SeaWorld’s “Killer Whale Treadmill”

Today, the “Official SeaWorld Podcast” published an article announcing that SeaWorld is seeking to implement a new device they call the “killer whale treadmill.” The device would operate like an endless pool and would supposedly simulate the sensation of swimming in an endless, straight line. (This has yet to be publicly announced by SeaWorld themselves.)

Many people have responded to this announcement with praise and applause, claiming that the treadmill will help the whales get in shape and enrich their lives with environmental stimulation. Now captive whales could “swim 100’s of miles a day”, just like their wild counterparts. Others are against the treadmill, dubbing it a “hamster wheel” and suggesting that it is an insult to the whale’s intelligence to expect them to gain mental stimulation from such a thing. After all, if the whales get bored swimming in endless circles around their pool, won’t they get bored swimming endlessly toward a blue wall? What’s the difference?

While the treadmill looks great on paper and it’s reasonable to assume that it will offer some stimulation for the whales since it would be a new addition to their environment, there are concerns that need to be considered. Will the treadmill cause excessive noise pollution in the whale’s environment? How often will the whales be able to use the treadmill? Is it safe? Will it be offered to the other cetaceans at the park?

The treadmill could also cause people to believe that captivity is okay because it’s just like the wild. In reality, the treadmill is not like the wild at all as the whales aren’t actually going to swim in a straight line. The treadmill is just a current that provides resistance so that the whales can swim in place. It does not come close to replicating a natural ocean environment and it certainly does not solve the vast majority of problems associated with captivity.

So, what is SeaWorld’s motivation behind possibly implementing the killer whale treadmill? This announcement has come at a time when SeaWorld is facing more pressure than ever. This new “enrichment device” could be a means of damage control to distract people’s attention from the bad publicity. After all, if they were doing this out of genuine care for the animals, wouldn’t they have installed a killer whale treadmill a long time ago?


14 thoughts on “SeaWorld’s “Killer Whale Treadmill”

  1. The treadmill itself is a brilliant idea. I have no idea why anyone would oppose it. It is not the treadmill that keeps the orcas in captivity. It is nasty people who only want to make money. There must be one or two whales, that are in captivity under genuinely good intent as well. Granted almost all of them are there as a result of some horrific and disgracefull conduct, but even so, the big argument is to keep them there as they “are not fit”. Lets remove the excuse! Dont blame the one invention that might just help a bit, even if the help is only slight. Praise the help and shame the rest.

  2. At first I dismissed the treadmill implementation as SeaWorld’s pathetic attempt to convince the public that they are improving their animals’ living conditions. However, after reading some of the points made in the comments, I agree that any improvement, no matter how small, in the animals’ lives and the facility’s conditions are positive. We all know that this new equipment is not going to solve the problems marine mammals face in captivity–there’s no magic pill or quick fix–but at least they are going to the drawing board and are actively trying to create different stimuli. I don’t think that SeaWorld’s motivations are that important in this case simply because I don’t think it effects the result; the whales get a new ‘toy’ and exercise. The potential negative is that SeaWorld will boast shamefully and the relatively uninformed will be duped and continue to ignore all the other aspects of captivity. I can see SeaWorld promote this new device as ‘cutting edge’ and their company as the industry leader. I guess the latter is true, but you are comparing bad against the worse in captivity for human entertainment so I suppose it’s like ‘King of the Stupids’. We aren’t fooled. Many might be fooled and argue that these types of improvements make the whales happy, healthy and well taken care of–nothing will change their minds. I just hope that SeaWorld will continue to improve the conditions for their animals because as they say all the time, they aren’t getting rid of their collection any time soon and so if it brings their killer whales some excitement and enjoyment then it’s worth it.
    BTW I absolutely hate their constant use of “our collection” when referring to their animals! I think that word is very accurate in showing how they think of these animals–theirs.

  3. Personally, I find this decision promising. One of my biggest motivators in stepping forward and speaking out is to hopefully raise awareness of the need for change within the realm of animal welfare. This treadmill will create much-needed environmental stimuli for the orcas. The facility’s growth within all three parks has been nearly stagnant in the area of animal enrichment since the pools were first installed long ago. I am elated to hear that there are decisions being made to invest in the mental and physical well-being of these animals instead of another show, another playground or another barbecue restaurant. At SWSA, we would take the sea lions to the wave pool and lazy river once a year. For that day, the dogs would play within the waves and the flowing waters for hours and hours, sometimes even days and days on end, completely oblivious to the food available at the shore’s edge. The most reinforcing element for them was the change of environment. I have no doubt that all the animals would benefit from this type of stimulation being implemented within their pools. An investment for the animals is the greatest if all. Of course, this doesn’t right all the concerns still present within the issues of the animals’ welfare. This is, however, an encouraging decision made in the right mindset for the physical and mental benefit of the whales. We still have a long road ahead to get from unacceptable circumstances to beyond acceptable circumstances for all of the animals in these facilities. This small decision has re-ignited my hope that greater change is possible and opportunities to improve the lives’ of the animals are being taken. By sharing our stories and our experiences, we can and we have inspired change. With each decision made for the betterment of the animals, we can continue to press on and speak out for the next improvement that trends towards the most idealistic circumstances for all the animals. Momentum is gaining. The call for change and the message we spread is resonating. Most importantly, it’s inspiring action.

    • I agree with you that this new treadmill is better than nothing and the novelty of it alone will stimulate the animals. I’m interested to see it in action! SeaWorld’s motivation for installing it though is highly questionable. While the treadmill itself is good news, there is still a lot of work to be done in changing SeaWorld’s focus from business to the animals. What you folks are doing in sharing stories and inspiring others has helped bring about this change which is a step in the right direction. Well done!

      • I, too, agree with Bridgette–it is important that SOMETHING changes for them on a regular basis, and this is the first major pool change that many have encountered since being moved from smaller locations.

        An “endless pool” idea is easy to mock, but because it does get them in shape, think of it this way: a good portion of captive whales will one day be released (that’s inevitable, as we learn more about them and seek to improve our handling of them in captivity), and this is the best way to condition the whales in preparation for them to live in the oceans again. One of the biggest impediments for Keiko was his physical condition, and constant swimming (yes, even in place) would have sped up his full release considerably. The same applies for the other whales in captivity. Give them something!

        Don’t shut down this idea. Recognize that this change from their current humdrum tank existence is going to be good for them.

  4. this is absurd-a hamster wheel is no substitute for the open ocean. These animals not only swim miles and miles they are interacting with their environment and family members. The swimming they do is by no means mindless without any purpose.

  5. Humans are also free to leave the treadmill when they wish. This is simply a distraction. RELEASE THEM into their God given environment. God put them in the vast ocean for that is where they belong.

    • Remember that humans often use TV’s, ipods, books, etc. to entertain themselves while using treadmills because running in place is pretty boring. The whales wouldn’t have something like that. We also are able to control our speed on the treadmill where as this would be controlled by trainers for the whales.

      • Well if humans were like killer whales we’d be constantly running for the majority of our lives. Can’t say that I enjoy running outside, in fact I prefer treadmills because of the novelty and that’s what I expect this element can provide. I would hope that this would at least improve their physical condition, however I don’t see them using it for extreme extended periods. That would depend on if they actually enjoy swimming. Although, maybe they should entertain your inquiry. Putting a TV in front of them sounds even easier than setting up this ‘treadmill’, it’s feasible.

        • I do agree with you in regards to the novelty that the device will provide, and I hope it will improve their physical condition although boosting their endurance and energy levels could cause them to become even more antsy in such a small space.

      • Why have they never put in something as simple as a large television screen as a form of entertainment or to give the whales something to do to keep themselves occupied?

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