A Review of the Releasability
of Long-Term Captive Orcas


A young calf climbs aboard its mom

If consciousness and memory are difficult to measure, emotions are even more elusive. And yet, anyone who has an emotional bond with a dog or cat knows that they sometimes cleary demonstrate their emotions. Those who have spent time with Lolita or any other orca in captivity often come away with a sense that they have been touched, emotionally, by an intelligent and sentient being who knows them personally. Time after time stories come from people who have had the opportunity and the inclination to build trust with an orca, and afterward have been in awe of the strength of the bond that has developed. Lolita seemed to "look into my soul" according to former trainer Marcia Henton.

In 1965 Ted Griffin was the first human to spend a considerable length of time, 11 months, establishing a relationship with an orca. As Griffin explained in a 1995 interview: Charles Darwin began the scientific study of animal emotions with his book The Expression of Emotions in Man and Animals (Darwin, 1873), but very little has been done to follow his lead until recently. In When Elephants Weep author Jefferey Masson describes hundreds of anecdotes in which animals demonstrate their emotions (Masson, 1996).

Marine parks seem especially averse to discussing emotions in their charges. Sea World refused to talk to Masson because his book "smacked of anthropomorphism." The sin of anthropomorphism is traditionally seen as a transgression for a scientist, although understanding animal emotions has high predictive value, helping us on a daily basis to determine what an animal will do, whether in nature, in captivity or with a pet at home.

Jane Goodall learned volumes about the emotional lives of the chimpanzees she observed for over three decades (Goodall, 1991). Goodall found she could relate to the emotional ties and upheavals of the chimps in her study. The members of Lolita's family, the Southern Resident community, also demonstrate their emotions. Orcas seem more distant than chimps from the human experience, and they are more enigmatic because they don't show facial expressions and they spend 95% of their time out of view underwater. But in terms of their ability to be aware, to communicate, to remember and feel emotions, orcas may be more similar to humans than chimps are.

When the three pods of the Southern community meet after a long separation, such as when K and L pods arrive in the inland waters in the early summer after spending the fall and winter out in the open Pacific, they generally join with J pod, which tends to spend the winter and spring in the protected waters. Upon meeting for the first time in six or seven months, what follows is a behavior known as "intermingling," which is a veritable festival of rubbing and touching orcas. Vocalizations often continue non-stop on these occasions. They usually form into small groups of 8 to 12 orcas from all three pods and begin tactile sessions in which they nudge and roll and tumble all over each other for 10 to 20 minutes, then disperse and form into other undulating groups.

There is every indication that they simply enjoy being together. Mothers play with their young, pairs of males travel together for long periods, associations of all ages and both genders occur continually. When resting, pods line up abreast, swimming slowly.

Lolita's emotional attachment to her family would facilitate her reintegration with them.

  1. Introduction
  2. Survival rates in captivity
  3. Precedents
  4. Disease issues
  5. Foraging ability
  6. Social systems and bonds
  7. Communication
  8. Consciousness and memory
  9. Emotions
  10. Conclusions
  11. Recommendations
  12. Bibliography