After 50 years as one of America’s most loved family brands, the tide has finally turned against SeaWorld. Since the release of the film documentary, Blackfish, revealing the hidden truth behind the treatment of orca whales at these attractions; the public is starting to open their eyes to the sheer cruelty that is being portrayed as entertainment.
Although there are no captive whales and dolphins within the UK, a lot of travel companies do still advertise trips to SeaWorld and other marine park attractions. Thomas Cook recently announced its plans to axe trips to SeaWorld in Florida and Loro Parque in Tenerife over animal welfare concerns.
Here are some stats on marine parks across the globe:
- 15 EU countries currently hold whales or dolphins.
- There are currently 52 orcas in captivity around the world. Of these, 18 are wild-captured and 34 are captive-born.
- SeaWorld holds 23 out of the 24 captive-born orcas in the US.
- Georgia Aquarium is currently fighting to import 18 beluga whales from Russia to the US for itself and other marine parks.
- The countries with the highest number of facilities with captive whales or dolphins are Japan (57), China (44), USA (34), Russia (24) and Mexico (24).
The orcas living at SeaWorlds were either captured and taken from the wild as calves via a traumatic process or bred in captivity from an increasingly narrow gene pool and usually separated from their mothers while still infants.
Killer whales struggle to survive at marine parks because the pools and tanks they are kept in are simply too small for them to live. They often swim into the concrete sides of their enclosures out of boredom and frustration that they aren’t able to roam the oceans. They can even be found swimming aimlessly in circles and contract diseases they otherwise wouldn’t in the wild.
A good environment is crucial to an orca’s well being, and tanks deprive them of the physical and mental stimulation that the ocean would naturally provide.
SeaWorld has applied to build marginally bigger tanks as part of its ‘Blue World Project’, but they’ll never be able to construct tanks that allow orcas to swim even close to the distance they would in the wild. To understand the scale; in the wild, orcas dive up to 1,000 feet, while the tanks that SeaWorld has proposed will only reach 50 feet. That’s 950 feet that they still won’t be able to be free to dive in.
Last year, bosses at SeaWorld San Diego had to put down one of their orcas, Kasatka, due to her becoming incurably sick. Former trainer, John Hargrove, who worked at SeaWorld San Diego for 14 years but left in 2012, had a lot to say to the media when this happened: “They claim captive orcas help educate people, and for years I bought into it. But Kasatka lived in misery, in barbaric and horrific conditions, and died in agony. She lived out her days in a house of horrors and I was complicit in selling the lie to the public. In the wild, these magnificent creatures can live to 80 years old.”
Marine parks claim that dolphins and orcas enjoy a longer life span than their wild counterparts, however this isn’t the case. The Oceanic Preservation Society says that dolphins can live for longer than 50 years in the wild, but in captivity, they live a fraction of that time.
At SeaWorld San Antonio, in Texas, the average lifespan of a captive-bred dolphin is four years and at SeaWorld San Diego, 24 dolphins perished from pneumonia in 25 years. Shockingly, less than 20 orcas have survived longer than 20 years in captivity, when their expected lifespan is 60 to 90 years.
Ex-trainer, Hargrove, wrote a best-selling book on his experience at SeaWorld and became a vital figure in the award-winning 2013 documentary, Blackfish. The film gave an insight into the suffering of the animals at the marine park, which shocked the public and caused the company’s shares and ticket sales to plummet.
Blackfish reveals that the whales have experienced extreme stress when their offspring were captured in the wild or when separated after breeding at water parks.
A scene in the film from 2006 shows distressed orca, Kasatka, dragging down another trainer to the bottom of her tank before releasing him. It also followed the devastating incident in 2010 of another orca killing trainer Dawn Brancheau by drowning her and severing her spinal cord.
SeaWorld dismissed the film as “inaccurate and misleading” but animal rights protesters and insiders, such as Hargrove, are determined to speak out to end the cruelty and exploitation of marine mammals.
What can you do?
You may feel helpless in being able to make an impact to stop put an end to marine parks, especially while living in the UK, however these small steps can make a difference:
- Avoid visiting a marine park or aquarium. Instead, you can learn about marine mammals by watching documentaries about how they live in their natural habitat. Alternatively, you could go on a whale-watching trip and try to observe them in the wild.
- Watch Blackfish and other documentaries with an insight into marine parks to learn more about the treatment of these animals, and encourage your friends to as well.
- Sadly, a lot of travel companies still advertise trips to SeaWorld and other marine parks. You can write and ask them to follow in the footsteps of STA Travel, Virgin America and many others by ending the promotions of these companies.
- Go to PETA’s website and sign their online petition to urge SeaWorld to send orcas to sea sanctuaries and end its use of animals.
Unfortunately, SeaWorld’s plans to build larger tanks in its ‘Blue World Project’ still don’t cut it. If they care about the wellbeing of its orcas, they should invest in coastal sanctuaries where marine mammals can be free to experience the ocean.
The harsh facts are finally being played out into the public eye, and with a decrease in visitors and more education of animal welfare, we hope that marine park attractions will see their last days very soon.