SeaWorld Fact Check - Dorsal Fin Collapse (2023)

For killer whales, the dorsal fin is actually an indicator of various problems associated with life in captivity. A dorsal fin collapse can be considered a symptom; that is, a sign of the existence of something, particularly an undesirable situation.

Captivity has a variety of problems that are inherently undesirable for killer whales, including but not limited to aspects that can affect the vertical position of the dorsal fin. This “loss of structural integrity” (LSI) can result in a partial or complete collapse of the dorsal fin. Some of the problems associated with captivity include insufficient tank depth (resulting in unnatural exposure to sunlight and lack of natural water pressure) and extreme boredom in the animals, causing them to spend an excessive amount of time swimming at or near the surface, or about swimming in the water (so the fin doesn't stay in the water).

There are also hypotheses that factors such as age, stress, physical condition, reduced swimming (due to the relatively small size of the tank and frequent circular movements within the tank), chemicals used in the water, thermoregulation (reduced ability to use the dorsal fin for heat). Replacement due to overexposure via water (see Figure 1), medications, food, and dehydration all play a role in collapse. All of this may contribute to the fact that LSI normally occurs in the dorsal fins of captive killer whales. LSI occurs in all adult male killer whales. (and many females) in captivity; That is, 100% of adult males in captivity have completely or partially collapsed dorsal fins. No captive display facility, including SeaWorld, has conducted relevant research into this phenomenon.

Neither SeaWorld's response nor Dr. Dold really addresses the question of the "shape" of a dorsal fin; Rather, they are trying to answer an unasked question about LSI in the dorsal fins.

However, if they had answered the question "Is the shape of a dorsal fin related to genetics?" and specifically discussed "shape"; So yes, the general shape of killer whales' dorsal fins is believed to be a function of genetics. For example, resident killer whales generally have dorsal fins that are rounded at the tip and more wavy (often curved) than transitional killer whales, which generally have dorsal fins that are tapered at the tip and more triangular in shape (see Figure 1). 🇧🇷

SeaWorld Fact Check - Dorsal Fin Collapse (1)

Figure 1. "Resident" and "transient" killer whales have dorsal fins that often differ in general shape. This is believed to be one of the genetically transmitted physical characteristics.

SOURCE: Ford and Ellis (1999), p. 55

In addition, Dr. Lance Barrett-Lennard documented two adult male killer whales (siblings Yuculta (catalog #B13) and Slingsby (catalog #B10)) with abnormal dorsal fins (“ruffles” and/or “zigzags”). 🇧🇷 ’), suggesting that there may be a genetic component to the structural integrity of their dorsal fins in these individuals. It should be noted, however, that Yuculta's dorsal fin has recently collapsed and Dr. Barrett-Lennard speculated that this complete breakdown was due to injury (Barrett-Lennard 2014).

In the SeaWorld video where Dr. Dold analyzed the dorsal fins of adult male killer whales ('The facts behind the killer whale's dorsal fins’), adult male killer whales are not shown. Instead, females (and a four-year-old male) are shown with only partially collapsed dorsal fins (see Figure 2). However, Figure 3 shows an adult orca in captivity (with a typical fully folded fin) being restrained at SeaWorld, compared to the straight dorsal fin of an adult orca in the wild.

SeaWorld Fact Check - Dorsal Fin Collapse (2)

Figure 2. From the SeaWorld video (frame at 0:24 seconds), 'The facts behind the killer whale's dorsal fins' (recorded at SeaWorld Orlando). Bottom left - Kayla, (female, 26 years old); Center left – Katina (female, about 39 years old); top right - probably Makaio (masculine, 4 years - dorsal fin not visible) and lower right - probably Nalani (female, eight years).

Note the partially collapsed dorsal fins, all angled in the same direction, on all three females in this image (adult males not shown, but see Figure 3).

SeaWorld Fact Check - Dorsal Fin Collapse (3) SeaWorld Fact Check - Dorsal Fin Collapse (4)

Figure 3. LEFT: Loss of dorsal fin structural integrity (LSI) occurs in 100% of captive adult killer whales worldwide. Such a collapse has clearly been linked to poor health in wild killer whales. That istilikum,celebrated onSeaWorld Orlando, which killed three people. RIGHT: Wild male killer whales usually have straight dorsal fins that can reach 1.8 m in height. This adult male was photographed in New Zealand waters.

SOURCE: Both images: Dr. Ingrid N. Visser, Orca Research Trust.

Dorsal fin collapse in killer whales in the wild is typically associated with wasting (the state of being unusually thin or weak) and/or anthropogenic (human) causes such as entanglement in fishing gear, gunshot wounds, or exposure to water spills. oil (Baird and Gorgone 2005). In the southern resident killer whale population, there are three documented cases of dorsal fin drop or complete collapse in adult males (catalog numbers: L42, K17, J3) and shortly after this LSI was recorded, all three killer whales died .

One population of killer whales (found in New Zealand waters) has an abnormal number of adult males with LSI, with seven out of 30 (23%) showing some loss of structural integrity, such as B. zig zag forms. Remarkably, these fins are still predominantly erect and have remained so for years (see Figure 4). Of these seven, only one adult male (known as Slater, catalog #NZ100) had a fully collapsed fin. It was only observed once with the fin collapsed and was not observed again, so it is presumed that it died. It had an indentation around the thorax indicating that it was matted, which may have led to the collapse of the dorsal fin. Typically, less than 1% of males in any wild killer whale population exhibit fully collapsed dorsal fins. Female killer whales have not been recorded in the wild with fully collapsed dorsal fins, and partial collapse is extremely rare.

SeaWorld Fact Check - Dorsal Fin Collapse (5)

Figure 4. An adult male killer whale in the New Zealand catalog with loss of structural integrity. Corkscrew (Catalog #NZ15) was first photographed in 1985 with a 'zigzag' shape to its fin, but the fin remains upright. This photo, taken 22 years later (2007), shows no change in the structural integrity of the dorsal fin. Note the notch on the tip of the fin, an indication that the fishing line has become tangled.

The killer whale's dorsal fins are made of fibrous collagen (structural protein) (see Figure 5), not cartilage (flexible connective tissue). Although collagen is found in cartilage, it is not cartilage. The human outer ear is made of cartilage covered by skin; therefore dr Dold's comment that the "The dorsal fin is a structure similar to our ear. It is made from a similar material.It's wrong.

SeaWorld Fact Check - Dorsal Fin Collapse (6)

Figure 5. Cross-section of an orca dorsal fin with the artery (pink) in the center (with veins surrounding it). This helps the killer whale thermoregulate through countercurrent heat exchange. Dense fibrous tissue (collagen) is also visible.

Fonte: Houghton (2012)

However, SeaWorld's own website on the physical characteristics of the killer whale correctly states that the dorsal fin is composed of "dense fibrous connective tissue devoid of bone or cartilage".1.“


Baird, R.W. and Gorgone, A.M. 2005. False killer whale dorsal fin distortions as a possible indicator of interactions with longline fisheries in Hawaiian waters.peaceful science59: 593-601.

Barrett-Lenard, L. 2014. Wildwale-Website (, July 7 post about whale sightings.

Durban, J. W., Fearnbach, H., Ellifrit, D. und Balcomb, K. C. 2009.Size and body condition of southern killer whales🇧🇷 Contract Report to Northwest Regional Office, National Marine Fisheries Service, order number AB133F08SE4742, order number NFFP5000-8-43300.

Ford, J.K.B. e Ellis, G.M. 1999.Bystanders: killer whales hunting mammals, UBC Press: Vancouver. 96 pages

Houghton, J. 2012.Cross section of dorsal fin,Search Blog Photography.

Jett, JS and Ventre, JM 2011.Keto and Tilikum express the stress of orca captivity🇺🇸 Unpublished report, 22 p.

Matkin, CO, Saulitis, EL, Ellis, GM, Olesiuk, P und Rice, SD 2008.Ongoing population-level impacts on Orcinus orca after the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Prince William Sound, Alaska.Marine Ecology Progress Series365: 269-281.

Ventre, J. and Jett, J. 2015. Killer Whales, Theme Parks, and Controversies: An Examination of the Evidence. pg. 128-145.I am: K. Markewell (Hrsg.)Animals and tourism: understanding the various connections, Channel View publications: London. 305 p.

Visser, 1998.Abundant body scarring and sunken dorsal fins on killer whales in New Zealand waters.aquatic mammals24: 71-81.



There is speculation about a genetic component, which is commonly expressed by field biologists to explain cases of dorsal fin flexion and collapse in nature. But there is no evidence to support or refute a genetic influence.

Check this out for more information on the dorsal fin shape:


What does Seaworld say about collapsed dorsal fins? ›


There is speculation of a genetic component, expressed generally by field biologists to explain the cases of dorsal fin bending and collapse in the wild. But there is no evidence to support or refute a genetic influence.

Why do the orcas at Seaworld have collapsed dorsal fins? ›

Collapsed Dorsal Fins

All captive adult male orcas have collapsed dorsal fins, likely because they have no space in which to swim freely, spend long periods of time floating listlessly at the surface of the water, and are fed an unnatural diet of thawed dead fish.

What percentage of killer whales dorsal fins collapse? ›

Orcas in captivity may develop physical pathologies, such as the dorsal fin collapse seen in 80–90% of captive males.

How many orcas in captivity have collapsed dorsal fins? ›

In contrast, 100% of all adult male orcas in captivity have a collapsed fin, as well as some females (Katina, Nalani, Shouka, Narnia, Stella, and Kiska), despite no wild female orca being recorded as having a collapsed dorsal fin.

Do female orcas have collapsed dorsal fins? ›

orca, where most adult males and some females have collapsed dorsal fins (Parsons et al. 2012).

Does SeaWorld still have orcas 2022? ›

As of October 4, 2022 there are:

At least 172 orcas have died in captivity, not including 30 miscarried or still-born calves. SeaWorld holds 18 orcas in its three parks in the United States.

Are orcas unhappy at SeaWorld? ›

But it's not only orcas who suffer at the marine abusement park – several other species of animals are confined to filthy, cramped tanks and exploited in the name of entertainment, too. Orcas are actually a type of dolphin, and 41 of them have died at SeaWorld so far.

Is Shamu the whale still alive? ›

The constant stress and deprivation of captivity drove him to kill three humans, including trainer Dawn Brancheau. As is typical of animals at SeaWorld, he deteriorated both mentally and physically. Shortly after the release of Blackfish, he died after 33 years in captivity.

Does SeaWorld abuse animals? ›

SeaWorld often keeps dolphins, whales, and other animals trapped with incompatible tankmates. The tension leads to fights and even fatal injuries. Staff members drug some animals to try to relieve their endless frustration.

Why is Shamu's fin bent? ›

Ultimately, what's going on is the collagen in the dorsal fin is breaking down. One reason this may happen is from temperature. Warmer temperatures can disrupt collagen's structure and rigidity. Which may explain why more captive whales have curved fins.

How many orcas are left in the world 2022? ›

Population Status

It is estimated that there are around 50,000 killer whales globally.

What causes a killer whale's fin to flop? ›

There have been many theories as to why fins collapse in wild killer whales, including injury, age, stress, dehydration and poor health. As Yuculta has survived eight year thus far with a fully flopped fin, it is likely this state is due to an injury as opposed to any major stress or illness.

How many people did Tilikum harm? ›

Of the four fatal attacks by orcas in captivity, Tilikum was involved in three: Keltie Byrne, a trainer at the now-defunct Sealand of the Pacific; Daniel P. Dukes, a man trespassing in SeaWorld Orlando; and SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau.

Do female orcas have periods? ›

Observations of females in zoological parks indicate that killer whales undergo periods of multiple estrous cycling (polyestrus), interspersed with periods of noncycling. On average, females may have four estrous cycles during one polyestrus period.

Why do orcas eat shark liver? ›

Shark livers are rich in vital nutrients and fats, perfect for a hungry orca. As crazy as it sounds, orcas aren't acting all that differently than humans do. The primary reason that orcas are eating only the livers of great white sharks is because of the nutrient properties that the livers have.

Is Shamu still at SeaWorld? ›

Shamu shows have been presented at the following SeaWorld parks: SeaWorld San Diego in California. SeaWorld Ohio (closed in 2000) SeaWorld Orlando in Florida.
Shamu shows throughout the years.
2011–2019One Ocean (played from 2011–2017 in San Diego, 2011–2019 in Orlando and 2011–2020 in San Antonio),
17 more rows

Why can't SeaWorld release orcas? ›

Animal rights groups, such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, have called for SeaWorld to release its 29 orcas to sea pens. But SeaWorld and other marine biologists have said the whales could not survive outside the park without human care because they have lived all or most of their lives in captivity.

Will SeaWorld breed orcas again? ›

SeaWorld has ended its killer whale breeding program, making the orcas in our care the last generation. Our whales will continue to thrive under the best veterinary care for the remainder of their lives here.

Is SeaWorld still abusing orcas? ›

More than 40 orcas and over 300 other dolphins and whales have died at SeaWorld, many prematurely. Although SeaWorld ended its sordid orca-breeding program, the company continues to sexually abuse dolphins.

Do trainers get in the water with killer whales? ›

Employees get into the water with orcas only in medical pools, where slower-lifting floors will remain. SeaWorld Orlando installed a fast-rising floor in 2011 at the Dine with Shamu area, where an orca named Tilikum killed trainer Dawn Brancheau a year before, battering and drowning her.

Do orcas know not to mess with humans? ›

The whales seem to understand people, and are eager to cooperate and create bonds. In fact, the only apparent instances of orcas attacking people have happened at aquatic parks, where the whales have killed trainers. Many experts think these attacks are not malicious, rather a case of play getting out of hand.

Did Shamu pass away? ›

Shamu /ʃæmuː/ (unknown – August 16, 1971) was a captive orca that appeared in shows at SeaWorld San Diego in the mid/late 1960s.
SpeciesOrca (Orcinus orca)
DiedAugust 16, 1971 SeaWorld San Diego
Years active1965-1971
Known forNamesake of the Shamu show
2 more rows

Who captured Shamu? ›

He had survived 11 months in captivity. ... Caught by Ted Griffin and Don Goldsberry in Carr Inlet, Washington, Shamu was their first successful live-capture orca whale, and the first in a long succession of ' Shamus' - the stage name given to performing orcas in the U.S. Sea World chain of parks.

Why is Shamu called Shamu? ›

The name Shamu can be used for both male, or female, killer whales, and actually means 'friend of Namu' or She-Namu. The first female orca to be captured was given the name Shamu, and it was intended that she should be a companion to a male orca called Namu, who lived at a Seattle Aquarium.

Does PETA own SeaWorld? ›

PETA, which owns stock in SeaWorld, takes credit for ending controversial dolphin show.

What does PETA say about SeaWorld? ›

PETA is calling on this hideous abusement park to end its exploitation of dolphins by sending them to seaside sanctuaries, where they would never be used in tawdry shows and no one else would get hurt. This incident is not the only recent animal attack at a SeaWorld park.

Why is PETA against SeaWorld? ›

“PETA is calling on the USDA to investigate SeaWorld for holding animals in conditions so stressful they would lead to horrific attacks and reminds families to stay away from any park that imprisons orcas or other animals,” PETA's executive vice president Tracy Reiman said in a statement.

How deep is Shamu's tank? ›

In the wild, orcas spend up to 95 percent of their time submerged and would find shade in the depths of the ocean, but at SeaWorld their tanks are far too shallow. Their deepest tank is 40 feet deep—not nearly deep enough to give them a reprieve from the harsh elements.

How many Shamu's were there? ›

1. The Shamu family has 20 whales between the three SeaWorld parks. Between the three SeaWorld parks, SeaWorld Orlando, SeaWorld San Antonio, and SeaWorld San Diego, there are a total of 20 orcas. Seaworld Orlando has five: Katina, Malia, Nalani, Makaio, and Trua.

Do orcas eat sharks? ›

Killer “whales,” which are actually dolphins, are apex predators, and their diet includes fish, squid, seals, sea birds and whales larger than themselves, according to the Natural History Museum in London. They are the only known predators of great white sharks.

What eats killer whales? ›

Killer whales are apex predators, which means they have no natural predators. They hunt in packs, much like wolves, which are also at the top of their food chain.

What did they do to Tilikum's body? ›

[/media-credit] When Tilikum did not perform a trick correctly, food was withheld from both him and his tankmates, which caused a great deal of tension, and as a result, Haida and Nootka would bite Tilikum and rake the entire length of his body with their teeth.

Why are port and starboard dorsal fins collapse? ›

Wild Orcas

Researchers have theorized that dorsal fin collapse in wild whales may be due to age, stress, injury, or altercations with other killer whales.

Why don t killer whales get barnacles? ›

They can swim up to 35 mph in short bursts and can easily have a normal traveling speed of 5–7 knots. Also, their skin is smooth like a dolphin's, not bumpy or coarse like the skin of many whales. All of these things prevent orcas from getting barnacles.

What killed Tilikum? ›

SeaWorld officials say Tilikum, the orca that killed a trainer at the company's Orlando park, died from bacterial pneumonia. SeaWorld spokeswoman Aimée Jeansonne Becka announced the results of a necropsy in an email Friday. Tilikum had been receiving treatment for a persistent bacterial infection when he died Jan. 6.

Is Tilikum Still Alive 2022? ›

“My heart goes out to our team who cared for him like family.” Tilikum was estimated to be about 36 years old at the time of his death. He was brought to SeaWorld after Canada's Sealand of the Pacific closed in 1992. He had been at the amusement park ever since.

Was Tilikum psychotic? ›

But Tilikum's problematic history has made him a unique case. “Tilikum is basically psychotic,” the marine biologist Ken Balcomb told Outside Online in 2010. “He has been maintained in a situation where I think he is psychologically unrecoverable in terms of being a wild whale.”

What does it mean if a killer whale's dorsal fin is bent? ›

Ultimately, what's going on is the collagen in the dorsal fin is breaking down. One reason this may happen is from temperature. Warmer temperatures can disrupt collagen's structure and rigidity. Which may explain why more captive whales have curved fins.

Do orcas in the wild have bent dorsal fins? ›

Laterally bent dorsal fins are rarely observed in free-ranging populations of cetaceans, contrary to captivity, where most killer whale Orcinus orca adult males have laterally collapsed fins.

What did Blackfish say about SeaWorld? ›

SeaWorld's whales die much earlier than wild orcas.

Howard Garrett, co-founder of the nonprofit Orca Network, made this claim in “Blackfish”: Female killer whales in the wild can live up to 100 years and their male counterparts 50 to 60 years but SeaWorld's orcas only live 25 to 30 years.

What did SeaWorld say about Tilikum? ›

He was the subject of the influential documentary Blackfish, and outcry over his story prompted SeaWorld to stop breeding orcas in captivity. Tilikum was estimated to be 36 years old, SeaWorld said in a statement, which is old for a captive killer whale.

Is SeaWorld getting rid of orcas? ›

This is the last generation of orcas in our care

SeaWorld's killer whales are vital to that mission, and while they will be the last generation of killer whales at SeaWorld, they will still be around for decades to come, inspiring millions of guests and people across the globe to take action with us today.

Do all orcas in captivity have bent fins? ›

Most captive male killer whales and some females have a collapsed dorsal fin. Learn more about orca behavior with our article on what killer whales eat.

Why do orcas fins flop over? ›

There have been many theories as to why fins collapse in wild killer whales, including injury, age, stress, dehydration and poor health. As Yuculta has survived eight year thus far with a fully flopped fin, it is likely this state is due to an injury as opposed to any major stress or illness.

Why do orcas fins flop over in captivity? ›

Orca in captivity live a completely different life and find themselves in a foreign environment to what they have been designed for. Limited time below the surface creates less support for the dorsal fin which over time will collapse as the captive Orca find themselves at the surface 70-80% of the time.

How deep is the orca tank at SeaWorld? ›

At SeaWorld, orcas are kept in a series of tanks that average approximately 86 feet by 51 feet and are only 34 feet deep—not even twice as deep as the average orca is long.

Did Blackfish get sued? ›

Six years after SeaWorld Entertainment was sued for allegedly deceiving stockholders about the damaging impact the “Blackfish” documentary was having on theme park attendance, a federal judge on Friday approved a $65-million payout to aggrieved investors.

Why was Blackfish removed? ›

Some, like the Hollywood Reporter, claim the documentary is being removed to make room for newer shows and movies. Others claim that the documentary falsely stated that the interviewees in the movie were inexperienced in Killer Whale training, as most primarily worked with other animals.

Has SeaWorld improved since Blackfish? ›

SeaWorld has recovered, and its stock price is high again. Blackfish didn't end the industry. It helped focus attention on orca captivity in North America and Europe, but in China, they're building marine parks one after the other, and until recently Russian fishermen were still capturing wild orcas to sell.

How many deaths has Tilikum caused? ›

Of the four fatal attacks by orcas in captivity, Tilikum was involved in three: Keltie Byrne, a trainer at the now-defunct Sealand of the Pacific; Daniel P. Dukes, a man trespassing in SeaWorld Orlando; and SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau.

Why did they remove Shamu from SeaWorld? ›

The name Shamu has become almost synonymous with the captive whales, which explains why the company has sought to eliminate the name from the attractions. The original Shamu was caught in 1965, and died after six years performing at SeaWorld San Diego.


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