SeaWorld Lies In Response To “Blackfish”


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Since the release of the scathing documentary, Blackfish, on DVD and its public airing on CNN, SeaWorld has been the target of an increasingly enlightened public. Their upcoming event “Bands, Brew and BBQ” loses its main event as 8 of the 10 scheduled bands bail out in Blackfish‘s wake. The Florida Attractions Association defended SeaWorld by calling its “attackers” “radical extremists” and urging supporters to vote on a poll at tmz.com. The plan backfired as 56% of the 220,000 votes are to shut down SeaWorld. All of the uproar has SeaWorld’s majority owner, Blackstone Corp, running for cover from the sinking ship. In recent weeks, they have sold 19,500,000 shares and sought to invest their money elsewhere.

SeaWorld recently released an official letter from their zoological team in response to Blackfish. The letter touches on six points brought forward by the documentary. All of the points are deceptive or contain false information which could easily sway anyone who is unaware of the truth. This is especially worrying since SeaWorld has so far published this letter in eight national newspapers. The lies need to be exposed:

“SeaWorld does not capture killer whales in the wild.”

This point is fairly misleading given that the film Blackfish never claims or even implies that SeaWorld is still capturing killer whales. The wild capture segment of the film opens with a clear date: 1970, and in case the dated footage doesn’t indicate its age, narrators explicitly state that this was a past event.

However, SeaWorld responds to the segment by saying that it has not captured killer whales in 35 years. Not because the practice is wrong or cruel, but because they found other ways to stock their tanks: through captive breeding. SeaWorld describes their breeding program as a “groundbreaking success” in spite of the fact that it has produced several inbred and hybrid animals, a 50% infant mortality rate, and multiple instances of infant rejection. Not to mention the upper-limit for captive born orca longevity is only 25 years. It cannot be denied that the captive killer whale gene pool is heading toward a dangerous bottle-neck, and when it does reach a critical state, SeaWorld and other aquariums will call again for the capture of wild killer whales. This is currently happening with beluga whales and SeaWorld was recently among several U.S. aquariums who requested to import wild-caught belugas from Russia.  SeaWorld finally adds that “only two” of the whales they caught from the ocean are still surviving. One is led to question why they would shoot themselves in the foot by adding this fact. It implies that most of their wild-caught killer whales have died prematurely, and fosters more questions about the species’ well-being in a captive environment.

“We do not separate killer whale moms and calves.”

This statement is blatantly false and even SeaWorld contradicts it by saying that the whales ARE moved but only to “maintain a healthy social structure.” The bond between the mother and calf is recognized as being “important”, so it seems strange that maintaining a healthy social structure should involve the severing of that important bond by removing the young from its established family and placing it in another tank with strangers. In fact, Taku, Unna, Ikaika, Takara, Kohana, Keet, Keto, Skyla, Tuar, Shouka, and Trua are just some of the whales (still living) that were separated from their mothers by SeaWorld.

“SeaWorld invests millions of dollars in the care of our killer whales.”

SeaWorld claims that in the past 3 years it has invested $70 million in its killer whale habitat. That’s an average of $23 million a year. This might sound like a shockingly large amount of money, but in the course of 9 months SeaWorld spends $99 million on food and goods. What exactly the money is being spent on is unknown. The killer whale “habitats” have not been updated since the 80’s, and according to former trainers, millions of dollars may be spent on the set and lighting at the stadium – would this be considered an investment in the killer whale habitat?

“SeaWorld’s killer whales’ life spans are equivalent with those in the wild.”

The average lifespan of a wild male killer whale is 35 and for a female it’s 60. SeaWorld may have six whales that have exceeded the age of 30, but four of them are females who would normally reach 60 years in the wild. In other words, only two of SeaWorld’s whales have reached the average life span of a wild whale of the same sex, and two whales out of the countless whales that have lived at SeaWorld parks is not a very impressive number. It certainly does not represent an average, but an exception. In the film Blackfish, SeaWorld educators claim that captive whales live longer than wild whales, so it appears that has now been retracted and changed.

“The killer whales in our care benefit those in the wild.”

This is a nice statement but what is there to show for it? Populations of wild killer whales are endangered and have been for decades, so where are the “significant real-world benefits” of this research?

“SeaWorld is a world leader in animal rescue.”

This is a very common red herring that SeaWorld uses to detract from the real issue. Rescue and rehabilitation efforts are irrelevant to the topic at hand which is the ethics of killer whale captivity. Even so, the claims made need to be addressed: “The millions of people who visit our parks each year make possible SeaWorld’s world-renowned work in rescue, rehabilitation and release.” In fact, these efforts are very under-funded and are supported largely by government grants and donations, not ticket sales.

SeaWorld and supporters say that the public should do research and look at the facts before making a decision about killer whale captivity. The public is now seeking the facts and that is why the Blackfish movement is now in motion – full steam ahead.

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31 thoughts on “SeaWorld Lies In Response To “Blackfish”

  1. I think that it is true that Sea World has made efforts over the years to increase the quality of life for the animals in their care. However, it is important to note that it is not necessarily out of concern for the welfare of the animals they keep captive, but out of concern for protecting their financial investments. These whales and dolphins are worth millions to the parks so they need to do whatever is necessary to keep them alive.

    Also, it’s worth noting that the reason Sea World no longer captures wild orcas Iies in the fact that it has been illegal to do so for decades. It was not out of any concern for the animals themselves, or they wouldn’t still import them from other countries like Japan, where it is still legal to do so. US law mandates that it is illegal to capture marine mammals in our waters, but it is still legal to buy them from countries who can. That is what will likely happen when breeding stock gets too low.

    As for the so-called “educational benefits” of their shows, if educating the public about these magnificent creatures truly was Sea World’s mission, they’d be much better off putting that $1.46 billion in revenue toward sponsoring educational whale watching excursions, where people could have the chance to see these animals in their natural state. To me, that would be a much greater, more fulfilling and inspiring experience than getting splashed at by a whale who’s forced to perform a bunch of parlor tricks for my amusement.

    I know that the people who work with these animals love them. They wouldn’t accept the low pay, harsh conditions and long work days if they didn’t. But to truly love an animal is to want what is best for them. What is best for them is to be free. Perhaps it may be too late for the ones already in captivity, but that does not mean we cannot shift the focus to a whale- and dolphin free Sea World of the future.

  2. I don’t care whether the movie “Blackfish” is misleading in its story telling or not. Don’t care about anyone’s opinion one way or another. That fact is that these are whales in tanks. That’s just wrong especially for entertainment reasons. I could see this being a need if there was some kind of scientific research that had to be done, but that is not the reason SeaWorld has them in tanks. It would be like being in jail for life and there is no way out. (My dorsal fin would not be erect too.) Can’t let them back in the wild. Certainly should not let them breed especially if the gene pool is thin. I would not go to SeaWorld for this reason alone. If they built a seaside huge habitat I could support the effort for them to live out as happy as possible.

  3. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that these whales should be left in the wild instead of being put on display for the public to see these tricks and all. For those of you out there who are in support of SeaWorld, from the bottom of my heart I’d like to say, fuck you! Oh, and to SeaWorld, fuck you as well. I wonder how you’d feel spending your life stuck in a damn bathtub…

  4. WOW. You got yourself all kinds of haters on this post, most of which sound like they’ve never spent 10 minutes behind the scenes with a captive wild animal. I think your articles are spot on. Keep up the great work.

    Nicole

      • Or how about all of you release all captive animals and cease this nonsense? Humans were NOT meant to keep animals in captivity. The same goes for the so called “domestic” animals. It’s clear that they’re just inbred versions of the original animal. I completely support ALL animals being released. And those who claim to be for animal rights and yet keep dogs, cats, fish, birds and other kinds of animals are filthy hypocrites.

          • Same here. She just scratches the door. It’s too far gone for our domestic friends after all those years of captivity.Where can I release her? In what environment? All we can do now is co-exist. Which isn’t always a bad thing, and can be beneficial (i.e. dogs & humans). It’s dependent on the situation. What we can do now is continue to try to protect those that need it. And it’s clear that this isn’t right for the captive Orcas in small tanks at any entertainment facility being forced to entertain, all the while living probably going to live a shorter life span.

  5. Sources please. It’s one thing to criticize someone or something for misrepresenting information but then to refute it without citing the sources of your own information is just as terrible. While your information sounds nice, it needs to come from credible places and not, as your “About the Author” page says, simply from searching around the internet which we all know is full of all kinds of misinformation as well as truth.

      • So you’re citing yourself as a source? That’s not how sources work.

        Also, you argue against SeaWorld’s statement “SeaWorld does not capture killer whales in the wild” by claiming that there is a possibility that they might need to acquire new whales in the future, and imply that SeaWorld will do this by capturing them from the wild without considering any other options for acquiring the whales. Since you did not claim that SeaWorld presently captures killer whales in the wild (not to mention provide any proof), you are, in fact, lying when you tell the public that SeaWorld’s statement is a lie.

        Please stick to claims for which you can provide proof. If one sentence of your article is not credible, none of it is credible. Therefore, none of this is credible.

        • No, I’m not citing myself. I’m providing a link to an article that has a list of scientific papers to back up my claim (which you apparently didn’t look at.)

          “…imply that SeaWorld will do this by capturing them from the wild without considering any other options for acquiring the whales.” What other options? In the face of a genetic bottleneck there will be no other options. Either inbreed the whales or supplement the pool with wild genes.

          You’re right. I did not claim that SeaWorld presently captures killer whales…because they don’t. I state that SeaWorld’s claim is “misleading” and irrelevant. I feel like you are taking what I said and spinning into something that’s totally off base.

          “If one sentence of your article is not credible, none of its credible.” Wow, I feel sorry for you!

  6. I too was moved after watching blackfish. But to take counterpoint I’ll make their argument for them regarding how sea world orcas benefit those in the wild…it gives people a venue to see and fall in love with tha animals which hopefully leads to broad support to protect them in the wild. If this statement were true would you support trading the misery of all the whales in captivity for those in the wild?

    • Seeing animals in captivity does not necessarily translate to a broad support of protection in the wild. If this were the case, Japan (the country with the most marine parks) would have the most support/protection of wild cetaceans. Instead, it is one of the few countries that still kills them.

    • Nonsense because what you are watching in captivity has zero to do with appreciating their lives in the wild since the two are starkly different in contrast so your instead appreciating animals doing very un natural things. that’s not respect. or understanding of an animal its finding a convenient excuse to see these creatures forced to entertain us. Who said we had to connect with every wild animal anyway? They let us lead our lives, how about we afford them the same?

  7. Isnt SeaWorld updating their Killer Whale tank in Orlando in a few days whether it will meet your standard or not is beside this point but should retract your haven’t been updated since the 80s comment. The newest baby killer whale at seaworld is still with its mother after three years and has now started doing shows without her but hasn’t been separated since the new regime has taken over at seaworld which has lead to other changes since blackfish. The age of these whales cant be talked about on either end since the whales haven’t lived that long in seaworlds captive care yet to truly be judged in my opinion but seaworld has and should have stopped saying they live longer in captivity till proven. The way they capture is being misunderstood by some I was discussing blackfish with some people and they said and told me that seaworld has captured all their animals and just did so recently because they saw it on blackfish. While you cover this because you comprehended the movie a lot did not and that is why I believe seaworld addressed this in their statement. I am not going to sit here and tell you seaworld is perfect, but to single them out is ridiculous when their are aquariums and zoos and other forms of entertainment that are much worse out their than seaworld. They do more for animals then most of these other forms of entertainment even outside of the park. Sorry but I don’t think either side is a real winner or loser and I don’t think anything can or will change either as far as shutting down seaworld. If anything I have stated doesn’t seem right please correct me I am open to listen on all ends of the spectrum in regards to this situation. Thanks.

    • They are updating the tank this year, though the updates are solely based on aesthetics and not the well being of the animals. Yes, the newest baby whale is still with its mother after three years. It’s sad that this is considered a real accomplishment. Killer whales have been kept in captivity for 50 years. That is more than enough time to derive a trend and come to an average lifespan. Or are you just planning on waiting to measure their age until the results might be in your favor? That’s not how science works…
      You’re also using the fallacy of relative privation — my position is wrong because there are more important (unrelated) things to worry about.

      • I don’t have a problem with your position at all I respect the opinions of those that feel captivity is wrong. But as the one poster said above is that Sea World which has taken the brunt of most of the recent outcry from those against animal captivity at least as shown interest in caring for animals both wild and captive by trying to save and return as many animals as they can to the wild. Those that they keep captive gives the public a chance to learn and understand what these animals bring to our world that many would not have this opportunity. My next statement is not calling you out specifically so don’t take it that way. I just see the Vocal group against Sea World chiming up now because of this movie when there are many more zoos, aquariums that are keeping animals captive that you don’t see in mainstream media. I give you the circus for example and I could be wrong but I doubt the circus does as much care and research on its animals as Sea World does. Another big park Disney has the Animal Kingdom based around the part of getting people to the park to show them these captive animals like on the safari ride where after the park closes the animals go to their cages. Do people hate Disney like they are Sea World (Im sure some do) but not really because there wasn’t a movie for them to fall back on. Again you clearly have your own stance and blackfish hasn’t changed your mind and I don’t lump you personally into that statement but I would like your opinion on it. There a so many other examples as well horse racing, the rodeo (which ironically a band that canceled the sea world performance is going to perform at a rodeo seems hypocritical), the horses pulling carriages in cities (there are still wild horses). That last one may be a stretch but still uses an animal for entertainment. I understand your blog is focused on Cetaceans so that is why you have focused on Sea World but they are getting the sort end of the stick in my opinion since at least they do Care for the animals whether you feel all of their practices are right or wrong. Thanks again I value your opinion because I do like to analyze both sides of this subject.

        • Animal rescue and rehab is important. SeaWorld can do this without their whale shows.

          “Those that they keep captive gives the public a chance to learn and understand what these animals bring to our world that many would not have this opportunity.” Does this argument also apply to the circus?

          Many people are just speaking up now about cetacean captivity because they have seen Blackfish and are outraged. They didn’t speak up before Blackfish because they didn’t know there was an issue.

          The practice that I feel is wrong is keeping whales and dolphins in captivity since these are species that do not fare well in captivity (along with elephants and apes), but I don’t agree with any wild animals being taught tricks and put on spectacle for paying tourists.

        • They breed for entertainment purposes only, not to release into the wild. This is the problem most people have. Zoos breed to help boost population but they don’t force elephant, tigers and rhinos to perform for the public! An effort is also made to provide a suitable and natural habitat in order to stimulate them. It’s vital for their well being. SW make no effort to do this. Mainly because they want to provide good visibility for visitors. To provide a suitable habitat for them is impossible if you look at their natural environment and this is why they shouldn’t be held in captivity. Blue, sei and fin whales are all endangered but I assume they are still able to educate people about them without having a real live example in front of them. They can do the same with Orcas. Seaworld doesn’t have to close, just stop the performing and breeding and just let captive orcas die out. It may effect their profit but it won’t effect their care and rehab programs. Most of them are government funded.

  8. Blackfish does not make it clear that SeaWorld no longer captures. Haven’t you read the public’s comments on Blackfish? All of them refer to the fact SeaWorld captures because Blackfish makes the public believe SeaWorld still captures. You’re well aware of this deceiving bit. Either that, you’re pretty much calling the public stupid. You’re obviously playing dumb. SeaWorld hasn’t captured orcas in over 30 yrs, there isn’t a bit of sense in showing capture footage.

    SeaWorld does not separate mothers and young. They use to, past tense, But haven’t since Trua (five years ago).

    lol Shouka was not separated by SeaWorld. She was born at Marineland in France in case you didn’t know. She was bought by Six Flags, not SeaWorld, before she was even born. And Marineland France agreed to move her. So no, Marineland was responsible for her seperation, not SeaWorld.

    • No, not all of comments refer to SeaWorld’s captures. Again, I’m not sure how it was deceiving given that dates were clearly stated at the bottom of the screen and the footage is obviously aged. I’m not sure what else you expected the film maker to do. The film seeks to tell the story of Tilikum, so that is the sense of including capture footage.

      They have separated killer whales in the very recent past (5 years). They do not have to be in the process of separating mother/young in order for this issue to be relevant.

      • I agree it was clear that the capture footage was old and I did not get the impression they still captured killer whales. I will say that if people didn’t understand that in the movie then they weren’t paying close attention.

  9. Hi,

    I’m doing a project at school and would like my whole year to know about the gains seaworld are getting but can you answer one question I know I will be asked in my presentation what will happen to the orca’s that are in captivity if the parks actually shut x

    Emma
    Sheffield UK

    THANKS

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

    • Thanks for reading! I’m glad you’ve picked this topic for your presentation. There are three likely options for the whales after SeaWorld shuts down. They could be sold to other parks, released or retired to a sea pen. What happens to them depends on SeaWorld and the US government.

      • Oh brilliant idea, how can you say you have any concern for the orcas at sea world at all and in the same breath think it’s a good idea to put them at another Park or back in the wild. Since you are the cetaceans inspiration, you should know what happened to keiko after he was released in the wild and how he spent his last year’s near a fishing village because he craved the human contact. You yourself share lies because one of the tanks at sea world san Diego was updated about a year ago, unless last year was 1980…. And why would moving them to a different Park be any different than them being at sea world???? The only reason the Blackfish movement is in motion is because this country is filled with band Wagon idiots who believe the lies you spew. Oh, and not all orcas stay with their mothers forever, and in the case of Katsaka, Nakai, Kalia and Makuni, in the wild Kalia likely would have had to leave her mother last year when Makuni was born, but all the orcas are still happily with their mother at sea world san diego. Great job doing research.

        • I’m sorry, where did I say that it would be a good idea to put them in another park or back in the wild? I believe the only option right now is to phase out the captive breeding program and/or retire the animals to a natural sea pen. I absolutely do not advocate for shipping these animals off to a different park, nor do I advocate releasing them into the wild, so I am baffled as to where you came up with this idea. If Kalia left her mother in the wild that would be her choice. She would not have been taken from her at a young age by selfish human hands.
          “…but all the orcas are still happily with their mother at sea world san diego.” Except for Kasatka, Ulises, Corky, Orkid, Keet, Shouka, and Ikaika…you know, 7 out of 10 of the whales at SeaWorld San Diego. Let’s see how long it takes before they move one of Kasatka’s babies out of the park.

          • Given that Makuni is a year old, I really don’t see that happening. And why exactly would they definitely choose one of Kasatka’s babies, instead of any of the others. And Shouka was brought in AFTER they knew Kasatka was pregnant again – so at the time they knew full well that would mean there would be ten orcas at the park.

            And by saying “They could be sold to other parks, released or retired to a sea pen. What happens to them depends on SeaWorld and the US government.” but not saying you do not advocate two of the three options mentioned, you do not say which idea would be best – so by negating what you do believe, you leave it open for anyone to interpret that any of those options would be perfectly fine in your mind.

            And really, this whole “orca’s were taken out of the wild so SeaWorld is horrible” is the dumbest argument ever – where exactly do you think ANY animal in captivity ever came from? A lab? If people didn’t realize that the reason there are orcas in captivity is that at some point, at least one was taken from the wild, they probably aren’t capable of putting on their shoes either. Why should SeaWorld be crucified for something that so many people have been doing for centuries. It isn’t right, but it’s what was done. So if you have a problem with it – I truly hope you don’t go to zoos either. And we should just close all those down too.

            Finally: “Seeing animals in captivity does not necessarily translate to a broad support of protection in the wild. If this were the case, Japan (the country with the most marine parks) would have the most support/protection of wild cetaceans. Instead, it is one of the few countries that still kills them.”
            This argument is only valid if you employ black and white thinking, i.e. all people who attend a marine park will gain an interest and a passion for marine life. Instead, the world isn’t quite so simple. There is such a thing as culture, and culture is going to dictate how a person views any wildlife far more than simply seeing an animal in a zoo-like setting. That does not mean that love for animals and a passion for helping those animals cannot be derived from seeing them in a captive setting. Because I went to SeaWorld when I was seven, and was exposed to actually SEEING those animals I developed a love for marine animals. A passion that has only grown as I have gotten older. But I do not have the money or the ability to see an Orca in the wild. And trust me, there are few things in life that would make me happier. And I know I am not the only person that has developed a love for any animal because I first saw it in captivity.

            Maybe, you should understand that there are people who truly love and care about Orca’s in ALL settings, and instead of simply vilifying them for every action, you would make more progress by trying to work with them. SeaWorld has made many many changes throughout the years as they have learned what is better for the health and well being of their animals – albeit occasionally reluctantly – but that does not negate the good they have done over the years.

            • I don’t mean to be petty, but his name is Makani, not Makuni. They would probably choose one of Kasatka’s babies because (according to Mark Simmons’ most recent interview on micechat.com), captive orca mothers will attack and abuse their older offspring when a new one is born.

              I simply stated the reality of what would likely happen to these animals if SeaWorld was shut down. They would be sold to other parks, or released…it just depends on SeaWorld and the Govt. I’m not sure where you got the idea that I must then agree with all of these options. That seems like a stretch.

              Domestication of an animal like a cat, dog, fish, bird or reptile is not the same as an orca whale. Unless you are equating orca whales to household pets or domestic ancestors like small African wild cats or wild dogs.

              I do agree that the “inspiration” argument is more complex than “people go to marine parks and they walk away inspired.” It’s not this simple and I’m glad you recognize that.

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