all ethics must take root, can only attain its full breadth and depth if it embraces all living creatures and does not limit itself to mankind." -Albert Schweitzer
This morning I woke up to the news that yesterday a Sea World trainer had been killed by an orca whale in Florida. It saddens me to think of this woman’s family and the turmoil they are now experiencing. I have no doubt that the people who work with these truly amazing creatures everyday really care for their well being. I also think such incidences pose the question “Do orca belong or thrive in captivity?” and the answer to that is no, they don’t. I know that some will argue the education merit outweighs the obvious downfalls of having orca live in captivity but I don’t. It saddens me to think that we pretend parading them around like trained Labrador retrievers is educating our youth about the plight of our oceans. These are some of the most emotionally and socially complex creatures in the world. The live in family units, mourn their dead, learn from their elders by watching much like human children and have complicated and varied languages, yet as a similar species we feel that the power to capture and manipulate is some sort of divine right. The message we should be sending our kids is that all animals deserve respect. They are not here for our entertainment. Orca whales were never meant to live in swimming pools. They belong in the world’s ocean where their size and intellect are not detrimental but essential. In addition to this, dolphinariums such as Sea World and Marine land often skew the facts in their shows. I have personally been to a Sea World show where they said that in the wild the orca’s average life span is 25 years when there is no scientific evidence that supports that claim. In fact that is shortening their life span by a considerable measure.
Some very important facts….
- In the wild female orca whales have been known to live to 90 years of age with the median life span being around 50. Male orca have been known to live up to 60 years of age with the average life span being 35 years of age. In captivity the median age for whales captured and taken into captivity is 4 years. For those born in captivity (which have survived past 12 months) is it 8 years. 
- 136 orca have been taken from the wild since 1961. 123 (90.4%) of them are now dead. 
- Shamu stadium (which has one of the deepest tanks) is less than 11 meters deep. Orcas have a diving distance of 60 meters.
- These whales have highly complex social structures. Often mothers and their calves stay together for a lifetime and because of this pods are often centrally located around the “great-grandmother” orca. Pods have been known to reach upwards of 50 whales.They are considered by scientists some of the most loyal creatures on earth, whom are usually only separated by capture or death.  In captivity calves are separated from their mothers and sent to other facilities where they are housed with unknown whales who communicate in other dialects. 
- Their shear size makes it impossible to create a synthetic habitat that is big enough. Males are on average 23-26 feet long and weigh approximately 5 tons while females average out at around 20 feet in length and weigh 3 tons. They have been known to swim up to 100 miles in a single 24 hour period.
Organizations that specifically fight against Orca captivity
- The Humane Society of the United States
- The Center for Whale Research
- Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society
- Born Free
Want more information? Check out this links to learn more
- The Case Against Marine Mammals in Captivity – HSUS
- Introduction to Captivity- WDCS
- Kids Introduction to Captivity- WDCS
I would like to note that I do support all rehabilitation efforts. One example would be aquariums that rehabilitate and house manatees hit by boats. Conservation efforts are near and dear to my heart.