SeaWorld and animal rights activists have been heatedly debating the ethics of confining orcas for many years now. As you might be aware, the release of controversial documentary BlackFish did nothing to gain the the marine park new supporters, and in the wake of several lawsuits recently filed in the US, a growing number of concerned citizens are joining in the boycotting of SeaWorld until it either closes down, or improves the treatment of its orcas. Of course, SeaWorld denies mistreating its whales, and is adamant that in captivity the orcas live longer, healthier lives than they might in the wild. But since a 103-year-old orca was spotted thriving off the western coast of Canada, some of the ‘facts’ SeaWorld has stated to allay public concern no longer hold true – and this is a big problem for the marine park. [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ys5rN_LtP2E]
The 103-year-old orca, called “Granny,” was spotted in May 2014 with her pod (which includes her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren) off one of Canada’s western coasts. And according to scientists, the elder whale has has not only been thriving in good health, she has been likely swimming over 100 miles per day with her pod.
Why is this such bad news for SeaWorld?
Quite simply, because SeaWorld has made previous claims that “no one knows for sure how long killer whales live.” With Granny as a living example – albeit a rare one – of how long orcas might be capable of thriving in the wild, the average whale’s life expectancy of only 20 -30 years in captivity (according to SeaWorld) is now being perceived as unacceptable. According to the Whale and Dolphin Conservation project, whales born in captivity only live to 4.5 years old on average. Perhaps it is because the whales are forced to breed continuously and at perilously young ages that they experience such reduced lifespans.
When Granny was spotted last May, she was just finishing a 800-mile trek from northern California with her pod. As orcas are reportedly able to swim up to 100 miles per day, the small space killer whales are held in when in captivity no doubt seem less than acceptable. According to animal welfare advocates, long-distance swimming is imperative to orcas’ psychological health and well-being.
But according to SeaWorld, orcas do not need to swim hundreds of miles regularly.
The elder orca was first spotted in the 1930’s, and since has been documented to have mothered two calves, who in turn have fostered kin of their own. One of her grandchildren, named Canuck, reportedly died at the age of 4 after being captured and held at SeaWorld. If you’re curious of how scientists know Granny’s age, check out this in-depth piece published by The Dodo. As Granny’s pod has grown, she has astonishingly kept pace with them as a free and thriving orca.
At SeaWorld, it is a fact that orcas are routinely separated from their pods. This has been known to cause huge mental and emotional strain on the whales – the type of psychological damage which can even prevent calves from developing normally. As The Dodo eloquently shares, ‘Granny doesn’t simply represent an impressive feat of nature; she embodies what is wrong with SeaWorld by being a living example of what’s right in the wild.’ We couldn’t agree more.
Granny’s impressive age is no doubt rare, but according to the NOAA, wild female orcas – like Granny – can live an average of 50 – 60 years. Swimming, exploring, and bonding with family members, they peacefully live to older ages likely because they experience much more joy. #BoycottSeaWorld or no? Share your thoughts below.
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