I want to work with orca - some organisations recommend gaining work experience in aquariums, whereas others don't. What do you think would be the best recommendation?
When making a decision whether to gain work experience in an aquarium or not, we have to think about the animals that we are wishing to work with. Let's think about orca (but the same can be applied for other marine mammals). You have to ask yourself three questions:
1) Do I think that orca are okay to be kept in captivity?
2) If not, is working with these animals more important to me than their welfare?
3) Can I learn anything from these animals in an artificial environment that can be applied to my ultimate dream of working with them in a wild environment?
To be able to answer these questions, you have to do a lot of literature searching and a lot of reading to learn everything you can about this species (or whichever species you are hoping to work with) - about their physiology, behaviour, sociality, intelligence, range, diet, longevity, reproduction and how captivity impacts these, etc. You name it, you need to know it!
You also need to bare in mind that many orca experts (many names that I am sure you would recognise) from around the world do not agree that orca should be kept in captivity or that anything can be learned from keeping them in an artificial environment, based on their years of experience working with these animals in the wild.
It is more accessible than ever to work with marine mammals in the wild. You can become a medic in the UK with our sponsors British Divers Marine Life Rescue (www.bdmlr.org) and gain hands on experience helping wild cetaceans and seals (and in other countries with other rescue organisations), and you can also apply for experience working in a seal (or other animal) sanctuary, learning how to care for and rehabilitate animals for release back into the wild. You can join an organisation that provides opportunities to work with marine mammals in the wild, such as training as a marine mammal surveyor with Organisation Cetacea in the UK (www.orcaweb.org.uk) and joining them on their boat trips and cruise ships surveying and educating about marine mammals that you encounter. You can write to one of the many orca (or other marine mammal) research projects from around the world and ask if you can go and spend some time working with them. Do some research and find out what options are available to you for the country that you are hoping to work in.
Whatever you decide to do, we strongly recommend that you learn everything you can about the species that you are wishing to work with before you go and do it.
To help you on your way with learning about orca, we have put together a list of websites and resources that may be of interest:
"Orca of the World" by Orca Aware
"Orca: The Whale Called Killer" by Erich Hoyt
"Swimming with Orca" by Dr. Ingrid Visser
"Whale and Dolphins: Cognition, Culture, Conservation and Human Perceptions" by Philippa Brakes & Mark Simmonds
"Listening to Whales" by Alexandra Morton
"Death at SeaWorld" by David Kirby
Orca Aware does not recommend gaining work experience with marine mammals in an aquarium or zoo but believes that it is up to the individual to decide.