Statement of Dr. Elliott A. Norse, President, Marine Conservation Biology Institute on the tragic killing of a trainer by a killer whale at SeaWorld

Our hearts go out to the trainer’s loved ones, to SeaWorld’s staff and visitors, and to all people who love these whales and life in the oceans.

Orcas are also called killer whales because they are very large, very intelligent, very powerful predators. In the wild, some eat herring or salmon; others eat large mammals such as seals or other whales.

Killer whales have even been seen attacking and eating great white sharks. Except for humans, killer whales are the oceans’ top predators wherever they occur.

In the wild, killer whales have never once been known to cause a human death, although they certainly are curious about humans and a few historical accounts have recorded them as behaving in what might have been threatening ways toward humans. But if wild killer whales had wanted to harm us, they’d have had countless opportunities to do so, but apparently never have done so.

Killer whales are very intelligent, and in captivity, they might get bored or angry, and behave in ways they would not happen in their native ecosystems. Their intelligence has led many people to object to keeping them captive.

While we do not yet know, and may never know, the exact cause of this tragedy, my colleagues and I offer our condolences and our hope that people will not act rashly and blame killer whales for being the big, powerful predators and keystone species in their ecosystems that they are.

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