5 realizations about Orca whales, the wrongfulness of SeaWorld, after watching the movie ‘Blackfish’
SeaWorld is a business that rakes in approximately $1.5 billion each and every year. Even after the release of the award-winning documentary Blackfish, where SeaWorld’s inhumane captivity of Orca Whales was unveiled to an audience of millions, the theme park continues to generate profit by exploiting the species. This list contains the 5 most shocking realizations about SeaWorld and Orca Whales that I came to after watching Blackfish, altogether revealing the true motivation behind the corporation’s decision to keep Orcas in captivity: money.
1.) SeaWorld doesn’t want to reveal the predatory nature of their practices, so, to rid themselves of suspicion, they will lie to you.
The above video is an excerpt from Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s Blackfish, elaborating on the many lies appropriated by SeaWorld in their desperate attempt to make the captivity of Orca Whales seem humane. These lies include:
- The average lifespan of an Orca Whale is about 25-30 years of life—This is a lie. According to the National Geographic, Orca whales live to be around 50-80 years old, while some even live long enough to see 100 years when living in the wild.
- 23% of Orcas have floppy dorsal fins—This is a statistical farce. On SeaWorld’s website (available via the previous link) the theme park tries to skew the findings of a New Zealand study performed in 1998 in their favor. However, Dr. Ingrid Visser, the marine mammal scientist who conducted this study, clarifies that her conclusions only found .8% of the 125 Orcas observed to have a collapsed dorsal fin. The sad reality that makes SeaWorld’s representation believable is that, in captivity, 100% of male Orcas develop this dorsal fin abnormality.
- We do not separate killer whale moms and calves—This is blatantly untrue. The above excerpt from Blackfish explains that most whales in captivity are not related, and are often moved from park to park. For further validation, here is a chronological list of specific mothers and calves that were separated under SeaWorld’s oversight: Orcas Separated at Birth: A Factual Timeline
*Please note that each of the above bullet points link directly to pages on SeaWorld’s website where the misinformation can be found.*
2.) Orcas are actually biologically unfit for captivity.
They need to swim! Orca whales swim up to 100 miles a day in the wild. In captivity, however, they would have to swim the circumference of the average-sized main-pool approximately 1,900 times to equate that distance. Orca Whales are one of the most intelligent species known to man. Orcas are members of the Delphinidae family, which technically makes them the world’s largest dolphins. Due to a significantly-sized, additional lobe in the Orca’s brain–located where emotional processing takes place–scientists infer that Orca Whales most likely experience emotions that we don’t even know exist! According to Dr. Lori Marino, a top researcher in whale/dolphin brain anatomy: “It may be that many cetacean species have achieved a level of social-emotional sophistication not achieved by other animals, including humans.”
The mere fact that we can barely understand, or even comprehend, the intricacies of the Orca’s brain shows how unprepared we are to know how to properly accommodate their needs in confinement. The emotional stress of captivity has been shown to crumble an Orcas’ psyche until he/she reaches a state of depression and aggression, which can eventually even lead to suicide attempts.
3.) Captivity also makes Orcas unnaturally hostile.
According to an open letter rebuttal to SeaWorld from the Oceanic Preservation Society (the creators of another revealing documentary film, The Cove): “A lifetime of confinement routinely causes Orcas to behave in an unnaturally violent manner toward each other and their trainers.”
In fact, there is much evidence to support their claim. For example, there has never been one reported instance of an Orca Whale killing a human being in the wild; however, this is not the case in captivity. Tilikum, the main whale discussed in Blackfish, has killed three people, alone. 34% of the whales at SeaWorld are Tilikum’s offspring, sharing his genes, which studies have shown can transfer aggressive behavior.
2010 was a particularly devastating year, where three Orcas (all younger than 20 years of age) passed away in captivity, and Dawn Brancheau became Tilikum’s third victim. Globally, at least 144 Orcas have been taken from the wild and put into captivity. 126 of those Orcas are now dead.
Despite all of this shocking and heartbreaking information, SeaWorld maintains that, “these animals adapt very well socially to their lives at SeaWorld and there is no truth at all to the notion that they exhibit ‘hyper aggression.”
4.) Trainers cannot bear to see the Orcas they love treated so badly.
Carol Ray, John Jett, Jeffery Ventre, and Samantha Berg are all former SeaWorld trainers who willingly appeared in Blackfish to speak out against the business that once employed them. When asked in one interview what made them realize that Orcas are unfit for captivity, they had a lot of revealing things to say. Ventre noted that Orcas tend to break and permanently damage their teeth by gnawing on their steel and concrete enclosures, a sign of anxiety and aggression in their captive condition. Berg added that Tilikum’s teeth are now so warn down from gnawing on walls/gates that his mouth must be flushed several times per day. As it turns out, enduring regular sessions of painful dental procedures without the aid of anesthesia is a common right among captive whales who eventually reach this point of dental deterioration. John Jett spoke directly to this issue within the context of SeaWorld, including that “until recently few people knew that SW trainers routinely drill the teeth of their captive Orcas (the teeth are never filled, and they must then be flushed daily with antiseptic solution).”
All four former SeaWorld trainers confirmed in this interview that they were frequently instructed to restrict their Orcas’ food intake in order to assure a willingness to cooperate when the time came for them to perform on stage. Jett added that “upcoming VIP shows, which were commonly held on Saturdays as I recall, would often elicit from management the order to cut whale bases by ½ for several days prior to the show.”
These former trainers, like many others, sought out their trainer roles for their genuine love of animals. However, after witnessing the depraved treatment of the Orcas under SeaWorld’s care, the trainers eventually could not bare to be a part of a business so lacking in compassion and moral fortitude. Carol Ray even admitted that while she believes “the majority of the trainers have a great love and appreciation for the whales, [I am] now able to see that it’s so misguided. To claim love for these animals and yet to support them being in confinement, it’s a great hypocrisy, really.”
5.) Direct from the source, the information SeaWorld provides about its own exhibitions is defensive.
First of all, I’d like to point out that the word “care” can be found more than 11 times on SeaWorld’s homepage alone. The above picture shows a portion of their homepage. Let’s dissect this transparent re-branding attempt piece by piece.
“50 Years of Connecting and Caring”–I bet those initial years were particularly caring, a time SeaWorld spent removing young Orca calves from their families in the 1960’s and 70’s to keep them in captivity for the rest of their lives.
“world-class standards of care”–If the world’s standard for “care” has gotten so low, perhaps Webster’s should redefine it.
“state-of-the-art animal habitats”—state-of-the-art?? You can’t just say something’s the most successful, advanced design of it’s time when it’s more or less the only one in the market for captive whales! Who’s its competition, museums? By SeaWorld’s standards, one could reasonably say that any dangerous, inhospitable form of captivity is “state-of-the-art,” North Korean or Nazi internment camps for example.
“[their] commitment to animal welfare”–yes, what a commitment indeed.
If you are as astonished and disgusted by these facts as I am, there are several things you can do to help. A few suggestions:
1.) Share this post with your friends and followers on Facebook and on Twitter. Knowledge really is power. The more people become aware of this issue, the less they will be inclined to pay money to support it.
2.) Watch the documentary Blackfish. The film that inspired this post is currently available on Netflix. Watching the film for yourself, and recommending it to others is a great way to learn more about this important topic with your friends and family.
3.) Vow not to go to SeaWorld. Now, I completely agree that these animals are beautiful and breath-taking. Seeing them in person is utterly awe-inspiring! So, here are 7 humane alternatives to taking your children to SeaWorld.
4.) Take action. Here is a link to the website of the former trainers we’ve heard from: Carol Ray, Jeff Ventre, John Jett, and Samantha Berg, where they provide you with a list of steps you can take to help end the inhumane captivity of Orca Whales and other animals who are unfit for captivity. There’s also a place to go to make a donation to well-respected foundations fighting for animal rights in this area. Your support is meaningful and worthwhile! And, please, if you decide to take an action, tell us about it! Let other people get inspired.