SeaWorld Lies In Response To “Blackfish”


Since the release of the scathing documentary, Blackfish, on DVD and its public airing on CNN, SeaWorld has been the target of an increasingly enlightened public. Their upcoming event “Bands, Brew and BBQ” loses its main event as 8 of the 10 scheduled bands bail out in Blackfish‘s wake. The Florida Attractions Association defended SeaWorld by calling its “attackers” “radical extremists” and urging supporters to vote on a poll at The plan backfired as 56% of the 220,000 votes are to shut down SeaWorld. All of the uproar has SeaWorld’s majority owner, Blackstone Corp, running for cover from the sinking ship. In recent weeks, they have sold 19,500,000 shares and sought to invest their money elsewhere.

SeaWorld recently released an official letter from their zoological team in response to Blackfish. The letter touches on six points brought forward by the documentary. All of the points are deceptive or contain false information which could easily sway anyone who is unaware of the truth. This is especially worrying since SeaWorld has so far published this letter in eight national newspapers. The lies need to be exposed:

“SeaWorld does not capture killer whales in the wild.”

This point is fairly misleading given that the film Blackfish never claims or even implies that SeaWorld is still capturing killer whales. The wild capture segment of the film opens with a clear date: 1970, and in case the dated footage doesn’t indicate its age, narrators explicitly state that this was a past event.

However, SeaWorld responds to the segment by saying that it has not captured killer whales in 35 years. Not because the practice is wrong or cruel, but because they found other ways to stock their tanks: through captive breeding. SeaWorld describes their breeding program as a “groundbreaking success” in spite of the fact that it has produced several inbred and hybrid animals, a 50% infant mortality rate, and multiple instances of infant rejection. Not to mention the upper-limit for captive born orca longevity is only 25 years. It cannot be denied that the captive killer whale gene pool is heading toward a dangerous bottle-neck, and when it does reach a critical state, SeaWorld and other aquariums will call again for the capture of wild killer whales. This is currently happening with beluga whales and SeaWorld was recently among several U.S. aquariums who requested to import wild-caught belugas from Russia.  SeaWorld finally adds that “only two” of the whales they caught from the ocean are still surviving. One is led to question why they would shoot themselves in the foot by adding this fact. It implies that most of their wild-caught killer whales have died prematurely, and fosters more questions about the species’ well-being in a captive environment.

“We do not separate killer whale moms and calves.”

This statement is blatantly false and even SeaWorld contradicts it by saying that the whales ARE moved but only to “maintain a healthy social structure.” The bond between the mother and calf is recognized as being “important”, so it seems strange that maintaining a healthy social structure should involve the severing of that important bond by removing the young from its established family and placing it in another tank with strangers. In fact, Taku, Unna, Ikaika, Takara, Kohana, Keet, Keto, Skyla, Tuar, Shouka, and Trua are just some of the whales (still living) that were separated from their mothers by SeaWorld.

“SeaWorld invests millions of dollars in the care of our killer whales.”

SeaWorld claims that in the past 3 years it has invested $70 million in its killer whale habitat. That’s an average of $23 million a year. This might sound like a shockingly large amount of money, but in the course of 9 months SeaWorld spends $99 million on food and goods. What exactly the money is being spent on is unknown. The killer whale “habitats” have not been updated since the 80’s, and according to former trainers, millions of dollars may be spent on the set and lighting at the stadium – would this be considered an investment in the killer whale habitat?

“SeaWorld’s killer whales’ life spans are equivalent with those in the wild.”

The average lifespan of a wild male killer whale is 35 and for a female it’s 60. SeaWorld may have six whales that have exceeded the age of 30, but four of them are females who would normally reach 60 years in the wild. In other words, only two of SeaWorld’s whales have reached the average life span of a wild whale of the same sex, and two whales out of the countless whales that have lived at SeaWorld parks is not a very impressive number. It certainly does not represent an average, but an exception. In the film Blackfish, SeaWorld educators claim that captive whales live longer than wild whales, so it appears that has now been retracted and changed.

“The killer whales in our care benefit those in the wild.”

This is a nice statement but what is there to show for it? Populations of wild killer whales are endangered and have been for decades, so where are the “significant real-world benefits” of this research?

“SeaWorld is a world leader in animal rescue.”

This is a very common red herring that SeaWorld uses to detract from the real issue. Rescue and rehabilitation efforts are irrelevant to the topic at hand which is the ethics of killer whale captivity. Even so, the claims made need to be addressed: “The millions of people who visit our parks each year make possible SeaWorld’s world-renowned work in rescue, rehabilitation and release.” In fact, these efforts are very under-funded and are supported largely by government grants and donations, not ticket sales.

SeaWorld and supporters say that the public should do research and look at the facts before making a decision about killer whale captivity. The public is now seeking the facts and that is why the Blackfish movement is now in motion – full steam ahead.


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?

Liberty for Kshamenk?

“When we return wild animals to nature, we merely return them to what is already theirs. For man cannot give wild animals freedom, they can only take it away.” – Jacques Cousteau

Liberation may be around the corner for Kshamenk (shah-men-k), a captive orca living at Mundo Marino in Argentina. Though it is said that Kshamenk stranded accidentally in 1992, rumors have since circulated that the stranding may have been forced by whale captors. At the time, the young transient whale was only 5 years old.  Kshamenk lived with a female companion named Belen for 8 years, before she died in 2000 of a kidney infection.

Like all captive orcas, Kshamenk’s life in a cage has been cruel. Bottlenose dolphins have been his only companions for the 13 years since Belen’s death. As a 25 year old lone orca bull, Kshamenk experiences sexual frustration which he has expressed by mating with his dolphin tank mates. He is described by his trainers as aggressive, and distant. These conditions have led many to believe that rehabilitation and release are the best options for him.

Kshamenk is owned by the State of Argentina – not the aquarium Mundo Marino. A recent article has announced that the government of Argentina is analyzing a project that would potentially release Kshamenk. The English translation of the article reads:

“Kshamenk is a male orca who was captured and put in captivity in 1992. Since then he has been in captivity inside an aquarium in San Clemente, Argentina. The government of Chubut is analyzing a project requesting the reintroduction of Kshamenk to the ocean and the re-adaptation and rehabilitation and liberation into his natural habitat.

Specialists indicate that the Argentine legislation states the Kshamenk belongs to the state. They are saying that an animal that was born in the wild should not be kept in an aquarium.

Whales have an approximate life span of 55 years, Kshamenk was captured when he was around 5 years old and has been in captivity for 20 years.

Because whales have a high brain capacity and a notable memory, It is possible for kshamenk to readapt without great difficulty to his natural mindset in his habitat.

The experts say that there is a higher probability that Kshamenk will be released. Kshamenk is the only captive orca in Argentina, and there are only 48 captive orcas in the world. This case could be the example for other cases. this is after the much publicized and failed attempt to free keiko.”

One of the most prominent concerns expressed by pro-captivity activists regarding Kshamenk’s potential release, is the fact that we do not know where his pod is. Kshamenk is a transient orca, and transient orcas have a very fluid social order. When a mother transient gives birth to a calf, the older sibling will leave the mother to join a different group of whales (usually no more than 6 or 7). It is unnecessary to search for Kshamenk’s natal pod, because he would not be with a natal pod even if he had stayed in the wild. Transient groups continually accept new whales, so there should be no issues with Kshamenk being accepted into one of these small groups.

Pro-caps often propose that anti-caps should give captivity a chance. After all, it has only existed for 50 years, and the marine parks need some time to improve their methods and procedures before the lifespan of their animals increases. At the same time, many of them express contempt at the very notion of giving activists a second chance at captive release solely due to the “failed” mission to free Keiko. In other words, captivity should be given the benefit of the doubt in spite of failure, but when activists “fail”, they should simply give up.

There is a mindset amongst captivity supporters which says that there are only 2 options for captive orcas: life in captivity, or death after release. Of course this mindset hinges on only ONE instance of captive release, and the logic itself is based on a false dichotomy, which is fallacious reasoning.

Most captivity supporters may condemn Kshamenk’s release, but they also tend to condemn the aquarium (Mundo Marino) which keeps him captive, due to the horrific conditions of the animal care and cages. Ironically enough, Mundo Marino has a very close business partnership with SeaWorld. They recently bought sperm from Kshamenk which was used to inseminate Kasatka, who produced a calf as a result on February 14, 2012. Mundo Marino used the money given to them by SeaWorld, to buy a new big screen TV for their orca whale stadium.

As an anti-captivity activist, I have high hopes and optimism for Kshamenk’s potential rehabilitation and release to his home, the sea.