Apoptosis has long been observed in viral target organs of white-spot syndrome virus (WSSV)-infected shrimp and whether the phenomenon helps the shrimp to survive the infection or is a factor leading to mortality is still controversial. If the shrimp mortality is a result of triggered apoptosis, then inactivation of caspase-3, a key protein in the induction of apoptosis, should improve shrimp survival upon challenge with WSSV. To test this prediction, we identified and characterized a caspase-3 homologue (cap-3) from the Pacific white shrimp Penaeus (Litopenaeus) vannamei and used this information to silence cap-3 expression by RNA interference prior to WSSV challenge. After confirming the efficacy of cap-3 silencing, its effects on mortality at high and low doses of WSSV were evaluated. In a high-dose WSSV challenge, cap-3 silencing had no significant effect on WSSV-induced mortality, except for a delay in mean time to death. However, at a low-dose WSSV challenge, cap-3 silencing correlated with a lower level of cumulative mortality, relative to silencing of a control gene, suggesting that apoptosis may exacerbate rather than decrease mortality in WSSV-challenged shrimp.