Skip to content

Fate of orcas in captivity

The fate of captive orcas

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 life in the wild.

As of August 29th, 2019 there are:

Orcas held in captivity
were captured in the wild
were born in captivity

At least 166 orcas have been taken into captivity from the wild since 1961 (including Pascuala and Morgan).

  • 129 of these orcas are now dead.
  • In the wild, male orcas live to an average of 30 years (maximum 50-60 years) and 46 years for females (maximum 80-90 years).
  • At least 166 orcas have died in captivity, not including 30 miscarried or still-born calves.
  • SeaWorld holds 20 orcas in its three parks in the United States. At least forty-nine orcas have died at SeaWorld.
  • One of the most infamous capture incidents saw over 80 whales from the Southern Resident population of orcas in Washington State rounded-up at Penn Cove in 1970. Seven were taken into captivity while as many as five whales died. Today this population is recognised as endangered. Only one captured whale, Lolita, is still alive, held at Miami Seaquarium.
  • At least 19 orcas have been taken from the wild into captivity since 2002, most recently in Russia. 10 individuals illegaly caught in 2018 and held in a holding facility in Srednyaya Bay near Nakhodka have been released back into the wild in June, July and August 2019.

The growing uneasiness with the concept of keeping orcas in captivity has only been increased by the renowned documentary Blackfish, documenting the reality of the captives' existence. Despite the best attempts of the display industry to blow a smokescreen over such negative publicity, the wider world is now increasingly aware that all is not well in fantasy-land. In recent years, first a trickle, then a steady torrent, of incidents have been reported.

A growing catalogue of 'accidents', illnesses, failed pregnancies and premature deaths that have helped to show up this industry for the cruel circus that it really is.

The story of Corky and Fife

The longest surviving orca in captivity is Corky, captured in 1969 from the Northern Resident population that inhabits the waters around Vancouver Island, Canada. She is held at SeaWorld in San Diego. None of her seven offspring in captivity have survived. Her family (known as the A5 pod) continue to thrive in the wild, including Corky's brother, Fife, who you can adopt to help support our work.

Adopt an orca Fife

History of orca captures

Orca captures in Russia

Since 2012, at least 29 orcas have been captured alive in Russian waters. While only three remain in Russia, at least 15 have been exported to China for display in aquariums there. Narnia, Nord and Naja (also known as Malishka or Juliet) are three wild caught orcas from the Sea of Ochotsk displayed at Moskvarium in Moscow.

In 2018, the infamous "whale jail" made headlines around the world. At least 11 orcas had been captured illegally and together with 90 belugas they ended up in a holding facility in Sreadnyaya Bay near Vladivostok. One orca and three belugas later disappeared and it is not clear whether they escaped or died. A group of scientists representing a range of international organisations, including WDC, sent a letter to the Russian authorities. They offered expertise and demanded the safe release of the orcas and belugas. A team consisting of Russian and international experts was given access to the holding facility in March 2019. There were great concerns about the health of the individuals due to the cold weather and the poor quality holding conditions.

The experts came to the conclusion, that with the right kind of rehabilitation and a robust plan, the orcas and belugas could be returned safely to their home waters. An agreement was signed by Governor of Russia's Primorsky Region to begin the process of evaluating them to determine when and how to release them. After further negotiations  the first two orcas were released into the Sea of Okhotsk at the end of June 2019.Three orcas were released in July followed by three more in early August. The remaining two individuals were brought back to their home waters at the end of August 2019. Between June and October, 37 belugas from the whale jail were also returned to the Sea of Okhotsk. By mid November, all belugas were released.

The Far East Russia Orca Project (FEROP), co-founded by WDC research fellow Erich Hoyt, has conducted research on the orca populations in Russia for many years. FEROP, together with other experts and organizations, has recommended to stop issuing official capture quotas due to the lack of information regarding population structures and sizes.

Orca in whale jail

The Penn Cove orca captures

More than 80 orcas were captured in Penn Cove (near Puget Sound in Washington State, USA) in August 1970. Seven were sold to marine parks. At least 5 orcas died, the others were either released or escaped. Partly as a result of these captures, the Southern resident orca population is now critically endangered.

Only one of the orcas from these captures is still alive: Lolita (Tokitae). She has been held at Miami Seaquarium in Florida, USA, since 1970. The fight for her freedom has been ongoing ever since. Lolita’s family is the L25 matriline of the “L” pod of the Southern Resident orca community. Lolita’s  mother is believed to be L25, Ocean Sun (estimated birth year 1930), who still resides with Lolita’s family swimming freely in the open waters where Lolita was captured. Lolita continues to use the calls that only her family use. In 2005, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) designated the Southern Resident orcas as an endangered species under the US Endangered Species Act. In 2015, Lolita was officially included in the endangered listing of the Southern Resident orca population by NMFS. Lolita is the last surviving orca of 45 members of the Southern Resident community that were captured and delivered for display in marine parks between 1965 and 1973. At least 13 members of her family were killed during these brutal captures. Only Corky, a member of the Northern Resident orca community captured in 1969, who still lives at SeaWorld in San Diego, has been in captivity longer.

The footage is disturbing and depicts the brutal, extremely stressful, and haphazard methods utilized in capturing orcas from the wild. It also features the first ever TV interview with diver John Crowe, who worked on the Penn Cove capture and was in charge of secretly disposing of the carcasses of the dead (or suffocated) orcas, to avoid them being counted in the total numbers taken during the capture.

This video shows original and shocking footage of the captures. Thank you to Baby Wild Films for providing us with permission to share this video.

Captures in Iceland and Japan

Between 1976 and 1989, at least 54 orcas were captured from Icelandic waters and sold to marine parks around the world.  17 of those whales ended up at SeaWorld parks in the USA. The captures in Iceland started after they were prohibited in the US Pacific Northwest in the mid 1970s. The most famous orcas captured in Iceland were Keiko and Tilikum. Keiko, star of the movies „Free Willy“ was released into his home waters in 2002. Tilikum`s story was the focus of the movie „Blackfish“. He died on January 6, 2017 after 34 years in captivity.

In 1997, ten orcas were captured in Taiji, Japan. Five were taken into captivity, the other five were driven back out to sea. By June 1997, two of the captured orcas had alread died. The other three passed away in 2004, 2007 and 2008. Although captured under a permit for „scientific research“, all orcas were on public display at the three Japanese aquaria they were purchased from.

Tilikum the orca

Orcas held in Marine Parks

At least 60 orcas (killer whales) are held captive in marine parks around the world. Click on the links below to access pdfs which show the full geneaology of the orcas at each of the parks.

np_world-map_1336296_00BFB3

Canada

Only one orca, Kiska, is still held in Canada at Marineland in Ontario.

np_world-map_1336296_00BFB3

Europe and Russia

Marineland, Antibes in France holds four orcas. Loro Parque in Tenerife holds seven and Russia has three on public display in Moscow.

np_world-map_1336296_00BFB3

North America

SeaWorld holds more orcas than any other marine park. Tilikum, whose story was told in the movie BLACKFISH, was held at SeaWorld Orlando, Florida. The Miami Seaquarium holds a solitary orca taken from the wild, Tokitae (Lolita).

np_world-map_1336296_00BFB3

South America

Mundo Marino in Buenos Aires, Argentina has just one solitary orca, Kshamenk. He is used in breeding programmes with other parks overseas.

np_world-map_1336296_00BFB3

Japan

 There are currently two Japanese facilities, Kamogawa and Nagoya, keeping a total of seven orcas, one of them was wild-caught.

np_world-map_1336296_00BFB3

China

Chimelong Ocean Kingdom holds nine orcas, Shanghai Haichang Polar Ocean World another four and two more individuals are at Wuxi Changqaio Ocean Kingdom. They were all caught in Russian waters between 2013 and 2016.

The current list of orcas in captivity, when they were captured or born, and where they are currently held.

Last updated: August 29, 2019
FacilityName of orcaCapture or birth dateRemarks
ARGENTINA
Mundo MarinoKshamenkWild caught, 10/1978
CANADA
Marineland OntarioKiskaWild caught, 10/1981
FRANCE
Marineland AntibesInoukFeb-99
WikieJun-01
MoanaMar-11
KeijoNov-13
JAPAN
Kamogawa SeaWorldLoveyJan-88
LunaJul-12
LaraFeb-01
Ran 2Feb-06
Port of Nagoya AquariumStellaWild caught, 10/1987
EarthOct-08
RinNov-12
SPAIN
Loro ParqueKetoJun-95
TekoaNov-00
KohanaMay-02
SkylaFeb-04
AdanOct-10
MorganWild caught, 06/2010
UlaSep-18
USA
Miami SeaquariumLolitaWild caught, 08/1970
SeaWorld CaliforniaCorky 2Wild caught, 12/1969
UlisesWild caught, 11/1980
OrkidSep-88
NakaiSep-01
KaliaDec-04
IkaikaAug-02
ShoukaFeb-93
KeetFeb-93
MakaniFeb-13
AmayaDec-14
SeaWorld FloridaKatinaWild caught, 10/1978
TruaNov-05
NalaniSep-06
MaliaMar-07
MakaioOct-10
SeaWorld TexasTakaraJul-91
KyuquotDec-91
TuarJun-99
SakariJul-10
KameaNov-13
RUSSIA/CHINA
Moscow (Russia)NarniaWild caught, 08/2012
NordWild caught, 08/2013
Naja (aka Malishka, Juliet)Wild caught, 07/2014
Holding Facilities Malvina (?)Wild caught, 2015*Malvina might have escaped or died*
Primorsky Krai (Russia)AlexandraWild caught, 2018*Released July 2019
VitasWild caught, 2018*Released July 2019
VasilievnaWild caught, 2018*Released June 2019
HarjaWild caught, 2018*Released August 2019
LehaWild caught, 2018*Released June 2019
ForestWild caught, 2018*Released August 2019
GaikaWild caught, 2018*Released August 2019
Zina Wild caught, 2018*Released July 2019
ZoyaWild caught, 2018*Released August 2019
TihonWild caught, 2018*Released August 2019
Chimelong (China)OrpheusWild caught, 08/2013
GraceWild caught, 08/2013
NukkaWild caught, between 2013 and 2015
TysonWild caught, between 2013 and 2015
?Wild caught, 2014
?Wild caught, 2014
?Wild caught, 2014
?Wild caught, 2015
?Wild caught, 2015
Shanghai Haichang POW (China)WaoWild caught, 2016 (?)*
DoraWild caught, 2016 (?)*
?Wild caught, 2016 (?)*
?Wild caught, 2016 (?)*
Wuxi Changqiao Ocean Kingdom (China)?Wild caught, 2016 (?)
?Wild caught, 2016 (?)*
*t.b.c., information difficult to obtain

Please help us protect orcas from captivity

By adopting an orca, by making a donation, or by fundraising for WDC, you can help us provide a safe future for these amazing creatures.

Adopt an orca Fife

Adopt

Adopt a whale and help us protect these amazing creatures.

Group of orcas

Donate

Your gifts help us take action for whales and dolphins.

orca-spyhop-rob-lott-300

Fundraise

Run, bake, walk, cycle… what could you do for whales and dolphins?