Personally, I am torn on the whole, keeping orcas in captivity thing. I’m not happy with it, but I also feel that if more people have a chance to see these amazing creatures up close, then one or two might have a moment of epiphany and realize how important it is that we take care of our world.
Please don’t call them killer whales. They are not whales, they are the largest of the dolphin family. They are killers, but they are the top predator in the ocean and often eat adult sharks. I’m something of a purest, generally call jellyfish ‘jellies’ and starfish ‘sea stars’. Ah well.
Pictures and stories after the break.
Sea World at San Antonio has 6 orcas, one of which is an 18 month old baby. If you go to the show early, the orcas have free roam of the entire facility, so you can watch baby swimming with mom and occasionally one of the orcas will breach for fun.
Takara is the mother and is 18 years old. The calf, Sakari (born January 7th, 2010), is doing well and participating in the shows. Sakari is Takara’s 3rd calf and the 26th orca to be born in captivity (Takara was too).
Sakari’s father is Tilikum, which appears to be a type A orca with a white saddle. Tilikum is a wild caught orca (from the Iceland area) and has sired many of the Sea World animals. He’s also the ‘killer’ orca and has been somehow involved in three deaths.
To set the record straight, the first incident was before a group of wild orcas had been trained. No one had every actually been in the water with the orcas and a trainer fell in. It appears that the orcas ‘played with her’. When five 6000-lbs predators play with a person, there’s no way to survive. The second incident was a homeless man who stayed in the park after hours and died of drowning and hypothermia in the tank. He was never touched by Tilikum. At the temp of the tank water (11C or 51F), a healthy person of average build can last about 4 hours. A homeless man is probably not healthy.
The last incident may or may not have been an intentional kill. The trainer was apparently drug into the water by Tilikum. Even though dozens of people saw it, no one really knows what happened. The trainers neck was snapped, but she wasn’t bit or pummeled. There is suspicion that the trainer’s pony tail was caught in the orca’s teeth or he thought it was a toy and accidentally snapped her neck.
OK, enough of the sad stuff. Back to the majesty of these creatures.
You can see Sakari in this series, not quite as powerful as mom, but steadily learning the show behaviors.
This was during the ‘free play’ session before the actual show.
Here she is attempting a difficult ‘trick’. Getting her entire body up on the beach. Wild orcas will do this, but it takes practice. Mothers carefully watch the young ones doing this and will pull them back into the water if they can’t get back on their own.
Needs a little encouragement from the trainer…
and back into the water while mommy shows off.
Notice the gray ‘saddle’ behind the dorsal fin on mom and baby. That’s an indication that Takara and Sakari are type B orcas. The slightly darker saddle on Sakari might be an indication of youth or that she is actually a type A orca.
No, I don’t know if it’s a male or female.
Hot tip for photographers. When the trainers raise their arms like this, something is about to come flying out of the water. Have your camera set on sports mode (the lighting is fine) and it you have it, rapid fire series shots.
These pictures are almost saddening in a way. I really wish I could convey the sense of wonder that I felt at seeing these creatures. I hesitate to use the word animals because their brains are way larger than humans and they have mental acumen that we could never understand. Go ahead, try to build a three-D map of your environment from sound waves. I’ll wait.
I don’t think that these animals belong in captivity, but 5 of the six were born in captivity and probably could not survive in the wild without extensive training and rehabilitation. That’s one way the animal rights people have it wrong. Surviving in the wild is not instinct for large, altricial mammals. If you put Sakari or even Takara in the wild, they would probably starve to death in a few days.
They have no pod, and no pod would accept a strange adult. They have no training on what and how to eat. It would be like taking an 18-year old boy who grew up in the inner city and throw him out in the wilds and say good luck as you drive away in your jeep. He wouldn’t stand a chance.
I’m glad that they don’t appear to be taking orcas from the wild any longer. Captive bred orcas are probably much calmer, easier to tame, and have less chance of disease or detriment due to living in the park (well, the 9 million gallon series of tanks in the park).
The next post will be about Pacific White Stripe dolphins. While orcas are powerful, these guys are like cheetahs.