Speak Out on Cetacean Captivity

In the course of our efforts to protect the ocean and her inhabitants, we came across a young man who is very solidly dedicated to caring for our fellow Earthlings.  Bright and articulate, Hunter Shaffer is just 14 years old, yet already heavily involved in a non-profit to care for wild animals, as well as speaking up for dolphins and whales in captivity.  We asked young Hunter, a vegan, to write an article (or three) for us, provide us with one of his generation’s informed perspectives.  He shared this:

Many people ask me why I am involved with animal rights campaigns at my young age. I am certain those reading this, too, are curious as to why I am “set in my ways” so to speak. While I cannot give a definitive answer, as there are numerous reasons, a paramount factor in this regard is the fact that human depravity is limitless. In light of that prospect, I fear that the fine balance of nature will be permanently disrupted if the destruction that mankind imposes on nature does not come to a halt.

Today, we will be discussing the practice of keeping cetaceans in a captive environment, and we will attempt to determine whether the practice is acceptable, justifiable, or, as many claim, a spectacle of dominance. While I feel that this practice is not justifiable in any manner, I understand that many will not feel this way. Or, you may not have enough information to make an informed decision on the topic. I’m glad you could join me today in learning about the captive marine mammal industry.

In light of the fact that many individuals reading this piece may or may not yet be aware of what cetacean captivity is, I will give a brief description on the manner. Cetacean captivity is defined as the practice of keeping any animals within the Cetacea order as a whole in a captive environment. This order includes dolphins, whales, and porpoises. At this point in time, you may be questioning yourself as to why this topic is important. The answer is simple: Scientific studies have shown that cetaceans are sentient, sapient beings. With this in mind, we must determine whether cetacean captivity is a necessary evil, or an act of dominance that should be outlawed. Or, perhaps, somewhere in between.

The marine mammal entertainment industry, in many cases, was started to improve the reputation of cetaceans, as evidenced by the case of Moby Doll, the first orca to be kept in a public aquarium exhibit. The capture of Moby Doll brought some of the first positive press about orcas. In this day and age, however, it seems apparent to me that captivity signifies dominance, and that the industry lacks any level of philanthropy. I feel this way due to the fact that despite billions of dollars in annual revenue, the overwhelming majority of marine parks do not use this revenue for good, such as conservation and education. Instead, I feel they operate under a surprisingly strict veneer of profit under guises of education and conservation. In fact, SeaWorld makes an estimated $1.2 billion dollars in annual revenue. Only 0.07% of this revenue is used for conservation. Where does the rest go? There are many questions about this industry in its entirety that have yet to be answered. I am confident, however, that with more digging, we will begin to understand the foundation and true veneer of which these parks operate.

After careful research, I have discovered that the average lifespan for a captive orca is approximately 6 years and 3 months. This is truly an astounding figure when we compare and contrast this figure with their wild counterparts. Despite claims of new technology and research increasing the level of care and observation put into these animals in a captive environment, we see that there has been little to no improvement in captive orca life expectancies since around 1975! If the intentions of the industry are to conserve and protect these animals from death and overall extinction, why would they choose to confine these animals to such barren environments where, as evidenced by science, they die prematurely? I believe that the reasoning behind this is because the true intentions of the industry show themselves with a high level of perspicuity, the intentions that I believe are evident in this regard signify a desire to make a profit with a complete disregard for the care of the inhabitants of these parks. While I do not disagree that your children may enjoy seeing a dolphin show, I do not believe that it is acceptable to fund an industry that teaches us that dominating self-aware, sentient, sapient beings for our temporary (or permanent) gratification is acceptable or justifiable in any manner. This is purely a matter of ethics and an ever growing quest to determine whether we have the decency and philanthropy within ourselves to allow other beings that share this planet with us a right to live a life free of torturous activity.

It is well known within the scientific community that the overwhelming majority of wild animals, including cetaceans, have an entire biological structure that is formed by millions of years of adaptation to their surrounding environment in vast, thriving ecosystems. What gives us the right, as just another species on this planet, to take another intelligent, free-ranging being away from almost every factor that is considered natural to their species, only to force them to live a stereotypical existence in a barren, concrete box? The answer is clear: We do not have that right. I feel that we are, however, laboring under an overwhelming delusion that we do. Today, there is an overwhelming scientific basis that cetaceans do not thrive in captivity. In fact, many agree that they suffer. I am one of those that agree that they are, in fact, suffering. These cetaceans are victims of a twisted nightmare that was created by humans. Unfortunately for them, this is no longer a nightmare, it is a reality that will only be ended by compassionate individuals that take the time to look into these issues, such as yourself. When these parks no longer make a profit, these animals will no longer suffer at the hands of the industry. Do your part by choosing to boycott such exhibits. I did.


What is cetacean captivity? Cetacean captivity is defined as the confinement of the cetacean species as a whole. The Cetacea order contains whales, dolphins, and porpoises. It has been asked time and time again, is keeping cetaceans captive a justifiable and humane act under today’s moral standards? After much research, most individuals will be able to see that the answer is a resounding no. If we take a closer look, we can look beyond the façade and portrayed philanthropy of the industry, and determine the true intentions of a marine park. Recent studies have shown that SeaWorld parks donate less than 1% of their annual proceeds to conservation. While they do rescues under their own conservation “team”, this fund is run by the Hubbs-SeaWorld research institute, an institute that applies for grants to carry out their conservation efforts. And, as a matter of fact, takes away precious funding from other earnest nonprofits that do not hide behind a guise, and display philanthropy towards the Cetacea order.

We have seen it time and time again, one thing that commonly shows itself throughout many controversies and debates regarding marine parks is the life span of the animals that inhabit these parks. While wild orcas live from a variety of averages, generally 20-80, we commonly see a shocking figure for their captive counterparts. 155 orcas have died in marine parks worldwide. The average lifespan for this group? 6 years, 3 months. Many would argue that with new technology, we would begin to see a rise in the lifespan of captive cetaceans. This could not be further from the truth. In fact, it is quite the opposite. It seems apparent that there has been no improvement in captive orca lifespan since the 1970s. In light of this prospect, why must the parks hide behind a guise of education and conservation? The overwhelming majority of parks claim that cetaceans are held in captivity for scientific or education purposes. At the same time, we also can see with a high level of perspicuity that most parks have never released a single peer-reviewed paper. In fact, most scientists will not accept studies of captive animals due to the fact that they do not accurately reflect their wild counterparts.

If the intentions of the industry are really to conserve and protect, why were cetaceans stolen from the wild to add to the number of animals in the parks? Better yet, why must the inhabitants of these parks perform? There can only be one answer, and that answer is clear: Because the industry wants to make a profit and promote might over right. On the topic of wild captures, we will be taking a look today at the capture and mass killing of the Southern Resident orca Community, where there is only one survivor from the captures over 4 decades ago. That survivor is Lolita, residing and barely surviving at the Miami Seaquarium. The capture was the largest orca capture in history. In fact, it led to many deaths and the near collapse of a very important population of orcas that aid in sustaining the very basis of the Puget Sound region. During the capture, which took place over a few years, many mothers died trying to protect the calves from their nets, many died from stress, and the rest that were victims of the capture were doomed to a life of inhumane confinement with no chance to escape. Lolita, the last survivor of this capture, has thousands of supporters rallying and petitioning for her freedom.

The Miami Seaquarium adamantly refuses to give Lolita, also known as Tokitae, a chance of freedom. To this day, compassionate individuals and many organizations continue to work for Lolita’s retirement to her home waters. There is an overwhelming scientific basis which proves that dolphins and whales are, in fact, sapient and sentient beings who deserve the right to live a natural life free of confinement and torturous activity. Dolphins, including orcas, are capable of swimming over 50 miles a day in vast and thriving ecosystems. Their entire biological structure has been surrounded upon millions of years of adaptation to their environment. To take such an intelligent, free-ranging animal out of his or her natural habitat, only to live a life of stereotypical activity is simply immoral. Now, we are going to look at two very good quotes: Firstly, we are going to look at a quote regarding captivity from Prince Sadruddin – Aga Khan, Published “The Bellerive Symposium on Whales and Dolphins in Captivity” ( 1990) “As the dolphin becomes just another victim of humanity’s utilitarian attitudes towards the Earth, it seems as though the ancient friendship between our respective species is no longer entirely reciprocal. Such exploitation is nowhere more evident than in the capture and display of cetaceans for profit.

Stripped of their natural identity, deprived of their own culture and environment, the dolphin and whale incarcerated within the oceanarium not only symbolizes an abuse of that ancient relationship, but above all our estrangement from nature as a whole.” Next, we have a quote by Jacques-Yves Cousteau: “There is about as much educational benefit to be gained by studying dolphins in captivity as there would be studying mankind by only observing prisoners held in solitary confinement.” We also have the problem of biosonar, also known as echolocation. Biosonar occurs when echolocating animals emit calls to the environment around them. Secondly, they listen to the echoes of these calls that return from a wide variety of objects that surround them. This can become a large problem in captivity due to lack of natural objects, effectively making these echoes bounce off the walls of the concrete cages.

In some cases, this renders echolocation almost useless. Final conclusion: The very basis of the captive industry in its entirety is a signification of dominance and profit. The question is, why would anybody want to support such an industry that puts greed over the needs of the beings which inhabit it? Sure, your family may have a good time at the circus or at a marine park. However, why would you wish to teach your children that dominating animals is OK? Might over right is never a good lesson under any circumstance. Take a closer look, and we will be able to pick apart the intentions of the industry, and the perspicuity of those intentions. Many people visiting such places only visit once or twice, never looking back or taking a closer look at what they are truly supporting. Do your part to end the horrors of the industry as a whole by educating the public one day at a time. Every individual supporting such places needs to clear their mind and think about what goes on behind the scenes.

When the consumers stop buying tickets, the torture will soon halt. Choose a compassionate lifestyle and teach your family to respect nature. Instead of a $300 trip to a circus, take a walk in the woods or a forest and examine everything that surrounds you. Millions of people are laboring under the common delusion that supporting places that exhibit captive animal shows somehow will bring them closer to nature. This could not be further from the truth. In fact, it is quite the opposite.

Comments —–

Jan 2017 / Heidi / Fund Momentum Nonprofit Management – Excellent points and well written and thought out article.  The Ringling Brothers Circus just announced that it will be closing.  Can Seaworld be far behind?

0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *