The Captivity Industry: Below the Surface

1. We cannot meet the physical needs of cetaceans
-Dental issues- Most captive killer whales and dolphins have fractured, worn down, or broken teeth. This is often due to the display of dominance called “jaw popping.” Jaw popping is the act of biting down on the steel gates and walls of the tank in aggression. Sometimes, habits are formed of this, and the animals chew the walls and gates out of boredom. Because of the poor oral hygiene the whales and dolphins undergo a pulpotomy. The extraction of the pulp within the tooth. .

The whales are conditioned to “accept” the noise, heat, vibration and obvious pain associated with drilling vertically through the tooth column and into the fleshy pulp below. Success is measured by blood spilling out of the hole, in which case it’s apparent the bore is complete. – Former SeaWorld trainer.

This is done without anesthesia, or any numbing agent. Evidence of this practice is seen in the distinct holes drilled in the teeth. Nearly every orca Sea World keeps captive has these holes. Some orcas have teeth that have undergone flattening, and grinding.
Lolita, the Miami Seaquarium’s lone orca, is currently suffering a tooth infection.

                                                Kalina’s broken and drilled teeth.
-Skin Issues-

The captive dolphin environment is often chemically treated. Dolphins and whales have been known to suffer chlorine poisoning, skin ulcers, blindness, and skin lesions due to chemical exposure in their tanks.-Disease-

There are several diseases that seem to appear often in captive whales and dolphins. Death from pneumonia, influenza, intestinal disease, shock and bacterial infections are not uncommon. The most prevalent disease for captive cetaceans are stomach ulcers, which form due to stress. Many captive cetaceans are medicated to treat and prevent these ulcers. Because cetaceans are not compulsory breathers, it is possible for them to asphyxiate themselves by choice, and therefore- commit “suicide.” There have been suspected suicides in captive whales and dolphins. Captivity vastly shortens the lifespan of whales and dolphins. In the wild, the average lifespan is 50-80 years. In captivity, it is 8.


Of course injury happens to wild animals. But in captivity, injuries are very prevelent. The animals are often confined with other animals they aren’t familiar with, or who are more dominent. This can cause many problems, including injury. In August of 1989, a performance was taking place when a female orca named Kandu V, attempted to rake another orca with her teeth. After approaching head on at full speed, she rammed into a wall. The trainers attempted to keep the show going, and only stopped when they saw her spout blood. After a 45 minute hemorrhage, Kandu V died.  

Not only is there aggression and injury amongst tank-mates, but trainers are also being injured, and even killed by aggressive killer whales. 

the trainers kept the show going, and only stopped after they saw Kandu V spout blood.
45 minutes later, she died.

-Reproductive Issues-

Sex is an important part of cetacean life. In captivity, female dolphins are given birth control. Breeding is accomplished by artificial insemination. The mothers are often bred too young, and there have been many deaths in birth of the offspring.

In the wild, a male killer whale may eat up to 500lbs of food a day. According to Sea World, their adult orcas are fed 140-240 lbs of food on a daily basis. In the wild dolphins and whales have a varied diet consisting of squid, fish, sea turtle, seals, sea lion, even penguin. In captivity, the dolphin and whale are given 3 different types of frozen fish. Live fish offer moisture to hydrate the whales and dolphins in the wild. But because the chemically treated water cannot support fish populations, the dolphins are fed frozen food instead. In captivity, they are hydrated by eating ice, jell-o, or by learning to swallow a hose.  

2. We cannot meet the mental needs of cetaceans


Confinement is a major issue for captive dolphins and whales. In the wild, they are always traveling, and in motion. They have the entire ocean to roam. It takes mere seconds for a dolphin or whale to go from one end of a tank, to the other, so they are often reduced to swimming in circles. Lolita, the lone orca of the Miami Seaquarium, is most often seen sulking in a corner, simply bobbing up and down. 

    A captive dolphin or killer whale spends up to 80% of their time at the surface of the water. It is speculated that this is the cause of the collapsed dorsal fin, as seen in many captive orcas.
Because dolphins are self-aware, and extremely intelligent, they need mental stimulation that we cannot give them. This leads to distress, shock and mental diseases. Many dolphins show symptoms of severe stress, like ulcers, intestinal disorders, and aggression.

-Stimulation and Sensory Deprivation-Cetaceans are acoustic creatures.

That means, they rely heavily on sound. In the wild, they use echolocation to “see” their sorroundings. In captivity, echolocation is rarely used seeing as how it is not needed. The artificial enviroment is devoid of everything that could be mentally stimulating. Their sorroundings are simply walls of concrete and glass.

A dolphins tank is small and largely featureless. Especially compared to the ocean.
     Thesound of the music and the crowd is enough to cause distress and anxiety. The filtration systems the aquariums used have been known to kill dolphins from the mere sound production. Sound has been used against dolphins in captures and drive fisheries.3. We cannot meet the social needs of cetaceans.

In the wild, dolphins and whales live in the tightest, and most complex social groups known in nature. Not only do they stay with their families their entire lives, but they also choose their best friends and companions. They have names for each other and certain roles ie. communicator with other pods, nursing, etc. Socialization is extremely important to cetacean life. Yet some captive cetaceans will never even have contact with a member of their own species. Those that do have contact are often victims of aggression because the individuals are strangers, and not of one family group or pod. The whales and dolphins are often confined and separated. Trainers attempt to replace the bonding and touch the dolphins rely so heavily on in the wild; with human contact. We, as humans, cannot even come close to replicating the dolphin-dolphin bonds of those within the pod.

Dolphin pods are the tightest, and most complex social groups in nature.

4. Dolphin captivity supports dolphin slaughter

  Dolphins can be captured for scientific research, conservation, or public display. Anyone who wishes to capture a wild dolphin in US waters must obtain a permit from the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). No permits have been issued since the 1980’s. Instead, parks have taken up buying, breeding, and importing dolphins.

In Taiji, Japan, dolphins are driven up the shore by fishing boats. They are then stranded on a beach, where the attractive ones are sold to marine parks, and the rejects are slaughtered for their meat. Sea World has recently obtained a permit to import a male pilot whale from Japan.

The permit may be seen here.^
Where the pilot whale originally came from is unknown. This is the difficulty in import and export of marine mammals. The animals are nothing but commodoties, and where they came from is irrelevent to the big buisnesses. As long as Sea World and others put up a good front- boasting that they no longer capture from the wild, nobody would blink an eye at the fact that they instead import captured animals from other parks.
I hope that this information has opened your eyes to the cruelty of marine parks and aquariums. There is a lot to see below the surface.

3 thoughts on “The Captivity Industry: Below the Surface

  1. Found via – references list at the end – and there “IN THE SUMMER OF 1989, SEA Shepherd’s Ben White organized a “Dolphin Brigade” of middle-class housewives, retired businessmen and college students with one thing in common: an evangelical zeal to set all captive dolphins free. On Aug. 8, the group converged at Mexico Beach, on the coast of the Florida panhandle near Panama City, where Gulf World was preparing to capture six bottlenose dolphins.”

  2. Yeah, sad but TRUE picture. Noticed small typo – date “19080’s” should be read as “1980’s”. and late 1980s, i must add .. so it much closer to present times.

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