Image: Wikimedia Commons

China recently launched a controversial orca breeding program, sparking criticism from activists who say keeping the animals in captivity is dangerous to their health.

Chimelong Group, a leading amusement park operator in China, opened a new center earlier this year at Chimelong Ocean Kingdom, located in the city of Zhuhai. Currently, there are nine killer whales at the park: five males and four females, aged 5 – 13 years old.

The announcement comes at a time when more than a dozen countries have outlawed orca captivity and SeaWorld in the United States shuttered their once popular orca breeding program in response to pressure from the documentary film, Blackfish.

Now the Chinese park says it’s entering the fray in order to “raise public awareness about killer whales and their conservation status,” according to a statement on the company’s website.

But animal advocates argue that keeping the killer whales in captivity leads to health problems and behavioral issues — and they worry that this first step could encourage other parks to create orca breeding programs in China.


Image: Rojer/Flickr

“Killer whales in captivity generally have a shorter lifespan than wild killer whales,” a representative from the Hong Kong Dolphin Conservation Society told Quartz.

China doesn’t have the greatest track record when it comes to the treatment of animals. Last year, a shopping mall sparked outrage when it put a polar bear on display in an aquarium. Before it was eventually moved, the bear could be seen displaying signs of distress, like pacing and repeatedly shaking his head.