Killer Whales: Instinct Vs. Moral Law

Killer Whales: Instinct Vs. Moral Law

Weighing in on the debate over SeaWorld's iconic killer whales.


Swimming gently alongside its mother, the young orca calf is seeing the bright blue waters for the first time. Reaching deep within itself, it pulls out knowledge that no one has to teach it: how to breathe, how to swim alongside its mother, and how leaving her side is sure to spell certain death. When the mother rises for air, the calf will as well. When she dives, it will follow. Always close by, so close, that they are almost touching. The mother will not leave her calf, not until it is ready to branch out on its own or become a fully integrated member into the pod.

As the calf grows, it becomes more adventurous and more independent of its mother. It takes actions, such as jumping and splashing on her own, learning the pod’s individual language. One day, this orca calf will become the next matriarch of the pod, and the only danger she will ever face is from the hands of the humans that decide whether or not her pod can survive. For Amaya, the youngest killer whale at SeaWorld San Diego, the next couple years will spell out life and death for her kind. And being so young, so naïve, and so innocent, she will never know that her fate is sealed, and she never got a chance to put her voice into the mix.

Killer whales are social creatures, much like horses, lions, and zebras. They rely on each of its members to help play their own individual part, in order to ensure the survival of their species. Killer whales, like Amaya, who were born and raised in captivity, will never meet the cruel hand of mother nature, whose mood is always changing the ocean’s currents, nor be exposed where boat propeller’s, contamination, and human noise pollution are threatening her wild counterparts very lives and wellbeing. Nor will she ever face the terrors of not being able to find food and suffering many endless nights and days with no food, because the supply is dwindling.

Amaya and her pod mates will never know these challenges. The threat that they have to face cannot be stopped by more conservation efforts nor will they ever be affected by her own actions. The threat she faces comes from organizations such as PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), who are under the impression that the animals in captivity are suffering and that the industry as a whole must be put to a stop.

Their reasoning behind wanting to end the captivity of animals comes from the belief that animals share the same moral laws that we do, and in doing so, deserve the same humanistic rights that we are granted. Would it be right to cage up a human being? Would it be right to force your neighbor to live in a bathtub? This type of rhetoric fuels animal’s rights ads and ideas, and leaves a lasting impression through the voice of documentaries such as Blackfish, which challenge the ethics behind keeping wild animals in human care for the very same reason. They have feelings. They have morals. Shouldn’t we give them the same basic rights?

In order to understand whether or not this line of reasoning holds any basis we need to first understand the basics of Moral Law and Instinct. Moral Law is the standard to which we measure whether an action or idea is right or wrong. This is the part of our being that tells us that stealing is wrong, murder is wrong, and that we should risk our lives to save our fellow man. Instinct is the feeling that we need to take action in order to ensure our survival, this can take place as the want to eat, the want to engage in sexual activity, and the want to run away from scary situations. Now that we understand the working definitions of both Moral Law and Instinct we can begin to break down whether or not Killer Whales follow Moral Law.

Since Killer Whales are highly intelligent creatures, they have invented cunning and new ways to hunt. One of these ways is to perform a move called a slide out, in which a Killer Whale purposely beaches itself in hopes of catching seals that are playing past the breaking point of the waves. This move is highly dangerous to young calves learning this maneuver for the first time for they have the high possibility of getting stuck. When this happens, the mother killer whale will stay at a safe distance, but through a series of clicks, high pitched squeals, and slapping of dorsal and tail fins will try and encourage the necessary sequence of actions that its calf has to take in order to get unstuck. The mother killer whale will not though, risk its life to go save its calf. If the calf dies on land, then the mother just swims away. Her instinct for self-preservation is stronger than the instinct to go save her young.

In contrast, humans work the opposite. If we were to see one of your friends or family members drowning, we would jump in, despite the danger that it puts us in, to go save them. This would be the Moral Law at work. We have the two instincts, the mothering instinct to protect those around us and the flight instinct, get away from danger. Moral Law is the feeling that tells us to act on the weaker of the two instincts, which in this case, would be to jump headfirst into danger and save our fellow man.

It can still be argued that, what about Killer Whales in SeaWorld’s care, who, despite the instinct of preservation, decide to partake in dangerous activities due to stress, such as raking or beaching themselves on the slide-out. Both of these are good questions but once again can be explained through natural Orca behavior.

Killer whales do not have hands and there for are unable to communicate through physical contact like humans. Instead, they use their teeth to show affection, to grab another whale’s attention, correct misbehavior, and to show dominance. In order to get a clearer understanding of what these types of rakes look like, I will break down each of them. Starting with raking to show physical affection.

Killer whales will often swim close by a fellow pod mate and gently rake their teeth over their skin. This is the equivalent of me giving my roommate a pat on the back or giving my sister a hug. It is harmless and does not hurt the animal in any way. This “love tap” kind of rake mark is characteristic by just scratching the surface of their skin and usually fades away in a couple of days.

The second form or rake which is two enforce corrections on behavior is a little bit deeper and may leave behind a tiny scar on the Killer Whale’s body, but is harmless to the animal itself and cannot be seen unless you are up close to the animal. A great example of this, would be during a show at SeaWorld San Diego, one of the younger orcas, named Makani was out in the show pool with his mother, Kasatka. Kasatka was asked to do a breach in the middle of the pool while Makani was asked by the trainers, to stay towards the back of the pool. Makani, being young and slightly rambunctious, ignored the commands of the trainer and instead darted after his mother in the center of the pool. Kasatka ended up abandoning her breach in order to avoid hitting Makani, who had decided to do tricks of his own in the center. Kasatka, to teach Makani a lesson, darted after him, in which Makani responded by trying to swim away. He wasn’t fast enough and received a rake mark on his left side, but once the rake mark was received, both whales settled down and the show proceeded as normal.

The final type of rake comes from aggression. These rakes do leave behind visual scars and can occur for any number of reasons. The first one is to show dominance. For example, Orkid and Kasatka got into a fight before a show because Orkid was taking the lead position for some of the group behaviors the whales were practicing with their trainers. Kasatka, in order to remind Orkid of her place, ended up fighting Orkid for dominance. The end result led to Orkid sliding up on the front stage slide-out and waiting for Kasatka to calm down. The veterinary staff were quick to respond, (making sure that Orkid was not hurt), and ended up pulling Orkid from the rest of the show. After the show had ended, Kasatka and Orkid began to swim with each other in the back pool, as if nothing had happened. The only difference was that Kasatka had complete charge and Orkid wasn’t going to challenge that authority.

Rakes are just as common in the wild as they are in captivity. Rakes do not just come from high stress situations but can mean a multiple of different things. To think that raking is bad, is a misunderstanding of the animal’s behavior and trying to suggest that the severity of the rakes seen on SeaWorld’s Orcas tell of their sad state is just ridiculous. All killer whales have rake marks on them, as mentioned earlier, it is solely a form of communication, and though sometimes the end result may seem ugly, rakes are never meant to seriously harm another whale. It is just meant to be a warning or an affirmation of behavior.

There are other behaviors that PETA also attacks as unhealthy such as the rubbing against tank walls and floors. Thought these behaviors are also common among wild crustaceans, such as Killer Whales, who use the ocean floor as a way to scratch off dead skin. Rubbing against the wall and floor of a tank is the same premise.

The point I am trying to make by sighting these examples is that all of SeaWorld’s Killer Whale’s behavior can be easily explained by just understanding their natural and instinctual behaviors. If it wasn’t for SeaWorld’s Killer Whales and other animals, it would be nearly impossible for us to have this kind of information. Institutions like SeaWorld allow us to get a better picture into the lives of these magnificent animals without disturbing their daily lives. For SeaWorld’s Orcas, whether they know it or not, they are ambassadors for their wild counterparts and they inspire people every day to make a difference in our world to help protect their species.

The only threat these animals face come from the ignorance that is being spread around by organizations like PETA because they are putting emotions over reason. SeaWorld announced recently, that because of changes in public opinion, they are going to stop the breeding of Killer Whales in their care, meaning that the orcas that remain are the last ones. Keeping Killer Whales from partaking in something so natural as mating will not only disrupt their instinct to preserve their species but it will also cause more stress on the animal, when it realizes that it no longer can function from the same behaviors it has grown up its whole life knowing. Care for the pod, raise the young, and keep order within their family unit.

If our emotions are leading us to blindly act, without knowing the full extent of our consequences then we will find our world becoming darker and darker, as more animals begin to pass away and suffer, because we personally feel like they are unhappy. Those who support PETA and the ending of animal captivity may feel good about their actions but animals like Amaya, who have no say, well, their fate is in our hands and we have to be careful about where we take them. If we truly want to do what is best for the animals, we need to learn to put our emotional ties aside and look at all the facts.

Report this Content
This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
Health and Wellness

This Survey Shows How Quarantine And Drinking Relate, And I Can't Say I'm Surprised

"5 o'clock somewhere" is more of a guideline now than ever.

As it stands, and my friends and I are finally 21. We're extremely excited to be able to go out to bars and "get lit" as the kids say, but due to the pandemic, all of our plans have been put on hold. We'd rather wait and go when it's safe than risk spreading the infection and hurting our loved ones. So, we've all been quarantining apart, getting on the occasional wine zoom call. This made me wonder if anyone else our age were doing the same thing.

Then, I discovered this survey: We Surveyed Millennials And Gen Z About Their Quarantine Drinking Habits — Cheers. Here are 3 things that I discovered through the survey results.

Keep Reading... Show less

5 Easy Summer Mocktail Recipes You Can Make With Items You Probably Already Have On-Hand

Keep these drinks in mind next time you're visiting your local farmer's market — you might want to grab some extra mint and limes.

With Summer 2020 in full swing comes the addition of many fresh fruits and vegetables to brighten up your dinner plate, but also your glass! Farmers markets are my personal favorite place to look for produce that is in season to make fun mocktails with.

Keep Reading... Show less

5 Ways To Celebrate The 4th of July — Without Fireworks Or Social Gatherings

We created a list of things to do since social distancing may create a dent in our typical, planned traditions.

With the Fourth of July on Saturday, the usual tradition of popping fireworks, grilling out, and being surrounded by family has been modified due to the pandemic. Whether you're a loner or surrounded by family, there will most likely be some changes to your celebrations.

For weeks on social media, people across the country have been complaining that they have been subjected to fireworks going off at all times of the night into the early morning. This has sparked concern and questions about why this is happening and how are people even obtaining the fireworks.

Keep Reading... Show less

Carb And Cheese Lovers, Unite — These Are The Best Mac And Cheese Recipes On The Internet

Whether you need to get through the current pandemic or want to spice up your Fourth of July celebrations, these mac and cheese recipes will do just that.

My favorite food is mac and cheese, and it always has been. All it requires is noodles and cheese — it's so simple to make. Although it's my favorite, it can also get kind of mundane because it's such a simple recipe. This, of course, has led to many people all over the world experimenting with the American staple.

With our lives currently being turned upside down due to the pandemic, a lot of people are seeking comfort. These are scary times, and in order to make it day-to-day, we need to have our favorite foods as a standby. These recipes can also be used during your celebration of the Fourth of July.

Keep Reading... Show less
Health and Wellness

17 Things To Make You Feel GOOD This Week

Because some purchases are just necessary.

Y'all, we're struggling. You don't even have to tell me, I know. What a mess we're all in, right? This year is not going how we planned and the world has turned into one giant struggle bus. I guess you could be super philosophical about everything happening for a reason, but sometimes life is just hard.

There are plenty of ways to bring yourself out of whatever rut you're in. You could go for a run, have a snack, or read a book. Or, if you're really looking for an adrenaline rush, go shopping. This is obviously not going to solve the world's problems with one swift click of the "checkout" button, but hey, it may just give you the little boost you need today.

Keep Reading... Show less

- Blissfully unaware that butt-care beyond squats was even something I should be considering in my self-care routine, I tried one of Bawdy Beauty's butt masks for the first time a month ago.

- I've never really given my butt a second though till I took a look at improvements that could be made with the mask — if one of the hydrating, firming, detoxifying, or brightening masks in the kit I received could either smooth out cellulite or tone my skin a bit more, I wasn't going to complain.

- Each Bawdy Beauty sheet mask comes in an individually-packaged sheet, soaked with a serum I massaged into my skin after removing said sheet. The clay butt mask comes in a convenient stick format I simply draw on to my skin and leave to set for about 10 minutes before hopping into the shower.

- I set a goal of committing myself to butt-care every day for one month. Between the regular use of sheet masks, clay masks, and their CBD Butt Balm in between, I didn't have many expectations.

- I thought the whole concept may just be a gimmick, but my butt has never looked so toned in my life, and the cellulite I had is almost completely gone. I wear one every single day when I get the chance.

I'm incredibly skeptical when it comes to marketing ploys and gimmicks in the beauty world. I'll be the first cynic to try out the latest serum on the market every influencer is raving about just to negate every grandiose claim it makes.

Keep Reading... Show less

Friends, you don't have to be quarantined to use a personal massager, you know? Because, sure, quarantine made for a lot of extra quality time with yourself, but no matter what phase of the reopening process you're in, it's normal and actually healthy to take care of your sexual needs on your own.

Keep Reading... Show less

5 Books I Didn't Realize Are About Gay Women

If you read primarily LGBTQ fiction, then this list might help to expand your TBR list.

Photo by Ketut Subiyanto from Pexels

Frequent readers of LGBTQ fiction might feel like they're reading the same book over and over again, with few exceptions.

Most of these books were on my TBR list for months and I didn't realize they were about gay women until I was reading them, hopefully, this list of books can interest you in expanding your reading material and seeking out different stories.

Keep Reading... Show less
Facebook Comments