'Orcapedia': The International Killer Whale Trade
The dark side of performing orcas at marine amusement centers.
Posted February 2, 2021
I recently read an extremely important book by Captain Paul Watson, founder of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, and wildlife enthusiast Tiffany Humphrey, titled Orcapedia: A Guide to the Victims of the International Orca Slave Trade.
This landmark exposé offers detailed accounts about the lives of the orcas, aka killer whales—intelligent, emotional, and highly complex beings—who have been and currently are being held captive for human amusement and entertainment all over the globe. Experts, including scientists, agree that these majestic animals deeply suffer and "go crazy" in captivity. According to Paul Watson, "There are presently 56 orcas held in captivity. 162 orcas have died in captivity since the beginning of the orca slave trade ... We have found pictures of each and every captured Orca with information on where and when they were captured or born in captivity and where they have been interred and continue to be held." [The whales who are discussed are listed below.]
I'm very pleased to offer this interview with the authors about their encyclopedic book.*,1,2,3 Here's what they had to say.
Why did you write *Orcapedia?
Captain Paul Watson (CPW): We wrote the book because there was simply not a reference book documenting the orcas that have been captured over the history of orca captivity and a documentation of the orcas presently held in captivity.
Tiffany Humphrey (TH): Paul and I wrote Orcapedia to shed light on the life, death, and relocation of wild-caught and captive-bred orca whales around the globe. We wanted to show how many Shamu’s have died in the name of entertainment so that the public will think twice about visiting a marine park.
How does your book relate to your backgrounds and general areas of interest?
CPW: I have spent 50 years opposing whaling and defending whales and opposing cetaceans held in captivity. My intended audience are those who are concerned and care about the welfare of orcas and those who have or will visit a marine captivity facility so that they may understand the cruel nature of these facilities.
TH: I have a bachelor of science in biology with an emphasis in marine biology. I have photo ID’d bottlenose dolphins and killer whales and volunteered for marine mammal stranding networks in Washington state. I worked for five years at Sea Shepherd as Paul’s Executive Assistant. Most recently, I worked for a NOAA affiliate on the east coast performing necropsies mostly on bottlenose dolphins and pygmy sperm whales, as well as doing research on scapulae, otolith ID’s, and morphometrics.
Who is your intended audience?
CPW: My intended audience are those who are concerned and care about the welfare of orcas and those who have or will visit a marine captivity facility so that they may understand the cruel nature of these facilities.
What are some of the topics that are woven into your book?
CPW: The book is a history of the orcas who have been captured, a description of the facilities where orcas are being held, and listing efforts by organizations opposing captivity.
TH: We outlined the capture history of wild orca whales and the subsequent opening of marine parks. From there we listed each captive whale, when they were born, where they were captured, and how many times they have been shipped between marine parks. We describe the different diseases and psychological disorders they experience from being held captive in concrete pools. A tombstone was created for each whale listing their name, when they were born, when they died, how old they were when they died, if they were captured or captive-bred, and how they died.
How does your book differ from others that are concerned with some of the same general topics?
CPW: Our book is unique. Basically it’s an encyclopedia of orca captures and captivity.
What are some of your current projects?
CPW: Sea Shepherd anti-poaching operations presently include the operation of 14 ships internationally including anti-poaching patrols off West Africa and the Pacific waters off Central and South America. Projects include: the protection of the endangered Vaquita porpoise in the Mexican Sea of Cortez; the protection of Malpelo Island National Park in Colombian waters; the protection of Coiba National Park in Panamanian waters; the protection of the Galapagos Islands National Park; legal challenges to the killing of Maui dolphins by New Zealand; intervention against the killing of dolphins in the Bay of Biscay by the French fishing fleet; opposition to the killing of pilot whales and dolphins in the Danish Faroe Islands; anti-poaching patrols in the Mediterranean Sea, the Baltic and the Caribbean; protecting Sea Turtle nests on Mayotte Island in the Indian Ocean; and collection of ghost nets and marine debris globally.
*I thank Rita Gates for help with organizing this interview.
1) Captain Paul Watson is a Canadian/American marine conservation activist, who founded the direct-action group Sea Shepherd Conservation Society in 1977. He has been described as the world's most aggressive, determined, active and effective defender of wildlife. Tiffany Humphrey has been working with marine wildlife since 2003. From 2009 until 2013, she worked as Paul's executive assistant at Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. More information can be found at seashepherd.org. Concerning Orcapedia, Captain Watson wrote: "Tiffany Humphrey and I decided to compile all the statistics on Orca captivity...There are presently 56 Orcas held in captivity. 162 Orcas have died in captivity since the beginning of the Orca slave trade. The dead had names. The living have names. They were intelligent self aware sentient socially complex beings snatched from their families and displayed to the paying public for profit. We have found pictures of each and every captured Orca with information on where and when they were captured or born in captivity and where they have been interred and continue to be held. The Orca slave trade is one of the most despicable wildlife crimes continuing in the world today."
2) The book's description reads: "Orcapedia presents a sobering look at the current imprisonment of a highly intelligent, socially complex, non-threatening species—orcas—by an industry strictly for profit. Many remember the movement to release Keiko, the orca who appeared in the family drama Free Willy, into the wild. Today, there are dozens of orcas still in captivity. Readers are introduced to more than 60 orcas by name along with their photos, personal history, and notable incidents that have occurred during their captivity. The text makes it clear that they are imprisoned 'inmates' and instills a full understanding of the injustices being perpetrated. Color images capture the beauty of these mammals. Their size, eating and mating habits, and pod dialects and structures work against them in captivity which is graphically illustrated by five pages of headstones. While many orcas would not survive if they were suddenly released into the wild, the authors recommend the use of sea pens, which present a viable compromise by allowing the orcas greater freedom, providing them with the opportunity to learn how to catch fish, having trainers on hand to assess their health, and offering visitors a view of whales living in more natural surroundings. This book mandates change and inspires us to follow through."
Another reads: "Established in 1977, Sea Shepherd Conservation Society has been protecting the ocean’s ecosystems and marine wildlife for over forty years. ORCAPEDIA: A Guide to the Victims of the International Orca Slave Trade by Captain Paul Watson and marine wildlife expert Tiffany Humphrey provides a sobering look at the current imprisonment of orcas––a highly intelligent, socially complex, nonthreatening species––by a for-profit industry. ORCAPEDIA introduces the reader to the largest member of the Cetacea order of marine mammals, the orca (aka killer whales). Decades following the movement to release Keiko, the orca who appeared in the family drama Free Willy, into the wild still finds dozens of orcas in captivity. Fascinating details on their size, eating and mating habits, and pod dialects and structures are shown to work against them when they are imprisoned. The names and color photos of over sixty orcas, together with personal history and notable incidents, such as injuries and behavioral issues, convey a realistic account of the injustices being perpetrated. To further illustrate the point are five pages of 'headstones' in recognition of orcas that have died at marine park facilities. While many would not survive if they were suddenly released into the wild, the authors recommend the use of sea pens, which present a viable compromise by allowing the orcas greater freedom, providing them with the opportunity to learn how to catch fish, and having trainers on hand to assess their health, VIsitors would be offered a view of whales living in more natural surroundings. ORCAPEDIA mandates change and inspires us to follow through. All proceeds go to Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.
3) Many references about the plight of captive orcas and orcas in general can be found in these essays:
The Personal Side of Extinction: The Case of Orca Scarlet; Orcas are Majestic, Emotional Beings Who Have Children; The Harmful Effects of Captivity on Orcas; Make No Mistake, Orca Mom J-35 and Pod Mates Are Grieving; An End to Orca Breeding and Swimming With Dolphins?; Captive Killer Whales Die Much Younger than Wild Orcas; Captive Whales Deeply Suffer Psychologically, Experts Agree; Do Orcas Go Crazy Because of Petting Pools and False Hopes?; SeaWorld Exposed: Behavioral Profiles of Captive Orcas; SeaWorld Claims "Blackfish" Is Misleading: Caging Orcas Okay; Beneath the Surface: SeaWorld Insider Goes Beyond Blackfish; The Whale Sanctuary Project: Saying No Thanks to Tanks; Killer Whales Trained as Performers Suffer Psychologically;
The Cultural Lives of Whales and Dolphins: We Are Not Alone; Luna: A Lost and Lonely Whale Desperately Seeking Love; Blackfish: “A Whale Has Eaten One of the Trainers”; A Big Step Forward for the Rights of Dolphins and Whales; A Home Away From Home: True Stories of Animal Sanctuaries.