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?