February 26th, 2010
03:10 PM ET

Biologists: Killer whales 'neurotic' in captivity

Trainers at SeaWorld are taught to reinforce the whales' good behavior with rewards and to not react at all to bad behavior.

Elizabeth Landau

Killer whales can weigh up to 22,000 pounds, and may be as long as 32 feet, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. They often travel in groups of up to 50, being highly social.

Confining such an enormous animal in an aquarium tank leads the animal to display neurotic behavior, experts say.

"They get very stressed out," marine biologist Nancy Black of Monterey Bay Whale Watch said on CNN's "Larry King Live."

SeaWorld whale trainer Dawn Brancheau, 40, died Wednesday from "multiple traumatic injuries and drowning" after a whale called Tilikum grabbed her ponytail and pulled her underwater at Shamu Stadium, the Orange County Sheriff's office said Thursday.

An orca can travel easily 100 nautical miles every day, and to put them in a pool where they swim around in circles continually, and kept away from their families, "takes a toll on their brains," said Jim Borrowman, who has worked with whales for 30 years and runs Stubbs Island Whale Watching on Vancouver Island, British Columbia.

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soundoff (3 Responses)
  1. Toebin

    I've done a little work with wildlife. Certainly not to the degree of this trainer that was killed. But enough to know anyone working with wild animals realizes there is always a chance of injury or death.

    Unfortunately it's usually human error that causes most incidents like this. A pony tail brushing or swinging in front of the face of the whale would certainly be a potential problem. And now people are calling for the animal to PAY for a human error?

    Just shows how idiotic the human race has become!!!!!

    February 26, 2010 at 4:15 pm |
  2. Mary

    This story outrages me...and Im sure Im not alone, how cruel.. free these poor creatures and stop their torment.
    Sadly this trainer should not have died, anymore then this whale should have been confined for profit and public pleasure...

    February 26, 2010 at 4:05 pm |
  3. Song

    Set them all free!!!!! We hold high regards on "freedom" yet we keep prisoners.

    February 26, 2010 at 3:46 pm |