Note that all statistics in this flyer are from 1997, but the message is timeless.

Since 1964, 56 orcas have been captured from Washington and British Columbia.

Orca photo

95% have died in captivity.

Killer whales may live up to 80 years in the wild.

135 Orcas have been taken captive. 98 (73%) are now dead.

Three orcas

These three orcas are dead. Worldwide, there are 54 orcas in captivity, two are kept alone. If together they will probably be from different families, even different oceans, and combined or transported as directed by the needs of the show or management. They may suffer from the stress of unstable social hierarchies, and have occasionally injured and even killed each other and their trainers with aggressive behavior not documented in wild groups. A British study concluded that the minimal depth of an orca tank should be approximately 10 metres, with a necessary volume of 20,000 m³ of water for up to five orcas. Every facility claims it is officially adequate, but none fully meets the requirements of this study.

Don't be held captive to any illusions.

J pod photo J pod, part of the "resident" clan of Puget Sound orcas, is an intensely social, matriarchial family with several generations that will stay together for life. They forage 20-50 miles a day in a home range of over 500 miles. Much of each individual's life history and personality is known from two and a half decades of intense study. Scientists need words like culture, dialect, and ceremony to describe the rich social and cognitive behaviors of these wild orcas.

Many captive orcas die unexpectedly, but necropsies find almost half die from bacterial infections. Twenty-two orcas have died in U.S. facilities in the past decade.

Ewok, J20, was born in 1981 and may live 80 years. In her clan, a female's mean life expectancy is 50.2 years, but five are now estimated to be over 60. Male mean life expectancy is 29.2 years, but they may live 50 years. After observing and practicing mothering skills, females in the wild usually have their first calf when 14 to 15 years old, although one orca was suspected of having her first calf when only eleven years old. All family members help care for the young and juveniles spend many years learning complex social and cultural behaviors. Ewok photo

"Any captive whale must be regarded as emotionally and sensorially deprived and bored. Captivity is abusive and lethal for orcas, and their life expectancies reflect this fact."
Ralph Munro, Washington Secretary of State

Corky photo Corky was taken from A5 pod, in December, 1969. Here breaching on command, she had a stillborn calf a month after the photo was taken. Of her 7 known pregnancies, no calf survived more than 46 days. Although the industry often uses a survivorship figure of 50% for captive births, only 17 of 47 (36%) known pregnancies have produced surviving offspring. Captive females have conceived at only six years old, significantly younger than the minimal age documented in the wild. Pregnant orca are routinely transported between facilities. Calves younger than two years have been removed from their mothers. Corky may be the oldest captive orca, but many consider her a candidate for release. A23 is believed to be Corky's mother, and is still alive in the wild. The industry has fought all attempts to release any orca, like Keiko (Free Willy), Lolita, and Ulysses. Why?

"There is about as much educational benefit to be gained in studying captivity as there would be studying mankind by only observing prisoners held in solitary confinement."
Jacques Cousteau

Junior languished in this warehouse for over four years without seeing daylight. He died in 1994. This privately owned Canadian facility has public shows, but few knew of Junior because inventory, health and mortality facts are not required to be publicly available. Many orcas captured in Iceland have been stored here to be resold, and it has expanded for captive breeding. Junior photo

"The benefits of oceanaria for human and cetacean are no longer sufficient to justify the adverse effects of captivity"
Australian Senate Select Committee Report

Orca photo

Twenty-three other cetacean species have been kept in captivity in the U.S. Captivity is always an experiment. Seventy-one percent of all known false killer whales captured for U.S. facilities are dead after an average of a few years in captivity, and most are selected from the infamous drive fisheries in Japan, just before the others are killed. Participating fishermen have said that these captive sales have helped the fishery continue. Only two of 80 pilot whales are still alive in U.S. facilities; the others averaged only 3.1 years of captive survival. Of 45 common dolphins only two are still alive; the rest survived an average of 1.7 captive years. Just one of 70 Amazon river dolphins held in the U.S. is alive, but none of the 96 spinner dolphins or ten harbour porpoises or nine Dall's porpoises have survived. Perhaps belugas do better; roughly half are now dead. Other species have been deliberately caught as exotic experiments, or were brought into captivity as a result of a stranding response collection.

  • Captivity is not real life - spot the illusion.
  • Captive facilities have a point of view - challenge it.
  • Captive display manipulates - how does it affect you?
  • Captivity is a business - understand its economic role and your power as a potential consumer.

Since 1964, 56 orcas have been captured from Washington and British Columbia clans alone, including one whole pod. Ninety-five percent have died, living an average of only 5.2 years once in captivity. Worldwide, about 135 orcas have been taken for captivity and unknown numbers died during the process. Scientists are only just beginning to understand the impact on wild populations when individuals are removed. The industry has ignored what it has left behind.

Ask yourself

from any experience that you have had with captive cetaceans:

  • Does this facility exist primarily to profit by entertaining the public with captive cetaceans?
  • Are they honest and up front about problems, or do they seem very defensive about any such questions?
  • How much of the educational message about the wild cetacean is current and scientifically accurate? Does it leave the impression that captivity is better than life in the wild?
  • How much "education" just promotes the facility, or the husbandry research to keep their "assets" alive?
  • What percentage of income is actually spent on research or public education?
  • Will any research actually benefit wild populations? If so, specifically how?
  • How much does this facility contribute, politically or financially, to natural habitat conservation?
  • How are they getting their paying public involved? What message is the public taking home?
  • Do I judge captivity by the best or the worst examples? Do I have a right to judge at all?
What do these "educational" moments tell us? That humans have a right to dominate all other lifeforms, and use them as we will? Do we have that right? Riding an orca
Touching an orca

Perhaps the major factor in survival is the individual's will to survive. Some die during capture, others survive for years in horrible situations. Humans cannot judge which ones will make it, but we MUST judge if captivity is justified at all.

Captivity vs.Trends

  • Over seventy established or proposed aquariums in North America are whale and dolphin-free facilities.
  • Capture and display of whales and dolphins is prohibited in South Carolina, USA, Victoria, Australia, and elsewhere.
  • Attendance may be declining at display facilities.
  • Better educational programs teach respect and care for wild cetaceans. And, as the public learn truths about the "real" cetacean, they often pity the captive one.
  • As TV, computers, and virtual reality become greater educational tools, such "justification" to keep captives on display fades further away.
  • Wild whale and dolphin watching tours are a worldwide growth industry, an educational and economic boom that involves us in the cetaceans' real environment.
  • The United Kingdom closed all its dolphinarium by the 1990s.
  • Since 1990, 19 marine and amusement parks in North America have closed or discontinued dolphin shows.


Every effort has been made to ensure that the information contained in this leaflet is accurate at the time of publication (July 1997). However, official records are dated and inconsistent, and the most negative facts are the hardest to find. The focus here may be on captive orcas, but the issue is whether or not it is right to keep any cetaceans captive, for purposes of exhibition, education, or research. The issue is grey, opinions are black and white, and facts are few. The problem lies in us, as humans; there would be no show if no one paid to see it. The solution lies in us as well: Learn what it truly is that we have captive, and with that awareness let it free.

This pamphlet will succeed if it causes you to consider the issue, seek your own answers, and establish your own opinion. Many people agree with the following statement. Modify or disagree as you like, but please send your opinion to the addresses below. If you are concerned with the issue it is time your voice is heard:

STATEMENT OF AFFIRMATION: "I believe that it is no longer justifiable for cetaceans to be captured or maintained in captivity for purposes of exhibition, education, or research. There exists a moral imperative for cetaceans in captivity to be maintained in optimal conditions for their physical and social well-being and for efforts to be made for their rehabilitation and release".

Your further comments: ______________________________________________________

Please send me information about: ___________________________________________

Name ________________________________________________________________________

Address _____________________________________________________________________


Zip/Post Code _______________________

Phone/Fax/E-mail ____________________________________________________________

Please respond to: Cetacean Society International, PO Box 953, Georgetown, CT 06829 USA

Phone: 203-770-8615, Fax: 860-561-0187, E-mail:, WWW:

Photos: "Junior", Cara Sands. All others, William Rossiter.

For further information see:

Back to CSI Home Page

URL for this page: