They have no natural predators in the wild. But at marine circuses orcas are prey to one of the smallest of creatures: mosquitoes.
According to the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society (WDCS), at least two orcas held captive at SeaWorld facilities died from West Nile and St. Louis encephalitis viruses carried by mosquitoes.
This only adds urgency to the growing movement to bring an end to the exploitation of these animals for entertainment.
While killer whales in the wild can travel hundreds of mile in a day, in captivity they spend hours at a time just floating, or “logging”, in their tanks with nothing to do and nowhere to go, leaving their skin exposed to mosquitoes and also sunburn. Courtney Vail, campaigns manager for WDCS, says:
We continue to be astonished at the serious information that is being discovered about the condition of orcas in captivity, and that hasn’t yet been shared with the public. I think it is safe to say that no one would have thought of the risks that mosquitoes might pose to orcas in captivity, but considering the amount of time they unnaturally spend at the surface in shallow pools at these facilities, it is yet another deadly and unfortunate consequence of the inadequate conditions inherent to captivity.
Former SeaWorld trainer John Jett, now a research professor at Stetson University, FL, adds:
Logging was commonly witnessed while I was at SeaWorld, especially at night, which provided a static landing platform for mosquitoes. Free ranging orcas, conversely, are on the move and not exposed to mosquitoes. They don’t remain still long enough and mosquitoes are weak fliers, limited to coastal areas. This information is an important introduction to a topic sure to raise eyebrows.
Dr. Jett spoke at the 4th Florida Marine Mammal Health Conference, and later said he was approached by three veterinarians who told him specifically that “captivity for killer whales just doesn’t work and is wrong.” According to Voice of the Orcas:
He also revealed that these industry vets were unwilling to go on the record because any public criticism of SeaWorld would likely have negative consequences for their careers. This helps explain why there is a lack of trainers and vets that speak out. Many cannot afford to alienate SeaWorld as they have families to feed.
This poster presentation from the conference encapsulates Dr. Jett’s talk. He said it was made possible by the independent research of Wendy Cooke, who discovered the peer-reviewed studies that allowed for the mosquito connection to be made.
More from Voice of the Orcas:
WDCS and others reported on these newly-discovered studies documenting the cause of death of both 25-year old orca Kanduke, who died in 1990 at SeaWorld Orlando due to St. Louis encephalitis virus, and Taku, a 14-year-old male orca held at SeaWorld San Antonio, who died after being fatally infected with the West Nile Virus in 2007. Both viruses are transmitted via mosquito bite from an infected mosquito that carries the avian-borne virus.
“Logging (floating at the surface) was commonly witnessed while I was at SeaWorld, especially at night, which provided a static landing platform for mosquitoes,” said Dr. John Jett. “Free ranging orcas, conversely, are on the move and not exposed to mosquitoes. They don’t remain still long enough and mosquitoes are weak fliers, limited to coastal areas. This poster is an important introduction to a topic sure to raise eyebrows.”