On Tuesday, a 12-year-old orca named Sumar died of unexplained causes after becoming suddenly ill at SeaWorld in San Diego.
On Monday, Sumar appeared to be lethargic and was given antibiotics, but his condition did not improve and he died the following day, according to the LA Times.
There’s nothing very unexpected about Sumar’s death. Orca’s have been captured from the wild since 1961, with many dying either in the process or in captivity. Marine parks who profit from making them swim in endless circles and perform ridiculous tricks all day to entertain audiences conceal the problems this has caused this magnificent creature, while the list of incidents between captive orcas and humans also continues to grow.
Most die in captivity before they reach 20, while their wild counterparts can live to be 80 or older, although SeaWorld’s educational material tells people that their life spans average only 25-35 years.
Orcas are inherently social in their own pods, diving, hunting, raising young and breathing together. They stay together for life passing along their unique dialects through generations. What we’ve learned of their natural life in the ocean contrasts vividly with being separated from their families to live in a stark tank and perform dull routines amid machine, music and human noise excruciating to their sensitive auditory systems. Deprived of the ability to live in the splendor of their of song, hunting, socialization and freedom, we too are deprived of learning to appreciate the balance they bring to the ocean.
Jean-Michel Cousteau likens life in captivity for an orca to putting a blindfold on a person and throwing them in a jail cell. Is it any wonder they refuse to accept it?
In 2001, Dying to Entertain You, a report from the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society (WDCS), revealed statistics about the exploitation of orcas for entertainment. Findings highlight abnormal behavior, captive breeding disasters, depression, aggression, effects of stress and death from diseases they would never contract in the wild, making a rather compelling case against keeping cetaceans in captivity.
Among their recommendations, WDCS called for no more orcas to be taken from their families in the wild for public industries. No more orcas should be transported from park to park or country to country unless it benefits the whale. Captives should be returned to their site of capture unless their survival is questionable. They also state that breeding efforts have failed in captivity, deplete the gene pool and should be halted. And most of all, education about orcas should be changed to enlighten us about the true nature of their creation.
“It is irresponsible of those in the captivity industry to compare orcas and dolphins to playful happy pets who do tricks for food when it serves to entertain an audience, and then compare them to wild predatory animals when they need an explanation for extreme and abberrant behavior. From dolphin collisions to orca attacks, the question is not whether but when the next tragedy for marine mammals in captivity will occur,” said Louie Psihoyos Executive Director of the Oceanic Preservation Society and Director of The Cove.
Some argue that places like SeaWorld are a great way to get people involved and interested in wildlife and conservation efforts, but do they really do anything but teach everyone that animals are here for whatever we want to use them for, regardless of the effects on their health, safety and overall well-being? Are conservation and education just euphemisms that these self-regulated theme-park style for-profit businesses are using for exploitation?