The petting pool orcas and some of their offspring exhibited such aggressive incidents at a noticeably higher rate than any other grouping of incident prone orcas. The next highest rate of such incidents occurs in the group of orcas who were tank mates of the petting pool orcas during the time of visitor friendships. These tank mates were full time performers who had previously completed initial training. There are no indications that they had spent time in the petting pool. The petting pool orcas trained alongside them and did some initial public performances with them. An examination of this history potentially provides further insight into orca social cognition.
7.1. Post Petting Pool History
When these petting pool orcas later completed performer training, the unstructured interactions with human friends stopped. The orcas were shipped among the various SeaWorld facilities and lived the lives of full time performers. Within a few years, these orcas started to become aggressive. Hargrove [15
] (p. 58) says that Kasatka was considered the most dangerous whale at SeaWorld during water work. Interestingly, Waayers observed that Kasatka was more “snappish” and more prone to being “moody” than the other petting pool orcas that she encountered, even in the pre-training days. Kasatka never inflicted physical harm during the petting pool days, though, as far as the authors know. Ultimately, these orcas became a fundamental part of a history that has significantly impacted public views in the U.S. on orca captivity. Bekoff, Anderson, Waayers, and other orca friends discussed this in a Psychology Today article [34
], and on the authors’ website.
In early 2013, a documentary titled “Blackfish” premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, USA. It was subsequently purchased by Cable Network News and after some limited audience showings, it was publicly aired in late 2013 and has been shown many times since. Blackfish primarily focuses on the story of an orca named Tilikum who killed SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau in 2010. Tilikum had previously been involved in the deaths of two other humans. Blackfish reviews some of the history of orca captivity and Tilikum’s earlier life at a marine park named Sealand of the Pacific in British Columbia, Canada. All this is presented against the backdrop of other aggressive human-orca and orca-on-orca incidents at SeaWorld. SeaWorld contends that Blackfish conveys falsehoods and employs emotional manipulation techniques. These differing perspectives have polarized public opinion regarding orca captivity.
Similar to an actual historical investigation, one is forced to utilize the surviving documentation and testimonies of the events to attempt to construct a rational account. As the authors do not have original source documentation, they have had to depend in some cases on the work of others. The orca incident data used in the following is based on the work of Stephan Jacobs [35
]. He has compiled a database of official reports and local media articles at the time of the incidents, as well as private communications. While many reports are specific as to the date, some are remembrances of a number of incidents over a range of years. It is likely that there were additional unrecorded incidents. Jacobs was a volunteer observer of Resident and Bigg’s/Transient orcas and is mentioned in Death at SeaWorld
] (p. 356).
As of this writing in May 2016 and since their founding in 1964, SeaWorld has owned 65 orcas of whom 29 (45%) have been involved in one or more published aggressive incidents. A small number of orcas account for the greatest number of incidents. The orcas with greater numbers of incidents appear to fall into five recognizable groups by background and/or ancestry. Having divided a small number of orcas into these groups, they are so few in number that no statistical significance can be claimed, only interesting tendencies. Table 1
summarizes this incident data by group. Supplementary Materials Section S1
lists by name the orcas constituting each group and the number of incidents for each orca.
Summing the SeaWorld orca incident data by year reveals another interesting aspect: there are no published incidents during the petting pool years (1979 and 1980) or the following two years. Of the six incidents in 1983 and 1984, four are attributed to the petting pool orca Kandu 5 and one to tank mate Kenau. See Figure 1
below (Kandu 5 was captured in the same year as Canuck. Kandu 5 was a tank mate who had likely been a petting pool orca prior to the authors’ meeting the other four petting pool orcas).
About 55% of all of SeaWorld’s orcas have no published aggressive incidents. Of those with no incidents, nine lived beyond puberty and into at least early adulthood. An additional 15 were within the age bounds of puberty. Table 2
summarizes this information. Supplementary Materials Section S2
lists all these orcas by name, sex, and age. It also defines the age ranges used to define the maturity categories.
By comparison, almost all of SeaWorld’s orcas with aggression lived to be sexually mature adults, i.e., 26 mature, 2 in puberty, and 1 pre-puberty. Table 3
summarizes this information. Supplementary Materials Section S3
lists all these orcas by name, sex, age, and number of incidents, with age categories for the start of puberty and sexual maturity per [36
It should be noted that some orcas have recorded aggressive incidents starting in pre-puberty: Kayla, Keto, Orkid, Tilikum, and Taku. Kandu 5 had two recorded incidents at the very nominal beginning of puberty. Other than Tilikum, these orcas are all petting pool orcas or their offspring, or tank mate offspring, or joint Tilikum-petting pool offspring.
Thus 26 (28) orcas with incidents lived to maturity (mature + in-puberty), while 9 (24) orcas without incidents lived to maturity (mature + in-puberty). This supports a possible correlation of orca aggression to adult versus juvenile behavior and to captive living environment. However, these correlations do not appear as strong as the correlation to having experienced unstructured interactions with visitors. The resultant aggression could still result from the combination of factors.
Of additional note, Kona 2 was captured off Iceland along with Kandu 5 and Canuck 2. She was processed with them prior to transfer to SeaWorld; however, she was instead sent to the Orlando SeaWorld facility for training. The same was true of Kahana. She was captured with Katina, Kasatka, and Kotar. She too was sent to Orlando for training.
While it is possible to discover a number of independent references to the San Diego orcas interacting with visitors, the authors have not been able to discover any reference to such a practice at Orlando. It is fairly certain that Kona 2 and Kahana did not have the opportunity to develop unstructured relationships with visiting humans. Kona 2 and Kahana both died post-puberty with no published aggressive incidents in spite of having shared the same capture and initial handling. Their cases demonstrate the contrapositive.