Marine parks, like SeaWorld, have claimed that wild killer whales live, on average, 25-35 years. Captivity supporters are desperate to back up SeaWorld in this claim, but they don’t have any scientific or scholarly sources to support them. So, some have now resorted to doing their own “research” in an attempt to calculate the lifespan of wild killer whales themselves. The latest “research” performed by a SeaWorld fan can be read here.
Using data from the incomplete and potentially inaccurate database “cetacean cousins,” samples have been cherry-picked and a conclusion has been made: wild female killer whales live to be about 35 years and males live to be about 25. In other words, “SeaWorld is spot on”! Captivity supporters have accepted this conclusion without any further thought and are now proclaiming that “anti-caps have instantly been debunked!”
The flaws in the source of the data and the sampling techniques used in this “research” should lead any rational person to dismiss the conclusion, but you don’t have to tear apart the methodology to know that what this SeaWorld fan has found in her research is completely wrong.
“Killer whale and short-finned pilot whale females…cease reproducing at just over halfway through their maximum lifespan of 90 and 65 years, respectively.” – Dr. Andrew Foote,
“Reproduction ceases at approximately 40 years of age, although females routinely live on for several more decades.” – Katherine McAullife, Dr. Hal Whitehead
“Post reproductive females may live for an additional 30 or more years after giving birth for the last time. The average lifespan for females appears to be about 50 years…some may reach 80 or 90 years of age.” – Dr. John K. B. Ford, Ken Blacomb, Graeme Ellis
“During the period of unrestrained growth, [resident] females had a mean life expectancy of 46 years and maximum longevity was on the order of 80 years.” – x
According to these scientists, wild female killer whale will begin reproducing at 15 years old and will stop reproducing at 40. During these 25 reproductive years, she will produce an average of 4 calves every 5 years. She will also live long after menopause. Scientists are really interested in this long post-reproductive life span because it’s so rare in wild animals.
SeaWorld and fans say that the average wild female killer whale only lives to be 35. In other words, the female killer whale’s post reproductive life span that has been the subject of many scientific studies, doesn’t exist. Not only does the female killer whale die before she reaches menopause, but her average life span is so short she doesn’t even have enough time to produce the average number of calves!
As you can see, there is a domino effect happening here. If you claim that wild killer whales only live 25-35 years, you need to be prepared to refute everything we know about killer whale lifespans, when they reach sexual maturity, physical maturity, their reproductive years, etc. I think this is a challenge that SeaWorld and fans are not willing to take on.