Conservation and Research
A. The International Whaling Commission.
1. In 1946, 14 countries formed the International Whaling Commission (IWC) by
signing the International Whaling Convention. The IWC set regulations of whaling to
protect the future of whale stocks as a resource to humans.
2. Currently the IWC has no jurisdiction over dolphins such as killer whales.
However, now that the harvest of most large whales has stopped, the IWC has
expressed an interest in playing a role in managing smaller cetaceans as well.
B. Legal protection.
1. The Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) of 1972 made it illegal to hunt or
harass any marine mammal in United States waters.
a. In accordance with the MMPA, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) has
jurisdiction over all whales in the waters of the United States.
b. The primary objective of the MMPA is to maintain the health and stability of
the marine ecosystem and to obtain and maintain optimum sustainable populations of marine
c. The MMPA does allow exceptions for native subsistence hunting; collecting or
temporarily restraining marine mammals for research, education, and public display; and
taking a restricted number of marine mammals incidentally in the course of fishing
2. The Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and
Flora (CITES) is an international treaty developed in 1973 to regulate trade in certain
wildlife species. CITESprotects all species of whales.
C. Field research.
1. Much about the lives of killer whales still remains a mystery. However,
scientists and researchers are studying many aspects of killer whales around the world.
2. In the future, analyzing biochemical and chromosomal characteristics may help
define genetic relationships among pods and regional populations of killer whales.
Call patterns, body shape, and coloration are currently used in identifying separate
killer whale populations.
3. Researchers work to increase their photo-identification catalogs for killer
whales. This has become an important research tool for studying various aspects of
cetacean biology including movements, reproduction, behavior, and population dynamics.
D. The importance of marine life parks.
1. Most people do not have the opportunity to observe animals in the wild.
In a 1995 Roper Poll, 87% of those interviewed agreed that visiting zoological facilities
was their only opportunity to see wild animals such as killer whales. The unique
opportunity to observe and learn directly from live animals increases public awareness and
appreciation of wildlife. In the same Roper Poll, 92% of those questioned agreed
that zoological parks are a vital educational resource.
2. In the past several decades, marine life parks have learned a great deal about
killer whales from ongoing research programs. The advantages of studying killer
whales in controlled areas include the possibility of continuous observations without
being impeded by weather, darkness, or location.
3. In the protected environment of a marine zoological park, scientists can
examine aspects of killer whale biology that are difficult or impossible to study in the
a. SeaWorld trainers and veterinarians perform regular physical exams on the
killer whales to monitor and maintain their health. Every two to four weeks trainers
take body measurements on each whale, including body length; girth at several points; and
dimensions of the flippers, flukes, and dorsal fin.
b. Killer whales are further trained to present their tail flukes for blood
samples and to urinate on signal.
c. Medical technologists perform clinical evaluations of hematology, serum
chemistry, urinalysis, and blowhole cultures.
d. Pregnancy is diagnosed through serum progesterone analysis, urine progesterone
metabolite analysis, ultrasound, and daily observations of social interactions.
4. Toothed whales only grow one set of teeth in their lives so SeaWorld places
great importance on the care of killer whale teeth.
a. Wild killer whales often have a variety of dental problems. It is not
uncommon, for example, to see killer whales in their natural environment with teeth that
are disease-ridden, worn, or broken. This is probably due to their aggressive
feeding habits or old age. Wild killer whales have been observed with their teeth
worn down to the gum level, which often exposes the pulp. Abscesses can occur,
resulting in lower jaw misalignment in some cases studied.
b. Up to several times a day, a killer whale at SeaWorld can have its teeth
cleaned and flushed with a water pic. X-rays are used to examine the teeth more
thoroughly as well.
c. If more serious conditions arise, veterinarians that specialize in animal
teeth work with the trainers to treat dental problems with killer whales at the SeaWorld
5. The question of animal intelligence is intriguing. It is extremely
difficult, and in many cases misleading, to rate the intelligence of different kinds of
animals. In fact, we have yet to provide a reliable and consistent intelligence test
for humans. It would be inaccurate to quantify or qualify the intelligence of marine
mammals, for there is no way known to test and measure such a thing.
a. The brain of one large male killer whale weighed 7.2 kg (15.8 lb.), a weight
significantly larger than the 2.2 kg (5 lb.) brain of a human. But again, it would
be a mistake to judge an animal's intelligence on the size of its brain.
b. What we do know is that dolphins and whales are capable of performing some
very complex tasks. Genetically, marine mammals are predisposed to responding more
efficiently to stimuli found in aquatic environments. They learn different tasks at
different rates and there is great variation among individual animals of the same species.
c. Researchers continue to gather information on short- and long-term memory in
whales and dolphins, but much about an animal's ability to learn continues to be a
Scientific Classification|Habitat and Distribution|Physical Characteristics|Senses|Adaptations
for an Aquatic Environment|Behavior|Diet and Eating Habits|Reproduction|Birth
and Care of Young|Longevity and Causes of Death|Conservation and Research|Books for Young Readers|Bibliography|Index