Aggression Involving People

In captivity, aggression isn't just between cetaceans, it extends to their human trainers as well. Orcas, the largest species of the dolphin family, have never killed a person in the wild. In captivity already four people are dead due to interactions with them in captivity. There have been 100+ instances of aggression between whales and trainers, many of which caused serious injuries and almost resulted in death.

The most recent, and wildly referenced instance, was the attack and death of SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau at SeaWorld Orlando. Dawn was a senior trainer and an expert in her field. However, on February 24th, 2010, during a routine preformance with killer whale Tilikum, things took a turn for the worst when the whale grabbed her and dragged her into the pool. What proceeded next was a violent death, as Tilikum broke her jaw, fractured her vertebra, dislocated her knee and elbow, and did quite a lot more damage to Dawn.This wasn't an isolated incident, Previously, Tilikum had killed two others in the same violent way. Because of Brancheau's death, SeaWorld orca trainers are no longer allowed in the water with the animals.

Aggressive attacks against humans are not just limited to killer whales, but other cetaceans as well. Back in 2012, at SeaWorld again, a bottlenose dolphin bit a girl during a feeding session, resulting in deep cone shaped bite marks on her hand. Again in 2014 nine year old got her hand bitten at the park's San Antonio location so hard that a trainer had to intervene to get the animal to let go. These are just a few examples of the devastating effect that cetaceans have against us whilst in captivity.


Unfortunately, aggression like this isn't just a once-in-a-while occurrence. Cetaceans have been known to attack each other restlessly in captivity.

Pictured below: A full body shot of Tekoa, who is covered with rake marks, or teeth on teeth aggression by other whales, as well as a close up shot of his wounds. The other photo is of Ikakia, an orca at SeaWorld San Diego, with rakes around his eye.

Photo credit: Peta2, Free Morgan foundation, MonchoParis, and Helen Alexandra

“In the wild, they don’t solve their problems aggressively. It’s not normal. Killer whales travel in kinship groups or clans and they don’t have those aggressive interactions. If other whales come along from a different group, they just avoid each other. Obviously, you can’t do that in a tank.” - Ken Balcomb, wild orca researcher.

Aggression With Other Animals

Aggression is a prominent part of any captive cetacean's life. In their natural environment, whales and dolphins are not normally aggressive with the members of their pod. They are highly social animals, and if an aggressive situation arises, the animal can just swim away. In captivity however, where animals are mismatched and placed in different parks in small enclosures with other individuals they have never met before, aggression is almost expected. Captive cetaceans have been recorded to jaw pop, rake, bite, etc. the other animals living in the same tank.

During one instance 1989, two orcas named Corky and Orkid were doing a show in the front pool at SeaWorld San Diego. Kandu, Orkid's mother, was placed in the back pool of the show area. Once the performance was done Kandu gained access to Corky and Orkid. Kandu charged at Corky aggressively.

It is unknown if Kandu hit Corky or the concrete wall of the tank, but Kandu ended up hitting her jaw and breaking it, causing her to slowly bleed out, something that took around 45 minutes. The whole while Orkid, her baby at the time, swam around helplessly, watching her mother bleed to death. Instances like this are seldom seen in the wild. And if this were to occur in their natural environment, the animals would have room to swim away, unlike a tank which inhibits them from getting away from aggressive situations.  

Below: Kandu bleeds to death. Photo credit: Jim Barnes