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June 7, 2010

The HSUS Reacts to Death of SeaWorld Whale

WASHINGTON — Naomi A. Rose, Ph.D., marine mammal scientist for The Humane Society of the United States and orca biologist, released the following statement regarding the orca at SeaWorld Orlando who died on Sunday from complications that arose while she was giving birth:

"The death of Taima is a tragic event. It is made worse by several statements attributed to SeaWorld officials reported in the media that are incorrect or misleading.

"SeaWorld has been quoted as saying that successful birth rates for orcas are about 50 percent in the wild and 85 percent at SeaWorld; that stillbirth rates in the wild are significantly higher than at SeaWorld; and that no orca has died while giving birth at SeaWorld in 25 years. None of these statements is true.

"The successful birth rate in the wild is unknown — scientists cannot distinguish a miscarriage, stillbirth, or death of a calf before reaching 6 months of age when observing wild orca populations. From one well-studied orca population, it is estimated that the calf survival rate to six months is 60 percent, but this is merely an estimate and refers to six-month calf survival, not successful birth, which includes all live births where the calf survives for some period of time, usually about a month. Successful birthing rate in the wild would of course be higher. The high successful birthing rate for captive orcas reported by SeaWorld officials may not take into account early miscarriages or females who die while still pregnant, which it should, given that it is possible to collect this information in captive situations. This information is inaccessible to researchers in the wild. 

"The stillbirth rate in the wild is also unknown.  Births are rarely observed in the wild, let alone stillbirths. It is simply nonsense to state that the wild can be compared unfavorably to SeaWorld in this regard. Finally, at least four orcas have died while pregnant or while in labor at SeaWorld parks in the past 25 years. Kona died in 1987 while in the early stages of pregnancy; Kenau died in 1991 while in her 12th month of pregnancy, so this was arguably a full-term stillbirth and maternal death, although Kenau apparently did not go into labor; and Samoa died in 1992 while in labor, along with her near full-term fetus. The most recent death was Haida, who died in 2001 in her fifth month of pregnancy.

"The HSUS continues to maintain that orcas' large size, social complexity, and intelligence make them unsuited to public display — this new tragedy at SeaWorld supports this view. It is time to end the captive breeding of orcas and phase out their public display. We have learned enough in the past 40 years of holding them in captivity to know that this species' needs cannot be adequately addressed in captivity."

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The Humane Society of the United States is the nation's largest animal protection organization — backed by 11 million Americans, or one of every 28. For more than a half-century, The HSUS has been fighting for the protection of all animals through advocacy, education and hands-on programs. Celebrating animals and confronting cruelty — On the Web at humanesociety.org.

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