It is time to end the orca captive breeding programs at SeaWorld Parks. This program has resulted in multiple stillbirths, miscarriages, inbreeding and maternal deaths during childbirth since its start in 1985.
SeaWorld has recently announced plans to expand overseas and plans to increase captive breeding to fill these parks and their upcoming Blue World Project.
SeaWorld seems to be going backwards in these changing times as other parks have stepped up and done the right thing. Vancouver Aquarium has recently announced the end of their captive breeding program. Baltimore’s National Aquarium has already stopped their dolphin shows and is now considering closing their dolphin exhibit all together.
SeaWorld’s breeding program has produced nothing less than disturbing results.
One of the saddest stories is that of Gudrun, who died four days after giving birth. When Gudrun went in to labor in February 1996, a pulse could not be found on the unborn calf who was presumed dead. Since she was not delivering the calf, they needed to pull it from her.
David Kirby writes in Death at SeaWorld:
The pain must have been unearthly. Gudrun began to hemorrhage severely. Her dorsal fin collapsed, probably due to dehydration. She refused to eat and ignored all attempts by people to make contact with her. She remained motionless in one spot, unprotected by shade, so staff lovingly lavished her back with zinc oxide. After the bleeding stopped, Gudrun stayed that way for four days as her worried caretakers did all they could to nurse her back to health.
On the fourth day, Gudrun finally moved. She slowly swam over to the gate where her disabled young calf, Nyar, was watching. Nyar had had to be separated from Gudrun after the mother began attacking her daughter. Now Gudrun gently nudged Nyar’s rostrum through the bars, as if to ask for an overdue rapprochement. Gudrun died a few hours later.
Many times, mothers reject their calves either due to having them at a young age, spaced too close together, or not having the experience necessary to care for them properly.
In “Keto and Tilikum Express the Stress of Orca Captivity” by Drs. John Jett and Jeff Ventre, they state:
At SWF (SeaWorld Florida), Taima was a notoriously poor mother as well. She died from a prolapsed uterus while giving birth to her fourth calf on 6 June 2010, at the age of 20. Keep in mind that killer whale gestation is approximately 18 months in duration, and to reiterate, wild Northern Resident calves are “born at five-year intervals.”
Gudrun rejected her first calf, Nyar, who was born with a birth defect. Kayla also rejected her calf, Halyn. Halyn was bottle-fed every two hours around the clock by staff. Taima rejected Sumar as well.
With increased awareness of these incredible animals, the main thing we have learned is that they do not cope well in captivity. Increased tank size is still a tank. Animals will still be moved between parks, and perhaps continents, in order to best suit SeaWorld’s failing business plan.
The only way to end captivity is to end the breeding program.