Entertainment corporations (like SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment and the Georgia Aquarium) often use the justification of "science" to continue the unjust and inhumane practice of housing killer whales in small concrete enclosures for human amusements.

However, a review of the published literature (based upon captive killer whale studies) reveals that there's simply not much science occurring at these marine parks.

Below is a sampling of peer-reviewed and other literature, most of which have links to the actual article.  This list should help you begin to familiarize yourself with the depth and breadth of orca research to date. When browsing these research papers, notice how few are based upon Sea World's captive orcas.

These articles are organized into the following categories:

  • Bigg, M. A., Olesiuk, P.F., Ellis, G.M., Ford, J.K.B., & Balcomb, K.C. (1990). Social organization and genealogy of resident killer whales (Orcinus orca) in the coastal waters of British Columbia and Washington State. Report of the International Whaling Commission, Special, (12), 383-405.

Below you will find two articles authored by Drs. John Jett and Jeffrey Ventre.

Drs. John Jett & Jeffrey Ventre met at SeaWorld of Florida in 1992, where they worked together as marine mammal trainers, collecting 13 years of combined  experience. They've been friends ever since. Working directly with confined killer whales in a marine park environment was a catalyst for speaking publicly about the conditions and consequences of captivity. At SeaWorld, John was "team leader" for Tilikum, an orca that has killed three humans, thus far. Jeff primarily worked with Katina & Taima. 

Dr. Jett is now a visiting research professor at Stetson University, where he was nominated for professor of the (academic) year 2011-2012. He has B.S. and M.S. degrees in Environmental Science and a PhD in Health and Human Performance with an emphasis on waterway management and marine mammal conservation issues. Dr. Ventre is a medical doctor who specializes in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation & works at a spine clinic in Central Washington. In 1996 Jeff joined Ken Balcomb & Dr. Astrid van Ginneken for Orca Survey, an ongoing photo identification study of the the Southern Resident population of Killer Whales in the Pacific Northwest. 

The duo's first article, "Keto & Tilikum Express the Stress of Orca Captivity" was submitted to The Orca Project in January of 2011, is available in Spanish, and has been read over forty thousand times. They followed it up with a peer reviewed piece that was published in the Journal of Marine Animals & Their Ecology.


  • Article Abstract:
    • Although unreported in wild orca populations, mosquito-transmitted diseases have killed at least two captive orcas (Orcinus orca) in U.S. theme parks. St. Louis Encephalitis Virus (SLEV) was implicated in the 1990 death of the male orca Kanduke, held at SeaWorld of Florida. In the second case, West Nile Virus (WNV) killed male orca Taku at SeaWorld of Texas in 2007. Captive environments increase vulnerability to mosquitotransmitted diseases in a variety of ways. Unlike their wild counterparts who are rarely stationary, captive orcas typically spend hours each day (mostly at night) floating motionless (logging) during which time biting mosquitoes access their exposed dorsal surfaces. Mosquitoes are attracted to exhaled carbon dioxide, heat and dark surfaces, all of which are present during logging behavior. Further, captive orcas are often housed in geographic locations receiving high ultraviolet radiation, which acts as an immunosuppressant. Unfortunately, many of these facilities offer the animals little shade protection. Additionally, many captive orcas have broken, ground and bored teeth through which bacteria may enter the bloodstream, thus further compromising their ability to fight various pathogens. Given the often compromised health of captive orcas, and given that mosquito-transmitted viral outbreaks are likely to occur in the future, mosquito-transmitted diseases such as SLEV and WNV remain persistent health risks for captive orcas held in the U.S. [JMATE. 2012;5(2):9-16

Jett,J., and Ventre, J. (2011). Keto and Tilikum express the stress of orca captivity.  The Orca Project.
  • Click here to read this article in Spanish.
  • This Article As Described at The Orca Project (2011):
    • In a new study, nearly a year in the making, former SeaWorld trainers Jeffrey Ventre, MD and John Jett, Ph.D, take us deep behind the scenes of Marine parks and their ability to provide environments adequate for keeping killer whales alive in captivity. Drs Ventre and Jett introduce us to detailed observations and strong statistical calculations that add up to an abundance of evidence that captivity kills orcas, usuallyat a young age… and that stresses, social tensions and poor health are chronic issues in marine park facilities. Born from this report, a new statistic called “Mean Duration of Captivity” (MDC), drawn from diverse credible sources, allows overall comparisons with free-ranging orcas and reveals a shockingly low average longevity in captivity. In this research paper, you’ll see the precursors and symptoms of stresses in orcas in captivity, illustrated with powerful photos. The authors invite students, teachers and the public to share these images and use them in their reports and projects. As former orca trainers, and now a medical doctor and biology professor respectively, Drs Ventre and Jett have a perspective that has not been heard in the intensifying debate about captivity for orcas.

AV Presentation - Keto and Tilikum Express the Stress of Captivity

YouTube: Keto & Tilikum Express the Stress of Orca Captivity