WDCS Press Release:
Dying to Entertain You: Orca dies at Marine World, California
A captive orca named "Vigga" has died at Six Flags, Marine World in
Vallejo, California, aged around 23 years. According to park officials, Vigga died of a heart condition and lung infection that caused a build-up of fluid around her heart. Vigga, an adult female, was captured from Iceland in November 1980 aged only two to three years. In March 1981, she was brought to Marine World from the Vancouver Aquarium in Canada where "Bjossa", another female orca, thought to be Vigga's sister, is still held. Vancouver Aquarium plans to phase out its orca display and transfer Bjossa to Sea World San Diego in the United States, probably later this year. WDCS has been calling for her return to the ocean and had hoped that it might have been possible to release the two orcas together in their native Icelandic waters. These hopes have now been dashed by Vigga's death.
Since Vigga?s death on Monday night, Marine World now holds no captive
"Yaka", Vigga?s pool mate, died in 1997 from a respiratory infection,
her alone. Given our knowledge about these supremely social animals, the
situation following Yaka?s death must have been unbearable for Vigga. Bjossa
also solitary at the Vancouver Aquarium, following the death of pool mate
"Finna" in October 1997; as is "Lolita", a female orca held at the Miami
Seaquarium in the smallest orca tank in the United States, alone since the
of her mate "Hugo" in 1980.
WDCS? "Captive Orcas: Dying to Entertain You" campaign documents the capture
at least 134 orcas from the wild since 1961. 106 of these orcas are now
with an average length of survival in captivity of less than six years.
Following Vigga?s death, there are now 48 orcas held in captivity in 13
parks in five countries.
Captivity severely compromises an orca?s quality of life. Knowledge gained
studies of wild orcas has only served to demonstrate to us how unsuitable
confinement in a concrete tank is for these animals.
Notes for editors:
In the Wild...
· In the wild, life expectancy for female orcas is 50.2 years, for males
years. Maximum longevity is 80 to 90 years for females, 50 to 60 years for
· Orcas live in large, closely-knit, highly complex social groups
numbering 5 - 25 members.
· Members are related by blood and remain together for life.
· The pod may travel as many as 160 km (100 miles) in a day, in a home
of maybe 800 - 1,500 km (500-900 miles).
· They forage for live prey and socialise, rest and play as a cohesive
· Free will and freedom of movement characterise their existence.
· They are supremely adapted over centuries to cope with the rigours of
in the wild.
· From the moment an orca is taken into captivity, this free will and
of movement is virtually obliterated. From this moment onwards, humans will
mastermind the captive orca?s life.
· Home is a bare and largely featureless concrete tank, minuscule
their natural ocean habitat.
· Artificially salinated and chlorinated water usually replace natural
· Captives must learn to accept dead fish.
· Blood-bonds are replaced by forced associations, with orcas from
pods and different oceans being routinely mixed and matched.
· Calves are routinely moved from their mother at a very tender age.
· In 2000, at least three facilities keep a solitary orca, and Keiko is
solitary in Iceland until his hoped for release to rejoin a wild orca pod.
· Natural daily routines and social interactions are replaced by forced
highly artificial show routines.
· Above all, the orca's quality of life is severely compromised.
Killer whales, more properly known as orcas, have been kept in captivity
1961, helpless victims of a blatantly commercial experiment which has seen
dozens of wild orcas plucked from their families and forced to live in
artificial social groupings which bear scant resemblance to their natural
Unaware of their plight, millions of people flock each year to watch the
show, seduced by the extravagant promises of the display industry. Glossy
brochures herald a spectacle - billed "The Wettest Show on Earth!" which
simultaneously entertain and educate the whole family.
Visitors are invited to enter a fantasy land, where orcas weighing several
tonnes circle, leap and tail-slap seemingly out of sheer high spirits.
Highly-choreographed show routines, performed to a background of tired old
songs, are presented as "natural behaviour". Entranced, many of the
fail to register the bare concrete walls of the tank. At show's end, as they
file out, few people notice the endless circling of the captives in the
pools or the drooping dorsal fins of the males.
The reality of existence for the captives has become painfully obvious:
chlorinated tanks, often inhabited by frustrated and unhealthy whales,
performing circus tricks which bear little resemblance to their natural
behaviour. Many people now feel that witnessing such impoverishment is
to offer any real educational benefit.
In 1992, WDCS commissioned a report entitled "The Performing Orca".
and written by Erich Hoyt, the report provided an in-depth summary of the
surrounding the captive orca industry. In the years following its
no fewer than fourteen adult orcas have died, twelve calves have died aged
years or under, and there have been at least six known
- giving the lie to the display industry's contention that captives are
surviving longer. In fact, the most respected scientific research to date
suggests that captivity is highly correlated with a dramatically reduced
lifespan in the case of orcas.
Causes of death:
In 1991, SeaWorld veterinarian, Jim McBain stated that 'marine mammals in
controlled environments are spared many of the problems affecting their
counterparts in the wild, including such things as parasites, predators,
toxins [and] natural disasters such as freezing, pollution, [and] variations
the availability of food.'
In fact, necropsy reports reveal that captives are not spared from parasites
natural toxins and commonly report infestation by such parasites as
trematode and tapeworm.
Furthermore, the captive situation appears to increase the incidence of some
infections rarely encountered in wild populations. In 1985, a paper by
mammal veterinarians, Andrew Greenwood and David Taylor, drew attention to
high incidence of death due to bacterial infections. They studied causes of
death for 32 orcas from marine parks in North America and Europe and listed
following common causes: pneumonia (bacterial infection of the lung) 25%;
systemic mycosis (fungal disease affecting the whole body) 22%; other
infections 15.6%; mediastinal abscess (bacterial infection of the chest
9.4.% and other/unknown (28%).
Hence, 50% of the orcas died of bacterial infections, particularly upper
respiratory infections. Greenwood and Taylor noted that 'the high incidence
systemic mycosis ... is unusual and alarming [and is] uncommon in open air,
natural sea water systems, [if] killer whales [were] kept under these
[they] may be considered less at risk.' Whilst such infections are not
to captives, it may be inferred that they are aggravated, if not caused by,
highly artificial conditions of confinement.
A few examples from Marine Mammal Inventory Reports/Necropsy Reports:
· Kilroy died in 1978 at Sea World San Diego, of gangrenous pneumonia
· Nepo died in 1980 at Marine World Africa, USA, of acute
· Benkei II died in 1983 at Shirahama Adventure World, Japan, of
· Nemo died in 1986 at Windsor Safari Park in Britain, of thrombocytosis
serious blood disorder)
· Orky died in 1988 at Sea World San Diego, of acute broncho-pneumonia
· Prince died in 1991 at Hong Kong's Ocean Park, of pseudomonas (severe
bacterial infection associated with multiple abscesses and septicaemia)
· Hyak died in 1991 at Vancouver Aquarium. The necropsy revealed a
lung, severe damage and inflammation affecting both lungs. It also revealed
damage to the brain which in humans would be consistent with pre-Alzheimer's
· Hoi Wai died in 1997 at Hong Kong's Ocean Park of acute haemorrhagic
enteritis (severe blood loss).
One thing is fairly certain, with the possible exception of Orky (who died
30 years), no captive orcas have died of illnesses or conditions which might
remotely be attributed to 'old age'. Yet, in 1991, Sea World's Brad Andrews,
a written statement to the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service, claimed
'more than two-thirds of the deaths we've experienced were due to old age,
illnesses or injuries the animals sustained before coming to Sea World.' In
fact, only one orca listed on Sea World's Marine Mammal Inventory Report
indicates 'old age' as a cause of death, and Andrew's rather sweeping
blaming deaths upon illnesses or injuries sustained prior to arrival at Sea
World, rather casts doubts upon Sea World's much-vaunted policy of
medicine and also upon the wisdom of importing less than healthy animals!
"Captive Orcas ?Dying to Entertain You? The Full Story"(1999), A Report for
Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society (WDCS) by Vanessa William
For further information, please contact Cathy Williamson at WDCS on
number: + 44 1225 334 511 or E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org