New Study on Killer Whale Lifespans


A new peer-reviewed study published in the Journal of Mammalogy by the Oxford University Press adds important insights to the debate over how long killer whales in human care live. The study found no difference in life expectancy between killer whales born at SeaWorld and a well-studied population of wild killer whales. The study, “Comparisons of life-history parameters between free-ranging and captive killer whale populations for application toward species management,” was authored by Todd R. Robeck, Kevin Willis, Michael R. Scarpuzzi, and Justine K. O’Brien and contrasts current published data for survival and reproductive activity of known-age Pacific Northwest killer whales since 1975 with the life history of killer whales in SeaWorld’s care. The average life expectancy for SeaWorld’s killer whales is 41.6 years; average life expectancies for Southern and Northern Resident killer whales are 29.0 and 42.3 years respectively. Additionally, the study shows that average calf survival rate from approximately 6 months of age (i.e., age at first sighting) to age 2 in the Southern Resident killer whale population (79.9 percent) is significantly less than SeaWorld’s average calf survival rate from 40 days to age 2 (96.6 percent). Read the full study here. “Based on the available data, it is now clear that it cannot be truthfully argued that killer whales should not be maintained in captivity because they have a shortened life expectancy relative to their wild counterparts,” said study author Kevin Willis, Vice President for Biological Programs for the Minnesota Zoo.

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