Six Ways You Can Help Captive Killer Whales

This article first appeared at

Ever since my book Death At SeaWorld was released, nearly a year ago, I have received countless emails from concerned readers who were so disturbed by the lives of killer whales in captivity that they wanted to do something about it. But how? What, if anything, they wanted to know, can the average citizen do to improve the lives of orcas housed in glass-and-concrete tanks owned by powerful corporations?

Emily Vargo, a Spanish teacher from Maryland, for example, told me about how her father, a former SeaWorld employee who is now “very critical of the treatment of park animals,” read her excerpts from the book. “I cried and asked him to stop–I couldn’t take it!” she wrote “I just wanted to write you to see if there is anything one person can do?  I am powerless but want to do something to speak for those creatures that don’t have a voice. It’s a depressing world we live in, and I figured there must be something I can do–something my father can do?”

That same question has been coming up repeatedly after screenings of the documentary Blackfish at film festivals around the world. Director Gabriela Cowperthwaite tells TakePart that, during Q/A sessions at screenings, it’s often the first question out of the gate: “What can we do?”

Whether your goal is to improve conditions for whales currently in captivity, retire all captive orcas to sea pens or the ocean, and/or see an end to all captive breeding programs, TakePart has come up with a list of suggestions. Feel free to add your own ideas in the comments section:

1) Educate Yourself

Knowledge truly is power, and when it comes to advocating for the welfare of killer whales in captivity, the more you know, the better armed you will be while convincing friends, family and colleagues. If you want to advocate on behalf of these splendid animals, it’s important to understand all the forces that govern and perpetuate their use for entertainment and profit in captivity. There is much to learn: everything from animal welfare regulations, marine-mammal veterinary care and survival statistics; to federal legislation, global venture capitalism and the pro-captivity Washington-Wall Street alliance. And, you need to learn about the lives of wild orcas versus their inbred, neurotic cousins locked up in pools. Fortunately, there is no shortage of resources:

Blackfish – Opening July 19 in New York City, this powerful and beautiful documentary presents a nonstop docket of evidence that orcas do not belong in captivity.

The Killer in the Pool – This outstanding piece of long-form journalism by Tim Zimmermann first appeared in Outside Magazine in 2010 and presents a concise background on all the events leading up to the death of Dawn Brancheau at SeaWorld Orlando.

Killer Controversy: Why orcas should no longer be kept in captivity – This report from Humane Society International reads like a legal indictment of the entire killer whale display industry. A must-read for anyone who really wants to understand the issues.

Death at SeaWorld – The paperback arrives July 2 and some people are ordering copies for skeptical friends who think Shamu shows are perfectly fine. With more than 430 endnotes, it’s a compendium of the law, science, politics and activism that surround this continuing saga.

 2) Support an Anti-Captivity Group

There are a number of non-profit organizations, both large and small, working to improve conditions for captive orcas, and to one-day secure their release to a sea sanctuary or, in a few possible cases, the ocean itself. Naturally, all of them need your financial support, but there are other ways to help too: event planning, fundraising, petition drives, volunteer office or accounting work, publicizing their efforts via social media, etc. Here are links to just some of the deserving groups working on captive orca issues:

Whale and Dolphin Conservation –

Animal Welfare Institute –

Humane Society of the United States / Humane Society International

3) Work the Media

 The national and international press grows more interested in this issue with each passing month since trainer Dawn Brancheau was killed by the male orca Tilikum in February, 2010. This will only grow stronger with the release of Blackfish, which will air this fall on all the various CNN networks, after a summer theater run. Capitalizing on that, you might help organize a screening and/or panel discussion/debate in your town and invite press, sponsor a talk by a well-known orca expert, or write op-eds, feature articles and letters to the editor for your local paper expressing your opposition, based on what you learned from step number one above.

 4) Help Free “Shamu”

 Most captive killer whales today were born in captivity, have been separated from their families, and scientists are not sure they would survive if released into the open ocean. But there are a few whales who are viable candidates for release, because many scientists feel it would be possible to reunite these orcas with their families, after a period of “rehabilitation,” in a netted-off sea pen. Among the candidates are Corky, at SeaWorld California, Lolita, at the Miami Sequarium, and Morgan, a whale who is currently at Loro Parque in the Canary Islands, Spain, but is claimed by SeaWorld. Some groups are working specifically to win freedom for these orcas, while others also want to allow all captive orcas eventually to retire to sea sanctuaries, where they could live out their lives in relative peace, without having to perform for tourists. Keep an eye out at orca websites (see below) for calls for official public comment on issues relating to rehab, retirement or release of killer whales. Meanwhile, you can contact these organizations, among others, to find out how you can help get orcas out of their tanks.

Animal Legal Defense Fund
Nonhuman Rights Project

 5) Lobby Your Government

 Killer whales are currently kept captive in California, Texas, Florida, Canada, Spain, France, Japan and Argentina. A larger and growing number of countries have banned the practice outright. Critics have documented substandard living conditions, inappropriate pool sizes, inter-animal violence, long periods of isolation, pools without sun protection and other violations of various national laws and regulations.  Here is a guide on where to express your concern or opposition to conditions for captive orcas in North America:

USA – Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) US Department of Agriculture

CANADA – Canada has nothing like APHIS and animal welfare regulations are slim, and there is surprisingly little enforcement. To comment on conditions at Marineland Ontario, contact the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. , or Canada’s Accredited Zoos and Aquariums (CAZA)

6) Make Your Voice Heard

Protest. Help stage a demonstration outside one of the captive facilities and hand flyers to people going in or out, or hold up posters as they drive in or out, educating tourists about captivity. If that’s not your style, you can join groups that will be passing out leaflets outside theaters showing Blackfish this summer, with information such as that included in this blog; or you could arrange a public art exhibition where people can express their own opposition to captivity. Recently TakePart wrote about 22 Reasons, who organized paintings of life-sized murals of Lolita by children, who wrote messages in favor of freeing her. It made the local papers.   Another idea is to get people to write to SeaWorld directly, asking them to reinvest some of their record profits to upgrading orca tanks and environments for those whales who might live out their lives in captivity, rather than simply putting money into new sets, rides, restaurants, etc., or sign this petition asking SeaWorld to stop its orca breeding program, with an email sent to the company every time someone signs. One other option, already exercised by PETA, is to buy stock in SeaWorld, if possible, and the attend stockholders meetings to express your opposition to Shamu’s artificial world.

FOR MORE INFORMATION – Please visit the following websites:

Blue Freedom –

Cyber Whale Warrior

Fins and Fluke


Free Lolita Campaign – The Orca Network

Free Corky Campaign – OrcaLab

Free Morgan Foundation

Kimmela Center for Animal Advocacy

Marine Connection

Orca Conservancy

The Orca Network

The Orca Project

Voice of the Orcas

Without Me There is No You



About David Kirby

DAVID KIRBY is the author of 'Evidence of Harm,' which was a New York Times bestseller, winner of the 2005 Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE) award for best book, and a finalist for the New York Public Library Helen Bernstein Award for Excellence in Journalism, and 'Animal Factory,' an acclaimed investigation into the environmental impact of factory farms which NPR compared to Upton Sinclair’s classic work 'The Jungle.' His latest book, 'Death at SeaWorld,' was previewed by Library Journal, which wrote: “Lives are at stake here, and Kirby can be trusted to tell the story, having won a passel of awards for his investigate work.” Booklist called the book “gripping” and “hard to put down.”
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2 Responses to Six Ways You Can Help Captive Killer Whales

  1. Anonymous says:

    save the orcas

  2. Anonymous says:

    Everyone help spread the word “NO KILLING KILLER WHALES!”

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