Chinese marine park’s orca-breeding programme is indefensible

Keith Guo says Chimelong Ocean Kingdom’s new breeding programme for killer whales is simply out of step with public sentiment that increasingly finds such captivity cruel

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 17 May, 2017, 12:41pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 17 May, 2017, 12:41pm

In the developed world, there is growing public awareness that orcas should not be kept in captivity. Bowing to the trend, the US theme park giant SeaWorld announced last year that it would stop breeding these highly intelligent animals. So it was jarring to hear that in this part of the world, China’s Chimelong Ocean Kingdom is starting a breeding programme for orcas, also known as killer whales. This is a step entirely in the wrong direction.

Orcas live in family units, and they have sophisticated social structures. Removing even one orca from the wild has devastating consequences for the pod and leaves lifelong emotional scars. All nine orcas at Chimelong Ocean Kingdom in Hengqin, Zhuhai, were taken from their ocean homes. By buying these animals, wild-caught from Russian seas, the facility is supporting a merciless and mercenary industry – one that must be condemned.

Orcas are curious and playful animals. In the wild, they swim up to 160km per day, forage freely and establish lasting bonds with their mothers, siblings and other members of their close-knit communities, with whom they usually remain for life.

Watch: Chimelong Ocean Kingdom launches a breeding centre for orca, China’s first

But at a marine amusement park like Chimelong, they are forced to live in concrete tanks that don’t come close to replicating their natural habitats. They’re denied the opportunity to do the things that are natural to them, such as diving, choosing a mate and swimming long distances. As a result, orcas in captivity develop physiological ailments such as compromised immunity and display atypical forms of behaviour, including self-harm and aggression towards humans and other orcas. Driven insane by the lack of autonomy and meaningful stimulation, many destroy their teeth by chewing on the steel divider bars or sides of their tanks. Most die well before their natural life expectancy.

Visitors to such a facility learn nothing about orcas by seeing them swim endless laps in shallow pools. Families visit to be entertained, and it’s ethically indefensible to relegate these intelligent animals to life in a tank for the public’s fleeting distraction.

We urge Chimelong Ocean Kingdom to instead use its resources to build coastal sanctuaries for these orcas. There, visitors could observe these impressive marine mammals from viewing platforms and learn more about how they really behave.

Chimelong should condemn the capture of wild orcas and pledge never to buy them or borrow them from others, and it must halt its plans for a breeding programme. Until it shows more compassion in its policies, people who care about animals should not set foot inside its gates.

Keith Guo is PETA Asia’s press officer for China