New research published in the Journal of Veterinary Behavior suggests these and other health issues can be traced to a single, fundamental cause: chronic stress. “When orcas die in marine parks and aquariums the response by the facilities is often one of being confounded or stunned,” Lori Marino, the lead author of the study and a biologist at the Whale Sanctuary Project, told Gizmodo. “The message is sent that there is no connection between living in concrete tanks and mortality.
One might argue that intelligence in orcas serves as a buffer for the stresses of living and performing in concrete tanks, but Marino said her team’s findings revealed the opposite. “Orcas and other cetaceans are actually more vulnerable to stress in entertainment parks because of their cognitive complexity,” she told Gizmodo. “Cognitive complexity means that one’s needs are also complex and those needs are impossible to meet in such artificial settings.
Kerry Bowman, a bioethicist at the University of Toronto, liked the new paper, telling Gizmodo it’s a “solid scientific inquiry” that serves to strengthen ethical arguments against keeping orcas in marine parks and aquariums. “This paper clearly identifies the range and scope of the harms orcas face in captivity and eliminates any lingering question of orca captivity as being ethically justifiable,” said Bowman, who wasn’t involved with the new work.