As a young child, I grew up loving any type of activity that dared to test my thrill limits and stimulated my mind. Whether it was visiting amusement parks, Aquariums, Zoo’s, or Sea World, I did it all and loved every minute of it. Today, as I grow and learn more about how society thrives overtime, I have realized that this “picture” of excitement I had once known when I was younger, was not so bubbly and bright. Recently I have come across a series of articles and videos pertaining to a documentary, Blackfish, that focuses on the animal cruelty and the psychological effects on killer whales in captivity at Sea World Parks across the nation. Blackfish tells the story of Tilikum, a captive and preforming killer whale that killed several trainers while preforming at Sea World. This emotionally wrenching story challenges us to consider our relationship to nature and reveals how we as humans let money distract us from making intelligent and moral decisions. In order to feed my curiosity on this particular subject, I set out to find articles that further explained the effects on animals, specifically Killer Whales, in captivity and whether returning these animals to the ocean was possible. A number of cetaceans have been released into the wild, with research or the improved welfare of the animals as the main goal. A great example of a scientific study that aimed to have a successful release back into the wild was developed in 1996 on Keiko the killer whale. For 11 years Keiko lived and preformed in captivity, moving from place to place where he eventually received three years of training—boat runs and open pens—that aimed to help release him into the wild. Studies show that, release programs can be considered a success when the animal can maintain a healthy diet, a balance of health and stress levels comparable to his wild conspecifics, conduct predator avoidance behavior, and lastly reproduce. Based on this criterion, Keiko’s release efforts were termed unsuccessful, due to the fact that observations proved that although physically unrestricted and free to leave, Keiko kept returning to his caretakers for food and company. All in all, based on Tilikum and Keiko’s stories, I have come to a conclusion that removing an animal from their natural environment does more harm then good, however I do believe that captive breeding program used for the conservation and restoration of threatened or endangered species are extremely beneficial. Although captive animals play a key role in scientific andvancement, it is important to remember that animals are directly affected by their emotional and physical surrounding environments and that the use of captive breeding of animals for profit is detrimental not only for the animal, but for people as well.
-by Taylor Whitman
Christie, M., Marine, M., French, R., and Blouin, M. 2011. Genetic Adaption to Captivity Can Occur in a Single Generation. PNAS. 109: 238-242.
Simon, M., Hanson, M.B., Murrey, L., Tougaard, J., and Ugarte, F. 2009. From Captivity to the Wild and Back: An Attempt to Release Keiko the Killer Whale. Marine Mammal Science. 25(3): 693-705.