Peer-reviewed study concludes SeaWorld whales live as long as wild counterparts

Posted Saturday, August 1, 2015 8:09 AM | Contributed by Jeff

A peer-reviewed study, which appears in the July edition of the Journal of Mammalogy, concluded that the life expectancy of a SeaWorld killer whale is 41.6 years, compared to 29 years for killer whales in a southern community of the waters of the Pacific Northwest and 42.3 for whales in a northern community.

Read more from The LA Times.

Thursday, August 6, 2015 5:06 PM

I would say that the fact that captive animals don't have to hunt for food and aren't subject to being hunted is a quantifiable indication of better quality of life.

And you acting coy about playing devil's advocate is the funniest thing I've read on here in awhile.


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Thursday, August 6, 2015 6:05 PM
Jeff's avatar

Lord Gonchar said:
But the idea that this validates anything other than lifespan in captive settings, is silly.

I think I said this before, but it wasn't to validate anything. The intention was to discredit the critics who say they did not live as long in captivity, one of the frequent talking points of the activists.


Jeff - Editor - CoasterBuzz.com - My Blog - Silly Nonsense

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Thursday, August 6, 2015 6:13 PM
Lord Gonchar's avatar

No. You did say that.

It just felt like the conversation took a different tone as it progressed.

Plus, I like to think I get people thinking. (whether I actually do or not...well, it makes me feel good to think I do)


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Monday, August 10, 2015 3:05 PM
TTDAdrenaline's avatar

The correspondent contact information for the study is literally a sea world email address. I'm going to stick with the natural life span information provided by NOAA.gov:

"up to 50-100 years:
males typically live for about 30 years, but can live as long as 50-60 years;
females typically live about 50 years, but can live as long as 100 years"

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Monday, August 10, 2015 3:36 PM
Jeff's avatar

You know that's not how science works, right? Credibility of a study is not dictated by the email address of a contact. It's a peer-reviewed study published in a reputable scientific journal. You're responding emotionally and not logically.


Jeff - Editor - CoasterBuzz.com - My Blog - Silly Nonsense

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Monday, August 10, 2015 4:28 PM
TTDAdrenaline's avatar

I understand how science works. I read the study and have disagreements with their methods used for a few reasons:

1- They stated that they only used data from wild specimen that were born during or after 1972. So their calculations can't include any wild animals over the age of 43.

2- Their conclusions are based on projections of Annual Survival Rate (ASR) instead of a measurement of actual age. I agree more hazards exist in the wild, that doesn't change how long an animal is capable of living.

3- One of the captive animals was not included in the SeaWorld ASR numbers for having a chronic disease. These exceptions were not stated to have been made for non-captive animals. I view that as manipulating the averages.

I personally don't have a strong opinion either way on the captivity. I have attended SeaWorld in the past and likely will in the future. What I disagree with is when things appear to be created to cause misinformation. "Peer-reviewed" by who, others with interest in captive marine life?

My initial point was agreeable not clear: Having a studied published in scientific journal does not make it proven theory or fact. I had discomfort with all four authors being a SeaWorld or Zoo representative and the methods used to produce the "lifespan" numbers.

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Monday, August 10, 2015 6:03 PM
Jeff's avatar

You're disqualifying data to suit a particular position (even if you say you don't have strong opinions either way). Furthermore, it makes sense to exclude one captive animal with chronic disease, because as it is the captive sample is very small and it would have a material impact on the results. I see they also adjusted the SeaWorld sample to account for age groups. These are statistically sound practices.

Peer review is not about specific expertise, it's about other scientists examining the use of the scientific method and validating the analysis. Ask anyone who has endured the scrutiny of a post doc. It's brutal. That's what a study goes through before being published to a journal. The data cited for wild populations is all from outside SeaWorld, so I don't know how that can cause discomfort.

A published study is not intended to establish fact, but it is intended to prove or disprove a theory (or end up somewhere in between). This one goes beyond solid in comparing the wild and captive populations and their longevity.


Jeff - Editor - CoasterBuzz.com - My Blog - Silly Nonsense

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Monday, August 10, 2015 6:46 PM
ApolloAndy's avatar

TTDAdrenaline said:

"Peer-reviewed" by who, others with interest in captive marine life?

I don't think you understand what peer-reviewed means.


Hobbes: "What's the point of attaching a number to everything you do?"
Calvin: "If your numbers go up, it means you're having more fun."

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Monday, August 10, 2015 8:17 PM
Raven-Phile's avatar


R.I.P LeRoi Moore 9/7/61 - 8/19/2008
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Tuesday, August 11, 2015 4:49 AM
TTDAdrenaline's avatar

I know that peer reviewed doesn't mean infallible. I only found record of one captive whale actually surviving to reach the 41.6yr marker in the study mentioned in the article.

An independent study, also published in a scientific journal shows the average in captivity to be 12 years for US facilities. (http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/mms.12225/abstract)

Overall the numbers point to marked improvement since the 1985 introduction of larger tanks used for breeding. SeaWorld also is ahead by leaps and bounds when comparing their survival rates to other locations holding whales in captivity. Why can't they focus their efforts on positives like these? I would find statements like "we've made great strides in our housing conditions" or "we are leading the industry in care" to be much easier to swallow.

Honestly I feel like they should ignore the "Blackfish" attacks until people move on to the next documentary craze. Every time they make an effort to discredit negative claims it seems to just spark more media coverage for opposing groups to comment. McDonald's survived "Supersize Me" just by renaming their size options, eventually nobody seemed to care anymore.

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Wednesday, August 12, 2015 8:14 PM
Carrie J.'s avatar

In the article, this stands out to me:

In response to criticism and a drop in attendance, SeaWorld launched a campaign to dispute the "Blackfish" accusations. The company has also hired a new chief executive and announced plans to build larger orca tanks at SeaWorld San Diego.

That's the kind of thing that keeps this discussion going. I mean why do you need to build larger orca tanks in response to criticism if the ones you've been using have been fine and adequate? Public appearance? Maybe. But it could also be because no matter what, there will always be room for increasing the quality of care of these animals. It doesn't mean they're being abused, but I'm sure there is always room for improvement.

There will always be another scientific study that swings the pendulum the other way. And there will always be emotional response from the other "side" reacting to it. Generally speaking, on really polarized issues like this one, the truth is somewhere in the middle.


"If passion drives you, let reason hold the reins." --- Benjamin Franklin

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Wednesday, August 12, 2015 9:01 PM

TTDAdrenaline said:
I understand how science works. I read the study and have disagreements with their methods used for a few reasons:

1- They stated that they only used data from wild specimen that were born during or after 1972. So their calculations can't include any wild animals over the age of 43.

.

I'm not a scientist, so there may be a logical explanation for this, but how can this study come to the conclusion it does by only studying whales in the wild born after 1972.

To me, that's basically using a maximum age of 43 in the wild to compare to whales in captivity. Of course, the conclusion would then be that whales in captivity live as long as those in wild because the maximum age in the wild studied is 43

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Wednesday, August 12, 2015 11:15 PM
Jeff's avatar

Because there are a great many things that you can infer with aggregate data. It's basic statistics.

Carrie is right about an ever moving bar to set, which is why I think that tank size was a stupid thing to chase. I maintain my position that SeaWorld's attendance problem was strictly about not having any serious cap ex while the competition spent ridiculous amounts on new attractions.


Jeff - Editor - CoasterBuzz.com - My Blog - Silly Nonsense

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Thursday, August 13, 2015 9:46 AM

So they are not studying whales over 43 years old in the wild.... Just estimating/guessing how long they think they will live to compare to whales in captivity?

And then also didn't include a whale who had a short life in captivity because it had a chronic disease and didn't want to skew the numbers.

I'm a supporter of Sea World, love their parks and think they do great work for animals both in the wild and in captivity.... But from a non-scientist common sense point of view, it sure seems they had a conclusion in mind and then selected/used/manipulated certain data to get to stated conclusion.

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Thursday, August 13, 2015 10:40 AM

^^ And what would be the reason for that? Cautionary? I'd like to think it's not just ignorance or stupidity.

Sea World has always been low on the number of thrills and high on edutainment, even much more so than the BG parks. With a change in leadership perhaps it took a moment or two for them to figure out that resting on their laurels, particularly in the ultra competitive central Florida market, wasn't going to be enough. I dont know the business, but I'm certain the care and maintenance of an animal collection like theirs is expensive and perhaps they felt there wasn't the budget for a lot of iron. Ok, then Blackfish came along, and while I prefer to think it's not solely responsible for the park's decline, I'm also sure it didn't help. Maybe, ultimately, it turned into "too little, too late" with a dash of "who knew?" thrown in there.

No one was more shocked than me at how much I enjoyed my visits there- I was certain I would sense boredom from the lack of rides. But it's a beautiful park with lots to do and I spent the day not only enjoying the rides but going from show to show. And is that enough to keep attendance up? Is the era of the fish tank parks about over, and do Americans demand more than that?

I think of Dollywood and Silver Dollar City, a couple of parks where it might've been easy to just rely on an old-timey atmosphere and live shows in hopes that the retirees would keep coming. But instead, wisely, they expanded the parks in all directions in order to draw all kinds of guests and keep them happy for a day.
What Sea World seems to be have lost track of these days is that delicate balance, and I hope things turn around for them.

Last edited by RCMAC, Thursday, August 13, 2015 10:41 AM
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Thursday, August 13, 2015 1:24 PM
Carrie J.'s avatar

Chicago07 said:

So they are not studying whales over 43 years old in the wild.... Just estimating/guessing how long they think they will live to compare to whales in captivity?

And then also didn't include a whale who had a short life in captivity because it had a chronic disease and didn't want to skew the numbers.

I'm a supporter of Sea World, love their parks and think they do great work for animals both in the wild and in captivity.... But from a non-scientist common sense point of view, it sure seems they had a conclusion in mind and then selected/used/manipulated certain data to get to stated conclusion.

I understand why it seems this way, but really, it's not the case. Studies like this are complicated, because you can't just head out into the ocean and ask the orcas how old they are. Fortunately, in 1973, it seems they identified a group that they could begin tracking for studies like this one. It's not nefarious. It's just the evolution of science. They need to come up with comparison groups that make sense to compare. And they need to withhold control groups that it makes sense to withhold. The peer-review part of this study means that a lot of intelligent folks who are experts in this subject area threw every dart they could think of at the methodology and outcomes and it withstood the tests. You don't have to care what it all means, but you can trust the findings as reported.

But the main thing that I was trying to get to earlier and I think is the general misconception about these studies, is the fact that there will never be a study done from either "side" that concludes what people keep trying to make these studies mean... that Sea World is inherently good or Sea World is inherently bad. Neither is true and none of the science is proving otherwise.


"If passion drives you, let reason hold the reins." --- Benjamin Franklin

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Thursday, August 13, 2015 1:31 PM
slithernoggin's avatar

Well said.


Life is something that happens when you can't get to sleep.
--Fran Lebowitz

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Thursday, August 13, 2015 2:20 PM
rollergator's avatar

Carrie J. said:

The peer-review part of this study means that a lot of intelligent folks who are experts in this subject area threw every dart they could think of at the methodology and outcomes and it withstood the tests.

Inigo Montoya couldn't have explained it better...

Last edited by rollergator, Thursday, August 13, 2015 2:21 PM

You still have Zoidberg.... You ALL have Zoidberg! (V) (;,,;) (V)

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Thursday, August 13, 2015 2:32 PM
Lord Gonchar's avatar

Assuming no corruption or inadequacies, of course.

I hate to be forced to take the side that seems anti-science because nothing could be further from the truth. It just seems like sometimes the "Science!" crowd has as much blind fervor as the "Religion!" crowd.

Obviously, science is good. But humans are fallible.

Science is the best we have at any given time within the constraints of our limitations. Sometimes I think that gets overlooked.

Trust science, it's the best we can do right now.

With that said, this study done by people with connections to SeaWorld that potentially has commercial implications for SeaWorld simply says it found that whales in captivity live as long as those in the wild. It's more of a PR statement than anything.

Errr, rather, a peer reviewed PR statement. :)


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Thursday, August 13, 2015 3:05 PM
rollergator's avatar

Short version:

Science accepts its faults and moves forward as new facts and evidence contrary to current thought come to light.

Religion has a tendency to retreat further into its shell when conflicting facts and evidence come to light (although, it seems likely that much can be accomplished under the regime of the New Pope).


You still have Zoidberg.... You ALL have Zoidberg! (V) (;,,;) (V)

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