Seaworld’s Reluctant “Progression”

 “The tricks are not performed because they enjoy doing them. First you find out how much they’ll eat and still work. After that you condition the dolphin to associate certain hand signals with certain tricks that will result in the dolphin getting fish. You then find out if they are loners or prefer company because one of the punishments if they are not working properly is to lock them away on their own. You put them in a pen and ignore them. It’s like psychological torture.”  Doug Cartlidge, former whale and dolphin trainer and Curator of Sea World Australia

    This quote has been passed around the internet over the past couple of days. It comes from this book concerning the captive animal industry and its history. Some captivity supporters have responded by saying that this quote was made decades ago, in the 1970’s. Seaworld no longer uses these training methods, so the past should be ignored. However, I’m not sure this counters the point being made. Isn’t it terrible that Seaworld- a marine park that supposedly cares about animals- ever used these methods?

    When you mention Seaworld’s involvement in wild cetacean captures, the same argument is used. This was so long ago, and that (somehow) makes it irrelevant. I’ve already written

Not much has happened since the first whales were captured and put on display.

a detailed post about Seaworld’s cruel history. Something I would like to expound on, given the sudden popularity of the above quote, is the separating of Seaworld from this violent history.

     Our human history involves a lot of violence, war, and immorality. As we have “grown up” as a species we have developed more empathy for each other and our fellow creatures. This has led us to open our eyes and treat animals with more respect. More of us each year are refusing to eat meat, joining animal rights groups, and so propelling the human race into a future that is kind to all animals.

     I would like to say that somewhere along the line Seaworld also had an “eye opener.” Suddenly they realized that capturing these animals is wrong, training them in these ways is wrong, and so they came out of their unfortunate past by their own free will, rather than being dragged along. But I would be mistaken. I can’t deny that Seaworld has had changes in many areas over the decades. But the supposedly “caring” way the animals are treated today is not one that was willfully accepted. After they used cruel methods to capture their animals, Seaworld went to court. Having their permit for capture revoked, they fought all the way until

After Seaworld animal captors harpooned whales, and used explosives to round them up, they were forced to stop wild captures.

they were ordered not to take animals from Washington State waters. After marine mammal protection laws were put in place, Seaworld had no choice but to breed their animals in captivity. The captive breeding program is what keeps Seaworld afloat to this day- and was their last ditch effort after fighting ruthlessly for their right to capture wild animals.

    We have seen this attitude from Seaworld time and time again. In 2006 when they were cited by the federal government for safety violations they bullied OSHA out of the report. And in 2010 they were cited for safety violations again, and have spent months contesting them. Seaworld is finally updating their safety protocols…but only after the government has forced them.

    At Seaworld, marine mammals are still trained using methods that involve food deprivation. A dolphin that is not hungry, will not perform for food because the stimulus- the reward- must be appetitive- alluring to the animal. This really cannot be argued as it is in Seaworld’s own marine mammal training information page. (I have already written more extensively on this issue here.)

   We know that the dolphins and orcas are separated and spend nights in different pools. Whether or not this is “punishment” is up for debate. According to the quote, this method was used back in the 1970s, and possibly beyond that. I have a feeling that if Seaworld changed their training methods, it was due to public scrutiny.

    It’s important to remember Seaworld’s history, and not forget that many of the changes that have taken place between the 1970s and now- were in fact forced upon the industry and reluctantly accepted.


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