Last week, I discussed the way that orcas live and interact with each other in the wild. I described the nature of their pods- the orcas follow the lead of their mother, and usually one female orca leads the entire pod; the specific pods have their own “language”; and how emotionally capable these creatures are. This week, I am going to discuss how immensely the change from the wild to captivity effects orcas. I also discussed how the vast ocean offers hundreds of miles for the orcas to swim at their own free will.
Think about it as if it were you- you have been living at home with your family, have your friends, know your community and neighborhood, and suddenly you are taken from that and thrown into a tiny room with new people from a new community and neighborhood, who don’t speak your language, and are as confused and frustrated as you are.
When the orcas are put into this new situation, their space to live and swim has been greatly changed for the worse. They no longer have the freedom to swim hundreds of miles a day. If orcas in the wild have a “disagreement”, they are able to swim away to “cool off”. In captivity, when the orcas get into an altercation, there is no where for them to go. They are forced to stay in the same small pool with the same orcas they may have disagreements with. This causes aggression, or “raking”. Raking is when orcas use their teeth to scratch and bite other orcas as a result of frustration or anger. Remember- orcas have emotions just like we do.
The raking can cause extreme permanent injury to the orcas, and there are some cases of orcas dying due to bleeding out as a result of a particularly serious incident.
The orcas who are taken out of their own environment in the wild are confused, sad, mad, and frustrated. They do not know what to do. They are thrown into a small area with new orcas and are expected to get along with them and then they are expected to learn how to do tricks and entertain people. If they do not do something correctly, they are punished which can cause horrible results, which I will go into next week.
Being separated from their mothers is perhaps the worst part of the entire situation. They feel lost; they do not know who to follow the lead of anymore. When they get upset about this, they do not have the freedom to swim around or be alone. They are in a small area with orcas who may have been there before them. The orcas who have been there before may show signs of territorial aggression. They are also upset by this, because now there is a new orca in “their” environment. The capture of an orca is not only upsetting to the captured orca, but it is upsetting to the orcas who have been in captivity before them and they attempt to mark their territory- hence the “raking”.
Next week I will explain how the punishments during training can cause severely awful results to human trainers and to the whales. Stay tuned!