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 and Fans Avoid “Blackfish” by Changing the Subject

At 9pm E.T. on October 24th, “Blackfish” premiered nationwide on CNN and 1.36 million households tuned in to watch. Audiences were prepped for the premiere as CNN dedicated an entire week to the topic of killer whale captivity. The network featured a lengthy investigation of the issue by Jane Velez-Mitchell, interviews with “Blackfish” director Gabriella Cowperthwaite, and lively discussions on the topic between animal advocates and SeaWorld defenders.

After the premiere, audiences were asked whether they would take their kids to SeaWorld. 86% of respondents said no. Anderson Cooper followed the film with a special report focusing on killer whale captivity and questioning industry representatives like Jungle Jack Hanna. Twitter was dominated by #BlackfishOnCNN and SeaWorld Facebook pages lit up with comments from angry fans cancelling season passes and demanding answers from their favorite marine park.

SeaWorld has issued a couple responses toward the film since its theatrical release, but the answers they are giving the public in these responses are less than satisfying. One of the main arguments brought against “Blackfish” by SeaWorld and fans is that it does not mention the company’s work with conservation and rescue. This is an obvious attempt to change the subject. The ethics of keeping killer whales in captivity is totally irrelevant to conservation and rescue programs. Using these programs to justify killer whale captivity is a bit like defending an abusive person because they volunteer at a soup kitchen. The two are not related. Just because someone does something “good” does not mean that they are excused to do something evil.

In fact, the “good” of SeaWorld’s rescue and rehabilitation efforts have been called into question. The park mostly rehabilitates and releases manatees, sea birds and sea turtles which are not entertainment animals. It has been said that staff will train rescued entertainment animals like dolphins, whales and sea lions to see how well they take to doing tricks. Those that prove to be submissive performers remain in captivity, those that do not submit are eventually released. SeaWorld has also been criticized for their failure to follow up on releases to see if the animals they save actually survive.

Not only is the nature of SeaWorld’s rescue program under question, but it should be noted that these efforts to save wild animals are NOT funded by SeaWorld! The program is operated by a non-profit organisation, the Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute, who funds these efforts with government grants. SeaWorld’s conservation fund is also largely supported by grants and public donations.

Since these efforts do not rely on money from animal shows, SeaWorld could easily stop keeping animals for entertainment purposes, and simply continue their conservation and rescue programs. In the meantime, we should continue to pressure SeaWorld and fans to provide answers to the topic at hand: the ethics of killer whale captivity, rather than allowing them to divert attention to an unrelated topic.

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?