With forty-three dead (Bekoff, 2013) and countless others living in torment, it’s a wonder that humans haven’t decided to free the orca whales that are held captive in amusement parks all over the world. Marine biologists, psychologists, and other specialists in the field are beginning to recognize a kind of psychosis (Bekoff, 2013) that sets in on the jailed cetaceans. With symptoms that mimic those of humans suffering from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) (Bradshaw, 2010), there is no denying that these underwater inmates are sick. But instead of setting the innocent free, the people in positions of power, the ones who really have the ability to make a change in public opinion about cetaceans in captivity, are choosing profit over “vitality” (Clark, 2014). But not all cetaceans live lives of torment and torture. Cetaceans in the wild seem to combine intelligence and emotion, creating familial structures that endure over hundreds of years. Possibly more interesting than the psychological theory behind aggression in captive orca whales is theory behind healthy, wild orcas. The massive mammals, when living in the wild, exhibit behavior which proves their nickname as killers to be totally false. Cetaceans process and feel at a level close to that of humans.
Until recently, science has underestimated the extent to which animals feel and understand. Jonathan Balcombe recognizes, in his book Second Nature: The Inner Lives of Animals, that
“From the time Charles Darwin wrote his last book, The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals (1872) to about the time Neil Armstrong left footprints on the moon nearly a century later (1969), prevailing scientific dogma denied animals their hearts and minds. A nonhuman animal was viewed as merely a responder to external stimuli. The idea that a walrus made decisions, or that a parakeet felt emotions, was considered unscientific” (Balcombe, 2010, p.46).
But now that much of scientific society has moved past this stigma, professionals in the field are not only recognizing that animal emotions exist; they are giving emotion credit for the large part of animal life which it controls. They are even trying to understand where these feelings came from. Balcombe states that “Emotions evolved from adaptations. They mediate and regulate a wide variety of social encounters among friends and foes” (Balcombe, 2012, p.46). Given the closely intertwined, team dynamic of cetacean familial groups, and the complex relationships cetaceans must navigate within these webs, it is no wonder that these creatures have emotional complexity so deep that we are only now learning about it.
Cetaceans evidence a multitude of emotions similar to humans. With “brains four times as large as humans”, orca whales (Bradshaw, 2010) are not only highly intelligent, but emotionally proficient. In her article, “The Woeful Whale”, Gay Bradshaw quotes “Howard Garrett, co-founder of Orcanetwork”, explaining that “there...