Most pro-captivity activists are in favor of SeaWorld’s breeding program and are opposed to wild capture. But does anyone REALLY know what SeaWorld’s captive breeding program involves? (Warning: graphic images and descriptions to follow…)
It’s no secret that SeaWorld artificially inseminates their cetaceans. The males are trained to present their penis to be manually stimulated by trainers until ejaculation. The ejaculate is then collected, frozen and stored for future use. The insemination procedure for females involves the insertion of an endoscope, a catheter, and the sperm directly into the uterus. This method for captive breeding has resulted in 35 calves across 5 different species. One document (published 2010) could shed light on the subject of SeaWorld’s captive breeding program, revealing some dirty details. Here are a few odd and sickening facts about the program that you may want to check out:
SeaWorld has worked in conjunction with beluga hunts in order to obtain wild beluga sperm for their captive breeding program. “Systematic banking of spermatozoa for long-term storage from 33 trained cetaceans has been accomplished by our group and collaborators (bottlenose dolphin: n = 21; Pacific white-sided dolphin: n = 4; killer whale: n = 6; beluga: n = 1) and from wild beluga (n = 4) in conjunction with native subsistence hunts.” On pg. 2 of the document SeaWorld expressed concern for dwindling number of wild beluga, and named these subsistence hunts as a culprit. “…a subpopulation of beluga, whose habitat is the Cook Inlet in Alaska, has been classified as critically endangered in response to multifactorial impacts of habitat change and subsistence hunting.” Yet here they are JOINING beluga hunters in order to obtain wild cetacean sperm for their breeding program!
SeaWorld has complete control over their animal’s reproduction. They induce ovulation in their female animals. “Steinman, O’Brien, and Robeck (2007) provided the first evidence of facultative-induced ovulation in a cetacean species using serial urinary hormone monitoring and ovarian ultrasound.” (pg.3) They can control the estrous cycles and synchronize them through “oral synthetic progestagen treatment.” (pg.8) And even have birth control for both males and females: “Reproductive research is also facilitating the development of male and female contraceptive methods for cetaceans such as the bottlenose dolphin.” (pg. 4) All of this adds up to the fact that the animals at SeaWorld, whether they are belugas, dolphins, or orcas – have no control over their own reproduction.
Females that do not undergo the artificial insemination procedure voluntarily, (as if they know they are being inseminated,) are forcibly removed from the water under mild or NO sedation and placed on pads for the 30 min. procedure. Animals that are not trained or do not cooperate are still forced to undergo the procedure whether they want to or not. “Females are either trained to permit a voluntary intrauterine endoscopy procedure, or are removed from the water under mild or no sedation… No significant complications have resulted from any of the 153 cetacean AI procedures conducted by our research group.” (pg. 8) The fact that some of these animals must be put under sedation indicates that the procedure is stressful for the animals. Human handling, capturing, and especially transportation out of the water are clear stressors for cetaceans and have been found to provoke considerable elevations in blood cortisol concentrations. (Koopman, Westgate, Read, & Gaskin, 1995; St. Aubin & Geraci, 1989; Thomson & Geraci, 1986)
SeaWorld potentially obtains sperm through wild or captive whales that are dead. Why would they choose to be so disrespectful to their animals? Even to the point of treating their corpses as sperm banks! This truly shows where SeaWorld’s priorities lie … ”Sperm samples can either be collected voluntarily from trained captive animals, or post-mortem from wild or captive animals using a process known as gamete rescue. Collection and preservation of spermatozoa from either source represents an important conservation tool, which allows the indefinite storage of valuable genetic material (in the form of spermatozoa) that can be used to produce offspring long after a male has died through assisted reproductive technologies.” (pg. 10)
SeaWorld disregards the natural reproductive habits of animals in order to force motherhood on them at young ages. They claim that female orcas reach sexual maturity at only 7-8 years old, and males at 10 years old. (pg. 5-6) But studies have found that most wild orcas do not become mothers until they are 15, and 14 years old is roughly the age at which both males and females reach sexual maturity. (Olesiuk et al. 1990 op. cit.; Olesiuk et al. 2005 op. cit.) Not only does SeaWorld breed their young animals, they also choose to breed them more often than would occur in the wild where orcas give birth once every 3-10 years. Kalina, for instance had her first calf at only seven years old, and at the ripe young age of ten, had already given birth to three calves. Kalina died in 2010 setting the highest limit for captive-born orca longevity : 25 years. And this is just their orca program, let alone their early breeding of bottlenose dolphins, pacific-white sided dolphins, belugas, etc.
[In the paper SeaWorld thanks several other parks with which they are involved/have a relationship with including Mundo Marino (Argentina), Dolphinarium Harderwijk (Netherlands), Loro Parque (Spain), and other parks which take part in animal cruelty, wild capture, and even stimulation of the Japanese dolphin hunts, such as:
Valencia Aquarium which actively captures wild dolphins including rare river dolphins. Their animal's death rate is through the roof and in 2011, four dolphins died at their park within just a few months. The only living dolphin in the US that came from the Japanese drive hunt was bought by Ocean Park in Hong Kong directly from the Japanese fishermen. SeaWorld thanks them in the list.]
The justification for all of this is that the genes of the animals need to be preserved in captivity in order to boost wild populations should they become threatened. Actions however, speak louder than words. SeaWorld has NEVER artificially inseminated ANY endangered animal with the purpose of releasing it to strengthen the wild populations. In fact, they seem to be content in artificially inseminating well-established species like bottlenose dolphins, and orcas for the purpose of producing the next captive generation of performing animal for their amusement parks. SeaWorld continually violates animals and uses the sperm for their own profit and gain – NOT for conservation purposes. Just because SeaWorld is taking part in captive breeding rather than wild capture, doesn’t indicate that they are somehow more ethical in their practices.