Sunday, July 8, 2007

Canadian Cetacean Mortality Rates

Over forty whales and dolphins have died at Marineland since the early sixties – with an estimated twenty-two animals dying between 1998 and 2005. Still, Marineland claims that its animal welfare record is better than any other facility in North America.

Mortality rates for animals captured from the wild are difficult to calculate since the exact birth dates are unknown. However, captive births and deaths are reported by the media and occasionally by the display facility itself.

· Of the eleven orcas born at Marineland, ten are dead. The average age was 4.8 years. At the Vancouver Aquarium, all three captive-born orcas died within 3 months.
· Only two dolphins have been born at Marineland, one in 2001 and the other in 2003. The former died fourteen days later; the latter is currently alive. All five dolphins born at the West Edmonton Mall died at, or shortly after birth. No dolphins have been born at the Vancouver Aquarium.
· Four belugas have been born at Marineland, two in 2002 and another two in 2003 (in which one died at birth). Of the three belugas born at the Vancouver Aquarium, two have died, the average age: 1.6 years (Qila, born in 1995, is still alive).

Including the mortality rates from the Vancouver Aquarium, the average age of captive-born orcas in Canada is approximately 3.75 years, far below the display industry’s own estimates.

Causes of Death

Marine parks and aquariums often state that captive cetaceans are safer than ones in the wild. The industry contends that marine mammals in controlled environments are spared many of the problems affecting their counterparts in the wild, including such things as parasites, predators, natural toxins, natural disasters such as freezing, pollution, variations in the availability of food, and the need to compete with man for food.

However, necropsy results on captive animals include parasites, chlorine toxicity, zinc poisoning and possible toxic fish accounting for some of the deaths. At Marineland, the Vancouver Aquarium and the West Edmonton Mall, whale and dolphin deaths have been attributed to parasites, pneumonia, twisted intestines, as well as “rare diseases” and “undetermined causes.”

In January 2002, a Pacific white-sided dolphin known as Whitewings underwent a “routine medical procedure” to remove debris such as stones and pinecones from her stomach. According to the veterinarian, an employee with a long, skinny arm reached down the dolphin’s throat into her stomach to remove the debris. The dolphin died shortly after.

Other “official” causes of death include old age, and illnesses or injuries the animals may have acquired before coming to the facility. Parasites were blamed for the death of Marineland’s first beluga whale, Paige. The park claimed she died from liver failure caused by parasites that the animal obtained some time ago in the wild and that she was quite old and at the end of her life expectancy. Paige was only 4 years old.

Causes of death for captive bottlenose dolphin calves include lack of maternal skill (on the part of the mother), lack of proper fetal development and abnormal aggression from other animals due to the artificial social environments and confined spaces.

If captivity is better than facing the day-to-day challenges of living in the wild - no predation, round-the-clock veterinary care, and the “best diet and medical care available,” then captive cetaceans should enjoy the same, if not longer, life spans, compared to those in the wild. Clearly they do not.

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