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How does captivity affect marine mammals?

The conversation about marine mammals in captivity has been going on for years.

Some believe that it is important for educational purposes whilst others argue that it is unfair to keep them trapped in tanks.

What marine mammals are kept in captivity?

According to Born Free, they estimate that there are more than 2,000 dolphins, over 200 beluga whales, more than 30 porpoises and 60 orcas (killer whales) held in captivity across the world. 

Dolphins & Porpoises in Captivity

When in the wild dolphins, porpoises and other cetacean can travel hundreds of miles a day. However, typically in captivity they are kept in small enclosures and end up swimming in circles, unable to dive deep underwater or swim in straight lines. They are also quite often kept in isolation which is devastating to think about as most dolphin and porpoise species are highly social creatures who spend a lot of their time with their pods in the wild.

When in captivity dolphins and porpoises spend around 80% of their time at the surface waiting for food and wanting attention. They can get very easily bored just swimming around their small tanks especially alone. This drastically differs from those living in the wild, who actually spend around 80-90% of their time underwater and they have the freedom to make that choice themselves.

The sounds in their environment are also vastly different and critical to dolphins and porpoises who use echolocation. In the vast open oceans there is a whole world of sound and they are able to use their echolocation to hunt for food as well as communicating with their pod, to find a mate, care for their young and migrate. However when held in captivity they are forced to listen to the filtration system bouncing around the tank, as well as music and visitors. They rarely get a chance to use their echolocation in these tanks, as they are alone with no opportunities to hunt or explore. 

A great resource to find out more about cetaceans in the wild vs captivity is the Animal Welfare Institute.

Ric O'Barry's Dolphin Project

The founder of the Dolphin Project is Ric O'Barry, was originally employed by the Miami Seaquarium for 10 years as a dolphin trainer. But, in the 48 years since he has fought against that very industry. He has rescued and rehabilitated dolphins around the world.

Read more on their website here and if you want to support the work they do then please consider making a donation on their website.

If you are interested in how dolphins are chosen to captivity then check out the Dolphin Projects video below.

Orcas in Captivity

Orcas, also known as killer whales, are highly intelligent and social creatures and they don't do very well when kept in captivity. There has been decades of research into the effects that captivity has on orcas. Just like dolphins, orcas swim, on average, 40 miles each days and explore the oceans.

One of the biggest differences between orcas in the wild and in captivity is life expectancy. In the wild a female orca can live to the age of 80 where as in captivity it is unlikely they will live past 30. In fact, no orca born in captivity has yet lived passed the age of 30 and only a handful of wild-caught orca have.

Quite a lot of the time orcas in captivity die due to pneumonia or another sort of infection. These infections tend to take hold because the orca is already weakened. It is also reported that orcas in captivity experience stress, those that have been captured have been ripped away from their pod and put into isolation which can cause a massive amount of distress and even those born in captivity are removed from their mother much earlier than they would leave in the wild. This coupled with the small enclosure that they are forced to live in alone all contribute to stress and a general loneliness.

There is also dorsal fin collapse, which is seen in 1% of wild orcas and 100% of captive male adult orcas. The orcas spent most of their time in the tanks, swimming in circles, this is what they believe causes their tall dorsal fins to collapse to one side.

You can read in more depth about orcas in captivity over on National Geographic.

We highly recommend watching the documentary Blackfish for an inside, in depth look at what orcas face in captivity. It has been years since this film came out, and yet orcas are still being held in tanks. 

Beluga Whales in Captivity

It is estimated that currently over 200 beluga whales are being held in captivity around the world. They too are intelligent and social, living in pods in the Arctic and sub-Arctic regions. They also love to dive deep underwater when searching for food and can go down as deep as 1,000 ft. and then deeper on some occasion. As with dolphins, orcas and porpoises the beluga whales in captivity are kept in very small enclosures and often alone. They are often seen 'pacing' their tanks, swimming back and forth, this is thought to be out of boredom. 

Some great news that has come from Canada this year as they have brought in a new law banning whale and dolphin captivity! Marine parks and aquariums that violate the new law could face fines up to $200,000. 

“The bill is a simple and straightforward one. It works from the presumption that placing these beautiful creatures into the kinds of pens that they have been kept in is inherently cruel,”- Independent Senator, Murray Sinclair.

Stand With Marine Mammals - The Call To Empty The Tanks

If you believe that it is wrong to keep these wild animals deserve to live free, then please take a minute to sign the petition. This petition is calling for an end to captive cetacean exploitation. 

You can also do your part by not visiting these marine parks and aquariums that keep marine mammals in captivity. If you want to see these incredible creatures then go out in the wild to see them free and living in their natural habitat.

Sign the Petition

Click here to sign the petition.

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