The capture of cetaceans from the wild is a horrible experience both for the animals who are taken and for those left behind. Whales and dolphins are very intelligent beings who form life-long bonds with their pod members, and capturing them from the wild destroys that. Often times captures consist of going after the youngest members of the family, mainly because calves are easiest to ship and train. It is not uncommon for some animals to be killed carrying out the capture. Considering how highly intelligent, social, and emotional these animals are, this is a traumatic event for every member of the pod.
The capture process for wild cetaceans has not changed much since it was first recorded in the 1800s. It usually consists of herding animals into an enclosed space via boats with the use of underwater sound (whales and dolphins are very sound sensitive, and the use of loud tones underwater can literally make a "wall" that forces the animals to move) and then extracting the animals chosen for marine parks, usually young females and calves. The rest of the pod is sometimes released, but in most cases the family members will stay in the vicinity of the captured animal for an extended amount of time, sometimes even following the boat that is taking the captured podmate away. From there the captured cetacean is usually placed in a pen in the ocean, and later sold to a marine park where it will spend the rest of its life preforming for a demanding crowd. This isn't something that happened a long time ago either. In countries such as Japan and Russia, captures are still a serious problem that is happening today.
Because these facilities primarily want calves, many cetaceans are brought in not knowing many of the teachings that their mothers would have taught them, including raising calves of their own. This can result in future problems with birth acceptance of offspring.
Even though some animals are born into captivity it doesn't mean they are safe from the tragic event of pod separation. It is a common practice in the captive industry to move animals to other parks for various reasons. Please check out the "Social Life" page for more information.
Orca capture pictures. Credit: Rightful owners, Center for Pacific Northwest studies, Terry Newby, Orca Network, and Wallie Funk AP photo, Terry Newby.
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