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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 orcas. "Yaka", Vigga?s pool mate, died in 1997 from a respiratory infection, leaving her alone. Given our knowledge about these supremely social animals, the situation following Yaka?s death must have been unbearable for Vigga. Bjossa is 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 death of her mate "Hugo" in 1980. WDCS? "Captive Orcas: Dying to Entertain You" campaign documents the capture of at least 134 orcas from the wild since 1961. 106 of these orcas are now dead, 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 marine parks in five countries. Captivity severely compromises an orca?s quality of life. Knowledge gained from 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 29.2 years. Maximum longevity is 80 to 90 years for females, 50 to 60 years for males. Orcas live in large, closely-knit, highly complex social groups typically 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 range of maybe 800 - 1,500 km (500-900 miles). They forage for live prey and socialise, rest and play as a cohesive group. Free will and freedom of movement characterise their existence. They are supremely adapted over centuries to cope with the rigours of life in the wild. In Captivity: From the moment an orca is taken into captivity, this free will and freedom 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 compared to their natural ocean habitat. Artificially salinated and chlorinated water usually replace natural seawater. Captives must learn to accept dead fish. Blood-bonds are replaced by forced associations, with orcas from different 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 and 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 since 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 order. Unaware of their plight, millions of people flock each year to watch the orca show, seduced by the extravagant promises of the display industry. Glossy brochures herald a spectacle - billed "The Wettest Show on Earth!" which will 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 rock songs, are presented as "natural behaviour". Entranced, many of the spectators 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 holding pools or the drooping dorsal fins of the males. The reality of existence for the captives has become painfully obvious: cramped, 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 unlikely to offer any real educational benefit. In 1992, WDCS commissioned a report entitled "The Performing Orca". Researched and written by Erich Hoyt, the report provided an in-depth summary of the issues surrounding the captive orca industry. In the years following its publication, no fewer than fourteen adult orcas have died, twelve calves have died aged four years or under, and there have been at least six known stillbirths/miscarriages - 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, natural toxins [and] natural disasters such as freezing, pollution, [and] variations in the availability of food.' In fact, necropsy reports reveal that captives are not spared from parasites or natural toxins and commonly report infestation by such parasites as nematode, 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 marine mammal veterinarians, Andrew Greenwood and David Taylor, drew attention to the 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 the following common causes: pneumonia (bacterial infection of the lung) 25%; systemic mycosis (fungal disease affecting the whole body) 22%; other bacterial infections 15.6%; mediastinal abscess (bacterial infection of the chest cavity) 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 of systemic mycosis ... is unusual and alarming [and is] uncommon in open air, natural sea water systems, [if] killer whales [were] kept under these conditions [they] may be considered less at risk.' Whilst such infections are not exclusive to captives, it may be inferred that they are aggravated, if not caused by, the 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 broncho-pneumonia Benkei II died in 1983 at Shirahama Adventure World, Japan, of malignant lymphoma Nemo died in 1986 at Windsor Safari Park in Britain, of thrombocytosis (a 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 perforated 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 lesions. 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 aged 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, in a written statement to the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service, claimed that 'more than two-thirds of the deaths we've experienced were due to old age, and 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 statement blaming deaths upon illnesses or injuries sustained prior to arrival at Sea World, rather casts doubts upon Sea World's much-vaunted policy of preventive medicine and also upon the wisdom of importing less than healthy animals! Further reading: "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 telephone number: + 44 1225 334 511 or E-mail: info@wdcs.org