ACTS OF REBELLION: Operation Orca
The cries of his mother fade away as a child is driven from his home into protective custody. He’s taken far away, confined to a small room where the air is stale and the food even staler. No one speaks his language, the only recognizable words are in the cries for his family as they echo back at him from the concrete walls.
As months go by he is taught that if he doesn’t obey the rules he doesn’t get fed, while the food is awful, starvation is worse. He is bullied by the older ones because if any of them ‘misbehave’ they all get punished. The worst punishment is being locked isolated behind bars, as if the small room wasn’t confining enough. He was taught from early on he had to lie very still while the custodians poked and prodded him, gave him medicine or took things from him. He had to lie still while they sexually abused him as they got him to ejaculate.
Months turn into years, he gets moved from place to place. The faces of his custodians and his room-mates change, but the food, the rules and the punishments stay the same. For the females it’s worse, they’re enforceably impregnated as soon as they’re able, sometimes with relatives. Their babies are often still-born or die young. The ones that survive are nearly always removed from their mothers side within a couple of years, some within a matter of hours. You see some females have no experience of family or motherhood, they can’t relate to that thing that came out of their body, that artificially inseminated thing placed there months before by a stranger.
This abuse is horrific, it is what we do to Orcas, this is how we treated Tilikum and Kshamenk and all the others, either captured wild or captive bred. We take a highly intelligent and highly social species and place them in a prison, we serve them prison food, we claim to conduct scientific research, and we pay to gawp at them as they jump in the air, smile and wave for us. We buy t-shirts to remind us of the experience, plushies to cuddle and comfort us at night. We pretend it’s a safer existence away from the dangers of the wild, where we give them free food, a safe, nurturing and stimulating environment.
As yet no Orca in captivity has ever died of old age.
According to the non-profit whales.org; to date at least 53 Orcas are held in captivity, 24 Orcas have been taken from the wild, and 29 were born in captivity. It’s generally considered in the wild, the Orca lifespan is similar to our own. Depending on species, the average life expectancy for males is 40 – 70 years, for females 50 – 90 years. In captivity the life expectency is almost halved. Females are reproductive between the ages of approximately 15 – 40 and are known to live 30 – 40 years after menopause.
Watch a pod of Orcas swim through the oceans in the wild then watch a solitary Orca floating listlessly in circles around an algae stained tank, now ask yourself is it that a safe, nurturing and stimulating place to be?
We all saw that ‘safe nurturing environment’ footage at Miami Seaquarium, where Lolita finally died of suspected renal failure in August 2023, and the Seaquarium is suing the person who filmed that footage. Incidently, Lolita’s mother still swims free in the Pacific Northwest ocean that Lolita was stolen from 53 years ago.
One of the most visible effects of captivity, especially with male Orca’s, is the dorsal fin collapse. Every adult male in captivity has partial or complete dorsal fin collapse along with some females. In the wild dorsal fin collapse is very rare in females and in males it’s usually a sign of emaciation; injury for example from fishing lines or bullets, or contamination from pollutants. The wild Orcas often die soon after being observed with dorsal fin collapse.
For scientific research and ‘diversifying’ the Orca gene pool (in reality baby making for profit), artificial insemination or forced confinement is used to induce conception. Breeding across different ecotypes and inbreeding within families (neither of which would occur in the wild), both have been carried out by SeaWorld. Katina was bred with her son Taku to produce Nalani, and at Loro Parque Keto was bred with his niece Kohana twice to produce Adan and Victoria. Victoria died aged 2 of intestinal issues, while her mother (also captive bred) died aged 20 of cardiac malformation.
We see SeaWorld captive bred Kamea, half Argentinian Transient / half Icelandic, and SeaWorld captive bred Malia, three-quarters Icelandic / a quarter Bigg’s Transient. From a purely geographical stance, neither of these would be possible in the wild. In the wild Orcas stay together in family pods, the Bigg’s Orcas have some offspring that will stay with their mothers for life. By contrast SeaWorld typically remove calves from their mothers, while some calves have been rejected by their mothers, some have bonded and in the case of Keet – he was removed from his mother Kalina while still nursing from her.
To maintain the survival of captive orcas and their compliance during certain procedures, a variety of drugs are used, from extensive use of antibiotics to treat persistent and multiple infections (even though prolonged use damages internal organs), to the use of valium to dope an Orca for transportation or while a calf is being taken away from it’s mother.
In March of 2016 SeaWorld announced an end to captive breeding in it’s facilities, welcome news although sadly not in time for Kyara, who was born into captivity at SeaWorld San Antonio in April 2017 (the average gestation period for an Orca is 17 months). Kyara lived only 3 short months, dying of a pneumonia infection in July. Other marine parks have yet to announce similar changes. Loro Parque in Tenerife saw captive bred Ula, born in September 2018. Ula lived just under 3 years, dying in August 2021 from septicemia and intestinal torsion.
Since the 1970’s there have been at least 50 attacks by Orcas in captivity towards their trainers, or as the parks call them “aggressions”. So far 4 “aggressions” have resulted in human fatalities, 3 trainers and 1 member of the public who snuck into the tank after the park was closed. Reading the press releases of these “aggressions” they’re portrayed as accidents or random acts of frustration as if by a petulant child. When you read autopsy reports and watch video footage and read eye witness testimony, a very different viewpoint emerges. Orcas are highly intelligent and emotionally complex apex predators, they are fully capable of making calculated decisions from beginning to end. After decades of abuse, Tilikum was cold, calculating and psychotic. He was involved in 1 human fatality and solely responsible for 2 more during his life in captivity. As of this writing, in the wild there are numerous reports of interactions where people could have been mistaken for seals or when Orcas have been attacked, there has been no verifiable human fatality from an Orca, and only one Californian surfer is documented as being bitten by an Orca .
There are of course, the famous yacht incidents off the coasts of Spain and Portugal and there are various theories ranging from Orcas being playful to a calculated immobilization of the yachts. Orcas rapidly became the social justice heroes to a global population angry at corruption, oppression, abuses of power and wealth. Numerous memes with a variety of hashtags including; #EatThe Rich and #TeamOrca, flood social media platforms everywhere.
Looking back over the last 50+ years of Orca exploitation in marine parks around the world, we can see can see the Orcas have been rebelling against their captivity all this time. If we look at the reflection in the glass of their tanks, that reflection is us having been complicit in the brutalization and subjugation of a species as complex socially and emotionally as ourselves. Now if we focus beyond the glass into the water, we see that we are just the same as the Orca, brutalized and subjugated for profit.
We have a kinship in acts of rebellion, we are Team Orca.
We ask for your help in spreading knowledge and awareness of Orcas both captive and in the wild, be their voice.
Demand an immediate end in captive breeding and exploitive performances for public entertainment globally.
Insist marine parks actively work towards emptying the tanks and moving Orcas to ocean enclosures, where they can either be rehabilitated for release into the wild or live out their remaining lives in as natural environment as possible.
Ensure governmental departments and local authorities facilitate this with any required permits and permissions.
The adoption of protocols globally concerning the rescue and rehabilitation of sick or injured Orcas, that ensure exploitation will no longer be permitted, and that Orcas will either be released back into the wild or be housed in ocean enclosures if release is not possible.
In helping the Orcas we are helping ourselves, rebelling against exploitive and oppressive practices, and recognizing we are all part of an ecosystem that is in crisis. Together we can end the abuse and reclaim our world.