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Killer Whales In Captivity Essay About Myself

Killer Whale In Captivity Essay

Captivity is the state or period of being imprisoned, confined, or enslaved, according to Wiktionary. Every year, marine parks and aquariums, like SeaWorld, make billions of dollars through ticket sales. SeaWorld estimates about 70% of their total revenue is due to their performing killer whales (Jeffs). People visit from all over the world to encounter killer whales up close. “Their beauty and power, combined with willingness to work with humans, have made them legendary performers” (Gorman). In recent years, humans have gained the ability to tame and train these creatures. Killer whales should not be kept in captivity simply because it is cruel, unnatural, and dangerous.
Orcas, or killer whales are majestic giants of the sea. They are actually the largest type of dolphin. They have long black bodies with distinct white patches near their eyes. A killer whale can be up to 32 feet or more in length, and weigh up to 12,000 pounds. Females are a bit smaller, but live longer (Gorman). The name “killer whale” apparently came not because it is a vicious whale, but because it preys on whales. They do not have any natural predators, and they are considered the “top dog” of the ocean. Not even the great white shark stands a chance against these superb killers. “Unlike sharks, killer whales are cautious hunters, sometimes spending hours harassing a 1,000-pound sea lion so it can easily be drowned” (Francis). Orcas use many hunting tactics that are unique to their species, which is what makes them invincible.
Killer whales communicate by a series of clicks and whistles called vocalization. Each pod, or family, has their own unique language. This gives whales the ability to identify their own pods. Orcas have a brain that is about five times larger than humans. Killer whales are said to have a more complex and developed brain, than that of humans. They are very social, intelligent, and curious creatures. They protect and watch over their young, especially when ill, or injured. In the wild, orcas live in very social hierarchies. Males are the ultimate mommy’s boy and never leave their mother’s side. “They are the most socially and ecologically complex animals on earth, and certain types are the most socially stable animals of all” (Kirby). Lorie Marino Ph.D., neuroscientist, says the orca brain screams intelligence. She conducted an MRI scan and discovered that they have a part of the brain in which human’s lack. They have an extended emotional processing center, which explains why they have highly elaborate social lives. Orcas social bonding is far more complex and stronger than humans (Cowperthwaite).
Native Americans called them “blackfish”. They believed that the whales possessed great spiritual power, not to be messed with. Over 40 years ago, in the 1960’s, orcas were first captured and put on public display. This sparked a chain reaction of the desire for the large toothed whales. Orcas were originally viewed as pests, and were hunted down to...

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SeaWorld’s practice of keeping large marine mammals in captivity has always been controversial among scientists and animal rights activists, but the recent anti-captivity documentary Blackfish has brought this issue into the public eye. As one of its justifications for keeping captive orcas, SeaWorld argues that easy access to these animals is an enormous benefit for scientific research that will lead to greater understanding of all orcas, including wild populations. According to Chris Dold, vice-president of SeaWorld veterinary services, “there are limitations to studying these animals in the wild, but controlled environments help us to overcome them. The value of animals in zoological parks is that they are available for controlled science to be conducted with them on their behalf.”

To support the claim, SeaWorld keeps an official list of research findings from captive orcas, a list of 52 studies starting in 1976. While some of these papers, particularly those related to anatomy, physiology, and development, are broadly applicable to wild animals, many are relevant only for captive orcas. Studies on vitamin supplements or new technology and techniques for artificial insemination are unlikely to be useful to wild populations. However, Dold says of these studies: “We’re just scratching the surface. Understanding the animal helps us to conserve them. Science isn’t always big leaps, and small contributions can lead to additional questions. Even this basic stuff enhances our understanding of killer whales.”

A new investigation of these papers by Ingrid Visser, a marine biologist with New Zealand’s Orca Research Trust, shows that SeaWorld may have systematically misrepresented the research resulting from work with captive orcas. Visser’s investigation of the list, which is part of a larger analysis, stems from “a concern that SeaWorld often misrepresents their claims of science and the justification of keeping orca in captivity,” she told me, and as a scientist herself, she “wanted the public to have a better grasp of just how duplicitous SeaWorld was being about their ‘research.’”

According to Visser, of the 52 articles on SeaWorld’s list, three are duplicates, the exact same paper listed twice. Another of the papers on the list is a review by a SeaWorld employee of a book written by someone who claimed to be able to communicate with orcas. Others involved SeaWorld staff, but the research was performed entirely on wild populations. A few could not be tracked down with the citation information provided; SeaWorld’s director of research didn’t have access to them when Visser inquired. Several are not peer reviewed, and at least one had the title changed to imply that captive orcas played a more important role in the research (which was a statistical model) than they actually did.  

“After holding orcas in captivity for almost 50 years, this is, quite frankly, a pathetic research output in that time period, even for an individual researcher, let alone an institution with multiple researchers,” says Naomi Rose, a marine mammal scientist at the Animal Welfare Institute. (Disclosure: Rose is an acquaintance and I am a co-author of a paper on an unrelated topic with her husband, Chris Parsons.)

For two papers, the order of authors is different on SeaWorld’s bibliography than on the actual papers. One of SeaWorld’s own employees is listed as first author when he was not, implying that the employee was the lead researcher. “This is tantamount to plagiarism in the scientific world,” Visser says. “You don’t just claim someone else’s work by changing the first author of a publication, that’s the same as intellectual theft.”

Rose says she isn’t surprised by this apparent manipulation. In a recent online poll about orca captivity, she points out, 54 percent of responses came from a SeaWorld IP address, leading to accusations of digital ballot stuffing.

When I reached SeaWorld, Dold was apologetic about the errors in the research record. “That’s concerning to me. It would be untenable for us to manipulate the scientific record like this. We wouldn’t do something like that. Our scientific integrity is something we take deep pride in. On behalf of our scientists, that’s not something that we would do. I want to apologize to you and thank you for bringing this to our attention. That’s an error on our part and we’re going to go ahead and correct it.” And it has been revised.

A more accurate list of research won’t resolve the longstanding debate over whether holding orcas in captivity is necessary or appropriate, but at least it will help keep one side in that debate honest.