Infection has been a contributing factor in more than half of the orca deaths at SeaWorld’s parks, a recent San Antonio Express-News investigation revealed.
According to the report:
Federal data obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request… found that infections have caused the deaths of almost 150 sea lions, beluga whales, orcas and other dolphins at SeaWorld parks in the last 30 years. They have been especially deadly for killer whales, contributing to 60 percent of deaths for the species.
But unusual deaths are nothing new for SeaWorld. From November 2015 to February 2016, a large mammal died each month on the company’s watch, three of the deaths were premature with regard to the animals’ natural life expectancies.
The San Antonio Express-News states, “Infections have caused more than 35 percent of marine mammal deaths at the parks, while another 11 percent were due to disorders often caused by infections, such as inflammation of the brain and intestines.”
What’s Going On?
According to The Merck Veterinary Manual, “Captive marine mammals seem particularly prone to fungal infections.”
The stress of captivity may also be a contributing factor. When veterinarian Dr. Heather Rally visited SeaWorld San Diego in 2014, she observed many signs of stress, especially among the marine mammals. She saw dolphins with skin conditions and likely weakened immune systems interacting closely with the public, heightened aggression among the animals, and orcas exhibiting signs of troubling psychological distress.
Captive animals are often deprived of everything that is natural and important to them, and they experience captivity-related health problems as a result.
Orcas are intelligent animals who swim up to 100 miles a day in the wild with their families, but at SeaWorld, they’re confined to tanks that allow them to swim only a tiny fraction of that distance, usually without the company of any family members. Even if animals aren’t dying from infection in SeaWorld’s prison tanks, they are undeniably stressed, and that stress may contribute to a premature death. SeaWorld must do right by the animals it keeps in captivity and release them to seaside sanctuaries, where they can live out their days away from the stress of their prison tanks.