Cetacean Captive Survivorship: Dying to entertain?

A poster campaign by various groups in the mid-1980s which was banned by the UK's Advertising Standards Authority as being misleading and untrue.

One of the most pernicious myths that continue to be repeated by various anti-captive groups and NGO's is that dolphins are dying young in captive care and their survivorship is less than their wild counterparts. Nevertheless, as far back as 1986 research concluded that this was in fact not true.

An excerpt from the 1991 BBC Nature series Must The Show Go On which focused on dolphin keeping in zoos and aquaria. Here Dr Margaret Klinowska comments on some of her findings.
 In 1985 the UK government commissioned an independent review into the captive welfare of cetaceans headed by Cambridge biologist Dr Margaret Klinowska assisted by Dr Susan Brown. As part of their research, they were asked to look into the mortality rate of dolphins in human care based on animals that were kept in the United Kingdom at that time. Dr Margaret Klinowska discovered that mortality rates (particularly for bottlenose dolphins) in both wild and human care were statistically the same. 

Further reviews of the survivorship of cetaceans in human care were undertaken in 1988 by DeMaster and Drevenak and in 1995 by Small and DeMaster.  An excellent review of these two publications and research into survivorship (and how it was analysed) was published by Jaap van der Toorn in 1997

A poster on the issue of the survival of captive marine mammals in American aquaria by the National Marine Fisheries Service above can be viewed HERE. The NMFS research now shows that in the case of bottlenose dolphins (the most commonly displayed cetacean in zoos and aquariums) their survivorship is now greater than that of wild dolphins. 

More contemporary research on the survivorship of bottlenose dolphins has been published in 2019 by Jaakkola and Willis. These findings found that survivorship of bottlenose dolphins was at least the same or in fact greater than the wild.

A peer-reviewed research study reveals that dolphins in U.S. facilities live as long or longer than dolphins in the wild. Critics of zoos and aquariums frequently claim otherwise and their claims simply aren't true. In this video, Dolphin Research Center Director of Research Dr. Kelly Jaakkola.

Whilst some except the fact that the bottlenose dolphin may well survive longer than its wild counterparts the survivorship of killer whales has been more controversial. In fact, research published by Jett and Venture 2015 seems to suggest that killer whales in human care did not live as long as their wild counterparts. However, this research was not supported by a paper also published in 2015 by Robeck, Willis, Scarpuzzi, and O'Brien. The authors maintain their research demonstrates that the survivorship of both wild and animals in human care is the same.

Further, a paper published by Robeck, Jaakkola, Stafford and Willis severely criticises the methodology and statistics used by
Jett and Ventre. 

At IMATA 2015 Dr. Kelly Jaakkola and Dr. Grey Stafford provide a rebuttal to the academic paper by Jeff Ventre and John Jett.

Captive cetaceans survivorship papers listed in chronological order.