The fight against allowing killer whales to live a life inside of a tank began long before the film Blackfish came out but since the infamous film, support against and research explaining the problems of placing orcas in captivity has grown significantly.
In a new study published in the Journal of Veterinary Behavior, a team of marine mammal researchers concluded that keeping orcas in artificial captive environments significantly increases their risk of illness and early death from chronic stress.
Orcas are large, deep-diving cetaceans that are known for wide-ranging behavior, intelligence, and social complexity while possessing one of the largest and most complex brains in the animal kingdom. Yet, they are the third most common species of marine mammal kept in aquariums and marine parks.
Currently, an estimated 63 orcas are held in captivity despite documented evidence of the inability to thrive in artificial circumstances. As well, there have been numerous examples of abnormal behaviors, infections, health conditions, and early death not otherwise seen in a natural setting.
What the researchers discovered is that due to the orcas inability to live how evolution has taught them to for millions of year, captivity causes severe chronic stress. To determine how chronic stress hormones impact their immune system and brain, researchers examined five factors: physical confinement, sensory disruption, social stress, lack of control, and boredom.
Due to orcas being such an aware and intelligent animal, their complex cognitive ability actually backfires and causes the animal more harm as they better understand that they are encaged in an artificial setting.
With the orcas inability to live a free-ranging life style in a tank, the researchers concluded that orcas are poor candidates for maintenance in captivity and suggest that a radical shift is required in their treatment in order to meet their complex needs.