Subject: Question for school project (whales in captivity)

Robert Kenney (
Fri, 11 Dec 1998 11:49:52 -0500

At 20:04 12/10/98 EST, you wrote:
>My name is Emily and I am doing a science project for school on whales. 
>Not including dolphins, how many different kinds of whales have been kept in
>captivity for study or display? Which whales are MOST OFTEN placed in
>aquariums? Why? I hope you can answer quickly.

Not including dolphins, I think the answer is not very many.  The only
species of what we would consider the "great whales" which has been kept in
captivity so far has been gray whales, and in both cases it was a calf that
was released when it got big enough to survive on its own.  The only other
non-dolphin species normally kept in captivity is the beluga (or white
whale), which at 12 or 13 feet long is actually smaller than some dolphins.
Sometimes species like pygmy sperm whales are rescued and kept in captivity
for short periods, but they usually don't survive very long.

What might be confusing you is that some kinds of dolphins get pretty big,
and get to be called "whales."  Killer whales are kept in captivity in lots
of places, and a male can grow to be over 30 feet long.  But a killer whale
is just the largest species of dolphin in the world.

Really all of them are whales (the latin name for all whales, dolphins, and
porpoises combined is "Cetacea," which means "whales"), so dolphins are just
small whales.  The species that do the best in captivity are the ones where
a big tank or pool is most like the places where they live in the wild.  The
most common species in captivity is the bottlenose dolphin.  In the wild,
bottlenose dolphins live right along the shore, and sometimes go up into
very small creeks and rivers.  They are used to living in shallow water and
narrow places, so an aquarium tank is not a big change for them.  If you
captured a different kind of dolphin way out in the middle of the ocean and
put it into a tank, it's a different story.  Now you have an animal that may
never have seen the edge or bottom of the ocean in its entire life, so it
doesn't know what to do when it comes to the side of the tank.  Sometimes
they just keep crashing into the wall until they die.

Dr. Bob

 | Robert D. Kenney, Ph.D.              |
 | University of Rhode Island                                        |
 | Graduate School of Oceanography                                   |
 | Bay Campus - Box 41                          TEL:  (401) 874-6664 |
 | Narragansett, RI 02882-1197, U.S.A.          FAX:  (401) 874-6497 |