Because captivity is cruel.
The first time I saw a killer whale it honestly took my breath away. I was about 16 years old in a sea kayak on a freezing day in the Canadian wilderness and the thought of the sheer size and power of an animal with 6ft dorsal fins still makes my knees feel weak.
Killer Whales are up there with some of our most iconic species. They have become the embodiment of conservation. The 60s brought the first arrival of killer whales in captivity and now we know how horrific this is for such social animals. It’s hard to believe that such cruelty continues today in the USA, Canada, France, Japan, China, Argentina, Spain and Russia.
Sensory deprivation is deemed one of the worst tortures known to man, so how can anyone suggest it’s ok to keep these intelligent, highly social animals away from their natural environment, families and in some cases no companionship at all.
There is no case at all for keeping these incredible mammals in captivity, especially because there are many places that you see them in the wild – an experience that is much more remarkable, and rewarding, than viewing them in a glorified fish tank.
Here are four spots I recommend:
Johstone Strait, Canada
It seems bizarre to think a solitary killer whale, Kiska, is still kept in captivity in Canada so unnecessarily, when they are found in such impressive number in some of Canada’s waters completely wild and free.
A few years ago I travelled to British Columbia where I went sea kayaking with killer whales and to this day, there are only very few experiences that have managed to match it. Johnstone Strait makes up the channel between the Canadian mainland and Vancouver Island.
I stayed over five nights in tents on an uninhabited island in the strait, a few hours by boat to the nearest town, surrounded by bears and marine life. The passage is home to both fish eating resident and true meat eating transient orcas, so your chances of sightings are really high. Being a strait, it’s sheltered and ideal for sea kayaking. Plus, as well as orcas you’re surrounded by dahl’s porpoises, sea otters, humpback whales and an abundance of birdlife.
One of the many companies that could take you: Wildcoast Adventures
Bremer Canyon, Western Australia
In the months of January – April every year, Bremer Canyon off the west coast of Australia finds itself inundated with wildlife; sharks, dolphins, sea birds, whales and killer whales are drawn to the area. It’s thought this is due to a hydrocarbon pocket under the sea floor. Around this time the area becomes seriously nutrient rich and the larger predators com to reap the rewards.
So many killer whales gather here at this time, it’s thought to be the largest agglomeration of orcas in all of the southern hemisphere. The canyon is around an hour and a half boat journey from the mainland, but as some have seen over 100 on some occasions – it’s sure to be worth it!
Surprise surprise, orcas can actually be seen in the waters of the Hebridean Islands, admittedly not in huge numbers though. There are around eight orcas residing in Scottish waters that are quite well known to scientists now and have been in Irish and Scottish waters for many years.
Sadly their population has stopped breeding and unless this changes, their dying out inevitable. It seems they are suffering from contamination through their diet. Pesticides used on land then run off into the ocean where they accumulate in marine life. As the orcas are at the top of the food chain they carry the most contaminants, this could explain their existence in such small numbers in these waters.
Hebridean Whale Cruises take groups out on boat trips for the possibility to witness unique killer whales before they disappear.
Norway undoubtedly claims the first place on my wish list for orca viewing. The fjords of Tromsø have been described as some of th best viewing for them in the world. The orcas here are fish eating residents too, so all year sightings are promising.
Having said that, the herring migration usually provides the most impressive viewings, when the orcas work in their pods to school the fish into tight balls where they hunt individuals from the outside. This means there’s a higher likelihood of lots of individuals in one place – ideal for diving! Unlike many North American locations where entering the water with the animals is prohibited, in Norway this is possible, promising an unforgettable experience for those daring enough to swim with one of the most formidable apex predators.