midiamimesDo captive orca live longer in the wild or captivity?

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Captive Orca at SeaWorld, Orlando (Photo: Davis and Reid)Marine parks keeping killer whales (or orca) for display purposes are claiming that their orca in captivity are surviving longer than the same species living in the wild. However, marine mammal experts have questioned the accuracy of the study, which was authored by three employees from SeaWorld and an employee from Minnesota Zoo.
 
News reports cited in a recent study by Robeck et al., published by the Journal of Mammalogy on 10th July 2015, compared data of survival and reproductive rates for known-age Pacific Southern and Northwest killer whales with the life history of orca displayed at SeaWorld. The study reports that the average life expectancy for SeaWorld’s orca is 41.6 years of age, as compared to studies of two wild whale populations, reported as 29.0 and 42.3 years of age respectively.
 
The publication of the study and the captive industry’s statement has angered animal protection groups, which refute that only one of SeaWorlds’ 29 orca have lived beyond the age of 41.6 years old. The majority have not lived past 25 years of age. Furthermore, of the wild populations cited in the above study, the Southern Resident Population was almost wiped out in the 1970s due to the excessive capture of orca by the captive industry to stock their marine parks. This population has yet to fully recover and therefore, such a comparison of data is not representative.
 
There are numerous similar studies that have been undertaken, which are far more reliable. Jett & Ventre (2015) sampled all the orca ever held in captivity in relation to their survival to sexual maturity and menopause. Findings confirmed that wild orca fair better than captive orca, but conceded that annual survivorship rate (ASR) in captivity has improved. Whilst investigations by Dr Naomi Rose, a notable orca biologist, have recognised that annual mortality rates for captive orca are at least 2–3 times higher than in the wild.
 
Dolphinaria-Free Europe is adamant that orca, as well as all dolphin and whale species, do not fare well in captivity. Whilst survival rates indicate that orca, in particular, die young in captivity, it is the fact that they are in a captive, artificial environment that remains our main concern. These species travel hundreds of kilometers a day, dive to great depths and live in complex social units in the wild. It should therefore not be a surprise to recognise that such complexity cannot never be truly replicated in a captive environment, no matter how big the tank. Dolphinaria-Free Europe continues to undertake policy focused campaigning within the European parliament to raise awareness for the plight of Europe’s captive orca – all arguably held in facilities which can never replicate the life they should live in the wild.
 
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Author: ENDCAP