5 Disturbing Facts About SeaWorld’s Captive Breeding Program

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:

1. SeaWorldhas 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!


2. 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.


3.  Females that do not undergo the artificial insemination  procedure voluntarily 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)


4. 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)


5. 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.

103 thoughts on “5 Disturbing Facts About SeaWorld’s Captive Breeding Program

  1. Pingback: Captive cetaceans – good or bad? | just Question It!

  2. Do you drink dairy milk? 95% of dairy cattle are bred with A.I.
    Do you have a turkey at thanksgiving? 100% of turkeys are bred with A.I.
    Like your pork chops? 80% Artifical insemination.

    I get your point that it’s not natural; but frankly, I dont have an issue with Seaworld using A.I. to breed in captivity. I wish everyone had a chance to see animals in their natural environments, but I think Seaworld is providing a valuable service to the public in all that they do. Is it perfect? No. Nothing is.

      • That’s kinda rude to say, don’t you think? Just because they see something differently from you its ok to say they’re not an animal lover? There are so many animals on this planet. If you say you love animals, then the next time you decide to, I don’t know, crush a spider, ant or any other household “pest” you should have your “animal lover” name revoked too. Just because thiss person doesn’t have a major issue and sees it differently, doesn’t mean that they aren’t an animal lover. For all you know, they could be majorly involved in conservation efforts or volunteering at a local shelter. Maybe they even do more than you do for animals. I’m not saying for a fact they do, but to say something like that is ignorant and really rude. We’re all entitled to our own opinions and have the right to voice them. Let them have a say too instead of just attacking. How about some positive commenting on why you see it differently? It would get you farther.

        • Exactly thats what i cant understand with this animal lovers! They proably also kill the Misquato and say thats different then killing a whale or a dog or what ever the animal maybe

    • A service is not what Seaworld are providing. They are making money from making animals do tricks for your amusement. If you want to learn about the animals and can’t get to see them in their natural environment, look it up, there are thousands of videos to be found. What you might notice if you look, is that they behave very differently in their natural environment so whatever you think you might learn from this abuse is just how bad humans can be when they smell a dollar….

      • Seeing them online in a video or as a picture in a book isn’t the same as seeing them in person. You never fully know the majesty of these creatures until you see them up close, in whichever setting. Maybe some people who go to SeaWorld are more inspired to go and see them in their natural environments and to try to help the wild populations.

    • Your name ia ironic. Animal lover….yeah right. We need food to survive. We have enough entertainment but paying black people to run and jump for millions of dollars. Rednecks and Guido’s in reality shows. There is no comparison between farm animals and intelligent mammals. Its straight up cruel!! My name is ironic because I support the freedom of the blackfish and black people.

      • Why doubt that they love animals? To compare orcas and black people is kinda strange don’t you think? People aren’t equivalent to animals. I’m glad you support both, but really, I think that this person should be allowed to call themselves an animal lover and not get attacked for it because they have a different viewpoint

    • Your a special kind of selfish huh? Yea so humans can see them up close lets do whatever it takes and not care anything about the whales or dolphins…smh

    • I’m vegan so, no. I do not drink milk and/or eat turkey or any other animal for that matter. I realise that the same practices are in place for all captive animals and it led me to become vegan. I stand for all animals in captivity.

  3. Good work. Keep the dialogue coming. Good or bad comments is still awareness at the atrocities that Sea World are doing to our Ocean cousins

      • We retire them to a sea pen and release those that are releasable. If that isn’t feasible, phase out captive breeding and the population will eventually die off. The only way a marine park would consider any of these options is 1. they don’t have the business/money to operate and have to shut down OR 2. captivity becomes illegal. It has happened before, in many countries, where dolphin captivity was made illegal or simply disappeared because of public outrage. It is possible that the same could happen in the U.S.

              • Putting orcas in a place like Epcot’s Divequest aquarium would solve little to nothing. The orcas would still be subject to all the stresses of captivity. Furthermore, if we’re going to spend several years and billions of dollars building a big elaborate tank for 25+ SeaWorld orcas, we may as well save us the time and money and just retire them to sea pens where they would be better off anyway. If someone wants to see an orca, they can go on a whale watch.

                • the animals at dive quest are stressed out? how many people have money for a whale watch? which costs all your limbs to go? versus going to seaworld? well we dont know how stressed out the animals are since we never did full studies on them

                  • It costs on average about $75-$85 per adult to see wild orcas in Washington or $45 to watch wild dolphins. A ticket to SeaWorld is $85-$90 per adult (parking and extras not included). I SWAM with wild dolphins for the same price! Seeing wild whales is comparable and often cheaper than seeing captives.

                    Also, we can tell if an animal is stressed by their behavior. Pacing, vomiting, head bobbing, biting on gates or bars, and lethargy are all examples of stereotypical behavior. According to scientists, these behaviors are a sign of frustration and psychological distress in captive animals. Captive orcas and dolphins exhibit all of these behaviors.

                    • Do you factor in how many people go to washington state or seaworld and the extra mileage and all that? with hotel expenses and food? well what about the Whale sharks they seem to be happy. Well if the animal is indeed stressed then I would say we need more study to keep them happy.

                    • Did you hear what they said MONEY! what about the people who live in east coast and other places that cant get there? Again I say we need to make the tanks bigger! make it more like there home in the ocean and change up the shows all the time. There like a big dog.

                    • We are not entitled to these animals, they do not owe us anything, they are not our pets. Most people will never see a snow leopard. Should we drag some out of the Himalayas and put them in cages so that people can pay to see them? Of course not!

                      In what way are they “like a big dog?”

                    • Neither are cats and dogs. Oh then how do we see Snow Leopards? they can do tricks they can understand things. How are they not like a big dog? again then if we want to see a snow leopard how can we safely see them and understand them and see them in there natural enivorment? Again we have just recently discovered Giant and hombult squid how can we study them? Plus how about the electric eel? No one wants to touch it becuase it will kill you

                    • We, the public, do not need to see an animal in person to understand and appreciate them. In fact, distancing ourselves from wildlife with a healthy degree of respect and admiration is far more understanding and appreciative than putting them in cages and treating them like pets.
                      We do not need to put animals in captivity in order to study them. It is actually preferable to study animals in the wild where they behave naturally and are not influenced by captivity or an artificial environment. Also, you said that they are “like a big dog.” what did you mean by that? How are they like a big dog?

                    • How are they not like a big dog? well animals at zoos are not pets and it maybe in your eyes a cage but they have stimulas with there enivorment and habitit. Instead of the old days of them going round and round in there cages and going nuts. if you have been to the National zoo you will see they have an elephant trail they have a aviary they have many habitits that stimulate and give them a reason to wake up in the morning. Now after the SeaWorld show I do agree that the animals should be retired in a Aquirum tank with things that were in there enivorment before but thats with all animals that help humans like Horses in race tracks Grey hounds in the race Service dogs. Would you prefer the K-9 not use there dogs?

                    • I didn’t make any claims about whether or not they are like a big dog. You, however, claimed that they are like a big dog. When you make a claim, you back it up with some evidence. So, how are they like a big dog?
                      I also don’t understand why you keep changing the subject from dolphins and whales to elephants, whale sharks, dogs, horses etc? How is it relevant?

                    • how have you backed up your claims with stuff off the web have you worked with the Whales at Seaworld? Just becuase you read it doesnt mean you know either. Where is my evidence http://www.nbcnews.com/id/3700297/ns/world_news/t/keiko-killer-whale-dies/#.Ucc70pxZAis 35 years is old for a orca. when an orca as you claim is in the wild and lives for 50 years of age how old are they then? Keiko was released from Iceland in July 2002, but he swam straight for Norway on a 870-mile trek that seemed to be a search for human companionship. Keiko wanted HUMAN companship! you know his POD! so how are orca better off in the wild? I still dont understand why humans are bad creatures and shouldnt try to study orcas in zoos or aquirums

                    • It is not MY claim that an orca in the wild lives for 50 years. This is based on 14 years of research by scientists (Olesiuk, P.F., M.A. Bigg and G.M. Ellis) in the Pacific Northwest. According to their study, males in the wild live an average of 31 years and a maximum of 60-70, females live an average of 46 with a maximum of 80-90+. Dr’s Jeff Ventre and John Jett studied the marine mammal inventory reports in 2011 and found the average age of captive killer whales to be 8.9 years. Orcas have evolved to live in the sea over a span of millions of years and have not only survived, but thrived as the ocean’s top predator.

                      Scientists do not study orcas in zoos and aquariums because their captivity influences their behavior and their health thus skewing the results of any research.

                  • “how many people have money for a whale watch? which costs all your limbs to go? versus going to seaworld?” Thats a very selfish way of thinking, you do realize that? These animals don’t owe us anything. They should stay free.

                  • You are worried how much it cost? What is the cost to the whales and dolphins? They matter more than your entertainment, or seeing one in real life. Guess what, everyone may not be able to see them, but that should be okay when the other option is captivity and living a miserable life, that is what these beautiful creatures endure …only selfish people think, “oh I want to see one, the only way is to see them miserable, but thats okay with me because I am a selfish human and care nothing about anything except how I can be happy..” This kind of people make me so sad…I have never seen one…and NO ONE wants to see them more than this human, but I will NOT go and make them suffer for a wish of mine. If it is meant to be I will see them in the ocean where they belong.

      • It all comes down to Ethics… And as everyone knows, it is debatable, changes all the time, what once wasnt ethic, is today, and vice versa.

        Taking your point of view zoo’s shouldnt exist, at least for the animals that are not at risk. To my point of view, it is the reason i learned more about them, and how fragile they are, when men interfere by destroying their habitat. That is the real issue. Its like fighting for the right to have a computer, when you are running out of power sources.

        Congrats on exposing this information. I know it might seem that I am not giving enough relevance to the article, but I was just demonstrating that the problem goes deeper, so you can understand me.

        If everyone keeps bringing information like you, people will be more aware and more will take action. Dont stop now!

        • But why should we have zoo just for endangered species?
          well why cant we give back to the habtits? We have eco friendly cemeteries eco friendly cremations so that is giving back somewhat. Why not have a zoo that is like Manhatten where humans visit the animals in there enviorment? If there is a will there is a way. So we con discover how this animals act and we can save them

          • We don’t have to build a zoo the size of Manhattan just so people can visit animals and so scientists can study/conserve them. We can do all of these things with animals in the wild. In fact, it is preferable to study in the wild because the animal’s behavior and health are not influenced by an artificial or captive environment.

        • Public outrage is partly what caused all dolphinariums in the UK to be shut down. People decided not to buy a ticket, the facilities lost money and were not able to operate. Losing customers is bad for business.

                  • then what do we do? Zoos are helping us understand animals and there doing more conservation but what about animals we dont know that well like the heboult squid and Giant Squid? If animals are given more free roaming and more stimluas then they will survive in the zoos but the question becomes what do we do?

                    • Most scientists prefer to research animals in the wild where they behave naturally. Also, there are many conservation organisations at work who do not keep animals in captivity. Even SeaWorld’s own conservation efforts in which they rescue individual animals, operates independently of the shows in their amusement park. Captive animals are not necessary for conservation or research unless captive breeding/reintroduction is taking place. And if a facility wanted to concentrate on breeding/reintroduction, they wouldn’t design the place to be a zoo or an amusement park.

                      What about animals we don’t know that well like giant squid? We research them in the wild. We should not pretend that we can bring nature indoors. Instead, we have a bit more humility to recognize that attempting to make things better, could just make things worse.

                    • see your comment is awaiting moderation. June 20 2013 at 6:19pm so you are censoring me. yes we could be making it worse but then again how do we research them? in there natural habitit? well some people dont go to the zoo since they think that the animals there need to be free and not in the city. even in Australian zoo that Terri Irwin owns people are not coming in. so now they have put rides on for people to come in. If people dont come in then zoos have to change. Now for the National Zoo in Washington DC you can come in for free London Zoo is not free

                    • I don’t have any pending comments here so I’m not sure what you’re talking about in regards to that. Yes, we research them in their natural habitat as we have been doing for decades.

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  5. well people have no problem with human sperm banks why should they have a problem with orca sperm banks? I do think as people we should tell and force Sea World to change its procudures of there shows and there family pods

    • There are some big differences between human sperm banks vs. the breeding program at SeaWorld.
      First of all, we volunteer for these things by our own will. The orcas do not.
      Secondly, these are often considered “last resort” procedures since they are invasive and complicated. They are regular occurrences at Seaworld.
      Thirdly, most people undergo these procedures to help them get pregnant when all else has failed. SeaWorld tries to get the whales pregnant as often as possible for their own profit.
      Fourth, the procedure is only performed on consenting adults. At SeaWorld, the animals are often young and immature when they are inseminated.

      • It doesnt really matter males are treated like cups of sperm and there only worth is there sperm. Not really. So what. guys who go to the sperm banks are immature and not ready for a family and its years until they realize the wrong they have done but the damage is already there

        • The whales at SeaWorld are young when they are impregnated. Their immature bodies are not able to handle the pregnancy which often results in miscarriage, stillbirth, or other complications. If they give birth to a viable calf, they often reject or attack it because they are forced to get pregnant and give birth when they are still juveniles with no mothering skills. It would be like forcing an 11 year old to become pregnant and treating her like a baby-making machine.

          The males are totally different. Just like human males who donate to the sperm bank – they don’t have to be mature or ready to raise a child. All they have to do is go into the facility, give their sperm, and walk out.

  6. Actually they do AI because many of the animals have the same genes and they do not reproduce well or do not carry a calf with genes to closely related, just like humans. They control the breeding process so they dont have miscarried calves and to many animals for capitivy. And also they do not force the animals to do anything!! You try telling an animal that weighs over 1000 lbs. to do something!!!!! If the animals do not cooperate they try agian another time!!

    • Actually, if a female animal does not cooperate, they are sedated and forced to undergo the procedure. Medication and use of leverages such as food allows trainers to control the animals.
      The goal of the breeding program is to control the orca’s reproduction so that they can produce as many whales as possible as quickly as possible. According to former trainer John Hargrove who resigned last August, Takara was artificially inseminated, lost the pregnancy and was inseminated again with her very next cycle. The incessant breeding of the females is one reason why he quit his job. This is not about the animal’s well-being. It is about profit.

  7. ugh I hate $eaworld.. this is digusting. violating an animal privacy like that. thanks for writing things, appreciate it 🙂

    • Essentially, yes! In saying all of this, it is not unheard of for trainers to have actual “relations” with the animals, or for aquariums to host and film these “relations” for pornographic distributing. The ulgy side of the captivity industry that nobody seems to know about. It’s pretty sick.

  8. Great article with disturbing, provocative information. The ignorant people who buy a ticket to these water-circus sideshows have no idea at all the suffering & stress that these wonderful beings endure in their man-made prisons. We need more public articles like this, more blogs, more demonstrations, more organizations like yours out there to give greater public awareness to this inhumane & thoughtless practice of captivity. I will do my part to spread the word!!

  9. Wow. This was really insightful. It just makes me dislike seaworld even more. They have no respect for their animals and now it’s clear they don’t care about wild ones either.

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