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Is orca captivity moral?

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 2/21/2019 Category: Miscellaneous
Updated: 3 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 576 times Debate No: 120434
Debate Rounds (3)
Comments (10)
Votes (1)




Orca captivity is immoral. Some people state it is moral because if the current captive orcas were released they would die. However this is not nesseserily true and there is not enough research on releasing captive orcas to support this theory.

Firstly, A sea pen/educational centre could be developed to slowly reintroduce these animals into their native oceans. The process would take years for them to be ready but over this period of time a limited number of tourists could visit to observe and be educated on them, Replacing the need for SeaWorlds 'educational' shows. A sea pen would be much more suitable for the orcas, They would have much more space to swim and exercise their muscles. They would have access to the sea floor (instead of a concrete surface). And until they are able to hunt live fish, They would be fed (with minimal human contact) and the feeding is not based on a reward system whereby they are required to preform for survival.

Next I will discuss why captivity is immoral. Orcas are one of the most social species in the world, In the wild they live in pods of around 30 orcas, With many generations and separate families. They communicate in unique ways, Similair to the different languages of humans. There are various ecotypes of orcas, Meaning they vary in size, Shape, Patterns, Diet, And methods of communication. Therefore for SeaWorld to put orcas from different locations in the same tank is ridiculous, These animals are then forcibly impregnated to produce hybrids, Which would not occur naturally. This disrupts the very complex social heirachy of these animals and often results in agression, Either between orcas or towards trainers. An example of this was when Keto rammed and killed another orca to assert dominance, Very rare in the wild.

Many animal behaviouralists have observed orcas in captivity and compared them to that of depressed humans. They float around the tanks in boredom (leading to a skin condition because of the direct sunlight and also the collapse of their dorsal fin), This is a massive contrast to how active they are in the wild, Often swimming up to 100 miles a day. They bash their heads on the sides of the tank, Which is comparable to self harm. These are extremely intelligent creatures which require activitivy, Both mentally and physically.


So are you arguing that we give them better conditions in captivity or that we just never have them in captivity?

If it's the first one, Then I would agree. We should keep them in an environment that provides them with sufficient space, Food, And they should never be harmed or neither physically nor mentally.

If it's the second one, Then I reject it completely. If you're going to say that having orcas in an exhibit is wrong, Then you have to say that owning pets altogether is wrong. Pet owners can treat their pets immorally, But pet ownership itself is actually a morally positive act because we're allowing another species to share space and food with us. It allows the animals to gain access to more resources without having to compete for them in nature. This means that the orcas have both the ocean and exhibits to gain resources from, This actually expands the orca population. So the only thing you can say is that people are doing it wrong, You can't that they shouldn't do it.
Debate Round No. 1


To answer your question I feel we should have never captured orcas in the first place, But it is obviosuly too late for that. So at this point giving them better conditions or releasing them to a seapen is the only moral option.

You say they should never be harmed or neither physically nor mentally, But realistically SeaWorld will never expand their tanks to a reasonable size due to the cost, And keeping them in a concrete tank with essentially foreigners their entire life is very much torture for these creatures.

Comparing pets to orcas is completely innaccurate. Firsly animals like dogs and cats were domesticated many decades ago and evolved so that they are no longer suitable for hunting and living independently. It is only morally positive because humans have bred pets and directly caused their domestication, So feeding them is essential to their survival.

Orcas are the top of the food chain, I assure you they have no issue gaining resources. They are incredible predators that have even been known to hunt and eat whales, Hence the name killer whale. They are specially adapted for this active lifestyle, Not for floating around a tank lifelessly.

'You can't that they shouldn't do it. ' does not make sense. However it is clear people are mistreating these animals. The orca Lolita is kept in a tank smaller than regulations and has been, ALONE since 1980. SeaWorld does not care for orcas quality of life, Only the profit they recieve.

Also in future please comment on my points rather than dismissing them and therefore not proving your point.


I'm allowed to dismiss your points if my points render them irrelevant or if the points don't rebuke the main points I make. That is the nature of debates, If you want me to address them, Then you have to repackage them such that I have to refute them. Kind of like you did now.

First off, I understand that they can't just release the orcas after the fact. The captors should be fully responsible for them now. However, It's not enough to just say that we shouldn't have them in captivity just because one specific group is doing it wrong. We have to address the practice as a whole. I have nothing against a sea pen btw and I thought I made it clear in my first response that I want the orcas kept in the best conditions possible.

Unless you can prove it is physically impossible to keep orcas in captivity humanely, Then your argument falls apart. You have to do this functionally. You can't just say SeaWorld sucks at it. You have to steel man my argument and show that even if we did everything right, We still wouldn't be able to keep them humanely. Since you posited a sea pen that seems humane, You've destroyed your own argument. :)

You activated my trap card! All domesticated animals were once wild, So you can't make a special pleading case for orcas because they could be domesticated as well, That is how evolution works. I showed in my last comment that domestication is a moral positive, So you can't just dismiss it since destroying a moral positive is a moral negative.
I'll try to explain this point better.

Let's say I have 100 units of space in the wild with 100 orcas and each orcas needs 1 unit of space to sustain it's existence. In a situation like this, The orca population will more or less stay steady, Which makes it a moral neutral for their species. However, If humans then go on to share 200 units of their space to give the orcas, The orcas now triple their over all space for the entire species. Now their populations can thrive! Eventually, The orcas in captivity can speciate and produce domesticated orcas (this has been demonstrated to be possible with other species). So eventually we end up with 300 orcas who are coexisting with humans and being treated humanely. There are no moral negatives in this scenario.

I'll restate the goalpost here so we're clear. You have to prove that it is physically impossible to keep orcas humanely or your argument falls. Plain and simple. I await your steel man.
Debate Round No. 2


This is more of the style of countering the argument I was talking about. So far none of your points have rendered mine irrelevant.

If the one specific group you are referring to is SeaWorld, They are the main culprits of orca abuse and the reason I mention them is because they have around 30 orcas, Half of all captive orcas worldwide. Also the public knows a lot about the treatment of them, Unlike other practices like them.

You say you want the orcas kept in the best conditions possible, But that is not in a concrete tank. You are trying to say that orca captivity is moral and yet you feel they deserve better conditions, Please explain this in the last round.

A sea pen is not captivity. And no it does not destroy my argument because I am saying seapens are more moral than keeping them in captivity, And is the lesser of two evils.

I don't see the point of your penultimate paragraph but for the sake of the debate, I will discuss it. I do hope you understand how long the process of evolution takes. And in what way would a domesticated orca be different to them now in order to make captivity suitable. The fact you make it sound like it is humans space to give up, Does not surprise me since you are arguing as humans we have the right to keep animals in captivity and mistreat them how we like. Also orcas are not land based mammals so I don't understand why you talk about us giving them space and sharing a space with them. The orca population size is not directly affected by space availible.

I think you're slightly misunderstanding the debate, The question is whether orca captivity is moral, Not whether it is possible to keep them humanely. Also you are discussing it being moral in the future, But this is the present and so orca captivity is not moral.

It is clear you know little about orcas, What they require as a species and why captivity is not suitable for them.


So that was just a giant argument that misrepresents all of mine.

I don't know what your definition of countering is. But you're using it as a throw away term to make me look bad. I'm refuting your arguments. If that's the same thing as countering, Then there's nothing wrong with me doing that.

If the orcas can't leave and go into the wild. Then it's captivity. If you want to try to create a false equivalency, Then go ahead. But now you're just playing word games.

Sea world is irrelevant. If sea world is mistreating animals, Then I want them prosecuted and forced to treat them better. My argument is pointed towards all possible cases of captivity which is a much better way to look at the problem, Don't you agree?

You misrepresent me by saying that I want orcas in a concrete tank. I never said that. I said I want them in the best conditions possible. This is necessarily broad because I'm not presuming to know what the best conditions are because I'm not a marine biologist, And unless you hold said credential, Neither do you.

If a sea pen is not captivity, Then I'm against it because we're responsible for the animals that we institutionalize. Under no conditions are we justified to throw them back into the wild and risk their safety. This would be immoral.

You misrepresent me again here. I never said we could treat pets however we like. We domesticated them and now we're responsible for them. We treat them with the best conditions or we're immoral, Just like with orcas. Also, You don't understand evolution very well. Speciation events don't necessarily require huge time frames to happen. There is a well known case of a somebody domesticating foxes within the course of a couple human generations. Also, Domestication does make them more well suited to captivity because that's how natural selection works. The orcas with the best traits suited for captivity will naturally thrive while others won't. This will cause them to become more human friendly, Swim with more precision to account for any walls, And they will adapt to the food we feed them.

I'm not misunderstanding the point. "is orca captivity moral? " Orca captivity can come in many shapes and sizes, We don't want to paint with too broad of a brush and just lump them all into one category. That is why we talk about keeping them humanely. Humane treatment is a moral issue and definitely is germane to the argument. You make some vague appeal to the future like we don't care about the future. If you're just going to be vacuous then why debate at all? If the now is all that matters then why do you care about the future of orcas? You can't have your cake and eat it too.

You're right, I know very little about orcas scientifically speaking. But I don't have to. This is an ethical problem so I can't set the ethical standards before I ever plug orcas into the mix. If I plug orcas in first and then base the moral implications off of them, It would be fallacious
Debate Round No. 3
10 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 10 records.
Posted by WrickItRalph 3 years ago
I would like to say, Now that the debate is over, That I'm totally cool with shutting sea world down and taking their orcas to put some where better. Don't get me wrong on this point, Lol. I knew it would be wrong and stupid for me to debate this. That's why I made a case for all possible instances of captivity instead of just sea world
Posted by WrickItRalph 3 years ago
I think what we need to do is urge people who watch these debates to not take our words for it and research. I think that's better than a citation.
Posted by WrickItRalph 3 years ago
I agree with you there. If we don't know something, Then I think only speaking about the parts we know is okay. Citing sources is nice, But we don't want to get in the habit of it because it's easy to slip up and post a bad source. He gave me enough info that I could go research it myself and get accurate information and I think that's more honest than just posting a citation and not knowing if it's accurate or not.
Posted by 11normane 3 years ago
Thanks for the feedback @EverlastingMoment. In response to your comments, I chose not to go into detail on what a sea pen/educational centre would entail as currently there are no such centres so I would likely be inaccurate, But for the sake of the debate, I will describe what I feel it would include. First of all they would be built on coasts, Using the water from the sea (which would have to be pumped in a continuous system), Instead of chlorinated water. Instead of a concrete floor and walls, The natural sea bed and coast would replace this (and nets where necessary). The orcas who weren't born into captivity would ideally be placed close to their native zones, In order for communication to occur. Lolita, Whose mother L25 is still alive has been played recordings of her pod and has vocalised despite not seeing another orca in 30 years, This gives hope that the social identity these orcas are born with, Still remains despite captivity. And those born into captivity would have to be individually researched to find a pod they could integrate into, This would be difficult as many of them are hybrids of ecotypes and so unfortunately would probably never be released from the sea pen. Feeding would be an issue, As the orcas have been fed dead fish they're entire lives, However in the case of Keiko, He was given live fish and eventually began displaying hunting methods in order to eat.
Also to satisfy the capitalistic needs of SeaWorld and such companies, They could charge a limited number of tourists to visit the orcas, Obviously there would be no tricks but talks would focus on educating people on these creatures.
You have to understand that orcas in captivity are already dying, None have lived to wild life expectancy and they are dependant on medication due to the conditions they suffer. So anything better is more moral.
Posted by WrickItRalph 3 years ago
lol, Thorough as always @EverlastingMoment
Posted by EverlastingMoment 3 years ago
RFD Part 1 -

I'll address this debate by directly talking about what my thoughts were reading both cases before identifying what the clash point of the debate was. I'll start with Con.

Now, I liked the picture that Con painted at the start of the debate regarding Orca captivity. I found that the point regarding captivity of Orcas being naturally disruptive to their social nature as killer whales and against the ecosystem in which they should live in to be very strong. The only thing that I found weak was the proposed method of relocating them to the wild via these educational centres. I did not actually get the distinction from Con how these centres are actually going to be any different from the tanks they are currently living because there was very little detail about how these centres were actually going to be different from the tanks. (And also I was very uncertain what you meant by a 'sea pen' because sea pens refer to marine cnidarians that live in the ocean).

Now on the flipside, Pro's arguments never came off to me as particularly strong or analytically developed. The comparison made that Orcas are no different from domesticated animals did not strike me given that Con made it clear at the start that Orca captivity in places such as SeaWorld is naturally unfeasible because they aren't the proper conditions where Orcas can actually thrive properly at all. I feel that Pro should have gone with a different line of argumentation at the start, Something that wasn't an analogy. The problem with bringing up analogies in some cases is if you make an analogy that comes off as totally unrelated. Con did make this clear by stating that the ecosystem in which an Orca lives is greatly distinctive from one which dogs and cats live in. The points brought up by Pro regarding the reformation of places like Seaworld so that humans better treat the Orcas was good but it was an underdeveloped point. Stating that people who mistreat the Orcas should be 'prosecuted'- (C
Posted by EverlastingMoment 3 years ago
RFD Part 2 (Continued) -

--Is bold because you need to follow this up by showing how exactly this can be done and applied. Sometimes you can get away with this if the opposition doesn't address your point but because Con brought up the interesting point that the Orca Lolita had been living in a tank under regulation standards since 1980 creates a doubt in the voters mind. Because this raises the question whether reformation in places like SeaWorld can even be done considering that there has been a history of mistreatment that has gone unchanged. This is where the importance of following up your arguments with more analysis comes in. While the point Pro made was good, It was not developed and hence Con capitalized off this and showed a convincing example that this wasn't possible.

So essentially the clash point I found in the debate was the livelihood of Orcas living in captivity vs living in the wild. Because Pro's argumentation revolved around the dogs and cats analogy that came off as weak and unconnected to the topic of the Orca and the argument calling for the reformation of Seaworld came off as undeveloped and not properly enforceable made it clear in my mind that Orca captivity was on the whole immoral and it's better off releasing them in the wild where they can thrive.

With that, I'd like to conclude that I felt that there were certainly areas in which both sides could have been stronger and areas where both sides were messy. Pro based on what I explained above and Con based on the weak argument about educational centres which were not clearly distinguished from regular captivity. (Con's point could have been serious if Pro capitalized off this more. I felt that this whole argument was just unnecessary and actually did more harm to your case than good because you're talking about relocating them to a separate living space which still classifies as captivity).

But overall I feel that Con successfully succeeded in his burden and hence the motion
Posted by WrickItRalph 3 years ago
@normaldude, You don't understand evolution and you're also a self professed racist. So why would I listen to what you say about species?
Posted by normaldude 3 years ago
Yeah man you are completely wrong here Wrick. Just stop the debate no amount of Google or Wikipedia searches are gonna help you. Even the dogs bred on the streets would not survive without humans. You might of never owned a dog or maybe all leftists are psychopaths that are overcompensating emotion but the bond between human and dog is amazing. Keeping a reptile in a large enough terrarium is fine because well their brains aren't like some mammals but yeah taking an animal thats wild and putting it in a pool the equivalent size of a bedroom is wrong. The only time they should be kept in captivity is when they are rescued from private zoo and can't be released to the wild
Posted by Leaning 3 years ago
Hmm, It seems difficult to apply morality to something that is extremely different than you. More so when you examine the differences. Whether another human in a vastly different culture, Animals in their dog eat dog world (I just mean the harshness and cruelty of nature), Or aliens off planet we may encounter one day.

I do like your approach though of looking for the similarities as a way to apply morality. Which I imagine is what we generally do when we object to cruelty to animals.
1 votes has been placed for this debate.
Vote Placed by EverlastingMoment 3 years ago
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Total points awarded:50 
Reasons for voting decision: RFD in comments.

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