Killer whales, or orcas, are members of the dolphin family. They are the largest animals ever held in confinement. Six facilities in the U.S. currently maintain orcas for public display; four Seaworld parks, (California, Ohio, Florida, and Texas), Miami Seaquarium in Florida and Marineworld Africa, USA in Vallejo, Ca.
These highly social animals experience great trauma when they are ripped from their families and put in the strange artificial world of a marine park. In the wild, orcas stay with their mothers for life. Family groups or "pods" consist of a mother, her adult sons, and daughters, and the offspring of her daughters. Dolphins swim together in family pods of three to ten individuals or tribes of hundreds. Capturing even one wild orca or dolphin disrupts the entire pod. Orcas and dolphins who survive this ordeal sometimes try to save their captured companions.
Orcas and dolphins may swim up to 100 miles a day in the wild. But, captured dolphins are confined in tanks as small as 24 feet wide by 6 feet deep. Wild orcas and dolphins ca swim under water for up to 30 minutes at a time and they typically spend only 10-20 percent of their time at the water's surface. But because the tanks in marine parks are so shallow, captive orcas and dolphins spend more than half of their time at the water's surface.
Chlorine and other harsh chemicals in the tanks irritate the eyes of dolphins, causing them to swim with their eyes closed. These chemicals have caused some dolphins to go blind.
Dolphins navigate by echolocation. They bounce sonar waves off other objects to determine shape, density, distance and location. In tanks, the reverberations from the own sonar bouncing off walls drives some dolphins insane.
Captured dolphins and orcas are also forced to learn tricks. Former trainers say that withholding food and isolating animals who refuse to perform are two common training methods. According to Ric O'Bay, "Positive reinforcement" training is a euphemism for food deprivation. Former dolphin trainer Doug Cartlidge maintains that highly social dolphins are punished by being isolated from other animals. The stress is so great that some commit suicide.
Jean-Michel Cousteau says that, "Aquariums, particularly marine mammal circus acts, are bound to disappear as the public is educated and revolts against it."
Two other marine mammal species that are threatened in large numbers are the Canadian harp seal and the hooded seal. Seals are members of the Pinneped family of mammals. Harp seals suffer the largest slaughter annually of any marine mammal species. Expanding and unregulated trade in seal products is causing this threat. In 2003, the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans set the highest kill quota ever-350,000 seal pups to be killed this year. The seal hunts are cruel and inhumane. The pups are bludgeoned to death in front of their mothers. 42% of the seals are skinned while still alive.
Illegal fishing (including whaling, seal killing, turtle hunting, and shark finning have escalated in recent years. Our worldwide take has reached 95 million tons of marine life ever year according to a United Nations study. It doesn't even include the 60 or so million tons of "by-catch" our industrial fleets throw overboard every year, hundreds of millions of juveniles, sea turtles, and cetaceans swept up by trawlers in " unintended stock depletion" and disposed of like refuse. Mankind's total stock depletion during the modern era is between 1.5 and 2.5 million great whales. No one knows how many of these majestic and intelligent animals are left.
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