A Review of the Releasability
of Long-Term Captive Orcas

Foraging ability

Exhaling © David Ellifrit
© David Ellifrit

The Seaquarium web site states: Only once has any marine park allowed a scientific investigation of the theory that a long term captive would lose its ability to catch live fish. Two researchers (Newman and Markowitz, 1993) released live coho salmon with two orcas in a tank at Marine World Africa USA. The two orcas, captive for 24 and 13 years, echolocated on the fish, then caught and ate them.

Keiko has also demonstrated his ability to catch live fish. According to the Seattle Times (May 16, 1998): Lolita was six years old when she was captured. For at least five of those years she was chasing and catching her own fish, and without doubt she was engaging in complex, cooperative "pack hunting" techniques. There would be no way to test her ability to resume her role in such activities prior to releasing her to rejoin her family, but there is no particular reason to believe she would have forgotten how. Seaquarium staff have claimed that Lolita was once afraid of a fish in her tank, but introducing an Atlantic spiney rockfish to her tank is not a meaningful test of her foraging abilities.

Empirical studies and deductive reasoning lead to the conclusion that Lolita is fully capable of rapidly regaining and practicing the skill of catching and eating live fish, individually and cooperatively, with just a little practice.

Orcas, as members of the Delphinidae family that includes all dolphins, are known to share food with young or injured family members. It is reasonable to speculate that if Lolita should have difficulty obtaining sufficient fish in the days or weeks after her reunification with her family, other family members might assist her while she regained the needed skills.

  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