During their lifetime, adult whales grow to incredible sizes. Female orcas can reach sizes as big as 24 ft, and 9000 lbs. Male orcas are larger, growing to sizes of 30 ft, and up to 12,000 lbs. As we can see by these numbers, the whales are enormous in comparison to a human’s average 5’4’ to 5’11” heights. Most of us are also an average of 60 times smaller in weight in comparison as well. Orcas need a lot more space than we do, which is what makes the ocean a great domain for these whales to call home.
The lifespan of orcas are impressive as well, but, unlike humans, are much shorter in comparison. Males live well into their late 40’s, and females into their late 60’s; the age difference in their lifespan is much like that of adult humans--normally the women live longer than the men. The fact that whales live shorter lives than us is something to take into consideration when we think of how quickly their population reproduces.
Female orcas will only give birth to one calf every 4 to 5 years. However, male orcas do not mature sexually until they reach their teen years, just as females do not mature sexually until their 20’s. That’s a possible average of only 8 to 10 calves born per orca in one lifetime--and that is if she is still reproducing at age 60, which is highly unlikely. It is also possible that a female whale may not even follow this pattern, giving birth to a calf at even less frequent intervals; the average number of births per ocra could be as small as 2 or 3. Because these animals do not reproduce quickly, it is crucial that we keep in mind how few the numbers of orcas there are in the ocean.
Just one reason that there are fewer orcas in the ocean than there should be is due to captivity. There are currently 52 orcas in captivity, in tiny little fishtanks in zoos and amusement parks. The terms “tiny” and “little” may confuse you, considering these tanks seem so very large to us--surely these tanks are more incredible than the size of a swimming pool! However, if you were an orca, and six times the size you are now, would you still find these tanks, which require a minimum horizontal dimension of 48 feet and a minimum depth of 12 feet, suitable for living? Consider that orcas live in these fishtanks; they are not just there for a fun while to put on a show and go home like the spectators in the audience--these orcas remain after the show.
As we capture these animals, we take them from their pods, from their families. These animals are born and bred family animals, social creatures that do not do well on their own. Once they are alone, whales begin to feel stress. In addition to mental stress, captive whales are forced and trained to perform in front of audiences for lengthy periods of time; some whales have performed for 40 years. What once started as a claim for research and scientific data has become a death sentence for whales everywhere.