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Kriztina Heckert.

March 28, 2014

Orcas, Prisoners of Men

Imagine, for a moment, being young again; a few months to no more than five years old.
Every day is filled with fun and love from being part of a close knit family. Everyone is there
from parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and siblings. There is no fighting and no one who can
hurt the wonderful life this family has been graced with. Then, one day out of nowhere, this
family is taken and gone forever. A creature, never seen before, has ripped them away. The
creature, which has taken away any hope of freedom, allows large and powerful strangers to be
held in close proximity. The creature does not allow food into the cage their victims have been
placed into. Day in and day out the captor forces the performance of meaningless tricks. A small
cage, with strangers who suffer pain and agony, is where the creature leaves his victims for the
rest of their lives. This is the horror endured by every captured orca today.
Orcas, contrary to their common name of Killer Whales, are not actually whales: they
are, in fact, part of the dolphin family. Orcas, like any other mammal, are smarter than the
common goldfish. The average Killer Whale is capable of learning. Why else would they be
used for the entertainment of plebeians? Moreover, through the use of their sonar, commonly
referred to as orca song, they are completely aware of their cramped living quarters. Orcas have
been captured for the entertainment of people for years. While the numbers of captures have
declined in recent years, it is not by any meaningful amount. Orcas have been and still are ripped
from their families, never to be reunited again.

The captured orca is no different than the African slave taken to the American colonies.
Despite this, their real stories are rarely known by the average person. It is rare to find someone
who knows of the real intelligence of orcas and their plight in places like SeaWorld, which sees
twenty-five million visitors a year. (Kirby, 303.) SeaWorld was founded in 1964. There are
three current locations in the United States: SeaWorld Antonio, SeaWorld San Diego, and
SeaWorld Orlando. The term SeaWorld often evokes an image of the deadly killer whale.
However, most people do not think anything else about them beyond that initial thought. Many
people believe a whale to be no different than any other fish in the sea. This is similar to
comparing a dog to a human because they both live on land. There are some relevant research
findings that accuse SeaWorld of allowing atrocities to be suffered by orcas. The phenomenal
documentary Blackfish is the most popular and the one that angers the higher ups of
SeaWorld and other parks. Two other examples of cruelty to orcas are documented in Lolita:
Slave to Entertainment and Keiko the untold story of the star of Free Willy. All three of these
documentaries focus on a singular specific killer whale, Blackfish on the notorious Tilikum,
Lolita on the lonely Lolita, and the Untold Story on Keiko. Each one of these whales was
captured at a young age and only one of them received a happy ending. One scenario that could
possibly do damage to the perfect image SeaWorld has cultivated over the years is giving more
attention and publicity to the plight of orcas. The capture of orcas for places like SeaWorld is
detrimental to the mental and physical health of not only the orca captured but to the
species as a whole. The forced breeding and performance of orcas is making them into
beasts instead of the amazing mammals they are.
Killer whales are a lot like humans in many respects, one of which is they crave the
interaction of others. Normally, a male killer whale will stay with his family throughout his

entire life. Even when they go off to mate, they will return to their pod of origin. They enjoy and
require social interaction with family members. When they are taken into captivity, with killer
whales from other pods, the result is disastrous. The orca Tilikum experienced this first hand. He
was taken by hunters in 1983 and placed in a small cage of sorts with two other female whales.
The company that bought him was called Sealand of the Pacific, located in British Columbia,
Canada (Blackfish.) Here, Tilikum experienced the first of many horrors that he would in his life
at the hand of men. His trainers withheld food from him, as well as the two other females, when
the performance did not meet expectations. This, of course, raises the question of how Tilikum
was expected to know how to do such tricks when he had never been taught? Additionally, why
did the other two females, Nookta and Haida, have their food withheld when they had done
nothing wrong? Not only were the three orcas starving but at night they were forced into an
incredibly small floating metal cage. On average, an orca male can grow to 9.8 meters and a
female to 8.5 meters. This means, with all three orcas in the cage, they barely had enough room
to move an inch (Orca Fact File.) Often the orcas would be stuck in there for hours on end.
It is important to note that orcas like any other creature get into fights. However, there is
a severe difference between the orcas in captivity and those in the wild who get into fights. Orcas
in the wild can escape from a fight as they are in the open ocean. Unfortunately, the orcas in
captivity do not have that opportunity. They are stuck, with no way out, and must attempt to
Tilikum witnessed the pain of being stuck in a fight firsthand. He was not only at the
mercy of the men in charge but his cage mates as well. Essentially, Tilikum was hurt by
everyone around him with no one to give any kind of comfort. Hence, it is not difficult to believe
that this would be the site of Tilikums first murder. His victim was Keltie Byrne. Keltie fell into

the water where Tilikum pulled her under and she never resurfaced alive. As previously stated,
orcas are similar to humans. Tilikum knew what he was doing. Perhaps his intention was not to
kill but the idea was clear. He wanted to hurt the people who kept him hungry and caged. It is
understandable, but not forgivable.
Another incident that resulted from the victimization of orcas occurred in SeaWorld a
couple of years ago. Two females were fighting. During the fight, one of the orcas rammed her
head into the other causing her jaw to crack. That bone cut open a vein in her head which
triggered massive blood loss and ultimately lead to her death. It is easy to understand how
stressed the orcas are while in captivity. These poor creatures know they need to perform to
perfection for food while constantly being surrounded by unknown orcas. The best comparison
for humans would be taking someone from the United States and placing them in a cage with
someone from North Korea, Russia, South Africa, and Greece.
Despite SeaWorlds claims that orcas live longer in their care; they actually live
exceptionally shorter lives in their cages than in the wild. SeaWorld claims orcas live to about 20
years of age at sea compared to about 25 to 30 in their care. This is inaccurate as orcas have been
documented to live in the wild up to eighty years of age (Killer Whale.) Compared to the orcas at
SeaWorld, that is a staggering difference of 60 years of lost life. Not only do the orcas live
shorter lives, though maybe that is a blessing in disguise, they will continue to suffer stress. Due
to stress, orcas have extremely weakened immune systems. Not only does this mean they are
constantly being injected by staff with medicine, it means their teeth become unhealthy. As Mark
Palmer, a zoologist and paleontologist describes a normal day for Orcas who
Often through boredom will chew on things, like the steel gates between the tanks at
SeaWorld. In this, sometimes they break off the tips of their teeth. This leaves them

exposed to infection...The only thing that can be done is to drill out the tooth to remove
the pulpbut orcas cannot be anesthetized like people can for a root canal job. If they go
to sleep they stop breathing. So Tilikum and other orcas actually have to sit there and
have their teeth drilled out without any pain relief.
No person would be able to endure the excruciating pain of a root canal without any anesthesia.
If humans do not allow root canals to be done without anesthesia, why should it be performed on
orcas? In fact, why is it that orcas are left so bored in their tanks that this happens? A show isnt
going on every moment of the day, and the truth is that when a show is not going on these orcas
are left to themselves with no forms of stimulation.
At aquarium theme parks, not only do the orcas suffer but so do the trainers. Trainers
have died because of orcas. Are orcas dangerous? They are just as dangerous as any animal that
has been cornered. Two of the most well-known trainers who have died because of orcas attacks
are Dawn Brancheau and Alexis Martinez. Ms. Brancheau died at SeaWorld Orlando and Mr.
Martinez at Loro Parque in Spain. Both of these trainers were talented young people whose death
was a tragedy. These are not the only deaths of trainers; there have been countless accidents and
deaths of others at SeaWorld and similar parks for years. It is doubtful that any orca intends to
kill humans. Maybe Tilikum meant to kill Ms. Brancheau, or maybe not. However, it is not
within the nature of orcas to kill people. There has never been a single, reliable documented
report that had an orca kill a person in the wild. If there is an incident, it is because the orca has
become confused and believed the human was a seal or the like. Orcas do not want to eat
humans; they prefer seals or fish in the ocean. Keeping orcas captive will not only hurt the orca
but the people training them as well.

In the business world there is one center goal - money, no matter how harsh the path.
This often gives the impression that people can do whatever they need to get ahead. Getting
ahead allows many sins to be excused; however, there is one action that cannot be excused,
forgiven, or understood. It is SeaWorlds breeding program. SeaWorld and their associates allow
the practice of incest between their orcas. Tilikum, a deadly orca, is the patriarch of more than
half of the worlds orcas in captivity (Blackfish.) He has had many children with females, some
of them with his own daughters. (See figure 1).
Tilikums Family Tree.



























Key-Born in Wild


- 1st Generation born in




- 2nd Generation born in

Miscar: Miscarriage. Result
of Mating. A mated pair.

"Captive Orca Genealogy Map." WDC, Whale

and Dolphin Conservation. N.p., n.d. Web. 24
Mar. 2014. <http://us.whales.org/>

- is
A aincestuous
social taboo
for a reason.

For a species to live on, the offspring needs new genes. If the two parents are brother and sister
or something like that, no new genes are added. The practice of incest will also cause other

physical deformities. Also, it is not uncommon for the products of incest to be rejected by their
mothers. Again, orcas are by no means unintelligent. They know the child they have had is not
natural, so they do what is innate; they abandon it. Incest is not the only mating related tragedy
that happens at SeaWorld. Often these females have miscarriages or stillbirths. Although the
number of miscarriages or stillborn births that occur in the wild is unknown, it is easy to imagine
that the number is smaller than the one at SeaWorld.
In SeaWorld, orcas suffer daily as it is a literal hell on earth. Why? Why are they forced
to go through this? Because the owners of SeaWorld, those higher ups, all want to line their
pockets. One of the many tragedies of this problem is that few people know about the plight of
orcas. Orcas are modern slaves and they need their story told. Some people are working on this,
like Ric OBarry. OBarry works as the Campaign Director for his organization, Dolphin Project,
which works to stop the capture of orcas and dolphins for fishing or amusement (About Us.) But
it is not enough. The public needs to know about orcas. They need to know how much pain the
orcas go through every day. Orcas will only find pain in their life at SeaWorld, they will suffer
disease, teeth problems, and the females forced impregnation. There is no need for this to
continue. These orcas should go through training to relearn how to survive in the wild if they are
young enough and capable. If not or there is some other issue, then they should be taken to an
open ocean pen so they can at least feel the rhythm of the ocean. Of course some people could
argue that they want to be able to see orcas perform, or just see them at all. However, these
people can pay the same amount for a boat trip off the coast of Maine and see the orcas in the
wild. Would it not be truly amazing to see an orca jump into the air in the ocean, beautiful and
free, than to see it give a meager wave in a cage? After all, as the saying goes If there is any
magic left in the world, then surely it can be found in the Sea.

Work Cited
"About Us." Dolphin Project.org. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 Mar. 2014. <http://dolphinproject.org/>.
Blackfish. Dir. Gabriela Cowperthwaite. Perf. Tilikum, John Hargrove, Dave Duffus. Magnolia
Pictures., 2013. DVD.
"Killer Whales." Alaska Fisheries Science Center Homepage. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Mar. 2014.
Kirby, David. "Pg 303." Death at SeaWorld: Shamu and the Dark Side of Killer Whales in
Captivity. New York: St. Martin's, 2012. N. pag. Print.
"Orca Fact File." ARKive. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Mar. 2014. <http://www.arkive.org/>.
Palmer, Mark. E-mail interview. 9 Feb. 2014.