Kept in captivity since 1961, Orcas or ‘killer whales’ are the helpless victims of a commercial experiment seeing dozens of wild orcas plucked from their families and forced to live in artificial environments for both entertainment and profit. Surprisingly many are unaware of this plight, millions flock each year to watch these shows, mislead by the trademark smiles these mammals and others are cursed with, enticed with brochures that ensure ‘entertainment and education for the whole family’. This fantasy captures many with several tonnes orcas circle, leap and tail-slap seemingly out of sheer high spirits yet are highly-choreographed are presented as ‘natural behaviour’ and many visitors fail to notice the bare concrete walls of the tank that are circled by the injured and deformed orcas. At least 141 orcas have been taken into captivity from the wild since 1961 and 125 of these over 91%are now dead, Orcas do not reach their natural life expectancy in captivity due to the size of the tanks, and the lack of anything resembling their natural habitat causes dramatic variations in both health and behaviour. Natural movement and speed are decreased, and the tanks have flat, plain blue walls have lead many scientists to believe the lack of diversity leads to limited activities, reducing life expectancy to less then a quarter and quality of life to even less.
In their natural habitat, Orcas feed on sharks, fish, squid, whales, seals, turtles, octopus, penguins, and sea gulls however, in captivity, Orcas are fed frozen fish and vitamin supplements, this minimum amount of effort to feed and continuous circling is enough to drive anyone insane without even considering the numerous health issues it creates. Even though the water is pumped in from the ocean, in most marine parks, it is filtered to remove micro and macro marine life, and chlorine is added creating an unnatural environment and a variety of health deficiencies. Scientists believe that the unnatural sounds are also a problem as the noise from water pumps and crowds of cheering people interfere with the natural echolocation of the Orcas, creating a negative impact on their communication and hearing which in many cases it has caused death. Orcas that are born in the wild then taken into captivity are torn from their ‘pods’ – or families – and their families operate much like our human families do but with stronger attachments and emotions, living in close nit relationships from parents to grandparents, with the psychological effect of breaking these majestic creatures away from their family members is a great source of concern and sheds the dark shadow on those who think its acceptable.
Recently many marine parks have been placed under the spotlight and marine mammals in captivity have become a source of many heated debates between those that hold the dolphins captive, and those who want to protect them. Many believe that the capture and transport of these animals is extremely cruel, due to the psychological stress caused by the separation of pod members, and the stress caused during transport, with belief that they are only taken into captivity for entertainment and profit, and not for scientific study, which if untrue any study of Orcas would be best done in the whale’s natural habitat. Before the Internet the general public knew very little of the plight of the Orcas held in captivity, but in modern times there is no excuse other then the ignorance of man or lack of education which seems slim through all this media attention after aggression towards Orca’s trainers, and their fellow captives has been increasing rapidly over the past few years. Many feel that this is due to the compromised mental and physical health of Orcas held in unnatural habitats which when compared to Orcas that live free, seemed opposite. Some steps have been taken to release Orcas back into the wild with many marine parks have taking Orcas off their display with attendance to these shows reducing, showing the public would rather see these and other marine species in their natural environment. Immediate release of two captured orcas back into the wild seems to be a positive but in some cases release seems inevitable with individuals such as Corky who was 3 years old when captured with many health issues since capture such as blindness, unsuccessful pregnancies, with no calf surviving more than 46 days or Kasatka who was 1 year old when captured and has become the first whale to be artificially inseminated, creating a new avenue to follow in orca captivity.
The Winter Olympics of 2014 will be hosted in the city of Sochi, Russia, and recently to my knowledge the city has decided to showcase two wild-caught killer whales during the games to attract more tourism and this exploitation of marine mammals should not be the way. These two orca whales will be the first ever to be publicly displayed in Russia, something the country should be proud to have avoided and should not be introduced especially through The Olympic Games, which i thought stood for a greater part of the human race not torture, humiliation and exploitation. In addition to these two young orcas an endangered wild caught Black Sea dolphin is to be used as a torch bearer in the Olympic torch relay in the run up to the Opening ceremony, with nothing to do with the Olympics, sport or the city of Sochi we must ask ourselves why this cruelty is being used for anything other then profit. The International Olympic Committee’s Environmental Mandate features an agenda ‘Agenda 21’, which states “all upcoming Olympic developments will be carried out with a commitment to environmental consciousness and sustainability” which the display and performance of marine mammals does not conducive to, so together we must urge the mayor of Sochi to set the two captive orcas free to honour marine life and the Olympics, the current number of known orcas in captivity is 54 lets not add more. I personally will not be supporting the olympics if this is not stopped and will show what I’ve always understood of our race.
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