The Death of a Captive Orca

A pod of (non captive) Orca cruise the Queen Charlotte Strait, British ColumbiaOctober 7, 2010

In the 1950s, killer whales were considered deadly and dangerous, and they were so feared that they were used as target practice for people standing on coastal bluffs or riding in passing boats.

In the 1960s, we captured the first one and imprisoned it in a tank for our selfish desire to be closer to it. For almost ten years, we exploited entire families of killer whales in the Pacific Northwest for entertainment with no regard to their rich social societies they lived and traveled in. Now we know these whales live in complex societies, show the unique characteristics of a culturally rich species, live over 50 years, and generally stay with their mother or grandmother for their entire lives.

Knowing what we know today about the complex lives of killer whales, how can we justify keeping these intelligent animals in the confinements of concrete pools? I am always saddened when I read the headlines like, “Killer Whale dies unexpectedly at Sea World in Orlando”. I wonder how many killer whales will have to endure our selfish behavior of putting them in an artificial setting before we realize enough is enough. The most recent death happened just this past Monday when Kalina, a young 25-year-old female, died unexpectedly, the third killer whale to die in captivity in the past four months.

Kalina (September 26, 1985- October 4, 2010) was the first captive-born Orca calf to survive more than a few days. Kalina's mother is an Icelandic female named Katina, and her father, Winston, (also known as Ramu III) was a Pacific Southern Resident, making Kalina an Atlantic/Pacific hybrid — a unique combination that would not have occurred in the wild. At age 4 Kalina was taken from her mother and transferred to all four SeaWorld parks over the following 5 years. She was moved back to her mother in Orlando in 1994, one year after giving birth to her first calf in SeaWorld Texas. We can only imagine the psychological and physical stress Kalina underwent during her transfers and as her family bonds were broken.

Jean-Michel and Céline Cousteau observe an Orca in Johnstone Strait, British ColumbiaI will always be a strong advocate against keeping these animals in captivity. We have outgrown the need to keep such wild, enormous, complex, intelligent and free-ranging animals in captivity. Let us go outdoors to appreciate our counterparts in the sea and enjoy them on their own terms, not our own.

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First Photo: A pod of Orca cruise the Queen Charlotte Strait, British Columbia. © Carrie Vonderhaar, Ocean Futures Society

Second Photo: Jean-Michel and Céline Cousteau observe an Orca in Johnstone Strait, British Columbia. © Carrie Vonderhaar, Ocean Futures Society