This is where SeaWorld's campaign not only fails, but backfires utterly. Rather than persuading its core audience -- average Americans, people who appreciate science and reason and nature, people inclined to support a conservation ethic and the humane treatment of animals -- that what it is doing is the right thing, it spend all of its energy trying to make its critics out to be bad people. And after awhile, that kind of campaign just become a kind of mirror: Everyone outside of the company can see that they are projecting.
Certainly, the facts are not on their side. The reality is that the scientific evidence overwhelmingly demonstrates that orcas are not animals that are fit for captivity, and ethically speaking, continuing the practice has to be considered inhumane. Scientist Naomi Rose -- yes, she's also one of those experts they choose to dismiss as an "activist" -- has compiled a white paper that lays out the case.
In 1995, Small and DeMaster published a peer-reviewed paper on the survivorship rates of several captive marine mammal species.This paper showed that, through the end of 1992 (the last year for which a complete set of annual data was available) orcas had significantly lower annual survival rates in captivity than in the wild. Their annual mortality rate (the inverse of survivorship) was more than two and a half times higher in captivity than in the wild. Thus to date the maximum lifespan of captive orcas has matched the mean life expectancy of wild orcas. As a corollary, very few captive orcas who have died achieved the mean life expectancy of wild orcas.
... The infant mortality rate in captivity ("infant" defined here as an animal six months of age or younger, including near- to full-term pregnancies where the calf does not survive birth [stillbirths]) is approximately 50%.
Of more than 130 wild-caught orcas held for public display, only 13 survive in oceanaria around the world. Nine of these are older than the vast majority of captive orcas who have died and, given that they represent less than 10% of the wild-caught animals, should be considered outside the norm in terms of captive longevity. The remaining 29 living captive orcas are captive-born and therefore younger than 25 (with the death of Kalina, the oldest living captive-born orca is now Orkid, aged 23 years). Indeed, 17 of the surviving captive-born orcas are younger than 11 years of age.
All captive male orcas have collapsed dorsal fins as adults, most completely folded over the back. Because of their visibility, these fins tend to draw attention and questions from the public. SeaWorld attempts to characterize the fully collapsed dorsal fins of its male orcas as a normal phenomenon; however, in the wild, only 1-5% of male orcas in some populations (and none in others) have fully collapsed dorsal fins.
Causes of Death
The most common causes of death in captive orcas, wild-caught or captive-born, are pneumonia, septicemia, and other types of infection. That many infections turn lethal in captive orcas highlights the fact that wildlife often does not manifest clinical signs of illness until it is too late for treatment. This raises the logical question of whether veterinary care provides a significant advantage to captive wildlife. Clearly it helps some animals, but others die before treatment can be started or take effect.
The high rate of lethal infection may also be a function of poor dental health. Captive orcas routinely show damaged dentition, primarily broken and worn teeth with the pulp exposed. This is in contrast to wild orcas: many show little or no tooth wear, while those who do tend to specialize in prey with abrasive morphology. Broken teeth in wild orcas are rare.
The only recorded fatal attack by one orca on another occurred in captivity. Incompatibility among captive orcas is frequent, with certain individuals bullied by others, resulting in lacerations and other wounds, and eventually needing separation from dominant individuals. In the wild, aggression has been only rarely observed; where it was, serious injuries did not result.
Human injuries and deaths
Throughout recorded history, there have been no reliable reports of wild orcas killing a human being. In contrast, four people have been killed by captive orcas. Three orcas drowned a part-time trainer in 199190. One of these three was involved in the death of a member of the public eight years later and this same whale killed his long-time trainer 11 years later. A fourth whale killed his trainer only nine weeks earlier.
There have been very few reports of serious injuries inflicted by wild orcas on humans; one surfer required stitches in his leg in 1972. The few other reported incidents were minor and resulted in little or no injury. In contrast, there have been dozens of significant incidents between people and captive orcas, including serious injuries requiring hospitalization, throughout the 47 years this species has been on public display.