Should Orcas Be Kept in Captivity?

by lauma14133 on Septembre 12, 2016 - 11:34pm

The article from BBC news called, “Can Orcas Ever Be Healthy in Captivity?”, reveals a great deal about the controversy around keeping orcas confined. The article talks about Sea World’s decision to terminate the breeding of orcas, meaning that the 29 orcas currently residing at Sea World would be the last to be kept in captivity. Consequently, the organization also indicated that it would cancel its previous plan to double the size of the orcas’ tanks and add multiple features for the benefit of the whales. Sea World has always tried to defend its program as stated in the article by SeaWorld's Vice President of Veterinary Services, Dr. Chris Dold. However, the article raises several counter arguments that put into question the health of the animals in captivity.


A discussion of several ethical principles brings to light the pros and cons of keeping orcas in captivity. One of the ethical principles, “Living entities should not be used as a means to an end,” supports arguments for the freedom of these killer whales. Sea World is only keeping the orcas in captivity because they are a major attraction for the park. The orcas are a huge source of income for the company. Based on this principle, there is no doubt that is would be more beneficial for the animals to be in their natural habitat. Sea World, very selfishly, is making too much money to do what is actually best for the animal.


Another ethical principle that supports the freedom of these orcas is, “Do no harm.” It is not Sea World’s intention to harm the orcas kept in their tanks; however, being in captivity does harm the animal in the long run. For example, orcas in captivity have damaged teeth which could be caused by unusual behavior such as biting and licking at bars which is seen in animals who are kept captive according to Dr. Naomi Rose. Furthermore, isolating them from their family damages their health emotionally, socially and psychologically. They can also be dangerous to humans. For example, Dawn Branchau was a trainer at Sea World who drowned when she was attacked and pulled into the water by a bull orca named Tilikum. Tilikum is not the only orca that has attacked a human before and, in fact, Dawn was his third victim.  


A third ethical principle is “Respect other’s autonomy.” By removing the orcas from their natural habitat and separating them from their families, the animals become dependent on Sea World for food and can no longer swim freely as needed. They are confined to a tank for life.


One of the ethical principles that favors the captivity of orcas is, “Always act in accordance to your own best interest.” Sea World is acting in accordance to its own best interest by keeping orcas in captivity. Having orcas on display attracts more visitors and makes more money for the organization.


Another ethical principle that supports the captivity of orcas is, “Always act for the greater good.” Since the orcas are being displayed so close to the public eye, people start appreciating the animal more which creates an awareness of the importance of protecting this animal. Before orcas were displayed at Sea World in 1964, they were feared and hunted. Keeping a few in captivity protects the species from being hunted and going extinct. So, keeping orcas in captivity could be for the greater good both for educational purposes and for the benefit of the species as a whole.  


In my opinion, orcas should not be kept in captivity. It is in their nature to be left free in the wild. Confining them to small areas is damaging to their health and, in some cases, dangerous for humans who interact with them. In their natural habitat, they do not attack humans. Orcas in the ocean travel around 160 km a day, not only to search for food, but also, for their overall health. Orcas living in a 35-foot tank cannot swim as much in order to stay healthy. However, given the education provided when interacting with these creatures up close and the potential for saving an endangered species, is captivity worth it?   



Anonymous. “Can Orcas Ever Be Healthy in Captivity?” BBC Magazine 15 April 2016 Number of Pages: Unknown. BBC News Website.