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Lives of Killer whales in captivity need to be enriched

published 06 January 2017 | modified 06 January 2017

Killer whalesKeeping killer whales (Orcinus orca) in zoos and aquariums has become highly controversial. In a new paper, experts outline several novel ideas for improving the lives of killer whales in zoological institutions by enhancing the communication, feeding, environment, and health of the animals in order to elicit natural behaviours seen in the wild. Their ideas are published on 5 January in the International Zoo Yearbook.

“The fact that these animals can be kept in captivity is amazing in itself from a zoological perspective. We are now moving into a time when animals that we could not conceive being kept in zoological institutions are becoming relatively common; however once the difficult initial stages of keeping them alive have been achieved, people want to know that their psychological and physical welfare is also being considered,” said Prof. Graham Law, co-author of the article.

... a change in the way that animals have been kept in captivity has been slowly evolving using environmental enrichment.
Graham Law, co-author, NACWO, Institute of Biodiversity, Animal Health and Comparative Medicine, University of Glasgow, United Kingdom >>

“For many species the changes have been great, but for other less well-understood species change has been slow as the need for change has been poorly understood,” Law adds. With this killer whale article, Prof. Law and his colleagues hope to start a process whereby people become more critical and questioning of the husbandry systems in place for all species in captivity, with the goal of achieving a better balance between their physical and psychological wellbeing. And achieving a greatly enhanced educational value of killer whales and other cetaceans that are kept in captivity. The authors indicate that the recent decision to stop the current breeding programme of killer whales in the USA doesn’t mean that further improvement of husbandry must stop. Because the whales in zoological institutions today will survive for decades to come.

Blackfish trailer:

Although the authors of the article do not make a judgement as to whether killer whales and other cetaceans should be kept in zoological institutions or not, this question still remains of course.


(Source: Wiley press release, 05.01.2017)


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"Tiger map" (CC BY 2.5) by Sanderson et al., 2006.


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