The Message Behind the Dolphin Show

The message conveyed in Seaworld’s dolphin and whale shows is very important. After all, millions of people are subjected to it every year. The shows are often described as “inspiring,” and marine park supporters claim that orcas and dolphins are “ambassadors” for their wild cousins. So, what message does the show present?
  •     The shows consist largely of behaviors that depict the dolphins and whales in a patronizing, or disrespectful light. From trainers riding on them like surfboards, to jumping off of their faces, the presentation centers around dominance and control of the animals.

     In “Marine Mammal Training Methods” I focused on the control that the trainers exhibit over the animals with their manipulative training techniques. The trainers control the whale and dolphin’s food source and so hold leverage over the animals who are subordinate. This is blatantly evident in the shows, where trainers essentially dangle fish in front of the animals in order to control their behavior. A major part of the Shamu Show message is human control over wildlife; that we can tame this exquisite wild creature and turn it into a submissive, cuddly teddy bear.

  •   Not only are the animals being controlled, but the audience is too. Between the sappy storyline and dramatic music, spectators become lost in this ‘other world,’ of happiness and fun. The shows are designed to draw the audience in to the images of dancing dolphins and trainers hugging whales. The audience is deceived into thinking that these exotic animals are teddy bears, and become oblivious to the fact that these animals are living against their very natures, and are not there by choice. The educational aspect of the show is nearly non-existent. The stage, and the atmosphere give off a theme-park, overly theatrical vibe, and the content is entertainment-focused. Educational information can be found in the commentary. The few people who pay attention to the trainer’s little speech on the size of the orca, how much the dolphin eats, etc. are being told very basic information that they could’ve learned online. Some information that is presented in dolphin shows, or even by marine park officials; is inaccurate and pushes the captivity agenda.

“[Orcas] are no more intelligent than my dog.” Brad Andrews Chief Zoological Officer for Seaworld Parks and Entertainment

  •  Another message that you receive is one that is actually very anti conservation. While the whales and dolphins are considered “ambassadors” for their wild counterparts, they actually illustrate and encourage a sense of security. That the animals in the wild don’t need help because there are so many healthy ones living a luxurious life at Seaworld. 

    The Shamu Show sends a message to children that is very anti conservation. "If there are orca whales here in captivity to look at, why save their wild cousins"?

“Seeing an animal like [orcas] in captivity tells a child something that is anti conservation. ‘Look we can control these animals, we can take them out of their natural environment, you don’t have to care about their counterparts in the wild we’ve got them right here in captivity for you to see, and to feed, and to touch, so don’t worry about it, they’ll always be there.’” Lori Marino       

To a child, the animals at marine parks are fun and funny compared to their boring wild counterparts. Marine parks actually shift the attention away from wild animals, and toward captive animals that appear to be much more entertaining and worth while. Children walk away from the Shamu Show aspiring dolphin trainers, not aspiring conservationists.

  • Overall, the message of the dolphin show is one of control and dominance. Not just of the animals but of the audience, and the information that is fed to them. It is also one that is anti-conservation. And that warm, fuzzy feeling of ‘inspiration’ after the show? Blissful ignorance.

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