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Can you imagine being born into prison? You spend all your days behind bars with other miserable jail mates. Sometimes they become aggressive towards you due to their own frustrations of being so tightly confined. Each day, you have the opportunity to leave your cell, but if you do, you have to work under the strict pressure of your prison guards.

As you work, you are watched by hundreds of spectators. You are provided food as a reward for positive behavior, but if you behave against the guards’ wishes, you could possibly suffer the consequences of missing a meal. Your survival depends on care given by your prison guards. You don’t speak the same language as these guards, so you can’t tell them you don’t belong there.

What did you do to deserve such a life? Oh, nothing. You were born without freedom because you provide public entertainment. And you must like it because millions of dollars are spent on your “world-class” standards of care, you are given psychoactive drugs, and the thought of you ever being liberated is absolutely absurd…

Sound familiar? If so, you’re probably thinking of the lives of captive dolphins and whales. Though parks such as the famous SeaWorld try to convince the public that their cetaceans are content with their “spacious aquariums, restaurant-quality fish, exercise, quality veterinary care, and enrichment,” ultimately, profit is priority. Don’t believe this? Here are some signs cetaceans were born to be wild.

1. Collapsed Dorsal Fins

Why does the orca doing the silly trick have a floppy fin? That certainly doesn’t appear to be natural. If you’ve ever seen videos or images of majestic wild orcas, you’ll notice their dorsal fins are vertically stable. According to a member of SeaWorld’s education department, orcas have collapsed dorsal fins due to genetics, gravity, and injury from play … not captivity.

Hmm … Does that make you wonder why the majority of captive killer whales have these collapsed dorsal fins, while only one percent of wild orcas have been observed with this condition?


2. Aggression Amongst Tank “Pod” Members

Can you blame these amazingly intelligent and emotional beings for being frustrated with their confinement? In captivity, cetaceans have nowhere to escape conflict and thus, suffer from each other’s stress. Imagine being locked in a room with a spouse when you’re having an argument … rough.

Many dolphins, such as the orca in the image below, have injuries caused by tank mates. This rarely occurs in their wild environment. Although orcas are natural carnivores and eat other animals in their wild environment to survive, these animals only become “killer” whales in captivity.


3. Abnormal Repetitive Behaviors

We can all get a little crazy when we’re bored from time to time. But can you imagine being bored and stressed every day of your life?! With dolphins and orcas having brains quite a bit larger than humans in terms of weight and volume, it’s no wonder captive cetaceans display zoochotic (psychotic) behaviors, similar to symptoms of prison neurosis. Some stereotypic behaviors include swimming in circles repetitively, establishing pecking orders, and lying motionless at the surface or on the aquarium floor for relatively long periods of time.


4. Broken Teeth Due to Extreme Boredom

When you live in a concrete bathtub, what else is there to do besides bite down on bars separating you from other cetaceans? Unfortunately, this neurotic behavior results in serious dental issues. Captive cetaceans’ teeth are often chipped, broken, or have to have the pulp drilled out of the center of their teeth (Ouch!).


5. Self-Mutilation

Dolphins have been known to slam themselves against the sides of their tanks concrete walls. Sadly, marine parks don’t offer emotional counseling services for their “much-loved” captive dolphins.


6. Vomiting

According to former SeaWorld killer whale trainer John Hargrove, “Nearly every single killer whale regurgitated their food after we ended our interaction.”

Cetacean researchers believe that captive environments could be resulting in reduction of these animals’ brain size. Through lack of mental stimulation, the areas of the brain responsible for communication can atrophy. Cetaceans are degraded to playing with their own vomit.

Screen Shot 2014-09-25 at 7

7. Suicide Attempts

From intentionally flinging themselves out of their tanks to swallowing inedible stones, many dolphins and orcas have decided a life in a tank is a life not worth living. There have been many records of captive cetacean suicide attempts. If this isn’t an absolutely determinate sign these animals don’t belong in confined spaces, what is?


8. Reliance on Medication

Aren’t pharmaceuticals used to treat patients for physical or mental ailments? Drugs are apparently also used to calm mentally distressed captive cetaceans. SeaWorld has admitted to medicating their orcas with psychoactive drugs (similar to valium). Of course, mental illness of these animals that caused them to swim in circles all day, play with their own vomit, or commit suicide couldn’t possibly be related to the fact they live in a tank…


9. Unusual Illnesses

Captive dolphins and orcas are kept in unusual environments, so is it a surprise they tend to suffer from unusual ailments? For example, unlike wild cetaceans, captive cetaceans spend a lot of time exposed out of water (remember, dolphins and whales often float motionlessly at the surface when they are bored).

Trainers at SeaWorld in Orlando have witnessed swarms of mosquitoes settle on the backs of killer whales. Kanduke, a large male orca passed away unexpectedly at SeaWorld as a result of a pathogen transmitted by mosquitoes. Dolphins in the Mirage Hotel in Las Vegas have suffered from a contagious disease called the pox, caused by stress and poor general health according to the National Institute of Health.


10. Accelerated Deaths

Depression, aggression, poor dental health, self-mutilation, vomiting, suicide attempts, drugs, illnesses – don’t these all seem like signs ultimately leading to death? According to a research study conducted in 1995 by Robert Small and Douglas Demaster, the annual mortality rate for captive dolphins was two and a half times higher than that of wild cetaceans. Sadly, not much has changed since then for the benefit of captive cetaceans. While wild killer whales have been known to live as long as 80 to 90 years, only two female orcas in captivity have passed the age of 40, and no males have lived longer than 35.


What Can You Do to End this Cruelty?

Are you now convinced cetaceans do not belong in tanks? Not yet? Read about what cetaceans might say about their life in captivity

Help free our friends with fins by:

  • Taking a Pledge to not purchase tickets from marine parks and sharing this message with family, friends, and colleagues.
  • Signing petitions for cetaceans’ freedom and the end of breeding programs.
  • Watching the documentary Blackfish (if you haven’t already) tolearn more and investigating SeaWorld’s “Truth Team.”
  • Spreading the word through social media (and sharing OGP posts).


Lead image source: Swimming Free

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130 comments on “10 Signs Whales and Dolphins Do NOT Belong in Tanks”

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john pasqua
1 Years Ago


31 May 2017

HEAR HEAR! People should be more aware about the impact that this is having on the animals life!

Bonnie Dugan
1 Years Ago

SeaWorld should be closed as they are unkind to orcas that should be in the wild. Sick of companies just wanting MONEY!

Warren Brubacher
1 Years Ago

This is a vitally important article. We in Canada must keep working to release Kiska from Marineland, Niagra Falls ,Canada.
The last remaining Orca in Canada to be held in prison. There is no longer an excuse for this. Please everyone,contact Canadian senators to support and pass bill S 203 (ending captivity of cetaceans in Canada)[email protected]@sen.parl.gc.ca

1 Years Ago

While I admit that places like Seaworld are not prefect and have a lot of changes to make this blog is a bunch of bull and not worth the cyberspace it is written on.

Kate-Lyn Jones
1 Years Ago

I have a theory on how depth and water pressure affect orcas health. The basis on it is that the larger the animal is than the slower the animals heart is and longer it lives for. Stress, which is now scientifically proven to destroy brain neurons if subjected to it for months, can also increase both breath and heart rates and rise blood pressure.
Tilikum was noted for flouting listlessly on the surface of the water, while the Orca Granny was free to dive to over 100ft or so. In the article "Porpoises plan their dives and can set their heart rate to match" on the New Scientist it shows that porpoises, and possibly all cetaceans, can manually optimise their heart rate for the length of the dive. The longer they intend to stay down their the longer their heart rate will be. Wild orcas like Granny can hold their breath for up to 20 minutes. Keiko, when he was first brought to his new tank away from Mexico, couldn\'t hold his breath for 2 minutes, and I think that it may have been the same for Tilikum, if not all orcas in captivity! So if captive whales can’t dive and hold their breath for long periods of time then their heart rate will be much more higher then that of wild Orcas. I’d also expect the inability to dive and constantly swim to heavily effect their blood pressure and fitness.
SeaWorld themselves say on their website the an Orcas heart rate is 60 bpm (beats per minute) while on the surface and 30 bpm while diving. Well it looks to me like captive Orcas are spending more time on the surface on the water then their wild counterparts, and as a result are dying because of it! Also a humans heart rate is 60 - 100 bpm, with well trained athletes having 40 bpm. So you\'d think that if captive Orcas are larger than humans and have become unimaginably stressed, then they should have a much faster heart rate then what SeaWorld is claiming it is.

Paul Cooper
1 Years Ago

Those marine parks must be held accountable for there actions and be shut down forever otherwise give them a heavy fine that will close them down and set all of those marine mammals free.

3 Years Ago

Isn\'t #1 just an instance of Darwin\'s Domestication Syndrome? Almost every animal in captivity does this.

Should we also take this as evidence that dogs, cattle, rabbits, sheep, donkeys, and goats should never have been domesticated, either?

There was an article in "Genetics" just this year which suggests that floppy ears is actually genetic, and caused by (accidental) selection of animals with defective neural crest cells.

3 Years Ago

Surprised this wasn\'t mentioned:
They are highly intelligent beings and should be left alone. If you agree (read the research) sign and help raise awareness!

Bonnie Dugan
3 Years Ago

I know "Black Fish" has had a big impact on the industry, Sea World. Stock is way down( Peta owns several shares so can attend meetings & help make decisions) This is so sad. hopefully, these places will all be closed shortly. If people stop attending the shows, it will all be over.

Rockin Roll
3 Years Ago

And yet Disney makes movies promoting these parks. They just put a little spin in it to make you feel better about it, boycott Disney as well.

Jenna Bardroff
23 Dec 2014

So often it is various forms of media that perpetuates violence, cruelty, and injustice in our culture. Imagine how the world could change if only media profited from presenting ethical consideration for humans, other animals, and nature.

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