Poll Shows Big Jump in Percentage of Americans Opposed to Keeping Orcas Captive for Public Display

Washington, DC—The Animal Welfare Institute (AWI) and Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC) have released results of a poll they commissioned on the American public’s attitudes toward keeping orcas (also known as killer whales) in captivity for public display. The poll shows that fully half of Americans oppose it, while only 21 percent of Americans favor keeping orcas in captivity. The rest were undecided.

The poll was a follow-up to an identical 2012 poll commissioned by the groups that showed 39 percent opposing the practice and only 26 percent favoring it, with the rest undecided. The more recent results indicate a significant increase of 11 percentage points in the number of Americans opposed, as well as a 5 point drop in those expressing support.

“The tide of public opinion is clearly turning against deliberately confining these magnificent animals for human entertainment” says Dr. Naomi Rose, AWI marine mammal scientist. “Having studied these intelligent, wide-ranging, socially complex animals in the wild, I have long known that their welfare cannot be adequately protected when confined for a lifetime in small, shallow tanks. Thankfully, an increasing percentage of the American public is recognizing this, as well” she added.

The poll shows that Americans are increasingly convinced that the negative impacts to killer whales caused by removing them from their natural habitats and social groups outweigh any alleged educational or scientific benefit. A large majority of people—82 percent—say that the inability of killer whales to engage in their natural behaviors when kept in captivity is a “convincing” reason to end this practice, with 57 percent saying it is “very convincing.” A majority now also say that the confinement to relatively small pools (compared to orcas’ large natural range), which causes boredom, stress, increased illnesses, and decreased lifespans, is a “very convincing” reason to stop keeping this species in captivity. No argument tested for keeping orcas in captivity for public display was as persuasive as the reasons to end this practice.

“It is clear from the poll that the arguments supporting the maintenance of orcas in captivity have lost their luster and are increasingly failing to convince the American public of the value of this practice,” stated Courtney Vail, campaigns manager for WDC. “The poll clearly indicates the public’s ever-growing disaffection with captivity.”

Americans’ concern about human safety working with killer whales has also increased in the past two years. The fact that captive killer whales might injure or kill trainers was cited as a convincing reason to end captivity by 72 percent of those surveyed—up from 66 percent in the prior survey.

Seventy-two percent of respondents say that if zoos, aquariums and marine mammal theme parks were to end the practice of keeping killer whales, they would still visit. The 2012 figure was 71 percent. In addition, 16 percent said they would be more likely to visit if the practices of displaying killer whales were to stop; 14 percent said this in 2012.

The May survey reached a nationally representative sample of more than 1,000 US adults. Edge Research designed the survey questions for Opinion Research Corporation’s Caravan omnibus survey that was conducted via phone. The margin of error for the sample as a whole is +/-3.1 percentage points at the 95 percent confidence interval.