The questions they ask will be answered with a resounding 'NO' by the majority of billions of people that we share our planet with. In fact, to give any other answer would be deemed anti-humanitarian and cruel. Any such acts would be considered as a grave infringement against human rights and in some cases, where these acts are part of a systematic practice, they might even been regarded as a crime against humanity.
Okay, so that seems pretty straightforward - we are all in agreement. So what's the big deal? Well, the class are actually asking something else of us: but what if I was a whale, would it be okay then?
Therein lies the problem - we are not all in agreement. Some say 'NO' but others say 'YES'. And for some reason, expert advice, as well as peer-reviewed and published scientific evidence, is being ignored, pushed aside and misinterpreted.
Science has proven that free-ranging orca have long lifespans, not dissimilar to our own human lifespan - in captivity orca have a much shorter average longevity, more than halved. Science has proven that many free-ranging orca populations live in tight family units, travelling together their entire lives. Science has shown us that these different populations each have a unique culture and dialect - that they eat different prey-items and hunt, interact and socialise in unique ways. Science has revealed that these unique behaviours and vocalisations are transmitted from mother to offspring - orca learn by being taught (just like Year 5!). In a captive environment, orca are forced to live in artificial populations, sharing a confined space with individuals they would never mix with in the wild; they do not speak the same dialect, do not share the same culture, they do not eat the same food, they would never socialise or mate with each other in the wild and they do not always get along with each other. There have been a number of recorded occasions where captive orca have seriously harmed or even killed another individual within their artificial pod. In the wild, serious aggression between pod members has rarely been observed.
There are also physiological implications. As well as their large size, wild orca swim vast distances each day and dive to depths that captive facilities cannot cater for. The concrete tanks negatively interfere with echolocation, the primary sense in orca and vocal communication between captive individuals is often minimal, including amongst orca types that would usually vocalise frequently in the wild. Orca are capable of abstract thought and problem solving; they are intelligent, sentient beings. Experts conclude that in captivity, orca suffer from sensory deprivation.
Take a moment to explore the idea of keeping orca in captivity by watching this pertinent video from Mr. P and his Year 5 class:
The science (what we know about free-ranging orca contrasted with what we know about captive orca) provides evidence which strongly suggests orca are not suited to a life in captivity. But some disregard this knowledge and say yes, if you were a whale, it would be okay.
After learning about orca captivity from Mr. P, who recently watched the 'Blackfish' documentary, it is a simple, clear, logical answer for Year 5. The answer is a big, whale-sized resounding NO! Even if I were a whale, it would still not be okay to strip me of my dignity; make me perform tricks; feed me dead fish; force me to mix with individuals I don't get along with in a small space I can't escape from; it is not okay to leave me mentally unstimulated and bored; it is not alright to put harmful substances into my space; and it is not acceptable to cut my life short.
We are not sure anyone would answer 'YES' to this next question:
If it is acceptable to put the self-aware Orcinus orca species into captivity, is it okay to do the same with the self-aware Homo sapien species?
For more information on Year 5's whale project, please visit the Davyhulme Year 5 blog - while you are there, leave them a comment!
Orca in the UK
- No orca have been held captive in the United Kingdom since 1991, when the Department of Environment (DOE) reviewed standards and conditions of captive facilities. Revisions were made and even facilities as large and as profitable as $eaWorld do not meet the tank size requirements that were set out by the UK's DOE.
- There are currently no laws which prohibit the display of orca and other dolphins in the UK.
- Facility requirements as set out by the DOE have now expired and there are no current regulations in place for the UK. This is currently one obstacle standing in the way of the reintroduction of dolphinaria to the UK - there are no guidelines as to how big enclosures should be (and really, no tank is big enough!).
Orca Winnie (1977-2002)
- Orca Winnie was the last orca to leave the UK in 1991 - she was shipped from Windsor Safari Park to $eaWorld in the USA.
- Winnie was estimated to be less than 1 years-old at time of capture from Icelandic waters and she spent a total of 24.5 years in captivity.
- Winnie died in 2002 c. 25 years of age. In the wild, average longevity for a free-ranging female orca is an average of 50.2 years, with a maximum longevity of 80-90 years (and records show some wild female orca are over 100 years of age!).
- This recent article by Philip Hoare, entitled 'Our treatment of orca underscores an extraordinary disconnection from the sea', reports on the necropsy findings following Winnie's death: cause of death was from ingesting coins, bits of tank tiles and other objects during her time in captivity.