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International Animal Rescue Saving animals from suffering around the world

IAR speaks out against capture of wild orcas for import into China

Wild orca

As a member of the Asia for Animals Coalition, IAR has put its name to a letter expressing deep concern at the capture of wild orcas (killer whales) from their natural habitat for import into China. The AfA letter has been sent to Mr Su Zhigang, Chairman of the Guangdong Chimelong Group which owns Ocean Kingdom in Zhuhai where it is planned to use the orcas to entertain the visiting public.

The letter describes the method of capturing the orcas as “invasive, stressful and potentially lethal.” It explains that, particularly in the case of orcas, capture not only traumatises the individuals taken, but can cause severe social disruption in the groups left behind. Captive facilities, with their space limitations and commercial considerations, cannot provide conditions that allow orcas to express their natural behaviours to meet their physical and psychological needs.”

As well as detailing how capture and confinement severely compromises the welfare of whales and dolphins, the letter also argues that cetacean performances do little to educate the public on issues of natural behaviours, ecology, or conservation status. It states that there is little objective evidence to indicate that the public display industry is furthering the public’s knowledge of marine mammals and their habitats, or demonstrating a link between watching commercial marine mammal performances and an increase in conservation action directed towards the protection of animals in the wild.

Indeed, observing cetaceans perform tricks has the potential to desensitize the observer to their suffering in captivity and does little to encourage the development of the compassion and empathy necessary to prompt people to protect wild cetaceans from exploitation.

The letter cites a 2012 US public opinion poll on the keeping of killer whales in captivity for public display which found that more Americans oppose than support the practice, with only one in four people in favour, and strong opposition to this practice being three times that of strong support, with 24 percent of respondents indicating they are strongly opposed and only 8 percent strongly favouring the practice.

Alan Knight, IAR Chief Executive, said: “There is no justification whatsoever for capturing, transporting and confining these cetaceans in conditions which bear no resemblance to their natural environment. Nor is there any educational benefit to the public – indeed, keeping them captive purely for entertainment sends out the completely erroneous message that this is acceptable treatment of what are intelligent and complex creatures. 

“It’s not too late for these orcas to be returned to the ocean where they belong. I urge Ocean Kingdom to do the only humane and decent thing by these poor animals and make immediate preparations for their release.”

The letter has been sent by David Neale, Animal Welfare Director of the Animals Asia Foundation, on behalf of the 15 international animal welfare organisations that make up the AfA coalition. It is also supported by 132 smaller animal protection groups from across the globe.

To facilitate clear understanding of the points made in the letter, it has been written in English with a Chinese translation following each paragraph. 


Images courtesy of Samantha Lipman/Orca Aware