Life expectancy of orcas in captivity


picture of Corky 2 provided by Terry Hardie

A point often leading to heated discussions when it comes to the pros and cons of orcas in captivity is whether the animals have a chance to live as long as in their natural environment.

Researchers have determined an average life exptectancy for wild killer whales of about 30 years for males and 50 years for females. Some individuals even live to double these averages. Despite those facts, which are commonly accepted within the scientific community, marine park officials still declare publicly that orcas donít live much longer than 20 years.

Of the 160 captive killer whales that have died, more than 70% didnít make it beyond 10 years in captivity. Just 32 orcas survived more than 20 years in captivity. Average time in captivity has improved steadily over the decades, but is still very low.

Do orcas in captivity have a chance to reach the same age as their free counterparts? Here are the numbers as of September 1, 2014:

average time in captivity for all whales in captivity (deceased and alive, n = 215): 8 years, 5 months

average time in captivity for all whales deceased in captivity (n = 160): 6 years, 7 months
average time in captivity for all whales currently alive in captivity (n = 55): 13 years, 9 months

average time in captivity for all whales captured or born between 1964 and 1973 (n = 54): 6 years, 10 months
average time in captivity for all whales captured or born between 1974 and 1983 (n = 58): 10 years, 1 month
average time in captivity for all whales captured or born between 1984 and 1993 (n = 40): 13 years, 1 month
average time in captivity for all whales captured or born between 1994 and 2003 (n = 29): 8 years, 10 months
average time in captivity for all whales captured or born since 2004 (n = 34): 3 years

average time in captivity for all whales deceased between 1964 and 1973 (n = 28): 1 year, 2 months
average time in captivity for all whales deceased between 1974 and 1983 (n = 47): 3 years, 9 months
average time in captivity for all whales deceased between 1984 and 1993 (n = 29): 7 years. 1 month
average time in captivity for all whales deceased between 1994 and 2003 (n = 29): 10 years. 1 month
average time in captivity for all whales deceased since 2004 (n = 27): 13 years

average time in captivity for all captive born whales (n = 67): 8 years, 4 months
average time in captivity for all whales caught in the wild (n = 148): 8 years, 7 months

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